2 Timothy 4
By all earthly standards, Paul was leaving this life as a loser. He had been judged guilty in a Roman court of law. He had lost his final appeal. And was now being held in a cold dungeon waiting, as he says, for his life to be poured out like a drink offering. Most of his friends and former ministry partners were occupied elsewhere. Some had even abandoned him and the ministry altogether. The churches that Paul had labored so hard to plant were always in some kind of danger and Paul could do nothing at this point in his life to protect them from the false teachers and wolves that daily seemed eager to make a run at the sheep.
Yet, Paul wasn’t seeking approval in the eyes of any earthly judge, because he had already found approval in the eyes of the Heavenly Judge—the Righteous Judge—the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the confidence that Paul expresses: Henceforth….right now…there is laid up for me—reserved with my name on it—a crown—that crown itself is righteousness to me…not my own righteousness…it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that he will give me and all who long for his appearing…his epiphany….on that Day.
If Paul was guilty of anything, it was of competing in a contest where the outcome was already rigged. He had fought the good fight, he had finished his race, he had kept the faith because he knew that he had already been declared the winner. The emperor Nero may judge him guilty. But Paul knew that the call on the field would not stand. It would be reversed by the Righteous judge—on that day when he himself appears in the arena to put an end to the contest and declare his saints to be those who have conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by their faithful witness.