In grade school, I remember daily reciting the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. During my time at John Brown University in the early 1970s, patriotism was a quality that the leaders of the college promoted. There was a sense of pride in being an American.
We live in a much different world today. Those who lead the U.S. disparage loyalty to the flag and regard those who seek to put America first as fascists.
My intent here, however, is not to write about what’s happening in the U.S. but rather explore the many benefits of a different citizenship.
In Philippians 3:20, Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word for “citizenship” is politeuma; it also denotes community; our word “politics” derives from it. According to author John F. Walvoord, the word assures the Christian “that in contrast to those just denounced, his real home is in heaven and that he is only temporarily related to this world, its governments, and its problems.[i]
The residents of first century AD Philippi understood the value and meaning of citizenship. As a Roman colony, they enjoyed many of its privileges. They understood what it meant to display loyalty to a faraway city.
The words of Philippians 3:20 would have captured the attention of Paul’s readers and brought them considerable encouragement. They can do the same for us because our heavenly citizenship…
Signifies Living for Eternity Versus the Things of This World
Just before reminding the Philippians of their heavenly citizenship, the apostle warns them of those who live for the things of this world. In verses 17-19, he wrote:
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
Paul had just finished telling them of his forward look to “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14). I believe that what Paul specifies as the “prize of the upward call” is Jesus’ appearing. That’s the time the Lord catches us up to meet Him “in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The apostle desired for his readers, and us, to copy his passion for the things above rather than those solely focused on satisfying earthly desires.
Our heavenly citizenship signifies that our first allegiance belongs to Jesus and that we live for Him rather than put all our efforts into obtaining what the world offers.
Leads to an Eager Anticipation of Jesus’ Appearing
Being citizens of heaven meant anticipating Jesus’ appearing with much excitement. In Philippians 3:20, the Greek word for “await” points to an “intense anticipation” or an “excited expectation” of a future event.[ii] Luke used the same Greek word for “await” in Acts 17:16 to describe Paul’s restless “waiting” in Athens for Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. After the apostle’s distressing experiences in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, we know he intently watched and greatly longed for a reunion with his fellow laborers.
Since we are citizens of Heaven, it’s only natural that we would long for Jesus to come and take us there.
During my time as a Financial Analyst, I traveled to Washington, DC, many times on business. During the evening hours, I loved exploring the landmarks of the city. I always looked forward to my trips to the capital city of my country.
Does that not illustrate how we should feel in anticipation of going to the glorious city above that we call Heaven? It’s where Jesus is preparing a special place, a home, for all those who know Him as their Savior (John 14:1-3).
Paul combined the excitement of longing for Jesus’ appearing to take us home with the fact of our heavenly citizenship. Fascination with our future residence naturally causes one to yearn for the time when Jesus will take us there.
Confirms Our Hope of Receiving Glorified Bodies
Not only does it facilitate our hopeful anticipation of the Rapture, but our heavenly citizenship confirms our hope of receiving imperishable bodies. We see this connection in Philippians 3:21 where Paul reveals an all-important aspect of what Jesus will do at His appearing:
“Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
This is our “blessed hope”; it’s an essential aspect of the Gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, Paul explains why our receipt of glorified bodies must happen at the time of the Rapture:
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
As New Testament saints, we already belong to God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14). However, as the apostle explains above, to fully inherit His kingdom and reign with Him in the Millennium, He must give us immortal and glorified bodies. In 1 Corinthians 15:47-49, Paul writes about bearing “the image of the man from heaven.” In the verses that follow, he explains how that happens.
Being citizens of Heaven confirms our anticipation of the day when Jesus will “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 are among the most comforting passages in the Bible. When the Rapture occurs, the Lord will give us bodies like His, and we will live forever, never again to experience sickness, weaknesses, pain, suffering, the effects of aging, or death.
This is the “blessed hope” embedded in the Gospel message. It’s what it means to be citizens of Heaven. I am more than a little weary of hearing the saving message of the cross explained with not one mention of eternal life. What good is forgiveness of sins if it only applies to this life? The popular version of Christianity ignores eternal life and errantly exalts the church as God’s kingdom on earth.
Helps Us to Stand Firm in Perilous Times
A most unfortunate chapter break occurs after Philippians 3:21. I believe Paul is still talking about the Rapture of the church when he writes these words in 4:1:
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
You see, there’s a strong connection between that of our heavenly citizenship, along with our hope in Jesus’ appearing that it engenders, and our firm stand during perilous times.
As New Testament saints, we live at a time when we need so much more than a vague understanding of eternal life. The hostility toward us is increasing at an alarming rate and will only get worse.
When I studied prophecy in the early 1970s, it seemed to me that society, at least in the U.S., needed to significantly change for people to accept the murder of believers and Jews, which the Bible says will happen during the seven-year Tribulation. However, the day I wondered about fifty years ago has arrived; we are at that place even in America.
Celebrities openly compare Christians to those who mass murder women and children, and no one in the mainstream media objects. I have heard transgenders say that all those opposed to their lifestyle, aka believers in God’s Word, should be killed, and I hear no strong rebuttals. The growing number of mass shootings reveals that many have no reservations about taking the lives of other innocent people.
I couldn’t cope with what I see happening around the world apart from the assurances of Scripture revealed through biblical prophecy. The extreme wickedness, lawlessness, violence, and deception in our world are all things the Bible said would happen in the last days. However, God’s Word also assures us that the Lord will deal with all these things after He takes us safely to His Father’s House in Heaven.
Knowing that I’m already a citizen of Heaven brings sanity to my days as I wait for what I don’t see, Jesus’ appearing to take me home. There’s such unspeakable comfort and encouragement in knowing that this world is not my home; I belong to another realm. God’s kingdom is coming to the earth, and when that happens, we will reign with Jesus with immortal and glorified bodies.
With such a hope, how can we not eagerly long for Jesus’ appearing? I know many feel distress because of the long wait, but please know that it’s surely coming. The Rapture will happen; don’t lose heart.
Pastors who refuse to preach about biblical prophecy, and/or deny biblical teaching regarding the Rapture, perform a great disservice to those whom the Lord has placed under their care. They deny them a great source of encouragement for the day in which we live that comes with understanding our heavenly citizenship.
My newest book is Cancel This! What Today’s Church Can Learn from the Bad Guys of the Bible. In it, I explore what we can learn from less-than-stellar biblical characters that help us live in today’s cancel culture.
I provide a detailed defense of the Pretribulation viewpoint in: The Triumph of the Redeemed-An Eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times.
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[i] John F. Walvoord, Philippians, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 97.
[ii] Colin Brown, ed., Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1969) p. 244.