Introduction to the Second Epistle of Timothy
2 Timothy 1:1–2
The final words of someone facing death usually hold great significance. How much more meaningful, then, are the final words of a spiritual giant like the apostle Paul.
After enduring a preliminary trial (and not being acquitted) on false charges, the apostle sat in prison knowing his death was imminent. We can imagine him remembering his calling and conversion from a persecutor of Christians to belief in Christ (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13). He probably recalled the many years he spent establishing churches and ministering with fellow workers Barnabas, Silas, Luke, James, Mark, Titus, and especially young Timothy.
He also would have been saddened remembering those who broke his heart in Asia: Phygellus, Alexander, Hermogenes, and Demas, who turned from the faith; Hymenaeus and Philetus, who embraced false teaching in churches Paul had established (2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17).
Yet Paul was greatly encouraged to know a new generation of young workers had emerged who were establishing new churches—people who were doctrinally sound and dedicated to Christ. One of those workers was Timothy. The last epistle the apostle wrote to the church was addressed to Timothy, Paul’s beloved son in the faith.
This was not the first time Paul was imprisoned. He was first incarcerated in his own rented house for two years, with a Roman guard assigned to watch him day and night. However, he was able to have many visitors and boldly told all of them Jesus was the Messiah of Israel (Acts 28:23–30).
Some Roman officials wanted to free Paul, but the ruling Jewish authorities charged him with heresy and sedition. Eventually, he was released and visited Crete, Ephesus, Macedonia, Colosse, and Spain. Timothy traveled with him to Ephesus and stayed there to correct doctrinal error being taught in the church (1 Tim. 1:3).
Paul’s second imprisonment was quite different. We don’t know for certain where or when the apostle was arrested. Many believe he was imprisoned after a horrendous fire destroyed almost three quarters of Rome in July of AD 64. Rumors circulated that Emperor Nero himself started the blaze for his amusement and then confiscated the burned land to build a new palace for himself. Needing a scapegoat, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire.
Many were arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. Some were devoured by wild beasts in coliseum spectacles as bloodthirsty Roman crowds watched. Nero also had Christians nailed to crosses, set on fire, and used as human torches at night to light up his sensual garden parties.
Christians who were arrested (and usually martyred) often ended up in the Mamertine prison near the Roman Forum. It was a deep, dark, damp, and dirty dungeon whose stench was almost unbearable. Paul may have been kept there. We do not know for how long. Virtually alone, he was lonely, forsaken, and cold as he anticipated his execution (2 Tim. 4:6, 9–11). Tradition says Paul was decapitated three miles outside Rome on the Ostian Way.
It was in this context that Paul wrote his final epistle to Timothy from Rome, around AD 67 during his final imprisonment.
Paul first met Timothy during his second missionary journey when he went to Derbe and Lystra. Timothy’s grandmother and mother were Jewish believers in Jesus, but his father was Greek (Acts 16:1).
Scripture does not say Timothy was already a believer when he met Paul, and many believe Paul led Timothy to Christ. The apostle called the young man “a true [genuine, sincere] son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2).
Since the brethren at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy, Paul took him on his missionary travels and personally taught him how to be a worker for the Lord. Timothy learned much from Paul, including how to handle bitter persecution and opposition.
When they were apart, Paul wrote to Timothy, offering him counsel; encouragement; instruction in both Christian living and the use of God’s Word; and teaching him how to lead the churches assigned to his oversight. The two letters to Timothy provide many guidelines on pastoring and have become known as the pastoral epistles.
Paul also wrote 2 Timothy because he wanted to see Timothy and Mark before winter (2 Tim. 4:11). He told them to bring his cloak because the prison was extremely cold, and he needed his books and parchments so he could study (v. 13). The parchments were Old Testament writings. Knowing his days on Earth were drawing to a close, Paul made the best use of his time by reading God’s Word and studying.
We can only speculate how Timothy felt when he read this letter. He was probably deeply distressed on hearing of Paul’s arrest and hurried to his spiritual father and mentor.
Second Timothy presents four challenges to Timothy:
1. Guard the truth of the gospel.
2. Be strong in the Lord.
3. Avoid the traps set by those who persecute Christians.
4. Preach the Word regardless of your situation.
This epistle offers comfort, encouragement, and inspiration to churches facing similar perils today. It is not filled with warnings of apostasy or instruction on how Timothy should solve church problems or train leaders, as in 1 Timothy. Paul’s final epistle is a review of his life and ministry in light of his impending death. He spoke to Timothy with a compassion filled with encouragement and expressed his confidence concerning Timothy’s abilities to minister. Paul trusted Timothy to carry on the faith after he was gone and to be faithful, strong, and watchful.
Despite Paul’s ordeal in prison, he was not discouraged or despondent; he was victorious in Christ. He had no regrets or reservations for that which he suffered, and he looked forward to when he would be absent from the body and present with the Lord: “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). His predominant attitude was one of triumph, glory, and deep thankfulness for how the Lord saved him (2 Tim. 4:8). Now he waited to be crowned in heaven for his service.
Paul wrote, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, a beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1:1–2).
The details of 2 Timothy indicate this letter was penned during Paul’s second or final imprisonment just prior to his death. It possesses the same characteristics as 1 Timothy. In the salutation, the strong emphasis on Jesus Christ shows that Paul’s entire life was centered in Christ.
Paul wanted to make certain that Timothy, as well as the churches that read the epistle, knew that it was penned by him. As was the custom, he placed his name at the beginning. Today we sign our names at the end of a letter. By putting his own name first, Paul knew Timothy would eagerly absorb every word.
By stating, “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (v. 1), Paul stressed that what he was about to say was of great importance because it had apostolic authority from Jesus Christ Himself. Timothy understood this fact, but Paul reminded him. After Paul’s death, Timothy would be alone and needed the apostolic authority of Paul’s final epistle to teach and make crucial decisions in the church.
Timothy understood Paul’s apostolic authority came directly from the “will of God” the Father through “Jesus Christ.” Paul was an apostle because God in His sovereignty had willed it. Paul did not seek or merit it.
His apostleship and authority carried great weight because it was “according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). That is, Paul was sent as a messenger of God to proclaim salvation and eternal life, which God promised to all who received Christ Jesus as their Savior.
Paul called the Lord “Jesus Christ.” At the end of the verse, he reversed the order, calling Him “Christ Jesus.” The change may have been because Paul’s first encounter with Jesus was when he heard His voice from heaven as the Christ in glory on the Damascus road. That was when the Lord saved Paul and called him to be an apostle. It is the glorified Christ (the word means “Messiah”) now seated in heaven, who promises eternal life.
A triple blessing is bestowed on Timothy, as in the salutation of 1 Timothy: “Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 2). These three blessings come from both “God the Father” and “Christ Jesus.” Combining the Father and Son (two persons within the Godhead) under the preposition from provides strong evidence of Jesus’ deity.
My prayer is that you will be thoroughly blessed as we walk together through Paul’s second epistle to Timothy and unfold the deep and needful truths that will enrich our lives.