The Great Fire in Rome occurred in 64 A.D. Nero himself burned the city. Though an inhuman brute, he was a great builder. It was in order to build a new and grander Rome that he set fire to the city, and fiddled in glee at the sight of it. The people suspected him; and historians have commonly regarded it as a fact that he was the perpetrator of the crime. In order to divert suspicion from himself he accused the Christians of burning Rome.
Nero’s persecution of Christians is the direct background of 2 Timothy, and was the persecution that brought Paul to his martyrdom, and, possibly Peter as well. Our source of information is the Roman historian Tacitus. He knew that the Christians did not burn Rome. But somebody had to be made the scapegoat for the Emperor’s crime. Here was a new and despised sect of people, mostly from the humbler walks of life, without prestige or influence, many of them slaves. Nero accused them of burning Rome, and ordered their punishment.
In and around Rome multitudes of Christians were arrested and put to death in the cruelest ways. Crucified. Or tied in skins of animals, and thrown into the arena to dogs, for the entertainment of the people. Or thrown to the wild beasts. Or tied to the stakes in Nero’s gardens, pitch poured over their bodies, and set afire as human torches to light Nero’s gardens at night, while he drove around in his chariot, gloating over the agonies of his victims.
It was in the wake of this persecution that Paul was re-arrested and brought back to Rome. This time as a criminal, by the agents of Rome, not on some technical violation of Jewish law as before (when arrested by the Jews). We do not know specifically what crime he was accused of, but he was the leader of the people being punished for burning Rome. Whatever the crime was, his trial had proceeded far enough that he knew there was no hope of escape. While waiting in the Roman dungeon for the “time of his departure,” he wrote this last letter to Timothy, his “beloved son” and co-worker, encouraging him to be faithful, in spite of everything, as a minister of Christ, and to hurry on to Rome before winter.
In that dark hour is one of the noblest passages of Scripture. Paul would be executed for a crime of which he was not guilty, his friends forsaking him and leaving him to suffer alone. The cause for which he had given his life was being blotted out in the West by persecution, and in the East by apostasy. Yet there is no hint of regret that he had given his life to the service of Christ and the Church. No hint of doubt that the Church, though now apparently suffering defeat, would eventually be triumphant. And no doubt that the moment of his execution he would go straight to the arms of HIM whom he had loved and served so devotedly. This Epistle is the exultant cry of a dying conqueror. (Above information adapted from Halley’s Bible Handbook)
Where do we begin? Have you ever heard the saying: “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? The best way to study any book of the Bible is to begin with the “forest” – read the whole book – and then proceed to the “trees” – the individual parts (verses).
After Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment (around AD 62), he and Timothy traveled to Ephesus where Timothy was left to care for the house churches there. Paul wrote a letter (1 Timothy) around AD 64 to encourage Timothy in his work. Around AD 67, Paul wrote another letter (2 Timothy), his last letter and the most tender and moving of all of Paul’s letters. Let’s begin to discover its treasures.
1. The background information above gives you a better idea of what was happening around Paul as he wrote this second letter to Timothy. Describe what Paul was experiencing.
2. Read 2 Timothy twice to get the feel and atmosphere of this letter and to gain Paul’s perspective on everything that he shares. Mark key words and phrases as well as anything of interest to you. Pay attention to any themes in the letter. What do you notice?
One of the themes in Paul’s pastoral letters (those written to Timothy and Titus) is “teach and maintain truth and sound doctrine; guard against/avoid error.” This theme really breaks down into positive vs. negative.
3. Let’s start with the positive. Read the following verses. What does Paul keep emphasizing?
· 2 Timothy 1:13-14—
· 2 Timothy 2:2—
· 2 Timothy 2:15—
· 2 Timothy 3:14-17
· 2 Timothy 4:2,5—
4. What specifically is the truth or sound doctrine? See also Romans 1:1-5a.
· 2 Timothy 1:8-11—
· 2 Timothy 2:1—
· 2 Timothy 2:8—
5. Now for the negative aspect of this theme. Read the following verses to see what we are supposed to do when we encounter error.
· 2 Timothy 2:14—
· 2 Timothy 2:16-18—
· 2 Timothy 2:23—
6. Read 2 Timothy 3:2-7 and 4:3-4. Where does error lead?
7. Once again, Paul emphasizes over and over a common message. In your own words, what is Paul teaching them to guard against…and why?
8. To Live Faithfully: Certainly you can agree that if Paul made this many comments on the same subject, it should be taken seriously.
· What could happen to the local church … therefore you … therefore the world … if we do not seriously and energetically apply Paul’s emphatic message to Timothy and the church?
· What specific actions can you or do you take in your daily life to ensure that you don’t wander away from God’s truth or sound doctrine?