Two Citizenships of Paul
Citizenship is the right of belonging to a certain country. You can exercise basic rights like the right to your own things and political rights such as voting for candidates in public office, for example, a president and members of congress, and being appointed as a government employee. If you have citizenship of a country, you can enjoy all the mentioned rights.
The Roman Empire governed Israel 2,000 years ago when the apostles preached the gospel. A person with Roman citizenship held high social status and received various privileges from Rome like suffrage, the right to prosecute in court, and the right to appeal to the highest court of Rome held by the emperor. They could avoid certain punishments like whipping and crucifixion, and they did not receive the death penalty as long as they didn’t commit treason.
Paul was from Tarsus of Cilicia located in modern day southern Turkey (Ac 22:3). Some Biblicists explained how Paul, a Jew, obtained Roman citizenship from his birth: People there were accepted as Roman citizens as Tarsus of Cilicia got incorporated into Rome, and Paul’s ancestors with high social status received citizenship. Apostle Paul exercised the right as a Roman citizen while he preached the gospel.
The commander . . . directed that he be flogged and questioned . . . As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”Ac 22:24–26
Flogging was imposed upon Paul, who received Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus and preached God who came as a man. Then, Paul told them that he was a Roman citizen and protested, “Is it legal to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t been found guilty?” The centurion, who was about to flog Paul, was surprised and reported to the commander for Paul’s having Roman citizenship. The interesting part is that the commander was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.Ac 22:27–29
Roman citizenship that Paul had was a privilege and a symbol of great status at that time. Even a law—chaining a Roman citizen was a crime, flogging one is an evil act, and executing one is the same as parricide—was passed.
People knew the value of citizenship well. They believed their lives would become easy if they could obtain Roman citizenship. Apostle Paul taught them the value of salvation through citizenship which was their interest.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…”Php 3:20
What is it like to have heaven’s citizenship? As a heavenly citizen, Apostle Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and walked the path of faith without wavering even a little though it required difficulties. He regarded every obstacle to preaching the gospel as rubbish, even if it was Roman citizenship. This helps us appreciate the value of heaven’s citizenship.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…Php 3:8–9
The gospel Apostle Paul emphasized as a heavenly citizen is the Passover of the new covenant (1 Co 11:23–26). It is also the most special event among Jesus’ gospel ministry for three years. It is because through the Passover bread and wine which represents flesh and blood of Jesus, we can become God’s children and obtain heaven’s citizenship that grants us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Jn 6:53–56; Mt 26:17–28).
It wasn’t just Apostle Paul. Peter, John, Luke, and many others preached about Jesus—God who came in the flesh to give His people heaven’s citizenship; and they kept the Passover of the new covenant, obeying the words of Jesus. They are now in heaven, enjoying all honor and privileges that Roman citizenship cannot be compared with. We too have an opportunity to enjoy the same blessings if we realize the value of heaven’s citizenship and strive to obey the word of God.