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“Citizenship. The concept of spiritual citizenship is most clearly expressed in Philippians 3:20, where Paul writes, “Our citizenship (politeuma) is in heaven.” This is the only place in Scripture where the word is used, but the idea is found in both Jewish and Christian literature. In fact, the development of the idea may be traced from the record of Abraham’s experience to the writings of the apostolic fathers.
Abraham viewed himself as a stranger (gēr) and a sojourner (māgûr) in the land of promise (Gen. 23:4). The same words are used consistently to describe the experience of the patriarchs (Gen. 17:8; 28:4; 47:9; Exod. 6:4). Even when Israel resided in Canaan, the people were to recognize that the land was God’s and that they were merely aliens (tôšābɩ̂m) in it (Lev. 25:23; 1 Chron. 29:15; Pss. 39:12; 119:19). The Rechabites chose not to build houses, sow seed, or plant vineyards; they lived in tents as a reminder of their status as sojourners (Jer. 35:6–10).
Christ’s teaching on the kingdom has a strong heavenly orientation. His followers are to seek the kingdom that the Father has chosen to give them (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:32). The kingdom, however, is not of this world (John 18:36). Believers are to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:19–21). While Christ is absent, Christians are to take comfort in his promise that he is preparing a place for them in his Father’s house (John 14:1–4). Ultimately, they will inherit the kingdom he has prepared for them (Matt. 25:34).
Paul reminds Christians that it is “the Jerusalem above” to which they are related (Gal. 4:21–31) and that they are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1–4). Peter describes Christians in the same language used to describe Abraham in the Septuagint. They are elect “refugees” (parepidēmoi) whose time on earth is a “temporary stay” (paroikia) in a foreign country (1 Peter 1:1, 17). Their status as “strangers” (paroikoi) and temporary residents provides an incentive for holy living (1 Peter 2:11).
The author of Hebrews brings these various themes together in the most comprehensive way. Abraham and the other patriarchs lived as strangers and exiles on earth, seeking the city designed, built, and prepared for them by God (11:8–16). Similarly, Christians do not have a lasting city; they seek the city that is to come (13:14). That city is the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God and the capital of an unshakable kingdom (12:22–23, 28).
JOHN D. HARVEY”
Harvey, J. D. (1996). Citizenship. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 99–100). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
The privilege of belonging to a city or country. Scripture portrays believers as living in two realms, being members of both human society and of the heavenly city. In both realms there are duties as well as privileges.
Mt 22:21 pp Mk 12:17 pp Lk 20:25 See also Ezr 7:26
Privileges and duties of citizens Ro 13:1-7 See also Ecc 8:2; Mt 17:27; Tit 3:1; 1Pe 2:13-17
Privileges and duties of Roman citizenship Ac 16:37; 22:25-29; 23:27; 25:10
Heavenly citizenship and the Christian hope
Php 3:20; Heb 13:14 See also Lk 22:29-30; Jn 14:2; 1Pe 1:4; Rev 21:2,27; 22:3-5
Gentiles are included in the citizenship of heaven Eph 2:19 See also Eph 2:12-13″
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
“The citizenship of Abraham in the NT
Echoes of Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan may be heard in Paul’s statement that Christians are citizens of ‘the Jerusalem above’ (Gal. 4:21–31). Peter’s description of believers is reminiscent of the terms used for Abraham in Genesis. They are ‘temporary residents’ (‘refugees’, parepidēmois) whose time on earth is a brief stay among strangers (‘time of temporary residence’, paroikia, 1 Pet. 1:1, 17).
The author of the letter to the Hebrews makes more explicit references to Abraham’s experiences. In Hebrews 11:8–16, the lesson drawn from Abraham’s faith is that while he, Isaac and Jacob were living in tents in Canaan, they were actually seeking the ‘city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (11:10). This reference to the semi-nomadism of the ancestral sojourn states clearly that Abraham’s faith was rewarded beyond his comprehension. The city he inherited was the ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’, the city of the living God (Heb. 12:22–23), which is the capital of an unshakeable kingdom (Heb. 12:28). He expected to inherit the cities of Canaan, which were difficult to defend and vulnerable to many aggressors, but was rewarded with a far greater city. Likewise, Christians ‘have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Heb. 13:14).
The two cities in the NT
The eschatological picture of the two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon, had significant implications in the NT and subsequent Christian theology. The clash between the city of God and the city of Satan will come to a head in the eschaton.The clearest expression of this eschatological conflict is found in the book of Revelation, where both the fall of the new Babylon and the arrival of the new Jerusalem are described. The horrors of the new Babylon are detailed in Revelation 17–18 (specifically 16:17–18:24). First-century readers would have undoubtedly understood ‘Babylon’ as a code name for Rome. As ancient Babylon had been the wicked and ruthless enemy of God’s people in OT times, so here she symbolizes the evil and violent thirst for power so typical of earthly kingdoms. But Babylon’s downfall will be swift and total (18:10, and see vv. 17 and 19).
Most of the book of Revelation is an account of persecution and death (chs. 6–20). But in chapters 21–22, the book moves from time into eternity as it foretells the glorious outcome of God’s redemptive plan. The first paragraph (21:1–8) describes the new heaven and new earth in general terms, relying largely on images from the prophecy of Isaiah (65:17; 66:22). The old creation has passed away, making room for this new creation, ‘the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ (Rev. 21:2). The second literary unit describes the new Jerusalem in more detail (21:9–21). The holy city of Jerusalem will be the new home for God’s people. It is described as perfectly symmetrical, and radiant like pure jewels. Finally, the book gives a glimpse of life in the eternal city (21:22–22:5). Some things necessary and taken for granted in the former city will be absent from the new Jerusalem. It has no temple, for the temple represented the presence of God in the midst of Jerusalem. Instead, God himself will be the temple in the new city (21:22). It has no sun or moon, for it will have the glory of God (21:23); no night, because the Lord God will be light for its inhabitants (21:25; 22:5). Life in the new city will surpass the experiences of the first couple in the Garden of Eden, for this city has ‘the river of the water of life’, and ‘the tree of life’ (22:1–2).
The contrast between the two cities encourages believers of every generation to have the faith of Abraham, who was a resident alien in Canaan, but whose citizenship was in heaven (Phil. 3:20). While living in tents here below, we must live a life worthy of our calling, aware that our time here is brief and that we are on a journey to that eternal city.”
Arnold, B. T. (2000). City, Citizenship. In T. D. Alexander & B. S. Rosner (Eds.), New dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., pp. 415–416). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
“Heavenly Citizenship.While explicit language related to heavenly citizenship is rare in Paul, the metaphor of heavenly citizenship is clearly an influential force in his theology. In both ethical injunctions and eschatological descriptions, it is clear that Paul uses this citizenship to describe the believer’s participation in the kingdom of God.
2.1. Ethical Injunctions. Paul’s idea of heavenly citizenship is communicated with full cognizance of his church members’ participation in their local societies as citizens (1 Cor 5:9–10; Rom 13:1–7). In this sense it is possible that Paul has in mind the legal status of dual citizenship (see Phil 1:27). The fact that Christians are citizens of both earth and heaven leads to Paul’s ambassadorial language in 2 Corinthians 5:18–21 and Ephesians 6:19–20. As citizens of heaven, Christians have the responsibility to think consistently with their citizenship (Col 3:1–4) and live holy lives (Rom 13:12–14). Paul’s own idea of his heavenly citizenship allowed him to live in a way that freed him to be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:19–23). Paul’s doctrine of heavenly citizenship and its implications for living are close to 1 Peter 2:11, although Paul does not use the metaphor of sojourning as strongly as Peter. Philippians 3:20 (in the light of Phil 1:27) provides the best example of heavenly citizenship terminology in Paul. This citizenship here provides the ground for Paul’s commands to avoid thinking in an earthly way (Phil 2:3–4; 3:19), and instead to follow his example (Phil 3:17) as befits one who rejoices in God’s goodness, praying and thinking in a God-centered way (Phil 4:1–9). The description of Christians’ heavenly citizenship in Philippians 3:20 also is linked to the expectation of the parousia and the physical transformation to occur at that time (Phil 3:20–21).
2.2. Eschatological Descriptions. The sense that Christians are headed for a citizenship in the next life is a powerful force in Paul’s theology. Thus we see in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:24 how an understanding of the rights and destiny of the heavenly citizen leads to a certain pattern of behavior. In Romans 8:12–30, the prospect of participation as a citizen in the new creation is inextricably linked both to one’s status as a child of God and the concomitant behavior that such future citizenship and adoption necessarily implies for the present. Paul’s eschatological understanding of heavenly citizenship includes the conviction that the Christian is not ultimately subject to death, and ought therefore to live for values that will outlast life on earth (1 Cor 15:53–58).”
Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (Eds.). (1993). In Dictionary of Paul and his letters (pp. 140–141). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.