2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
These verses above are very popular especially during funerals or if a person died. You can also see these verses engraved in most of Christians’ tombs. Most of us associate these verses with dying. And I think, most of us are right in associating these to death.
In this article, we will tackle why these verses are related to death and why did the apostle Paul associates death as “finishing the race (course).”
This book of 2 Timothy is the last letter that Paul ever wrote. It’s written about 67 or 68 AD. During the writing of this book, Paul is already in a Roman dungeon, waiting for a beheading – his own beheading. As he sat in that dark prison, he knows that there was no coming back this time. So he wrote this last letter to Timothy whom he considered as his spiritual son.
We have known that the apostle Paul survived several near-death experiences during his ministration for our Lord Jesus Christ. According to him in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, from the Jews alone, he received forty stripes five times. That would be 200 stripes all in all (not including the stripes he received from the Gentiles). Thrice he was beaten with rods. He was also been stoned, thrice he suffered shipwrecks and even spent the night in the ocean. He regularly suffers “weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness”. He has also been bitten by a poisonous snake. Yet, he survived in all of these. He had been imprisoned and was released multiple times before. But this time… this time is different. There would be no release. The Lord had made that clear to him that this would be the end. Paul knew it. He is now facing his own death.
If you know that you have only but a few moments left, what would you say? If you are Paul, what would be your last words for the believers? Often, we deeply value the last words of someone who are on their deathbeds since what they say are so valuable. In this case, we will examine these well-known verses in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 as “deathbed words of Paul” that come from the last chapter of his last letter. According to the English Standard Version:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Paul sees his life just like a drink offering being poured out to its last drop. He sees that this glass is almost empty and the time of his departure is at hand. Then he mentioned that “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul sees his life as a fight and a race.
We will then examine this phrase of apostle Paul as to why he sees this life as a fight and a race. And just like what we always did, we will relate this to the natural so that we can understand the spiritual (Rom. 1:20). But we will concentrate more on the “finishing the race” part.
I HAVE FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
Indeed, as a Christian, our life here on Earth is a day-to-day battle. It is a war. According again to Apostle Paul:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12)
This war is difficult to win for our enemies are not that easy to defeat and the term that Paul used for the fight is “wrestle” – a word that signifies great efforts by using all that you have in order to win. This is indeed a very difficult fight. The word “difficult” would not even suffice to describe it. The right word would be “impossible.” Yes, truth be told, the Christian life is impossible to live. Only Christ can live it. This fight is impossible to win. Only Christ can win it.
I remember when I was first baptized in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that I told my family that I am no longer a Roman Catholic but choose to live as a born-again Christian. My family are devoted Roman Catholics, I myself was raised by priests, that’s why most of them are disappointed in me when I declare this. One of our elderly relatives even told me that time:
“You have forsaken Roman Catholicism and want to live a Christian life? Your life will be difficult. You will not receive blessings just like before.”
Indeed, what he said is true. The Bible told us that in many tribulations, we should enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). The truth is, being a Christian brings challenges and troubles that one would not get being an unbeliever. Yet, in all of these, it also brings us the One Who provides us strength and is adequate for us in all things.
Just like what I said above, Christian life is impossible to live. Only Christ can live it. But thank God, our Lord Jesus Christ is in us! If He Who has overcome this world is in us, then we shall also overcome (John 16:33). If He Who had won this war is in us, then we shall also win. And this is the reason why Paul could look back in his life and say: I have made it! I have fought a good fight! I have run well in this race! Through all the tribulations, all the opposition he had been through, he had fought the good fight. He had finished the race. He had kept the faith. And now comes the time of his departure. Now comes the time of his reward!
“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come
This Grace has brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home”
I HAVE FINISHED THE RACE
What does finishing the race mean? Why did the Apostle Paul liken his life to a race?
Let us first answer our first question: What does finishing the race mean?
The fact is, I believe, as the Bride of our Lord, we are getting near to the end of our race. The finish line in this race is either our death (just like what Paul experienced) or through the Rapture. It’s either through the undertaker or through the uppertaker.
Let us first examine what does finishing the race means through the undertaker (death).
The word used by Paul to describe death is the word “departure” which came from the Greek word “analusis” which literally means “to unloose”. He knows he was about to be “unloosen” from this world.
Below are the uses of the word “analusis” (unloosen) in the Greek world:
1. Loosening the Tent
Analusis is used to describe the disassembling of a tent. When a camper is ready to set out for a new destination, he/she would first pull up the ropes that bound his/her tent to the ground before setting out. Knowing that Paul was a tentmaker by job description (Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35; Phil. 4:14-16), this may be the reason why he used this word to describe his approaching death. These mortal bodies of ours are just like tents (temporary houses) that are bounded by cords to earth. But this is not our home. We have a house “not made with hands and is eternal in heaven” (2 Cor. 5:1-3, John 14:2-3). One day, the cords that bound us to this earth will be pulled up (unloosen) and we will move out from our tent to our new destination – an eternal house in heaven.
2. Unyoking of Oxen
The second use of analusis is in agriculture. This word is used to describe the unyoking of oxen or other beasts of burden after a hard day’s work. During our death, we are finally free from the burden of this world and we will enter into rest. According to Matthew 11:28-30, as a servant of our Lord, we are to come to Him and take His yoke for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. After our work with our Lord here on Earth, this yoke will be “unyoke” to us and we will finally rest in Him.
3. Release of Ships
Finally, the most common use of analusis is the releasing of a ship from its anchor for it to start its voyage. Yes, our true journey starts with our release from this world. For Paul, his departure is the start of his real freedom, his real adventure. The ropes had been released. The voyage was on. Just like Paul, it would be great knowing that we have run our races well. It would be great finishing this race knowing that we have kept the faith and have done the will of our Lord for us.
FINISHING THE RACE THROUGH THE UPPERTAKER (RAPTURE)
As I have said above, there are two ways that our Lord can have us finish our race. We have already tackled the first one, let’s now tackle the second one: through the uppertaker (Rapture).
Joshua 3:1-5 “And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore. And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Joshua 3:15-17 “And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest). That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.”
Israel’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land is full of types and symbolism for us to learn to. We just need to open our spiritual eyes to see them. The Apostle Paul actually told us about this in 1 Cor. 10:11 that says “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” So Israel’s crossing on the Jordan river is an actual event but is written for our instruction so that we might learn from them. Why learn from them? It is because, its spiritual fulfillment will happen to us, the Spiritual Israel. It was fulfilled in our day when the Bride of Christ has finally settled on the Promised Land (Word, Bible). But this event’s ultimate fulfillment will happen when we, the Bride of Christ, will finally make it to our heavenly Promised Land – the Holy City, New Jerusalem.
So what’s the spiritual significance of this crossing of the Israelites in the river Jordan to the Rapture of the Bride? To answer this, let’s look at the events that happened.
When it was finally time for Israel to cross the Promised Land, after 40 years of testing and trials in the wilderness, the instructions for them were very specific. Firstly, the Ark of the Covenant should be carried by the priest down to the waters of Jordan. When that was done, something miraculous happened – the water of the river was cut off and it rolled back all the way to the city of Adam, beside Zaretan where they stood heaped up and the other side rolled back to the salt sea. In the Bible, this city of Adam was only mentioned in this verse. This city is located about 16 miles north of the crossing point. Second, the people were instructed to follow the Ark across but they had to be about 2000 cubits behind. And though the priests carrying the Ark touches the waters (Josh 3:15), the people will walk on the dry ground (Josh 3:17).
MEANING OF THE TYPOLOGY
The typology is clear. The waters of the river Jordan symbolized death just like the waters of the Red Sea. The Ark represents our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Ark (Christ) went down into the waters of death to die for us, the impact went all the way back to the first person Adam. The meaning of Zaretan, according to ‘A Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names’ means “their distress”. The power of the blood of Christ (Ark) reaches right back to the point of mankind’s distress. It goes right back to the first person Adam, saving all people of God from distress (sin and death) up to the future generations!
As I have mentioned above, the going down of the Ark into the waters of Jordan represents the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. It is also the Ark that has first touched the Promised Land and the people would then follow but is separated by a distance of “about” 2000 cubits. This means that the first one to go to our heavenly Promised Land is our Lord Jesus Christ in order to prepare a place for us (John 14:3).
Now, I believe, the gap of “about” 2000 cubits between the Ark and the people represents the gap of “about” 2000 years between our Lord’s going into the water (His Death) up to the Rapture of His Bride (people). Notice that the Israelites didn’t have to experience the waters. They went through on the dry ground. In like manner, there will be a generation of people, about 2000 years later from our Lord’s death, that will not going to experience death but will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be taken to the heavenly Promised Land (1 Thes. 4:15-17, John 14:1-3). This is the uppertaker.
Many people are counting the 2000 years gap from our Lord’s birth to the Rapture but these verses are showing us that the “about” 2000 years gap is from our Lord’s death and not from his birth. Anyway, still no one can know the exact year of our Lord’s return because of the word “about”. It’s not exactly 2000 cubits. That’s why don’t believe those people who claimed to be knowing the year of the Lord’s return.
“YE HAVE NOT PASSED THIS WAY BEFORE”
In view of all these, let’s look at this verse:
Joshua 3:4 “Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
Joshua said to the people “Tomorrow, the Lord is going to do something wonderful to you. You have not passed this way before. You have never experienced this new land but you will. And He will do wonders among you.” Where the Bride is going, where we are going, we have never been there before. We have not passed this way before. We have never experienced the Rapture. All along, we have been tied and anchored to this world. But we are nearing the end of our race. We need to prepare ourselves for the Lord will do wonders among us.
And what did Joshua say to those who are about to experience the Promised Land for the first time? Let’s look at this important verse.
Joshua 3:5 “And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
To sanctify means “To set yourself apart for the Lord.” This means that Joshua is telling the people to offer themselves to the Lord. “Be His today. For tomorrow He will do wonders among you.”
This is why I also believe that just before the end of the ministry of the Voice of the Archangel who is our Lord Jesus (Joshua), His final message would be “to sanctify ourselves” which He will voice out through the 5-fold ministers before the start of the ministry of the Trump.
We need to set ourselves apart for the Lord before He can do wonders among us.
FINISHING THE RACE WELL
One of our questions above is “Why does the Apostle Paul liken this life to a race?” The answer is because we are in a race. A kind of race that is not a sprint type but a race that measures our endurance and patience (Heb. 12:1). More like a Marathon. Study the type and shadows of a Marathon and you will know more about this race.
In this race, we are not racing against anyone. All of us have a different race in life. All of us have a different finish line. We are racing against ourselves and against time. We don’t know when will be our finish line. But in all of these, I hope you wanted to end well. I hope just like Paul, you also aim to end well.
Honestly, just like you, many times I feel like I’m a complete and a utter failure in this race. I always trip and fall down the road. Most of the time, I’m crawling and not running anymore. I’m crawling my way up to the finish line. This race is hard. But I think, it doesn’t matter whether our race is easy or not. Or we are crawling or running. I think what’s matters most is “We have fought a good fight, we have finished the race and we have kept the faith.”
It’s okay to trip off and fall, as long as every time you fall, you are standing up and continuing to your goal. This race is not about how many times you failed, this is about fighting a good fight. This is not about how you started, it’s about how you end.
And to tell you the truth, my main aim is actually not the reward in this race, they are only secondary. My main reason why I want to keep going on this is because the more I keep going, the more I know the Lord Jesus. And for me, knowing Him is a much more magnificent reward than the Rapture or Paradise itself or the glorified body itself or anything else that we will have if we will finish this race well. To know how a great and an almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth, would step out of eternity to become human and to die for sinners is actually too much reward for me who is not worthy of the Lord’s revelation of Himself.
Indeed, the finish line is approaching. We can already see it. Finish well Bride, end well. So that someday, you will come face to face with the God Who chose to reveal Himself to you, the One you love so much, and that you may hear Him say:
“…well done my good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:23)
But to tell you the truth, I will even be happy if I will just hear our Lord say “Well, not too bad Bon!”
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