The Triumphant End of Paul's Journey - 2 Timothy 4:6-8

This study note is about the triumphant end of Paul’s journey.
Paul never looked at his end as death like common people used to do.
Paul had a different concept about death.
This is the core idea we discuss in this message.

2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8  are the farewell speech of Apostle Paul.
         2 Timothy 4: 6 - 8
6     For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.
 7    I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
 8    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. (NKJV)

The passage is rich with colorful images of victory celebrations on the background of Greek and Roman culture.
Paul is writing these words not only as a final statement about his martyrdom, but also about the life and death of all Christian believers.
So let us think for a while about his perception of the crucifixion of Christ and life and death of Christian believers as expressed in his epistles.

Paul’s perception of crucifixion

Paul was an apostle to the gentiles and often talked to them in a way they could easily understand his message.

Romans were very proud of their empire and system of governance.
Their military and judicial systems were unequalled during the time.
Almost all civilized places in that area from the present Iran to Great Britain were under their empire.
It was the practice of all nations of the time to ascribe all their prosperity and victory to their gods.
That means, Romans believed that their empire was the empire of their gods or a gift from their gods.

So they despised the idea of another Kingdom as preached by Jesus and His followers.
They never considered Jesus as a serious threat to their empire.
If Jesus was a mightier King and the Kingdom of God He preached was stronger than the Roman Empire, it would have been impossible to crucify Him.
This was a strong argument they posed to the followers of Christ.
And they questioned the dignity of the death of Jesus on a shameful cross, if He ever was a King.
So they rejected the idea of another feeble Kingdom.

For the Greeks, being the wisest people of the time, the death of Jesus as the Son of God was an impossibility.
Their learned philosophy had no place for the crucifixion of God by humans.
For them Jesus was just a rebel who was betrayed by His own people and killed brutally by the Romans.

To these gentile people, Paul said that the truth about the crucifixion of Jesus is not what they saw with their physical eye, but what has happened in the spiritual realm.
When we look at the cross by our physical eyes and listen to the story of the crucifixion by our physical ears, we see Jesus the rebel betrayed by his own people and killed by the Romans.
But the truth is that, what happened on this earth is a parallel event of what has happened in the spiritual realm.

The real war was fought between God and satan.
Jesus was the great military general who fought against satan and his dark kingdom.
Jesus has fought well, defeated satan, his kingdom was conquered and all captives were set free.
The cry of Jesus on the cross was the cry of victory.

The Greeks could understand it well.
Because, Greek philosophy taught them about the ultimate reality in the spiritual realm and the representative reality on earth.

We read this description of the truth behind the crucifixion of Jesus in Colossians 2:13-15.

Colossians 2:13-15
13   And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.  (NKJV)

This narration of Paul about the crucifixion of Jesus has not happened on this physical world.
No Jews, no Greeks, no Romans and none has seen the described events happening.
But Paul argues that this is what truly happened in the spiritual realm when Jesus died on the cross.
Truth is what happened in the spiritual realm and the parallel happenings on this earth is only a representation that may be removed from the ultimate reality.

Jesus forgave all our trespasses by His death as atonement.
Jesus wiped out with His blood and nailed all judgments against human beings.
All contract of slavery with satan were nailed and cancelled on the cross.
Jesus defeated the dark kingdom of satan, the enemy king was captured alive, all his weapons were taken away and the defeated enemy was displayed on the cross for all the public to see and believe.

Since, the Son of God is worthy to be called a triumphator.
This is the argument of Paul to the Romans, the Greeks and other gentile nations.

The picture Paul draws in the above passage is not a Jewish cultural or military image.
But they were aware of the Roman celebration of victory since Judea was under the Roman Empire.
The Romans, the Greeks and the heathen nations around them understood what Paul really meant.

Now, who is a triumphator?

A Triumphator is the man of triumph in Roman culture.
He is a military general who has won exceptional and decisive victory over a foreign enemy country.
As he returns from war, the Senate of Rome honors him by permitting a victory festival.
This is the highest possible honor for a Roman citizen.
The Roman triumph or victory celebration was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome
It was held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the military achievement.

The triumphator has fought a war with a foreign enemy and conquered the enemy and his kingdom.
That means, the Roman triumph or victory celebration is not a sympathetic tragedy.

That is why Paul described the crucifixion of Christ as “triumphing over them.”
The details of the victory festival in Roman culture are paralleled in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Since we have only a short time over online, let me limit the details of the victory festival of a Roman triumphator to whatever is mentioned in Colossians 2:13-15

On the day of his triumph, the military general wore a crown of laurel around his head.
He would be dressed in purple colored garments that identified him as near-divine or near-kingly.
He rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army, captives and the spoils of his war.
At Jupiter's temple on the Capitoline Hill he offered a sacrifice as the tokens of victory to the god.

Let us look at the parallel events in Jesus’ life.
Jesus came to the mount of Golgotha  to offer Himself as a sacrifice wearing a crown of thorns, garments soaked in red blood, unarmed, walking all the way through Jerusalem, displaying publicly the defeated enemy king satan.

Thus Paul described the crucifixion of Jesus not as a sympathetic tragedy but as a triumph.
He went far to say that the real triumph over the real enemy of mankind happened on the cross.
Jesus is above any Roman military general, because He defeated satan and his dark kingdom.

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians with the same vision about the crucifixion.

2 Corinthians  2:14   Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.  (NKJV)

This passage is about Christian life.
Their redeemer and God, Jesus Christ has been celebrating the triumphal festival since the day of crucifixion, the day of the defeat of satan.
Like the Roman citizens, we Christian believers are also joining the triumphal march.
This is a victorious procession.
As the procession goes, the Roman citizens used to strew fragrant flowers all the way spreading a sweet aroma all around.

Paul is urging the Christians to live as if participating in the triumphal march of their master and spread the sweet aroma of victory all around through their life.
So Paul very clearly used the theme of triumph for describing the crucifixion and the Christian life.
Paul never talked of the crucifixion as a tragedy or a sympathetic death.
Christian life is neither a defeated life.

Paul wanted to give to the gentile world this message of triumph.

Fought the good fight

Now let us go back to Paul’s farewell words in 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8
We shall discuss verse 7 and 8 and then go back to verse 6.

In verse 7 there is a beautiful picture of a wrestler.
The word he uses for fight is agon (ag-one), which is the word for a contest in the arena.
The word alludes to the contests at the Grecian games.

Paul has done his best, fought a good wrestling and has overcome as a spectacular winner.

But what was the purpose and method of his fight?
It was not just a combat in arena, but a war against satan and his kingdom.
So the notion of fight goes beyond the arena and wrestling to real war fought between kingdoms.
The fight was indeed to ascertain the superiority of the Kingdom of God.
The verse contains Paul’s struggle to preach and teach the revelations he received from God about the life of Jesus, crucifixion and the church.
He had to fight well like a Roman military general against the foreign enemy to free people from the slavery of satan.

Now there are nations to his credit.
He has expanded the Kingdom of God.
He has resisted the enemy to the point of death.
And he is ready to go home for an appropriate reward from the King.
He is a triumphator worthy of a victory festival.
He expects a crown of laurel from the King.

Finished the race

The second image contained in verse 7 is that of a marathon racer.
Marathon was conducted in Greece as a symbol of victory over the enemy.
It has the tradition of defeating the Persian army by the Greek warriors.

Paul is finishing his long race successfully.
The victory over the enemy is once again celebrated here.

And so it is time for victory celebration.
It is time for crowing the victor.

Kept the faith

The third image in verse 7 is also from games.
In Greece during the time of Olympics great athletes came from the known world around.
On the day before the game all the competitors met and took a solemn oath before the gods.
They proclaimed that that they had done not less than ten months training and that they would not resort to any trickery to win.

So Paul may be saying that he had played the game faithfully keeping all the rules of the game.

Once gain Paul poses himself as a victor; he is a triumphator.
The crown

What waits for a winner is the crown of laurel.
Paul is ready for it.

In games the greatest prize was the laurel wreath; with it the victor was crowned.
And to wear it was the greatest honor which could come to any athlete.

In this moment Paul is turning away from the verdict of men to the verdict of God.
He is confident of an unfading crown that he may receive from his master.
Drink offering
Now let us move to verse 6.

2 Timothy 4: 6          For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. (NKJV)

Verse 6 is a part of this series of rich imagery about fighting and winning over the enemy.
The image is borrowed from the Roman culture and the victory festival granted to a triumphator.
But what does the drink offering has to do with fight and victory?

The Greek word used by Paul for drink offering is ‘spendo’.
The word literally means to pour out as a libation to the gods.
Every Roman meal ended with a kind of sacrifice.
A cup of wine was taken and was poured out to the gods.
So let us go to the Roman victory festival for an explanation.

As I told you before, Christian life is a celebration of the glorious victory of their master triumphator Jesus Christ.

We have already seen how the Roman victory procession was conducted in Rome.
It moves through the sacred road of Rome to the temple of Jupiter at Capitoline hill to offer a thanksgiving sacrifice by the victor.
The supreme moment of the triumph is the moment of sacrifice.
Just prior to the sacrifice of the bull or in a few cases simultaneous with the sacrifice, the triumphator was offered a cup of wine for him to drink.
It was a Roman custom that the triumphator would refuse to drink the wine and then pour it on the altar or on the sacrificial animal itself.
It is the blood of the triumphator.
Paul is a triumphator and his death is the crucial moment of triumph.
He is ready to be offered as a drink offering like a triumphator.
His death is not a sympathetic tragedy, but a triumph.

And the gentile nations understood the message of Paul.

My departure is at hand

The Greek word for departure is the noun ‘analusis’ means to loosen again or to undo.
It is applied to the act of unloosing or casting off the fastenings of a ship, preparatory to a departure.
The proper idea in the use of the word would be that he had been bound to the present world, like a ship to its moorings, and that death would be a release.
He would now spread his sails on the broad ocean of eternity.

It is also the word for unyoking an animal from the shafts of the cart or the plough.
Death to Paul was rest from toil.

Again it is the word for loosening the ropes of a tent.
For Paul it was time to shift the camp again.
He was setting out on his last and greatest journey; he was taking the road that led to God.




Let me conclude this short study here.

For Paul his death is not a sympathetic tragedy; it is a triumphant end of his long fight of faith.
He is not going to be forgotten as a loser, but will be rewarded as a triumphator.

Paul is speaking not only for himself, but for Christian believers.
The crown is for the winner, not only for him but for all who finish the race faithfully.
The joy of Paul is open to every man who also fights the fight; finishes the race and keeps the faith.

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