What does it mean to be a sojourner in this physical, temporary life—and why does it matter where we call home?
That one word can mean so many things to so many people.
My wife and I bought our first house earlier this year, and for us, that’s home. It’s the place we lay our heads at night; it’s where we can relax and be ourselves; it’s where we look forward to returning at the end of a long trip—not because it’s a house, but because it’s a home.
The building itself isn’t what’s important. A home can just as easily be an apartment or even a dirt hovel. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be an actual building. For Mary and me, home can also mean Virginia or Massachusetts—the states we grew up in, the places filled with loved ones and treasured memories.
“Home” can take a lot of forms and guises, but at the end of the day, your home is wherever you can plant your flag and say, “This is where I belong.”
Except—what happens when you don’t belong?
Sojourning from home
Followers of God have a long history of not quite fitting in. Of not quite belonging. When Abraham entered the Promised Land, he did so as “a sojourner and foreigner” (Genesis 23:4, English Standard Version). Centuries later, God led Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, out of slavery and into that same Promised Land, but with a reminder: “The land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me” (Leviticus 25:23). A few more centuries later, one of the nation’s greatest kings would admit to God, “I am a stranger with You, a sojourner, as all my fathers were” (Psalm 39:12).
That’s an interesting word—sojourner. It’s an old one, and we don’t use it much anymore. A sojourner is simply someone who lives away from home. If you go to visit friends for a week, you’re sojourning at their house. If you’re a college student, you might be sojourning in a dorm. And if you’re Abraham, moving from place to place and living in tents, well, you’re sojourning too.
It makes sense why Abraham would call himself a sojourner. When God called him to go to the Promised Land, he left his familial home behind and became something of a wanderer. But what about Israel, the nation that inherited and lived in the land God promised Abraham? And what about David, a king of Israel who lived in a palace among God’s chosen people? How could they be sojourners in their own land—in their own homes?
Seeking a homeland
The author of Hebrews spends some time talking about men and women of faith—followers of God who stayed true to their calling, even when times got tough.
Abraham was one of those people. So was his wife, Sarah. So was Moses, who led the Israelites to the Promised Land. So was King David, whom God called a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).
These heroes of the Bible “all died in faith … and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Strangers and pilgrims. Sojourners on the earth. That’s the key to this puzzle. Most sojourners have their home in a different town, a different state, a different country. The sojourners of Hebrews 11 had their home in a different world—a Kingdom yet to come to this earth. They viewed their time here as time away from their true home.
The passage continues: “For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (verses 14-16).
When the author of Hebrews wrote about “a homeland,” he used the Greek word patris, which refers to a “fatherland” or “native place.” To put it another way, the men and women of Hebrews 11 weren’t just looking for some place to call home. They were looking for something specific. They were looking for their homeland, their native place—the place they could plant their flags and say, “This is where I belong.”
Embracing the dichotomy
Being a Christian means coming to terms with a peculiar dichotomy:
This world isn’t your home.
This world isn’t your home.You were born in this world, you live in this world and, barring significant advances in space travel, you are going to die in this world.
But it isn’t home.
It isn’t the place to plant your flag.
Mary and I have multiple places in this world that we call “home,” but we both know that those places are temporary. They’re places we’ve come to love and appreciate during our sojourn in this world, but our real home, our patris, is somewhere neither of us have ever been.
We have an idea of what it looks like, though.
Streets of gold
The Bible offers some beautiful descriptions of the new earth and of the city God is preparing for His people. It’ll have 12 foundations, each one decorated with precious stones (Revelation 21:19-20). The streets will be made of the purest gold, and all of its 12 gates will be enormous pearls guarded by angels (verses 12, 21). A river will flow through the city, as clear and pure as crystal (Revelation 22:1).
It’s a breathtaking picture. But I’m not as interested in the layout of this as I am in its inner workings, because that’s what truly sets it apart:
God the Father and Jesus Christ won’t have a temple in that city, because They’ll both live there—and Their very presence will outshine the sun and the moon (Revelation 21:22-23). They’ll both have a close and personal relationship with the inhabitants of that city, for “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (verses 3-4).
No more pain. No more sorrow. No more crying. This city, this Kingdom of God, is going to be different from anything that’s ever come before it. And who gets to be there? “Those who do His [God’s] commandments” (Revelation 22:14). Everyone willing to commit to living according to God’s perfect way of life will have a place in a Kingdom fueled by that way of life.
And that is what home looks like.
Abraham, Moses, David and the other heroes of faith all died without setting foot in the home they were marching toward—but they died “in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Our time here in this world—this society, this age of human misrule—is temporary. It’s a sojourn, whether we like it or not—and eventually, that sojourn will end. If we’re willing to accept that—to wait, as Abraham did, “for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (verse 10) and to follow God and do His will—then you and I will join the ranks of those faithful heroes who came before us, waiting on the promises.
Waiting on their home.
And one day, that city will come. The New Jerusalem will descend “out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). And on that day, God will be able to say to us and to all His children throughout the ages:
“Welcome home. This is where you belong.”
To learn more about prioritizing God’s Kingdom—and how to do it—read our article “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” To understand more about what the Bible really says about the reward of the saved and why it’s not what most people think, see “What Is Heaven?”