During Christ’s ministry on earth He was not accepted favorably by the masses. Warning His disciples about the future, He said, “It is enough for a disciple that He be like his teacher and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household?” Matthew 10:25.
On the night He was betrayed, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word I said to you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” John 15:18–20. The Christian faith involves not only hope, but also bearing the cross while following Jesus.
In his epistles, the apostle Paul told of his personal encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. It was very convincing because it was backed up by a change in his life that nobody could contradict. Those who refused his testimony became furious with rage because of the effect that it had wherever he went. The Jews determined to find some pretext by which they could justify his death.
“While Paul’s labors in Rome were being blessed with the conversion of many souls and to the strengthening and encouragement of the believers, clouds were gathering that threatened not only his own safety, but also the prosperity of the church. Upon his arrival at Rome he was placed in charge of the captain of the imperial guards, a man of justice and integrity, by whose clemency he was left comparatively free to pursue the work of the gospel. But before the close of the two years’ imprisonment, this man was replaced by an official from whom the apostle expected no special favor.
“The Jews were now more active than ever in their efforts against Paul, and they found an able helper in the profligate woman whom Nero had made his second wife, and who, being a Jewish proselyte, would lend all her influence to aid their murderous designs against the champion of Christianity.
“Paul could hope for little justice from the Caesar to whom he appealed. Nero was more debased in morals, more frivolous in character, and at the same time capable of more atrocious cruelty, than any ruler who had preceded him. The reins of government could not have been entrusted to a more despotic ruler. The first year of his reign had been marked by the poisoning of his young stepbrother, the rightful heir to the throne. From one depth of vice and crime to another, Nero had descended, until he had murdered his own mother, and then his wife. There was no atrocity which he would not perpetrate, no vile act to which he would not stoop. In every noble mind he inspired only abhorrence and contempt.
“The details of iniquity practiced in his court are too degrading, too horrible, for description. His abandoned wickedness created disgust and loathing, even in many who were forced to share his crimes. They were in constant fear as to what enormities he would suggest next. Yet even such crimes as Nero’s did not shake the allegiance of his subjects. He was acknowledged as the absolute ruler of the whole civilized world. More than this, he was made the recipient of divine honors and worshipped as a god.
“From the viewpoint of human judgment, Paul’s condemnation before such a judge was certain. But the apostle felt that so long as he was loyal to God, he had nothing to fear.” The Acts of the Apostles, 485, 486.
God did shield his servant. The charges against him were not sustained. Nero declared him guiltless, and again he was a free man. However, during his confinement, the converts to Christianity had become so numerous that they attracted the attention of the authorities. The Emperor became particularly concerned when members of his own household became converted and he soon figured out a pretext by which he could kill off most of the Christian population in the city of Rome.
At that time the terrible fire that history has recorded occurred in Rome. It was rumored that Nero himself had caused the flames to be kindled that destroyed nearly half the city. However, blame was cast on Christians. This monster in human form amused the public by exhibiting the victims in their dying agonies when they were burned to death after their bodies had been painted with pitch. He took the keenest delight in the misery of others, which is one of the clearest signs that a person has become Satanic in character.
Paul knew his labors among the churches were coming to an end. It was not long before the Jews conceived of the idea of blaming Paul for instigating the burning of Rome. He was seized while in the city of Troas in the house of a disciple and taken by ship again to Rome for his second and final imprisonment.
“Reformatory action is always attended with loss, sacrifice, and peril.” Sketches from the Life of Paul, 305. Jesus was opposed and hated because people hate change. It is no easy matter to overcome sinful habits and practices. They can only be overcome with divine help.
The majority of people are not willing to accept the standard given by the gospel in the New Testament. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” I John 5:3. The person who says he loves God and does not keep His commandments is a liar.
When Paul returned to Rome for his second imprisonment, thousands of Christians had been killed for their faith, and many had left the city. Those who were left were greatly intimidated because of the persecution. There were no warm-hearted disciples to meet Paul as had happened on his first imprisonment. There was no one like a courteous and kindly Julius to say a word in his favor, no statement of favor from Festus or Agrippa to attest to his innocence. Paul was not now put in a rented house but in a gloomy Roman dungeon that would be his home until he was martyred.
A visit to the apostle Paul during his second imprisonment was nothing like a visit during his first imprisonment when he was in his own rented house. In the first imprisonment there had been no charge that had been sustained against him and he had won favorable opinions from princes and rulers such as King Agrippa, Felix, and Festus. But to visit him during his second imprisonment was to visit a person who was the object of universal hatred, being accused of instigating one of the basest and most terrible crimes against the city and nation. Anybody who did venture to visit him to show any kindness or attention made himself subject to suspicion and endangered his own life. Rome, at that time, was filled with spies who stood ready to bring an accusation against any person on the slightest occasion that could advance their own interests.
One by one, the apostle Paul saw his friends leave. In a letter to Timothy, he wrote, “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.” 1II Timothy 4:9–15.
And then he said, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever.” Verses 16–18.
Paul was still able to communicate with the outside world through Luke and his secretary so messages were sent to and from the different churches. While in such a dire situation, he was encouraged by an unexpected visit by Onesiphorus, who had come to Rome not long after Paul had arrived there the second time. Knowing that Paul was a prisoner somewhere in the city, he determined to find him. This was not an easy task in a city crowded with prisoners. Suspicion was everywhere and had only to fasten itself upon an unfortunate victim to consign him to prison and perhaps to death.
But in spite of all these difficulties, Onesiphorus searched for the apostle until he found him. Not satisfied with just one visit, he went again and again at the risk of his own life to Paul’s dungeon to lighten the burden of his imprisonment. The fear of scorn, reproach or persecution was powerless to terrify this true-hearted Ephesian Christian because he knew that his beloved teacher was in bonds for the truth’s sake, while he himself, in every respect far less worthy, was free. (See Sketches from the Life of Paul, 308.)
Paul wrote about this in 11 Timothy 1:16–18: “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very diligently and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”
“The desire for love and sympathy has been implanted in the human heart by God Himself. Christ in His hour of agony in Gethsemane, while bearing the guilt of sinful men, longed for the sympathy of His disciples. And Paul, though almost indifferent to hardship and suffering, yearned for sympathy and companionship. God would have His people cherish love and sympathy for one another. …
“It was the practice among both the Greeks and the Romans to allow an accused person to have an advocate to plead in his behalf. By force of argument, by his impassioned eloquence, or by entreaties, prayers, and tears, such an advocate would often secure a decision in favor of the prisoner, or failing in this, would mitigate the severity of his sentence.” Sketches from the Life of Paul, 309.
Paul had no legal counsel. Not one came forward to stand beside him even to preserve a record of the charges that were leveled against him. There are no human records of the arguments that he urged in his own defense. The only record that we have of this occasion is that of Paul himself: “At my first defense, no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” II Timothy 4:16. All alone, he stood in a pagan court accused of an aggravated crime and all alone, he had to defend himself. However, unseen to those present there was One who stood with him and strengthened him. The result, he said, was that the preaching might be fully known.
“Paul before Nero—how striking the contrast! The very height of earthly power, authority and wealth, as well as the lowest depths of crime and iniquity had been reached by the haughty monarch before whom the man of God answered for his faith. In his power and greatness, Nero stood unrivaled, unapproached. There were none to question his authority, none to resist his will. The kings of the earth laid their crowns at his feet. The most powerful armies marched at his command. The ensigns of his navies upon the seas betokened victory. His statue was set up in courts of justice, and the decrees of senators and the decisions of judges were but the echo of his will. … The name of Nero made the world tremble. To incur his displeasure was to lose property, liberty, and life. His frown was more to be dreaded than the pestilence. Yet while surrounded by all the outward semblance of earthly pomp and greatness, adored and reverenced as a god in human form, he possessed the heart of a demon.” Sketches from the Life of Paul, 311.
There stood Paul before him, an aged prisoner, calm, whose face told of the peace of God that reigned within. “The results of opposite systems of training and education stood that day contrasted—the life of unbounded self-indulgence and the life of utter self-sacrifice. Here were the representatives of the two religions—Christianity and paganism; the simplicity of self-denying endurance, ready to give up life itself, if need be for the good of others, and the luxury of all-absorbing selfishness, that counts nothing too valuable to sacrifice for momentary gratification; the representatives of two spiritual powers—the ambassador of Christ and the slave of Satan. Their relative position showed to what extent the course of this world was under the rule of the prince of darkness. The wretch whose soul was stained with incest and matricide, was robed in purple, and seated upon the throne while the purest and noblest of men stood before the judgment-seat, despised, hated, and fettered.
“The vast hall which was the place of trial was thronged by an eager, restless crowd that surged and pressed to the front to see and hear all that should take place. Among those gathered there were the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the proud and the humble. Yet all alike were destitute of the true knowledge of the way of life and salvation.
“Again the Jews urge against the prisoner the old charges of sedition and heresy, while both Jews and Romans accuse him of instigating the burning of the city. While his enemies were vehemently urging their accusations, Paul, preserved a quiet dignity; no shade of fear or anger disturbed the peaceful serenity that rested upon his countenance. The people and even the judges beheld him with surprise. They had been present at many trials, and had looked upon many criminals; but never had they seen a man wear such a look of holy calmness as did the prisoner before them. The keen eyes of the judges, accustomed as they were to read the countenances of their prisoners, searched the face of Paul for some hidden trace of crime, but in vain.” Ibid., 312, 313.
Finally, after the accusations had been made, Paul was given opportunity to speak for himself. With more than human eloquence he explained to the anxious listeners the truths of the gospel. The company had never before heard words so true, clear and convincing. Divine light penetrated their darkened minds and the truth proclaimed on that occasion would never die. They had come to hear the utterance of a feeble and aged prisoner, but instead they heard words that were destined to shake nations.
Paul said, “The Lord stood with me and strengthened me so that the message might be preached fully through me and that all the Gentiles might hear.” II Timothy 4:17. Longing to see these people receive the truth of salvation and not perish, he lost sight of the terrible fate that awaited him and he looked to Jesus, his Advocate, and his Intercessor in the courts above. He pleaded with them and showed them that there was an Advocate available to them at the throne of God. He told them of the infinite sacrifice that had been made in behalf of the fallen race. There was no trace of fear, sadness, or discouragement on his countenance as he presented Jesus to his listeners.
“Never had Nero heard the truth as he heard it upon that occasion. Never had the enormous guilt of his own life been revealed to him as it was revealed that day. The light of heaven had pierced the sin-polluted chambers of his soul. He quaked with terror at the thought of a tribunal before which he, the ruler of the world should be arraigned, and where his deeds would meet a just reward. He was afraid of the apostle’s God, and he dared not pass sentence on Paul, against whom no accusation had been sustained. A sense of awe for a time restrained his bloodthirsty spirit.” Ibid., 315.
For a moment it seemed that the peace and purity of heaven would be something desirable. That was the moment of mercy, the moment, when—if Nero had made the decision—he could have turned his life around and chosen to repent and confess his sins and follow Jesus.
“But only for a moment. The command was issued for Paul to be taken back to his dungeon; and as the door closed upon the messenger of God, so the door of repentance was forever closed against the emperor of Rome. Not another ray of light was ever to penetrate the dense darkness that enveloped him.” Ibid., 316.
Paul knew that his enemies would not rest until they had secured his death, but he knew also that the truth had triumphed for the time. He had been given the opportunity to proclaim a crucified and risen Saviour before the vast throng who had listened to his words. It was a victory for the gospel. The work begun that day would increase and prosper and in vain would the emperor of Rome seek to destroy or hinder it. His speech had gained him many friends, and he was visited by some persons of rank, but it was with Timothy that the apostle longed to spend his final days.
There was great affection between the youthful laborer and the apostle. Timothy had been converted through his labors and to him had been committed the care of the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote to him asking him to come as soon possible to Rome. In case Timothy did not arrive in time, the apostle wrote his dying testimony. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all those who have loved His appearing.” II Timothy 4:6–8.
Time was fast running out for the apostle; he must give some final counsel to the young minister. This same charge is repeated today when ministers are ordained in Christian churches. “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing in His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” II Timothy 4:1–5.
Paul predicted that the time would come when Christians would not endure the truth and get for themselves teachers who would preach smooth things that would please their ears. It is the duty of a Christian minister to hate and reprove sin, while manifesting pity and tenderness for the sinner. That is a difficult attainment.
On the one hand we must be careful that we do not have undue severity toward a wrong-doer, while at the same time, we need to understand the exceeding sinfulness of sin. This requires Christlike patience and love toward the erring, but being careful of the danger of manifesting so great tolerance for error that eventually the person who is living in sin will consider himself undeserving of reproof and reject it as an uncalled for hardness.
Care must be taken that toleration does not degenerate into toleration of sin. Godliness leads to brotherly kindness, and those who do not cherish the one will surely lack the other. So, if a person blunts his moral perceptions so that he becomes sinfully lenient towards those whom God condemns, the time will come when he will commit a greater sin by using severity and harshness toward those whom God commends. When Paul says that the time will come when Christians will not endure sound doctrine, he is not talking here about people who are atheists, or agnostics, or openly irreligious. He speaks of professed Christians who have indulged inclination until they are enslaved by their own ungoverned passions and led away as he says in chapter three, with various kinds of cravings or lusts.
Paul foresaw that people would turn away from the plain, searching truths of God’s word and that they would have itching ears, and would heap to themselves teachers that would present to them the fables that they desired, an easier gospel (11 Timothy 4:3). These teachers trample under their feet the fourth commandment and end up trampling all of the others as well.
The Creator of the world is insulted by those who claim to be His children while they transgress His law, and Satan laughs at the success of his plots against the human race. We are living in a time where there is distaste for religion and a growing contempt for God’s holy law. Pride, love of pleasure and self-indulgence abound. Many ask the question, “What can be done to arrest the alarming evils in society?”
Paul’s instruction to Timothy was, “Preach the Word.” Preach what the Bible says, whether people will hear or whether they will not. Within its pages are the only safe principles of action to reform or to save society. The Word contains a transcript of the will of God; it is an expression of divine wisdom. It opens to the understanding how to solve the great problem of life and all who will listen and act on it will be directed in the right way.
In Paul’s last letter he said, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” II Timothy 3:1–5.
In the last days religion will be full of people who have a form of godliness. They will profess to be Christians. They will profess to be religious and go to church. Looking at them from the outside, people in the world will believe that they are Christians but, while they have a form of godliness, they deny its power.
Paul clearly describes the power of the gospel in Romans 1:16, 17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ”
At the end of his life as a true disciple of Christ, Paul was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” II Timothy 4:7, 8.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.