Strength from the Lord
“The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (v. 17).- 2 Timothy 4:14–17
Stuck in a jail cell as he writes his second letter to Timothy, Paul never gives us the precise reason he was arrested, but today’s passage gives us some hints as to the identity of the instigator who got the apostle thrown in prison. Paul left his cloak in Troas (4:13), which probably indicates he was arrested there, for no one would leave such a garment behind unless it was an emergency (like an arrest that forced him to drop everything). Immediately following this, the apostle explains that “Alexander the coppersmith” did him great harm, and thus this seems to reveal that the problem at Troas was instigated by one Alexander. This could be the same agitating Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20, but there is no way to be sure. In any case, many commentators believe Paul’s reference to Alexander and his warning about him in 2 Timothy 4:14–15 are a strong hint that the evil coppersmith handed Paul over to the Roman authorities.
Once arrested, the apostle would have gone through a prima actio, a procedure that was akin to a modern arraignment in which the judiciary would determine if a legal case had enough evidence to proceed. In all likelihood this is the “ first defense” Paul mentions in verse 16, the one in which no one stood by Paul except the Lord Himself (v. 17). Those who specifically deserted the apostle are not identified, but surely people like Titus and Timothy would have come to stand with Paul if they had been able to get to Rome before the hearing.
Even though no human being stood with Paul, God was still with him in fulfillment of His promise to never leave or forsake His people (Heb. 13:5). His presence was such that Paul could say that he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim. 4:17) — an allusion to the story of Daniel in the lions’ den as a way to indicate he was spared from danger during his arraignment (see Dan. 6). Due to this rescue, “all the Gentiles” (2 Tim. 4:17) could hear the gospel from Paul’s lips. This does not mean he spoke to every single individual in the Greco-Roman world; rather, since Rome was the center of the empire and a cosmopolitan city, to preach there was to speak to representatives from all the known tribes on the planet. In that sense, Paul preached the gospel to all the Gentiles.
Even Paul did not have anyone to stand behind him on his day of trial, so we should not be surprised if people likewise abandon us in our times of need. Still, we should be the kind of people who are faithful to our friends and who are willing to stand with them even when it might be uncomfortable to do so. Let us be those willing to walk through the fire with our friends, that we may be found dependable in their hour of need.
Passages for Further Study
Joshua 1:5, 9
1 Corinthians 28:20