2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
This is at the very end of the last letter Paul wrote before he was martyred. The section from verse 1 through verse 8 is justly famous and loved, because it’s his instructions to his spiritual son Timothy as well as a clear recognition that his time on earth is up. However, I had never underlined this verse, and it too is a potent statement of faith. When Paul is aware that he will likely be martyred soon, at first glance this seems a little like wishful thinking: “rescue me from every evil attack.” (The Japanese says, “work of evil.”) That impression is cleared up when we realize that “rescue” isn’t necessarily physical. Paul had previously told the Philippians, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) He fully expected that his body would be killed, but he knew that wouldn’t be the end of him, because he would be brought safely to the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. Paul was as human as we are, and I don’t doubt that he had some apprehension about the transition from earth to heaven, but he’d already had a visit, and he knew he wanted to go back. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, perhaps when he was stoned at Lystra. [Acts 14:19]) Many people have realized that things like healing and rescue don’t always come in this life, but faith assures us that they are as certain as eternal judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) In America, even people who have no real faith will sometimes say things about the dead like, “They are in a better place.” They don’t know what they are talking about! If the person who died was in Christ, then they are indeed in glory with Him. However, if they followed the devil by default through refusing to commit to Jesus as Lord, then they are in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) That should be sobering indeed.
This is something I have been aware of for many years, and it is why I stopped mourning the death of known Christians. Everyone leaves this life at some point, and those left behind definitely miss them, sometimes bitterly. However, the important thing isn’t death itself, but the destination. Once we leave this life we are indeed rescued from all the works of evil that currently distress us. That includes physical, emotional, and spiritual attacks. I certainly don’t recommend suicide; that is a self-centered act that refuses to trust God. I also know that God can and does heal and otherwise rescue people in this life, as a demonstration of who He is in order to draw people to Him in repentance and faith. However, temporal miracles, even, are no comparison to eternity. Even Lazarus died again! I don’t demand that God rescue or heal in this life, but I seek to lead as many as possible into the faith that will guarantee that they are brought safely into heaven when the time comes.
Father, I lost two friends last month. One was rescued from his cancer and is now rejoicing before You. The other declined to let go of the “8 million gods” of his ancestors, and I could only release him to your mercy. Such things are very painful. Help me be increasingly useful to You in leading people into repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!