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Philippians Bible Study, Week 18

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. Philippians 3:20 – 4:1 (NASB)

Things to think about

Are you looking forward to Jesus Christ’s return to earth?
What will happen when Jesus returns to earth?
What are some of your views on end times’ events What are your hopes?

Heavenly Citizens

In Philippians 3:19, Paul had criticised certain backslidden Christians as being earthly minded. Paul wanted his readers not to be earthly minded, but to be heavenly minded, and he encouraged them by pointing out that they had heavenly citizenship.

Philippi was a Roman colony, and many of its populace were Roman citizens, including, no doubt, many members of the Philippian church. Even though the Philippians were not living in the city of Rome, in many regards they lived like Romans. “Roman-style clothes were worn; Roman magistrates governed; Latin was spoken; Roman morals were observed.” (Barclay 2003:81) Roman citizenship also offered privileges and perks. [See more about Philippi as a Roman colony in the Introduction.]

By telling the Philippian Christians that they were citizens of heaven,[1] Paul was, in effect, saying that just as the Roman colonists never forgot that they belonged to Rome, the Philippian Christians must never forget that they belong to heaven. (Barclay 2003:81)

Christians have a double allegiance. We should be loyal to our earthly government, and we should be good citizens of our countries and communities. Even more important, however, is our loyalty and duty to our heavenly government, the Kingdom of God. Especially as we are already part of God’s kingdom; we are already living the eternal life with a real foretaste of its eternal privileges and glorious perks.

Eagerly Waiting

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, and before his ascension into heaven, Jesus had promised his disciples that one day he would return to earth. Jesus’ disciples and the other Christians in the early church lived with the expectation that Jesus would return soon (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:7). The return of the ascended and exalted Jesus from heaven was anticipated as being a magnificently glorious event. Jesus’ return would mark the beginning of his rule and reign on earth as Messiah and King, and the earth would experience peace and plenty. In Philippians, Paul called the day of Jesus’ return “the Day of Christ”.

The Day of Christ was the earnest hope of the earliest Christians, and Paul encouraged his readers to put their hope in this coming Day. Many of his readers were experiencing hardships and persecutions because of their faith; some would even know the real threat of martyrdom. Writing to suffering Christians, Paul stated,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18.

In a somewhat similar way, suffering Christians for much of the last two millennia, in particular, those who had stopped expecting the imminent coming of the Day of Christ, looked forward to death, because death would release them from earthly bondage and suffering, and open the way to heaven and eternal glory.

The Day of Christ

Paul is the only New Testament author to use the term “the Day of Christ”. In Philippians, he used this term three times (Phil. 1:6,10; 2:16). The Day of Christ is when Jesus returns to earth and his true identity and kingship is revealed to the whole earth (1 Cor. 1:8; 13:10; 15:48-54; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 1:5). Our full redemption and perfection will be finally accomplished on that day, and so, in Ephesians 4:30, Paul called this day the Day of Redemption. We need to persevere and progress in our Christian faith until then so that we will receive this final culmination of our salvation. On the Day of Christ, believers will meet Jesus face to face and be powerfully transformed into his likeness (Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

The Day of Christ is not to be confused with the Day of the Lord.  The Day of the Lord is a time of wrath, retribution and judgement upon the earth. There is a lot of confusion about end times (eschatological) events; however it seems that the Day of Christ occurs at the conclusion of the Day of the Lord, and there may even be some overlap.


Christians today commonly use the word “saviour” to refer to Jesus alone, but for those living in the Roman Empire, including the Philippians, it was a word loaded with political meaning and typically applied to the Roman emperor. Ralph Martin (1983:161) writes:

From our capital city, which is actually situated in the heavens, we expect the Saviour, whose promised advent will bring the final deliverance from all the trials and persecutions of a hostile and alien world.  Saviour is a very infrequent term when used as a title of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Pauline letters. It is found in Ephesians 5:23, 2 Timothy 1:10 and Titus 1:4, 2:13, 3:6. V. Taylor explains the neglect of the term in early Christian literature as due to the popular use of the designation in Greek religion where the gods were hailed as ‘saviours’, and in Caesar-worship which gave this honorific title to the emperors. Christians would be reluctant to claim a term for their Lord which was so applied in current religious speech.

The use of the term here may be justified on the ground that Paul has employed imagery in which the contrast with the Roman emperor was inevitable. Therefore, he opposes the true Emperor, the Lord Jesus Christ, against the head of imperial Rome. Saviour, soter, was a title used of Roman emperors since 48 BC when a decree of the people of Ephesus declared Julius Caesar to be the ‘general savior of mankind’; thereafter it was a common title for the ruling Caesar.

Martin (1983:161) goes on to say that Jesus as “saviour” is the vindicator and deliverer of his people from their oppressors. The Christians living in the Roman colony of Philippi would have understood these political nuances in the word “saviour” used in Philippians 3:20.

Caesar Augustus, saviour savior soter

The Redemption and Transformation of our Bodies

Our earthly bodies are at the present time prone to disease, injury and death. Paul aptly described this condition as being in “bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21-23 NIV). In fact, the whole of creation is in bondage to decay because of the consequences of sin. Christ’s redeeming death on the cross did not just purchase the redemption of our souls, it also purchased the redemption of our bodies. Furthermore, Christ’s act also purchased the complete redemption of the world, so that the world and humanity may one day return to Eden-like conditions.

Our future as true believers in Christ is beyond our comprehension. On the Day of Christ, believers will meet Jesus face to face and be wonderfully and powerfully transformed into his likeness (Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2). Our “lowly” bodies [see endnote 2] will become like Jesus’ glorified body: imperishable and immortal. Paul wrote about this mystery in 1 Corinthians chapter 15:44-53 where he told the Corinthians,

Just as we have borne the image of the earthly, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. . . we will be changed; for this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:49 and 53.

Subject to Christ

Philippians 3:21 is one of my very favourite scripture verses.  I love how the New American Standard Bible translates it.  This is thrilling stuff!

. . . the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.  (NASB)

While Christ’s act of redemption fully provided for the salvation of humanity and creation, the redemption process has not been instantaneous. One day, however, everything in the universe will be brought under the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ will then present the Kingdom to God the Father (1 Cor. 15:28: Eph. 1:19).  What an exciting time that will be!

In view of the glorious future that awaits believers, Paul, with great affection and longing, urged his beloved Philippians to stand firm in the Lord (Phil. 4:1).

Until that day when the whole of creation is brought into subjection under Christ’s reign, here is some advice from Jesus about how to live and be ready for his return:

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning. Be like people who are waiting for their master’s return when he comes from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Luke 12:35-36.


[1] Compare with Ephesians 2:19, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”

[2] The Greek word tapeinōseōs in Philippians 3:21 describes our earthly bodies as “lowly” or “humble”.  The King James Version translates this word as “vile”.  The meaning of “vile” has changed over the few hundred years since the KJV was written.  While “vile” was a reasonable translation in the 1600s, our present understanding of “vile” (as something despicable and nasty) is not what the Apostle Paul meant to convey.

© 11th of November 2010, Margaret Mowczko

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(1) Earth from Space (Source: WallpaperAccess.com)
(2) Statue of Caesar Augustus, emperor of the Roman Empire from 27 BCE to 14 CE. (Source: Wikimedia)

Week 17: Maturity and Perfection – Philippians 3:15-19
Week 19: Ministers at Philippi, Men and Women: Philippians 4:2-5

Related Articles

The Kingdom of Heaven in the Here and Now and Future
The Onward, Upward Call – Philippians 3:10-14
Is Jesus Waiting for Us? 
A Thrill of Hope: Jesus’ First and Second Advents
Peace on Earth 
7 things you may not know about the King James Bible


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