Looking For The Saviour
From the unsavory description of the earthly minded citizens the Apostle Paul directs his readers to consider Heaven’s citizens, “For our citizenship,” he writes, “is in Heaven, from where also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our lowly body, that it may be fashioned like His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20 and 21). The contrast is distinctly marked, for here are the true representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. While the place of their present worship and witness is earthly, the actual source and center of their lives is heavenly. Christians are like the diver in the ocean. Though in the ocean, he is not of it, and all his resources for life and its sustenance come from above.
In our study of these two precious verses, let’s look first at the delightful theme of:
Our Heavenly Citizenship (3:20a)
In spite of our nation’s sad decline, particularly from the moral standpoint, I am nevertheless exceedingly grateful to be a citizen of what is still the best and greatest country in all the world—the United States of America (I would expect Canadians, and those from other lands, to feel precisely the same way about their own nation). The Christian, however, has an infinitely greater and better citizenship —he is a citizen of Heaven! The Philippian believers would have readily understood Paul’s meaning, James Moffat having picked up the thought in his translation, “But we are a colony of Heaven.” Philippi was a Roman colony — “a bit of Rome away from Rome” — enjoying the status and all the privileges of those in Rome. In similar fashion Christians in this world are a spiritual colony of Heaven whose Ruler is not Caesar but Christ Jesus, the Lord. Furthermore, the substance of our heavenly commonwealth is not “meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
The word for “Heaven” is literally “heavens,” setting forth the region in its fulness in contrast to earth. In his helpful book on Philippians, Guy H. King mentions a one-time medical missionary to China, Dr, Duncan Main, who was told that the Chinese equivalent of his name was “Dr. Apricot, of Heaven Below.” Applying this to our passage, King said, “That second part is… applicable to every Christian —he, she, is of Heaven Below” (Joy Way, p.92). Christians, wherever they are in this world, should be a little bit of Heaven on earth in order to make earth a little bit like Heaven.
The hymns of Christians through the years bear witness to truth set forth here by Paul (e.g., “When We All Get to Heaven”; “This World Is Not My Home”; “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”; “My Home, Sweet Home”; “Sweet By and By”; “O That Will Be Glory”; “Meet Me There”; “Face to Face”; “To Dwell Above”; “We’re Marching to Zion”; “I am Bound for the Promised Land”; and J. N. Darby’s great hymn, “I Shall Be Like Thy Son,” just to name a few).
As James Montgomery wrote:
Here in my body pent,
Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.
Let’s look now at the second main thought unfolded by this brief but blessed passage — namely:
Our Happy Expectation (3:20b)
“From where also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In these words both the Saviourship and Sovereignty of Christ are underscored. As the Saviour He is coming to the air to complete our salvation (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 with Romans 8:1 9ff.; 2 Corinthians 5:4; Romans 13:11), and because He is Lord He is able to carry out all He has promised to do. Nowhere in the Scriptures are Christians bidden to look for signs. Rather, we are exhorted to “look for the Saviour,” the verb for “look” meaning “to await” or “expect eagerly” (cf. Romans 8:25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; and Hebrews 9:28). That the stage is presently being set for the ultimate fulfillment of such signs as the Lord Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24 & 25 there can be no question (e.g., the Jews’ return to Israel, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, false messiahs), but it is for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that we are to look. “From where” conveys the thought of location, while “Saviour” is in the emphatic position indication that it is to be taken predicatively with the full title, the “Lord Jesus Christ.” The fact that these various signs are discernable should cause us to realize how very near we must be to our Lord’s return with all the more reason to be eagerly awaiting the realization of the Church’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
Dr. A.T. Robertson, the celebrated New Testament scholar of a past generation, has discerningly stated: “This blessed hope exerted a powerful influence for holy living and Christian activity among the early Christians. Some of them misunderstood the promise as definitely made for their own time. The centuries have dimmed for many the brightness of this star of hope, but without reason, for a day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8). The promise of the first coming of the Messiah seemed long in realization, but Christ did come in the fulness of time” (Paul’s Joy in Christ, p. 123).
Lastly, we want to consider something of the glorious subject of:
Our Hastening Transformation (3:21)
Christ’s Promise. The verb translated “shall change” has to do with outward change, as in 2:8, and may be rendered “shall fashion anew” (cf. Matthew 17:2; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 11:13). The words “vile body” are better rendered “body of humiliation,” this translation having come into prominence through Archbishop Whately when on his death bed. He had his chaplain correctly render the words, and regarding the King James translation said, “Not vile — nothing that He has made is vile.” The word for “humiliation” (see Luke 1:48; Acts 8:33) has reference to the fall in Genesis 3. At Christ’s coming all remains of sin and sin’s disgrace shall be removed.
Christ’s Pattern. Our future spiritual body will be “like unto His glorious body.” “Fashioned like” (lit., “conformed”) refers to likeness in the inner nature (cf. 2:6; 3:10; Romans 8:29). Inwardly and outwardly our future glorified bodies will be perfect mediums for the expression of Christ’s life (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-53). Presently we do not know just what changes our Lord’s body went through following His resurrection and ascension, but we do know that every physical limitation gave way to the transforming power of a glorious spiritual change. John tells us that our knowledge of the future state is very limited, but we do know that when Christ appears, “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).
Christ’s Power. The word for “working” is literally “energy” (see Psalm 17:15). It has reference to power in exercise and is used only of superhuman power (see John 1:12; 2 Peter 2:11). Although there are many unanswered questions relative to the resurrection and change that Christians shall experience at the rapture, we need not entertain any doubts about our Lord Jesus Christ’s power. The words “He is able” should completely satisfy any uncertainty about the present or future. These are wonderful words: “He is able” (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 3:20; 2 Timothy 1:12; Hebrews 2:18; 7:25; Jude 24). “Subdue” is literally “subject,” and it is here revealed that God’s work in Christ involves not only transformation, but subjugation, and that, not only of the body but of all things (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:25-27; Romans 8:18-20; Ephesians 1:10, 21-22; 4:10).
Are we really “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11) in this world, or have we become settlers? Do we really love steadfastly Christ’s appearing (2 Timothy 4:8)? Does “that blessed hope” have a genuine sanctifying effect on our lives (1 John 3:3)?