At the end of the letter of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter sends greetings to his recipients from “She who is in Babylon (1 Peter 5:12).” This is an odd phrase, especially when one considers that the city of Babylon was little more than a byword, when Peter wrote. However, this brief phrase speaks volumes to those who suffer in Christ.
Babylon was once the center of one of the most powerful empires in the world. The Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and exiled the people of Israel from their homeland. In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John calls the city of Rome Babylon. It could be that Peter is saying, just as Babylon was the center of the empire that oppressed Israel, Rome is the center of the empire that now oppressed Christians. The “she” in the phrase refers not to a woman, but the church as a whole. Regardless, as to whether Peter means the city of Rome or more generally to a place of exile, Peter reminds his recipients that in this world they are exiles.
On this side of heaven, those who believe in God are exiled from their eternal home. This understanding is helpful when we suffer. No matter how horrifically we suffer in this world, no one or no thing can take away our heavenly home. This understanding allows us to have a healthy relationship with this fallen world. We need not be overly attached to it and despair when this world dashes our hopes and dreams. Yet, we neither need to be overly detached, because we know we still have good work to do. Like the Psalmist, we may say, “At the river of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1).” Yet, at the same time we can build houses, raise families, and seek the welfare of the localities in which we live.
We can think of it like this. Suppose you knew you would live 100 years and that 99 of them would be filled with suffering. How easy would it be to suffer well? Probably not very. Now suppose you knew you would live the same number of years and suffer the same proportion of those years, but after that lifetime an eternity of joy-filled years awaited you. Would it be easier to suffer well? Probably.
The knowledge of this world being our Babylon sustains our doing good, because we know an eternity of joy awaits us.