It is appropriate that Abraham, the father of our faith, should be listed in Hebrews 11 not just once, but twice. The writer gives more words only to Moses. The first time deals with Abraham’s call to leave his father’s house.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb 11:8-10)
Abraham was a sojourner. A pilgrim. More than that, he was a sojourner in a land that God promised him, and since God promised him, he knew that, in a sense, it belonged to him already. God blessed him so much that the Hittites called him a mighty prince (Gen. 23:5), powerful rulers sought to make alliances with him and his offspring (Gen 21:22,23), and he defeats an alliance of five kings with only 318 men (Gen 14:15). Not bad for a sojourner.
Not bad, at least, when compared with the kind of sojourner we normally assume the New Testament writers are talking about, especially when referring to Christians. Peter tells us to “pass the time of your sojourning here” (1 Peter 1:17) and then again saying “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
A whole tradition has grown from the idea of being a pilgrim or alien of the world, sharpened by Paul’s language of citizenship, and colored with Greek and gnostic philosophy in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. It can be summed up nicely in the song “This World is Not My Home.”
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.
In essence, our true home is in the heavenly realm, and someday, we will finally leave this wicked, corrupt world and be able to return home. Our pilgrimage will be over. The rest of the world can literally go to Hell.
But is this the picture we get? Is this really what being a pilgrim in the world means?
Was Abraham, the first sojourner of faith and the context for the New Testament use of these terms, just a passing through the promised land?
To ask the question is to answer it. Abraham even performs a symbolic act of staking his claim in the land of Canaan. He buys a field from one of the Hittites to bury Sarah, and then his own bones are laid to rest in the same tomb. The conquest didn’t start with Joshua. It started with Abraham after the death of his wife.
Abraham is a pilgrim in the promised land, which means he is called a pilgrim in his own land. And he knows it.
How does this relate to the children of the promise today?
First, we must realize that just as Abraham buying a plot of land was a symbolic act of conquest, the later conquest of the promised land by the Israelites was also a symbolic act of something greater.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Rom. 4:13)
Abraham was not just promised Canaan. He was promised that all of the nations through him would be blessed, and according to Paul, this means that he would inherit the world.
And we are inheritors of the same promise.
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:29)
Christ himself says that the meek will inherit the earth. How much time have we spent explaining away the plain sense of this beatitude, when the plain sense fits so well with the promise of Abraham?
Christ has risen. All authority has been given to him in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The new order has been established, God has named his king, and his king will rule at his right hand until all of his enemies bow in homage (Psalm 110:1). And what is the domain of the king?
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Psalm 2:8)
Through Christ, the promise of Abraham will come to fruition. We are pilgrims now in the promised land, heirs of the promise. But that means we are the advance guard, building wells and establishing alters like Abraham our father, knowing that we wander in our inheritance. For he “hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). Creation itself longs for the final victory.
For the creation waits with eager longing forthe revealing of the sons of God. For the creationwas subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know thatthe whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:21-22, ESV)
As someone once said, the world is not God’s Vietnam. He is not scrambling to bring the troops home from a theater of war that is crumbling, in some kind of strategic retreat.
Pilgrimages of the people of God don’t end with a whimper and a sigh. They don’t end with a rescue.
They end in conquest. They end in victory.
“That God may be all in all.” Amen.
What about you? Have you viewed the call to be a sojourner in this world as a call to simply “hold down the fort?” Do you believe the promises that “the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world”(1 Jn. 4:14)?