The following is an approximate calendar of events which will orient us to the position that the Second Epistle to Timothy occupied in the ministry of the apostle Paul. Paul wrote this epistle around A.D. 67.
- [c. A.D. 58]—Paul was apparently arrested in Jerusalem.
- [c. A.D. 61]—This is the approximate time that Paul arrived in Rome. He had spent these three years in prison, going from one trial to another before different Roman rulers.
- [c. A.D. 61–63]—Paul underwent his first Roman imprisonment. We do not have this recorded in the Book of Acts, which breaks off at the very beginning of Paul’s first Roman imprisonment.
- [c. A.D. 64–67]—Paul was released from prison, and during this period he covered a great deal of territory. It was during this time that he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus from Macedonia.
- [c. A.D. 67]—Paul was arrested again.
- [c. A.D. 68]—Paul was beheaded in Rome. Before his death he wrote 2 Timothy.
The two verses that state the theme and sound the tone of this second epistle are these: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).
You can, I think, emphasize one word in this epistle above other words. That word is loyalty: (1) loyalty in suffering (ch. 1); (2) loyalty in service (ch. 2); (3) loyalty in apostasy (ch. 3–4:5); and (4) Lord loyal to His servants in desertion (ch. 4:6–22).
The deathbed statement of any individual has an importance which is not attached to other remarks. This is what lends significance to 2 Timothy. It is the final communication of Paul. It has a note of sadness which is not detected in his other epistles. Nevertheless, there is the overtone of triumph: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” written by Paul as his own epitaph (2 Tim. 4:7). Also, because this was his last letter, Paul was very personal. In these four short chapters, there are approximately twenty–five references to individuals.
In this little book of 2 Timothy an ominous dark cloud is seen on the horizon. It is the coming apostasy. Today apostasy has broken like a storm, like a Texas tornado, on the world and in the church. What do we mean by apostasy? Webster defines apostasy as “total desertion of the principles of faith.” So apostasy is not due to ignorance; it is a heresy. Apostasy is deliberate error. It is intentional departure from the faith. An apostate is one who knows the truths of the gospel and the doctrines of the faith, but has repudiated them.
Paul here in 2 Timothy speaks of the ultimate outcome of gospel preaching. The final fruition will not be the total conversion of mankind, nor will it usher in the Millennium. On the contrary, there will come about an apostasy which will well–nigh blot out the faith from the earth. In fact, there are two departures that will occur at the end of the age: One is the departure of the church, which we call the Rapture, translated from the Greek harpazo, meaning “caught up.” “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up [or raptured] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air …” (1 Thess. 4:16–17). When the believers are gone, the organization, the old shell of the church that’s left down here, will totally depart from the faith. That is the second departure, the departure from the faith. The Lord Jesus Himself gave this startling statement concerning it: “… when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). As couched in the Greek language, it demands a negative answer. So the answer must be, “No, He will not find the faith on the earth when He returns.”
This view is not in keeping with the social gospel today, which expects to transform the world by tinkering with the social system. Such vain optimists have no patience with the doleful words of 2 Timothy, and they classify me as an intellectual obscurantist! But, in spite of that, the cold and hard facts of history and the events of the present hour demonstrate the accurancy of Paul. We are now in the midst of an apostasy which is cut to the pattern of Paul’s words in remarkable detail.
The visible church has entered the orbit of an awful apostasy. The invisible church—that is, the real body of believers—is not affected. The invisible church today is still here; and, although I wish it were a little more visible than it is, it’s on its way to the epiphany of glory. It is moving toward the Rapture. That is a very comforting thought in these days in which we live.
Because of the threat of apostasy, Paul emphasizes the Word of God here more than he does in any other epistle. In fact, both Paul and Peter agree. Each of them in his “swan song” (2 Tim. and 2 Pet.) emphasizes the Word of God and the gospel.
My friend, the gospel rests upon a tremendous fact, and that fact is the total depravity of man. In other words, man is a lost sinner. A contemporary educator has put it something like this:
Where education assumes that the moral nature of man is capable of improvement, traditional Christianity assumes that the moral nature of man is corrupt and absolutely bad. Where it is assumed in education that an outside human agent may be instrumental in the moral improvement of men, in traditional Christianity it is assumed that the agent is God, and even so, the moral nature of man is not improved but exchanged for a new one.
Man is in such a state that he cannot be saved by perfect obedience—because he cannot render it. Neither can he be saved by imperfect obedience—because God will not accept it.
Therefore, the only solution is the gospel of the grace of God which reaches down and saves the sinner on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ. Faith in Christ transforms human life. We have a showcase today all over this globe of men and women who have been transformed by the gospel of the grace of God.
Liberal preaching, instead of presenting the grace of God to sinful man, goes out in three different directions. From some liberal pulpits we hear what is really popular psychology. It majors in topics such as this: “How to Overcome” or “How to Think Creatively” or “How to Think Affirmatively or Positively.” It says that we’re on the way upward and onward forever! That is popular psychology, and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.
A second type of liberal preaching involves ethics. It preaches a nice little sweet gospel—a sermonette preached by the preacherette to Christianettes. The message goes something like this: “Good is better than evil because it’s nicer and gets you into less trouble.” The picture of the average liberal church is that of a mild–mannered man standing before a group of mild–mannered people, urging them to be more mild–mannered! There’s nothing quite as insipid as that. No wonder the Lord Jesus said to the church of Laodicea: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15–16). That would make anybody sick to his tummy. That’s another reason I call these people Alka–Seltzer Christians. They’re not only fizz, foam, and froth, but they cause you to need an Alka–Seltzer.
Then there’s a third type of liberal preaching which is called the social gospel. They preach better race relations, pacifism, social justice, and the Christian social order. It is Christian socialism pure and simple.
In contrast, when the true gospel is preached and men come to Christ, they all become brothers. We don’t need all this talk about better race relations. You cannot create better relationships by forcing people together. Only the gospel of the grace of God will make a man into a brother of mine. When that happens the color of a man’s skin makes no difference at all.
The solution to man’s problems can come only through preaching the grace of God. We need to recognize (as Martin Luther put it) that God creates out of nothing. Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him. The grace of God through Jesus Christ is the way to transform and save mankind. That is what this epistle teaches, and that is why it is important for us to study 2 Timothy.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 50: 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus & Philemon. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)