He was soon going out to the Ostian Road where the executioner would be waiting. He was to be beheaded by the edict of Nero. Historians differ on some of the details. It is likely he made the journey with few, if any, of his many friends. Perhaps Luke the beloved physician was there to the end. We are not told. But before Paul had to face the sword of the executioner, he had to face the mouth of the lion. The lion was not Nero; the lion was that old serpent, the devil. He longed to bring down the apostle and, with him, his testimony and credibility before so many believers.
Thus, one of Paul’s greatest tests was reserved for his final step on the pilgrimage. Like Abraham (Gen 22), his most severe trial came at the close of life. At Paul’s first legal defense, no one came forward to support him. All those in Asia for whom he had sacrificed, served, and suffered felt it too dangerous to link themselves with Paul. As a result, he stood alone against the accusations which were leveled against him.
The skill of the tempter is seen in the circumstances he brought about. A veteran missionary, having literally “spent all” for others, facing the sentence of death, is deserted by all those he had served and loved. Satan envisioned that before Paul’s eyes would be portrayed a life of labor which had now proven fruitless.
How would Paul react? A natural reaction would be bitterness and anger. An expected reaction would be disappointment and discouragement. His foes abounded and his friends were absent. In these circumstances, the Lord Himself stood by Paul. Was it a vision? Was it an actual presence in some way? Whatever form it took, it strengthened and preserved the apostle and he did not succumb to the danger of reacting in a normal or natural manner. He reacted in a spiritual manner. In fact, the trap set by the “lion,” became a stepping-stone for Paul to leave earth, resembling the Lord Whom he served. “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (2Tim 4:16). Drinking deeply of the spirit which marked his Savior, Paul rises to spiritual heights and Christlikeness in his closing days.
Every trial has the potential of making the believer more like His Savior, or making him more like society. Do we react normally and naturally? Can we hear the roar of the lion when trial arises or do we hear the voice of self-vindication? Paul overcame and triumphed in the trial by being like His Savior. The trial revealed fruit which must have thrilled all of heaven. Every trial is a trial of faith; but it is also a test of Christlikeness.