By Charles H. Welch
Among the glorious privileges of the members of the body of Christ is that of being ‘fellow citizens
with the saints’ (Eph. 2:19) which is placed in contrast with a previous position, ‘No more strangers and foreigners’,
which position is set out very clearly in earlier verses of this same chapter.
The word ‘commonwealth’ here is politeia, the word ‘fellow citizen’ is sumpolites. In the flesh, the Gentile was an alien, but in the spirit, he could be a citizen on equal terms.
The apostle who thus writes of this great privilege of citizenship could bring to bear upon the subject his own
conscious sense of privilege in being a citizen of Israel’s commonwealth, by reason of his Hebrew birth, and the fact
that he was at the same time ‘a citizen of no mean city’ (Acts 21:39) namely of Tarsus, and above this, a Roman
‘born free’ (Acts 22:28), where it must be remembered that the word ‘freedom’ used by the Roman captain is
politeia, the same word that is translated ‘commonwealth’ in Ephesians 2:12. It is evident that before we can use the
word ‘citizenship’ without ambiguity we must know what ‘city’ is in view. Before discussing this feature, we will
provide a concordance to all the derivatives of polis ‘city’ that are found in the New Testament.
The cities mentioned in the New Testament are many, Jerusalem, Capernaum, Lystra, Derbe, Damascus, the heavenly Jerusalem, and Rome, come at once to the mind. Jerusalem is called ‘the holy city’ (Matt. 4:5) and the city of the great king (Matt. 5:35). Christ was born in Bethlehem, ‘the city of David’ (Luke 2:11), but it is evident that the citizenship which is spoken of in the epistles is something higher than anything these could offer. In the epistle to the Hebrews and in the book of the Revelation, the heavenly Jerusalem is dominant, and it is in Hebrews, that we read ‘here we have no continuing city but we seek one to come’ (Heb. 13:14). The heavenly city is associated with Abraham, and is called Mount Sion. The description given of this city in Revelation 21, links it with the heavenly calling of the people of Israel. The twelve gates bear the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve foundations bear the names of the twelve apostles, as distinct from the order of apostles given by the ascended Christ spoken of in Ephesians 4 (see article on APOSTLE). This city is called ‘The Bride’ and ‘the Lamb’s Wife’, and cannot be confused with the church of the one Body which is the ‘perfect man’ (see article THE BRIDE AND THE BODY).
Weymouth’s translation of Philippians 3:20 reads:
The R.V. reads ‘For our citizenship is in heaven’, with a marginal note ‘commonwealth’.
A Gentile ‘in the flesh’ could not belong to the commonwealth of Israel, and in the spirit he has a citizenship in heaven, to which Israel would be a stranger. The citizenship open to believers today is not associated with Abraham, for he is never once mentioned in the Prison Epistles. Here there is no city bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, for Israel and its hope is never mentioned in the Prison Epistles. Here is no city, resting upon the foundation of the twelve apostles, for Peter, James, John and the rest have no place in these Prison Epistles. It is a citizenship in complete harmony with the calling of the Mystery, which associates the believer with heavenly places where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and unlike the holy city, the New Jerusalem, will never be seen descending out of heaven to the earth, neither will it ever change its status of the perfect man, for that of the Bride.
The introduction of politeuma in Philippians 3 is not so much to teach positive truth as to exhort those who belonged to the high calling of God to comport themselves accordingly. The Philippians were in a peculiar position to enable them to appreciate this exhortation. Philippi was a ‘colony’ (Acts 16:12), free citizens of Rome, but living away from Rome itself, and Moffatt’s version reads suggestively here, ‘But we are a colony of heaven’, which has the advantage of including both the idea of citizenship and the idea of the Roman colony, and at the same time taking our eyes off the Heavenly Jerusalem which is never at any time associated with the idea of a colony. So the Philippians were free citizens of heavenly places, but living here on earth for the time being. Let us who realize our high and holy calling remember that we are indeed ‘citizens of no mean city’ and seek grace to act accordingly.