Citizenship that Brings Comfort

Recently I read Anthony Everitt’s The Life of Rome’s first Emperor: Augustus. Everitt is an excellent writer. From his pen, history reads like the story it is. But I was struck by something in the narrative that encouraged me upon reflection. After the death of Julius Caesar two-thirds of the second Triumvirate sought revenge for the treasonous murder carried out by members of the Senate.  Marc Antony was a consul, was popular with the troops and saw himself as Caesar’s political heir. Octavian was younger, not seasoned in war but the adopted son of Caesar.  Both had their reasons for seeking revenge on the members of the Senate who had assassinated Caesar and Brutus in particular.

In the city of Philippi Marc Antony and Octavian cornered Brutus. In the wooded hills above Philippi the disloyalty Brutus had shown to Caesar returned to him when his legions sought to surrender to Marc Antony. There Brutus threw himself on his sword and Everitt writes, “Philippi…marked the end of the Republic.”[1] A few pages later he again states, “After Philippi, nearly all the men who had assassinated Julius Caesar were dead, and so was the Republic.”[2]  Everitt explains his assertion by saying that the great families who had controlled the Senate and the consulship had been killed and they essentially disappear from the historical record. New men began to appear in the record and soon Rome would see its first Emperor.

However, what struck me was that the Republic of Rome fell at Philippi which in turn gave birth to Imperial Rome. This is the Rome of the New Testament. What is more, we have a letter from Paul written to the church in Philippi. In that letter, Paul says something that when set against this background is quite suggestive. In chapter 1:27 he writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The word manner of life (politeuesthe) is or a word which means “to be a citizen.” Strikingly, Paul uses the noun form (politeuma) of that same word in 3:20 saying, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.” In both cases, Paul is encouraging the citizens of Philippi to live in a manner worthy of their citizenship in heaven.

After Octavian became Rome’s first emperor he reorganized the colony and Philippi was transformed into a little Rome. The city was administratively modeled after Rome and governed by two military officers appointed by Rome.  It was hard to escape the shadow of Rome in Philippi. But Paul reminds the church that their citizenship is in heaven. In other words, they may live in the city where the Republic died and the Empire was birthed but their lasting citizenship…their citizenship that mattered was in heaven from where they were awaiting their King’s return.

I can’t help but be encouraged by all of this. Yes, we hold a dual citizenship. Paul acknowledges such a thing when he writes to those “in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.”  We too are those who belong to Christ even as we live in our respective country. However, the citizenship that matters is our heavenly citizenship. It is from there that we await the King. The United States will not produce a savior, nor will any other country. Our Savior is in heaven and He will return in glory.  But until then, our lives are hidden in Him. No matter what tomorrow holds we are kept by and in the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth ( an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

[1] Antony Everitt, Augustus (NY: Random House, 2006), 95.

[2] Ibid., 97.


Jeffrey Stivason