At my first defense, no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth.2 Timothy 4:16-17
Here is a rather sad note. When the apostle was brought up for his hearing, no one stood up for him. This was a very dangerous time in Rome. Emperor Nero was noted for his vindictiveness. If anybody even appeared to be against him, Nero's assassins were all throughout the city, ready to take the person's life. Evidently no Christians were ready to risk their lives by standing up for Paul, so he had to face this preliminary hearing all alone. But notice again Paul's lack of vindictiveness.
May it not be charged against them, he says. Actually, the fact that no one stood up for the apostle could have led to his immediate execution. But that did not happen because, as Paul says,
The Lord stood by me. He is the One on whom you can always count. Hebrews 13:5 tells us that God has promised,
I will never, never, ever, under any conditions (there are six Greek negatives thrown in there) leave you nor forsake you. The writer's response is,
What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13:6). This too is Paul's experience. The presence of Jesus with him accomplished two things.
First, it gave him the strength to proclaim the message. I wish we could all have looked in on that scene as this doughty apostle told the story of his own conversion. Paul is doing what he told Timothy to do in this very letter:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2). The Lord gave him the strength to do that.
Second, Paul says,
I was delivered from the lion's mouth. Some have read that to mean that Paul was afraid he was going to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. The problem with that, however, is that the Coliseum was not built until three or four years later. Also, because Paul was a Roman citizen, the law required that he could not be executed by being thrown to the lions. He was facing death by beheading.
lion here is very likely a reference to Satan, the malevolent schemer behind all the false charges that were laid against Paul, the one who had weakened the courage of the Christians so they dared not stand up along with the apostle. All of this was part of Satan's schemes to accomplish Paul's death, or at least to destroy his testimony. Peter's warning,
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), is still true today. Many of the problems and unexplainable difficulties that suddenly complicate all the things we are trying to do for the Lord are only part of the activities of the lion that is seeking to devour our faith, to destroy us and weaken our testimony for Christ.
But Paul was delivered from the lion's mouth. In this beautiful verse, he expresses his feeling that he is safe in the Lord's hands.
Thank You, Lord, that even if everyone deserts me, You will stand with me and beside me.
Is our faith and witness limited by dependency on others? Where is the real and unfailing source of power on which we can draw for confidence and safe-keeping?