The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
(2 Timothy 4:18)
Read: 2 Timothy 4
Devotion: Imagine that you have been unjustly imprisoned and that, despite committing no crime, you were sentenced to death. On top of that, many people you once trusted have abandoned you in your hour of need. Now imagine that you are in this predicament because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Now you’re sitting in your jail cell with a piece of paper and a pen, getting ready to write a letter to a loved one. As you’re sitting in your cell alone, what are you thinking? What are you going to write? Do you still have hope? What are you praying?
This was Paul’s situation at the end of his life. After his conversion, Paul devoted his life and well-being to the cause of Christ and his gospel. From the beginning to the end of Paul’s Christian life, he was beaten and battered and torn. 1 Corinthians 11:23-28 is a good summary of some of the things Paul endured as he planted churches and preached the gospel and followed the call of Christ. Paul is the prime example of the truth that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). What did Paul get in return at the end of his life? Imprisonment, more beatings, false teachers harassing him, abandonment by those he trusted, and an upcoming appointment with a sword. And yet, at the end of it all, Paul’s last letter to Timothy is full of hope, confidence, and the call for Timothy to faithfully follow Christ to the end as Paul had done.
One of the very last things that Paul tells Timothy is that “The Lord will rescue [him] from every evil deed and bring [safely] into his heavenly kingdom” (4:18). In the previous chapter, Paul reminded Timothy of the persecutions that Paul had previously suffered, telling him that Christ had rescued him from each one of them (3:11). Thus, Paul details in chapter four a hope that Christ would again come and rescue Paul from his physical predicament. Did Paul think that Christ was going to send another earthquake to miraculously free him from his chains, as had happened years before in Philippi (Acts 16:25-26)? Did he think that Christ was going to send an angel that would free him and lead him out of the prison, as had happened with Peter (Acts 12)? From church history we know that Paul was never freed from this imprisonment but was beheaded by the Romans. Did Paul have a false hope? Was Paul’s faith put to shame, and did he mislead poor Timothy?
Absolutely not. Sure, Paul had a lifetime of precedent to believe that Christ could save him even from the emperor of Rome. However, Paul didn’t turn those previous experiences into promises for his current predicament, as some do with their struggles today. Paul fully believed that this was it for his mortal life. He knew that this was the end of the race that Christ had set him upon and that he had run it well (4:6-8). What is this rescue that Paul is talking about? It’s in the last part of the sentence: “and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.” Paul is going to lose his life, but he knows that his death will be a gain (Phil 1:21).
The Romans, and Paul’s Jewish opponents, think that they are getting rid of their “Paul problem” once and for all, and getting the ultimate one-over on him. Not so. Paul was not put to shame by having his head chopped off. That was not his end. Christ delivered him from that earthly death safely into his presence, where Paul’s spirit is now awaiting the reception of his new body at the end of the age. Paul’s spirit is experiencing the fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore (Ps 16:11). Yes, Paul isn’t on earth anymore, and he had to say goodbye to his friends and loved ones, but the world is fallen, and he knows that the Lord is faithful to rescue every single one of his sheep from this place (John 10:27-29).
What do we learn from Paul’s example? When we are being persecuted for living for Christ, we do not have a guarantee of a physical escape from our suffering. That is not a promise that Christ has made to us. He will, however, rescue us from every evil deed done against us. That may be a physical deliverance, as Paul experienced in his early ministry, so we can pray for physical rescue. However, our ultimate hope and our ultimate rescue must be in heaven with Christ. That is where we must set our gaze. We must not take our eyes off of Christ, knowing that in him we have a hope and a treasure that the world, Satan, and our own sin could ever take away. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation, danger, persecution, or the sword? No, none of those things, for Christ will rescue us from them all (Rom 8:31-39).
Ponder and Pray: Consider why it is important not to hope primarily in physical deliverance from suffering due to persecution. Finish your time by praying for Christians in countries that are hostile to the gospel.