Our citizenship is in Heaven…but we aren’t going there (Phil. 3:20-21)

Philippians 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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It is often argued that, if our citizenship is in heaven, then we are going to go there, presumably at the moment of our death. Is this really what Paul is teaching? Let’s take a closer look…

  1. One has to first put yourself in the shoes of the original readers of Philippians. They were Gentiles living in Philippi, which was a Roman colony. A colony like Philippi was established because of the over-crowded problem of Rome. Therefore, ‘colony status’ was given to these major satellite cities, so that their residents could maintain all the privileges that they had in Rome.  One of those privileges was the assurance of safety by the Roman military. Living on Caesar’s doorstep was a peaceful assurance for many of Rome’s citizens. But the promise was made for those who were relocated to a colony like Philippi that “if things ever got out of hand in your city, the Emperor will come out from Rome with his legions in order that the situation would be dealt with.”
  2. Now, consider the parody that Paul is making. He is now saying that the Philippians’ citizenship is not in Rome, but rather in heaven. If things got bad, it is the true savior and lord, Jesus, who would come and rescue them from their dire times of distress.  These titles (“savior” and “lord”) were regularly used of the reigning Roman emperors.
  3. Since the Philippians were never thinking of ‘returning’ to Rome as their place of citizenship, Christians should not read this passage to think that Paul is promising a home in heaven. Rather, their citizenship is in heaven, but the kingdom of God will come down and be consummated on this earth. The point of the verse is that it is a parody of the protection promised by Rome for those living in Philippi.
  4. Readers must note that ‘heaven’ is the location “out of which we eagerly await” the return of Jesus. Heaven is not the destination, but rather the starting point from which Jesus comes from.
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