For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20)
When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi he, at times, used words that would have special significance to those reading his epistle. Philippi had the unique distinction of being a Roman colony, a privilege that entitled its inhabitants to Roman citizenship even though they were approximately 800 miles away from Rome. Thus, the word “citizenship” carried significant overtones to those in Philippi. It meant that they were free from certain, if not all, taxes, spoke the Latin language, wore the Roman garb, and took great pride in that exclusive designation.
Not to mention, it wouldn’t be uncommon for the citizens of Philippi to eagerly await a visit from the emperor. Imagine the pomp and circumstance that surrounded such an occasion. Citizens would probably ‘clear their calendars’ and feel as though the other affairs of life would have to take a back seat to such an event. It was a big deal. But the Christians in Philippi enjoyed a reality that was a far bigger deal. They were not only Roman citizens, more importantly, “[their] citizenship [was] in heaven” (Phil. 3:20a); and from there, one day, one much greater than Caesar would come.
As a result, Christians, both then and now, were and are to be a study in contrasts. While those who are of this world are consumed with the things of this world or, to use language from Philippians 3:19, “set their mind on earthly things” – whether it be a preoccupation with religious ceremony and self-justifying morality like the Judaizers or making a priority of carnal pleasures like the gentiles, citizens of heaven set their minds on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and desire a better country, a heavenly one (Heb.11:16a), of which they are already citizens. It’s the place where their names are already written (Lk. 10:20). They know that the God who is not ashamed to be their God has prepared for them a city (Heb.11:16b), a dwelling place (Jn. 14:2), and an incorruptible inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4). And so they were (and we are) to think about…home. Those who longed for Zion while in foreign land and said things like, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill,” and “If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth – if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:5-6), should not exceed us in zeal. The heavenly Jerusalem is far more joy-provoking than the earthly one ever was!
And even though heaven is populated with both saints and angels, and is pain-free and light-filled, what excites heavenly citizens the most is the promise that one much greater than Caesar is coming from there – “the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s as though the Philippian Christians ought to have recalled the excitement and anticipation that surrounded a visit from the emperor and thought to themselves, ‘I want to wait like that for Jesus.’ I would argue it’s one of the best ways to prepare for the Lord’s return – to do what Paul said in Philippians 3:20: “eagerly wait.”
The word translated “eagerly wait” is apekdechomai. It’s used eight times in the New Testament. It’s used to speak of creation awaiting the glorious revealing of the sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:19), and the way in which saints eagerly await the redemption, i.e. the glorification of their mortal bodies (Rom. 8:23) and the absence of indwelling sin that comes as a result (cf. Gal. 5:5). It’s used to speak of the saint’s eager anticipation of the moment when the Jesus they have believed in will be seen by every eye that inhabits the earth (1 Cor. 1:7). And when that moment comes, to use language from Hebrews, Jesus will appear for salvation “to those who eagerly wait for Him” (Heb. 9:28).
Therefore, by the grace of God, be intentional about waiting for that moment. And a good way to do that is to just think about it, imagine it, and consider the awe-striking aspects of it. As you look out the window, whether at work or at home, imagine the Lord who loved you and gave Himself for you appearing in the clouds. Imagine being with Him forever. Imagine your corruptible body being transformed into an incorruptible, glorious body like the Savior – that is a particular aspect of Jesus’ return that Paul called the Philippians’ attention to (Phil. 3:21). Imagine, even if for brief moments, the texts that speak about Jesus’ return actually happening. And as the reality of that event becomes more and more contemplated by you, the hope is – you will eagerly await and be better prepared for its arrival.