But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 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. (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV)
When Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi, being a Roman citizen was a big deal. Rome ruled the world. Roman citizens had free reign to travel the empire and had a special status. If a Roman citizen were accused of a crime, they had a right to a trial before Cesar if they wanted one (not everyone was lucky enough to even get a trial back then). The church at Philippi probably had a firm grasp on the perks of being a Roman citizen because their city was built as a Roman outpost. It was “Rome away from Rome.”
The Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen. It’s what ultimately allowed him to have a trial before Cesar. Yet, even as he is waiting for a trial that his citizenship guarantees, He can’t help think about a more important citizenship. He is a citizen of Heaven! He has a different king than Cesar, Jesus is his king!
Let’s pause for a moment because we don’t live in a country with a king. We have a president. Presidents are generally elected by the people, serve a term or two and then retire from being president. Kings are kings for life. There is no second guessing their policy. There is no campaigning against them during the next election. And there certainly are no disrespectful posts on facebook about the king… In fact at one point in Roman history you could be exiled (kicked out of the kingdom) for carrying a coin with Cesar’s image on it into the restroom!
The Apostle Paul lived during the time of a few of Rome’s worst emperors (look up Caligula and Nero). The kings of Rome often thought they were a god. They wanted people to worship them. People were looking to earn the Cesar’s favor because he was the most powerful man in the world. One of the Cesar’s made the other wealthy men kiss his feet (remember sandals were the only style back then).
When Paul stands before the Roman emperor he may be asked to burn incense before a statue and declare “Cesar is Lord.” This would be like saying Cesar is a god and it would be saying that Cesar is more important than Jesus.
But Cesar is not a god. He is not more important than Jesus. Paul reminds those of us who follow Jesus that we have a better citizenship! One that gives us the greater privilege of standing before the King of Kings and Lord for Lords. The one who has the power not just over life and death, but power to grant eternal life. We’ll have new transformed bodies that will be like the risen body of Jesus. Every tear will be wiped away and all the sad things will no longer be true. There will be no more death, no more war, no more famine or disease. All things will be as they should be.
Paul had the rights to see the emperor because he was a Roman citizen. However, he was looking past that citizenship to one far greater. He had the right to see Jesus because he was a citizen of Heaven. The emperor could kill him, but Jesus could raise him from the dead. Paul served a real king with real power.
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