The Time Has Come for My Departure: 2 Timothy 4
We now reach the last chapter in Paul’s last letter. He is in prison, waiting for his last trial. He knows that he will probably lose and then be executed for preaching the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. He is ready for death, and he encourages Timothy to continue the work in the coming years.
A commission (vv. 1-5)
This chapter begins with a solemn and formal declaration of duties: In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge… Paul is reminding Timothy that his primary allegiance is to Christ, and that Christ will evaluate Timothy’s work.
His assignment is to preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. That is, deliver the message, all the time, and in doing that, you will sometimes have to correct problems and rebuke heresies. You will need to teach again and again, so be patient. People’s enthusiasm will wane, so you’ll need to encourage them.
Paul escaped immediate punishment, but his case was forwarded to another judge, who was almost certain to demand execution.
Why? For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. Timothy should teach diligently because heresies will come — indeed, they have already come. But Paul’s logic implies that Timothy can prevent some of the heresy by teaching faithfully. Every teaching, whether good or bad, is desired by someone or another, but it must all be judged by the word of the gospel.
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. In doctrinal controversies, Timothy needs to keep his cool and accept some discomforts. In everything, he needs to preach the gospel, and in doing so he will fulfill his assignment.
For the immediate future, Paul wants Timothy to visit him in prison (v. 9). But Paul’s commission here will provide a focus for Timothy after Paul is dead.
My time has come (vv. 6-8)
Paul explains why he gives Timothy this commission: because Paul will soon die. He sees it as the culmination of a life well lived, in service to his King: For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. He is in the final season of his life, and he looks back with some satisfaction:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. These metaphors are different ways to say the same thing, and all convey a sense of completion.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. Paul again refers to the Day of Judgment, and the rewards Christ will give.
A "crown" (stephanos) may refer to the laurel wreath given to people who won a race. The point is not that we will literally have something on our heads, but that we will be rewarded with the gift of being accepted by God. The righteous status we now have will then be ours permanently and in its fullness. We need to keep our eyes on the future reward.
Personal requests (vv. 9-13)
In the last part of his letter, Paul refers to a number of people and circumstances. In most cases we can only speculate about the details. Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. We do not know the nature of his desertion, or why he went to Thessalonica.
Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Perhaps Paul sent these men, or they simply decided to get out of Rome.
Only Luke is with me. Verse 21 shows that other people are with Paul, too; what Paul probably means here is that Luke is the only one remaining from Timothy’s generation of co-workers.
Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. Many years earlier, Mark had deserted Paul, but he later helped Paul in prison (Acts 13:13; Col. 4:10). How he helped is not known.
I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. He may have carried the letter to Timothy — and by staying in Ephesus, he would make it easier for Timothy to leave.
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. As winter approached, he needed that cloak. What was written on his parchments? Perhaps books of the Old Testament; perhaps copies of his own letters.
Resisting the enemy (vv. 14-18)
Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. We do not know if this is the man mentioned in 1 Tim. 1:20. He must have done something either to get Paul thrown in prison, or to lose a trial.
No matter what, Paul did not retaliate: The Lord will repay him for what he has done. However, Paul does not want Timothy to forget the danger of a repeat performance: You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. We do not know whether Alexander’s objections were political, pagan, Jewish, or Gnostic.
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. Paul implies that he will have a second defense, although due to imperial policy in Rome, condemnation was probably inevitable.
But good came out of his trial anyway: But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. Paul was not put in prison for any criminal action — the only accusation against him was his message, so it would be natural for him to present that message in court.
And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. He escaped immediate punishment, but his case was forwarded to another judge, perhaps Nero himself, who was almost certain to order an execution.
Paul believes his time is up, but he says with confidence, The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. In context of this chapter, this seems to mean that the Lord will keep him faithful, and although his enemies can kill the body, they cannot kill the soul (cf. Matt. 10:28). Paul’s salvation is secure in Christ. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Final greetings (vv. 19-22)
Paul takes his last opportunity to greet some old and dear friends: Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Onesiphorus himself may have died.
Erastus — possibly the man mentioned in Rom. 16:23 — stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Even Paul couldn’t heal everyone.
Do your best to get here before winter. Not only does it get cold in winter, it is difficult to travel, so if Timothy procrastinates, he might have to wait three more months, and that may be too late.
Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
- What would it take for me to be at peace with my own death? Do I have a sense of completion?
- In what way could I encourage someone in the next generation to continue the work of Jesus Christ?
- Is it possible for the Lord “to rescue Paul from every evil attack” by letting him be killed? Can I trust a God who lets evil get its way?
The Greeks had a Word for it
Greek had two main words for time. Sometimes they meant essentially the same thing, but sometimes they had different connotations. Chronos referred to a quantity of time, time that could be measured by a clock.
Kairos, the other word, could refer to a time that was significant in quality, a significance that went beyond the number of minutes or days. It was a season of opportunity, an occasion for a special event. In 2 Tim. 4:6, Paul said that the kairos had come for his departure. It was not just a date on the calendar, but a tremendously significant milestone in his life and ministry.