The concept of spiritual citizenship is most clearly expressed in Philippians 3:20, where Paul writes, "Our citizenship (politeuma [polivteuma]) 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 (ger [gerousiva]) and a sojourner (magur [rWg'm]) 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 (tosabim) in it ( Lev 25:23 ; 1 Chron 29:15 ; Psalm 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" (parepidemoi [parepivdhmo"]) whose time on earth is a "temporary stay" (paroikia [paroikiva]) in a foreign country ( 1 Peter 1:1 1 Peter 1:17 ). Their status as "strangers" (paroikoi) and temporary residents provides an incentive for holy living ( 1 Pe 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
Bibliography. P. E. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Citizenship'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".