According to early church tradition, Paul’s prediction of his death in his second letter to Timothy (4:6–8) was fulfilled during Nero’s persecution of the church in the mid-60s when he was beheaded at Aquae Salviae alongside the Ostian Way, the road that ran southwest from the city of Rome to the harbor town of Ostia. We have every reason to believe this tradition is accurate because we do know that Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:29) and that the Roman authorities would often administer capital punishment to Roman citizens by means of beheading. Non-citizens were subject to the shame of crucifixion.
But although Paul had every right, from an earthly perspective, to complain about his fate, his last epistle expresses triumph. Knowing that he has done what the Lord has called him to do, the apostle can face death with the sense of a life well-lived (2 Tim. 4:6–8). May we likewise be able to face our death with the realization that we have served God to the fullest.
No one, however, can face death confidently or with a feeling that he has served God well apart from the grace revealed to us in Christ Jesus. This is clear from 2 Timothy, for while Paul is not afraid to die, his lack of fear is ultimately grounded not in his own works but in the unmerited favor our Father showed to him in redeeming him from sin and destruction. We know this to be the case from many Pauline texts (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 2:15–16), but it is also evident in today’s passage. The very last words we have from the apostle’s pen make up a prayer that the Lord’s grace would be with Timothy and, indeed, with all Christians (2 Tim. 4:22). From the moment of conversion to our dying breaths, we are absolutely dependent on the grace of God to justify us and preserve us in salvation unto our final reward.
Just as the Father and His grace were with Paul throughout many dangers, toils, and snares, so too can we count on His presence and sustaining power in all circumstances. As Matthew Henry writes, since “grace is with us here to convert and change us, to make us holy, to keep us humble, and to enable us to persevere to the end, glory will crown us hereafter.”