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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
- 2 Timothy
by Peter Pett
The purpose of this letter was twofold. Firstly it was a triumphant declaration of the triumph of eternal life over death for all who belonged to Jesus Christ. This is immediately made apparent in 2 Timothy 1:1, ‘according to the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus’ which stands in stark contrast with the death that is shortly awaiting Paul (2 Timothy 4:6). It is the emphasis throughout the letter.
The appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ has nullified death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Paul is confident that God will guard safely what he has committed to Him against ‘that Day’ (2 Timothy 1:12). Timothy is to remember Jesus Christ, Who has been raised from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8). The elect will obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus to eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10), for if we die we will also live with Him, if we endure we will also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:11-12). That is why the heresy that the resurrection is past already is such a grievous one, it has distorted what the resurrection really is and denied its significance (2 Timothy 2:18). Christ Jesus will judge both the living and the dead, even by His appearing and His Kingly Rule (2 Timothy 4:1). For Paul himself there is laid up the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will give him in that Day, and not only to him, but to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). And he thus has no doubt that the Lord will deliver him from every evil work, and will save him unto His heavenly Kingly Rule (2 Timothy 4:18).
The second purpose of the letter is to encourage Timothy, who was Paul’s young, but trusted, active representative at Ephesus, a leading centre of the church in Asia Minor (now Turkey), and through him the whole church, at a difficult time. This encouragement was especially needed in the face of the new threat being posed, on the one hand by emperor worship, which was very influential in the Eastern empire and had resulted in a withdrawal from Paul of the orthodox church leaders at Ephesus who were embarrassed at being connected with a man awaiting trial by the emperor, and on the other by heresy, possibly a form of Judaistic early Gnosticism which believed that spirit was good and flesh was evil, and that either by asceticism (thus denying the flesh) or antinomianism (thus demonstrating that the flesh is only of this world, and by fully satisfying the flesh releasing the spirit) and by attaining and participating in a special secret knowledge, it was possible to be released from the flesh and to travel though a number of emanations (which had emanated from pure spirit) towards pure spirit. That in fact is probably what was indicated by the teaching that ‘the resurrection is past already’ - 2 Timothy 2:18.
It was written by Paul to Timothy while he himself was awaiting trial as an ‘evildoer’ (2 Timothy 2:9). He had sent Timothy to Ephesus as his representative in order that he might help to build up the church in Asia Minor. And now, aware that death was near (2 Timothy 4:6), Paul had learned that fear had gripped those churches of Asia Minor, so that many who had been his friends were now keeping away from him because he was a prisoner of Rome (2 Timothy 1:15), with a resulting decline in their spiritual testimony, and he was concerned that Timothy at least should stand firm and true in spite of what was happening to him.
We can imagine his thoughts as he sat in his prison cell manacled to a Roman soldier. He was no doubt being provided for by godly members of the church in Rome (in those days provisions for prisoners had to come from relative and friends), and it is therefore probable that he would gather a certain amount of information from the Christian women, hardy souls who were willing to face the dangers that it involved, who provided for his needs, for it would seem that he was allowed visitors. (It would mainly be women who came because they were seen as of little account and would thus be in less danger of arrest. They would usually be seen as ‘women relatives’, and if not wanted, would simply be thrown out as of no danger to the state. For men it would be more dangerous to be associated with a known criminal). He had thus probably learned of a visit by the leaders from the Ephesus church to the church at Rome, and discovered that on hearing about his own imprisonment by Rome, they had decided not to visit him through fear of the consequences (2 Timothy 1:15). They had not wanted to get on the bad side of the state, and possibly argued that ‘there was no smoke without fire. He therefore feels that ‘young’ (under forty) Timothy will need encouragement if he too is not to succumb to the general atmosphere of fear.
He is also aware of what a blow his now anticipated execution (anticipated in the light of Nero’s anti-Christian attitude) will be to Timothy, his ‘son in the faith’, and he therefore feels the great necessity of preparing him for the future, especially in view of the difficult times ahead. He knows that for the sake of the Gospel, as well as for his own sake, Timothy will need to be very strong. He will need to be ready to suffer hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3).
When Paul wrote this letter Timothy was apparently again in Ephesus, as he had been when he received 1 Timothy (2 Timothy 1:16-18; 2 Timothy 4:14 compare 1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 4:19), with the aim of seeking to build up the church there. And they were precarious times, for the behaviour of Nero in Rome had caused dissension against Christians, especially in places where emperor worship was rampant, and the Asia Minor churches, and even more their leaders, were now aware of a simmering threat against them that every now and again would burst out into local persecution. And this was especially so in places like Ephesus where Emperor worship was at its most extreme and the crowds were volatile (Acts 19:23-41). Caution had become the watchword. But while Paul would not have decried caution, he also did not want Timothy to tone down his enthusiasm or his effectiveness by being overcautious.
For this reason the letter contains useful instruction to everyone who wishes to remain true to Christ in times of difficulty. It was intended to give encouragement and strength to a man’s soul, and we must therefore each of us stand in the place of Timothy, and must recognise that Paul is writing to us.
While at first seeming to be somewhat disconnected a careful study of the letter reveals that it is based on the same chiastic structure as 1 Timothy and many other Biblical books. This structure, which was in common use in Bible days, presents its material by first putting it in a certain order and then saying either parallel or contrasting things in reverse order. Thus it utilises an ‘abcba’ construction. In order to bring this out we have had to present this in the form of a strict literary analysis, but we should recognise that the writer’s actual aim was to present his themes chiastically rather than subscribe to formal literary structures).