THE FEAR OF GOD
"When the centurion heard that, he went directly to the captain. 'Do you realise what you've done? This man is a Roman citizen!'
"The captain came back and took charge. 'Is what I hear right? You're a Roman citizen?'
"Paul said, 'I certainly am.'
"The captain was impressed. 'I paid a huge sum for my citizenship. How much did it cost you?'
"'Nothing,' said Paul. 'It cost me nothing. I was free from the day of my birth.'
"That put a stop to the interrogation. And it put the fear of God into the captain. He had put a Roman citizen in chains and come within a whisker of putting him under torture." Acts 22:26-29 (The Message).
It is obvious, from this conversation, that Roman citizenship carried with it many privileges; a fair trial and protection by the state, for example. Not everyone in the Roman Empire was automatically a citizen. Some paid a high price for it, like the captain, while others were automatically Roman citizens by privileged birth. Paul was one of the latter, but he did not explain how he was born into it.
The discovery was enough to make the captain change his plan of action! He would have been in serious hot water had he, even in ignorance, acted outside the protection of Paul's Roman citizenship. If citizenship of an earthly kingdom carried with it such privileges, how much more does belonging to God's kingdom offer blessings and protection for those who are born into it.
The Kingdom of God is both all-exclusive and all-inclusive. It is wide open to all who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and receive Him as unrivalled Master of their lives. It is only for those who acknowledge Him as Lord, to the exclusion of all other gods, and submit to His absolute authority. According to those who follow other religions, that makes believers intolerant, but according to God's Word, this is the truth.
Jesus Himself said, "'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" John 14:6 (NIV).
"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ....Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit." Ephesians 2:13; 19-22 (NIV)
The Roman captain was quick to realise his error when he was close to subjecting Paul to an unlawful flogging. He acknowledged his accountability to higher authority and did not act in a way that jeopardised his own position. Unlike Pilate who acted unlawfully towards Jesus and paid dearly for it, this man was not so arrogant that he ignored Roman law.
What of the many millions of citizens of God's kingdom who have been imprisoned, tortured and even murdered simply because they believe in Jesus and are loyal to Him? Does God offer any protection or justice for them? It may not seem like it if we only take this life into consideration. However, God always takes the long look.
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?'" Revelation 6:9-10 (NIV).
"God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire, with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power..." 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (NIV).
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