Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Heavenly Citizens (Philippians 3:20-21)

Paul reminds the church in Philippi that each of them belongs to the heavenly city of God. He uses a privilege that was given to the citizens of Philippi by the Roman Emperor as an illustration of the eminence of God’s people. The Roman Emperor decreed that the citizens of Philippi were also citizens of Rome and possessors of the same privileges as those who actually lived there. In a similar but far greater way, every Christian is a citizen of heaven even although those still on earth are not living in the city.

Although they were at a distance from the heavenly city, they still shared in its delights. I cannot say if the citizens of Philippi ever received anything from Rome, but I can say that the heavenly citizens on earth do get great blessings from heaven because they have a living link, the Holy Spirit, who conveys to them continually the delights of heaven. They taste of its joy, its peace, its atmosphere, and access to the Ruler of the city at all times.

The citizens of Philippi had also to be ready to defend the Roman Empire. Their privileges demanded fulfilment of responsibilities. They could not befriend the enemies of Rome. Similarly, believers have a duty to defend the cause of the heavenly city, and one way of doing so was by refusing the influence of the false teachers. To listen to such was an act of spiritual treason.

Paul then describes what is going to happen to believers when Jesus returns. He is going to change their humiliated body (humiliated by sin, disease and death) into a body of glory (powerful and beautiful). This will be a great change obviously, but it will also be a gracious change because we will not deserve it. The destiny of believers is that they going to be like Jesus Christ, fully conformed to his likeness. What that entails cannot be detailed, but altogether it signifies glorification.

Yet Paul says more than the wonderful fact that he was going to have a glorious future personally. In addition, he says that Jesus has the power to subdue all things to himself. Paul knew that on that great day when he would experience transformation, he would also see the whole intelligent universe confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. All his enemies, including those who are mentioned in this passage, will declare the sovereignty of Jesus. This is probably why he calls Jesus ‘Lord’ in this verse.

It is not surprising that the early Christians were eagerly waiting for the arrival of the Saviour. While they knew that they would go to heaven when they died, they wanted more. They longed for glory, not merely the environment of glory, but the personal experience of transformation. And they also knew that would be the time when the One they loved would be publicly acknowledged as the universal Lord.

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