Born a Citizen

By Jean Boonstra

The Apostle Paul must have been a stubborn man. But stubborn in a good way—you know, the kind of person who knows what is right and wrong and stands by his principles. Stubbornly, he insisted on going to Jerusalem in spite of the prophetic warnings and the tears of his friends. He knew it was the right thing to do.

About the Author

Jean Boonstra is the Associate Speaker for the Voice of Prophecy. She is the author of several books, including eight in the Adventist Girl series.

View more posts by Jean Boonstra

In Jerusalem, Paul tried to blend in with the crowd. The ominous words of warning likely echoed in his head as he approached the temple. Inside, he got away with being there for a while. These were the days before a person of interest popped up on handheld devices and big screens on every corner. Paul almost got away with his visit, until some in the crowd recognized him from his travels in Asia. These men protested Paul's presence voraciously. 

Outed, Paul took the crowd's verbal assaults and the physical thrashing that quickly followed. A centurion was called in to calm the red-faced children of God, and Paul was carried away above the angry mob as they reached up—eager for one last crack at him. Paul, a follower of Christ first, and a broken, bleeding man second, asked the centurion if he could speak to the crowd that had just abused him. He spoke to them in their own language, and they heard but did not listen.

The centurion took the bloodied preacher into the barracks and prepared to scourge him, when the apostle's words stopped him.

"And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, 'Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?'" —Acts 22:25

I can only imagine the surprise on the centurion's face. I am certain the last thing he expected this man speaking the Hebrew language to a frenzied crowd in the temple to be was a Roman citizen. He did what most of us would likely do in that situation. He went to get his boss.

"When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, 'Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.' Then the commander came and said to him, 'Tell me, are you a Roman?' He said, 'Yes.' The commander answered, 'With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.' And Paul said, 'But I was born a citizen.' Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him." —Acts 22:26-29

Did you catch the commander's answer? The commander, the chief captain, had purchased his citizenship. This man was likely a former slave, and either through a really good savings plan or the gift of a benefactor, his citizenship was purchased. Receiving his freedom, he must have worked hard to advance in the Roman army, because he stood before Paul as the chief captain. Having purchased his freedom, Paul's bold statement of fact must have stung.

The humble, stooped and bleeding preacher did not purchase his freedom. He was born a citizen.

Citizenship in the Roman Empire was a highly-coveted commodity. Male Roman citizens were part of the privileged minority that enjoyed political and legal status. As a Roman citizen, Paul was entitled to legally marry another Roman citizen, to vote, to hold political office, to enjoy the right to a legal trial, and he was not required to pay certain taxes. As a citizen of Rome, it was illegal for the centurion (or anyone else for that matter) to whip or torture him.

Paul's citizenship caused the commander and the centurion to take a step backward. Instead of a scourging, he received respect and these men treated him with dignity as they ushered him in the coming days before rulers and dignitaries.

The centurion can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing Paul's Roman citizenship. He may have justifiably told his boss, the commander, that Paul didn't act like a citizen and that he didn't seem to really care about all the rights and privileges it afforded. The centurion would be at least partially correct. We know from a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi that Roman citizenship was not his greatest badge of honor.

"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself." —Philippians 3:20-21

Paul's citizenship was not tethered to any place on earth. His heart belonged to a Kingdom where no one will ever receive a scourging or verbal assault and where his now-broken body would be transformed. I may have been born in a country far from this perfect Home, but my heart belongs there, too!