In one of my lectures yesterday, the lecturer made the comment that the picture of Exile still translates to the church today. The church is still in a sense in exile, in that the church are strangers in a foreign land.
My first reaction to this was, "No, the church is not in exile!" After all, is not the key emphasis of exile about judgement? Israel was exiled because of unfaithfulness? Doesn't the exile parallel being expelled from the garden, or maybe Israel in bondage in Egypt? Surely the church cannot stand under condemnation in any sense, or under that kind of oppression?!
But as we discussed it further, and as I thought about it some more, I think it is another one of those 'yes and no' answers. I think there is a dual imagery involved in the exile. From the perspective of the unfaithful, it is about judgement. From the perspective of the faithful, it is about still being faithful in a foreign land, waiting for a return to the promised land, trusting in the promises of God, walking by faith and not by sight. The former is not applicable to the church, but the latter is.
Perhaps another way to look at it is to say that the church is not sent into exile (under discipline), as Israel was, but the church does parallel Israel in the resulting situation of having been exiled, of being the people of God in a strange land (while at the same time the whole earth really belongs to the church as her inheritance!). That is because Israel's exile was not only meant to be a single image of expulsion from the land, but after being expelled, the faithful become sojourners like Abraham or even those wanderers (Joshua, Caleb and the next generation of Israelites) who waited to enter the promised land (in fact the wilderness wandering was also a mixed image, of judgement against the unfaithful and patience for the faithful). The problems arise when we try to too neatly collapse the whole Biblical event into a single image.
Anyhow, the point is that I don't as strongly say 'no' to the church being in exile as I initially did :-)