Truth in the Pastoral Epistles (6): Its Revelation (4)

The Revelation of Truth (cont.)

There is something special about driving at daybreak. As dawn approaches, the beams of headlights seem, almost imperceptibly, to grow fainter, as the sky begins to glow with the first traces of day. The countryside, which has been shrouded in darkness, begins to reveal itself in murky, half-seen shapes, then, silently and suddenly, the sun rises. The car’s lights are reduced to insignificant uselessness, and the fields, hills, and hedges that had previously only been guessed at are seen, unveiled by the rays of the rising sun.

In 2 Timothy 1, Paul uses imagery like this to describe the unveiling of divine truth. Confined in a Roman prison, awaiting the flash of the executioner’s sword, Paul rejoices in “our Savior Jesus Christ, Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (1:10, KJV). The apostle opened with the statement that his service, so marked by loneliness, danger, and now by approaching death and apparent defeat, was “according to [“in keeping with” NIV] the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus” (1:1, KJV). He explains and expands upon his confidence. His certainty about the future is not based on the few and faint glimmerings about life after death provided by the OT. Job’s certainty that “though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:26, KJV), and David’s expectation that though his dead son would not return to him, he would some day go to him (2Sam 12:23) are among the passages that indicate that OT saints were not entirely in the dark about what lay beyond the grave. They had, at best, only scattered and intermittent bursts of light. Now Christ has appeared. “Appearing” (epiphaneia) is a term that is, with one exception (2Thes 2:8, where it speaks of the man of sin), unique to the pastoral epistles. On the other occasions where it is used, it refers generally to the events of Christ’s second advent, from the Rapture to the Manifestation. Here, it refers to His first advent, but the scope is similarly broad, encompassing the incarnation and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and everything in between (cp Titus 2:11; 3:4). The appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, His incarnation, birth, death, and resurrection, has abolished death, emptying it of its power and force. It has produced a glorious message – the gospel – which declares life and immortality.

The confidence and clarity of Paul’s words are thrilling in any context, but it is difficult to conceive how precious they must have seemed to the apostle who was “ready to be offered” (2Tim 4:6, KJV). Death would come; of that he had no doubt, but as Paul made his way to the place of execution, he went to meet a defeated enemy. Paul can hardly have relished the thought of their encounter, but already, he was looking beyond it to the crown (2Tim 4:8), the kingdom (2Tim 4:18), and the immortality that awaited him.

The apostle, whose eyes are so firmly and so characteristically fixed on the future, is also looking back. He recalls Timothy’s tears and the “unfeigned faith” of Lois and Eunice (vv4-5), as well as his own service and that of his forefathers (v3). As he considers the wonder of divine revelation, however, his field of vision expands far beyond his personal past or the storied heritage of his Jewish ancestors. His look backward is every bit as grand and expansive as his look forward, for he scans God’s “own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2Tim 1:9, KJV).

In 1 Timothy, Paul had pointed Timothy to the revelation of an eternal Person, the One Who is the “mystery of godliness,” a fitting example for the “man of God” (1Tim 6:11, KJV). Writing to Titus, among the endemic falsehood of Cretan society, he had stressed the revelation of an eternal promise from the lips of God Who cannot lie (Titus 1:1). Now, as he appeared to be nothing more than insignificant flotsam, buffeted by the waves of Roman power, Paul rejoices in an eternal purpose far above and beyond the puny power of Caesar. The purpose of God has its origin, not in the ebb and flow of time, but in the remote and rippleless calm of eternity, “before the ages of time” (JND).

The scope of divine purpose is staggering. It is not its scope alone however, that occupies the mind of the apostle. Paul also rejoices in its character. The expression “His own purpose and grace” in verse 9 is a hendiadys – a figure of speech used for emphasis where, instead of using an adjective and a noun, two nouns joined by “and” are used. The force of Paul’s expression here is “His own gracious purpose.” That God should have an eternal purpose which involves us should overwhelm our souls. That this divine purpose should be characterized by – should indeed be composed of grace – ought to fill our hearts with worship and thanksgiving. We ought never to imagine divine purpose as something malign or malevolent. God’s purpose is a purpose of grace, and the words that He spoke by Jeremiah to Israel remain just as true for believers of this dispensation. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer 29:11, KJV). Notice, that it is His own purpose. It originates with God, and owes nothing to our works. Because it is His own purpose it takes its character from Him – it is permeated by the grace that is an essential part of God’s being.

It is thus wholly consistent that Paul speaks not of a purpose which is for us, though that would have been true, but of a purpose “given us in Christ Jesus.” God is always giving, and His giving is always in Christ. The appearing of Christ, proclaimed in the gospel, has illuminated the vastness of this divine and gracious purpose from eternity to eternity. Thomas Kelly, that indefatigable Irish hymnwriter, put it well: “In Him the Father gave us, all that boundless love could give.”

As we worship, we must not miss the point so often insisted upon in the pastoral epistles, and reiterated again here. Truth has ethical consequences: it is “the truth that is according to godliness” (Titus 1:1, KJV). So it is here. God, Who has revealed Himself, Who has shined the great spotlight of the gospel upon His eternal and gracious purpose, is the God Who “saved us and called us to a holy calling” (1:9, ESV). We, who are saved are in Christ Jesus. As beneficiaries of God’s gracious purpose, we do not have the option to live life as we will. Our calling is a holy calling. We are called to lives of holiness that correspond with the truth we know and own.

Paul wrote these words in a Roman prison. It is no extravagant leap of the imagination to suppose that the cell was dark and dingy. Chains bound the apostle’s body, but they could not pinion his spirit. Thick walls and narrow windows shut out the light of the sun, but they could neither exclude nor restrain the brilliance of the gospel. God grant that His truth will shine brightly for us, and that we, blinded to all else by the blaze of its glory, might willingly be “partaker[s] of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (1:8, KJV).