The Second Epistle to Timothy, written by Paul as he is contemplating execution under Nero , gives us a mature believer’s perspective on evil rulers. First of all, Nero is not even mentioned; however, the Lord is mentioned three times more in 2 Timothy than in 1 Timothy. The focus is not on Nero in any way! Paul considers it the time to be ‘offered’, 2 Tim. 4. 6. It becomes a time to teach Timothy about suffering affliction out of love for Christ. The apostle in 2 Timothy teaches his son in the faith endurance and good soldiering for Christ. Ezekiel, in his first chapter, first sees the ‘whirlwind’ of Nebuchadnezzar’s violent and destructive forces. In the vision he sees an upcoming final whirlwind of ravaging destruction from Babylon’s army. Then, Ezekiel recognizes the celestial ordination of Babylon’s actions via the cherubim. Finally, he looks even higher and sees a Man of glory seated on the sapphire throne. It is not until he sees the Lord on the throne that Jehovah can speak to him again in chapter 2 and verse 1. It is man’s evil rule that causes the destructive whirlwinds of change; this causes the Lord’s people to look up and see their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with more clarity. Man’s evil rule often leads to the restoration of God’s people to Himself. The trials of a Christian’s faith under man’s evil rule is more precious than gold that perisheth and can lead to praise, honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 1. 7. The immediate spiritual response of faith is to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The evil rule in Israel that led to the crucifixion of Christ later proceeded to the martyrdom of Stephen. The result is that the believers went everywhere preaching the gospel. The assembly at Antioch was established from the persecution that arose because of Stephen, Acts 11. 19. It was nurtured by Barnabas, taught by Paul, and resulted in the believers being called Christians, Acts 11. 19-26. Stephen’s death was used by God to multiply the testimony of Christ and to give an identity to His church. Paul and Peter led the way for hundreds of martyrs that would be thrown to the lions and burned by Nero in the stadia before hundreds of thousands of people. This time of intense suffering of the church resulted in an even greater dissemination of the gospel. Some of the spectators in the stadia would be touched by the Christians who ‘offered’ themselves to God with joy.
Thus, ultimately Nero’s evil rule is used by God to spread the gospel even more. Paul prophesies what the end result of his martyrdom will be, 2 Tim. 2. 10. It would lead to the salvation of many, and give them an ultimate ‘eternal glory’ with Christ. Paul did not think of his own glory, but the glory of future believers whom he did not know. His inspired prophecy continues to be fulfilled even today. In a similar vein, Peter notes that evil men will pass, but that the gospel will continue. Succeeding generations will have believers that will continue to preach the gospel, and therefore the gospel, with its ‘scarlet thread’, will endure forever, 1 Pet. 1. 25.
It is noted by many that the wide ranging conquests of Alexander the Great enabled the diffusion of the Greek language throughout many lands and cultures. This, in turn, facilitated the rapid expansion of the gospel in the early centuries after Christ’s resurrection.
The apostle Paul, under the hardships of man’s evil rule, could say, ‘but I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places’, Phil. 1. 12-13.
God, by granting the privilege of freewill to his sinful creatures, allows mankind to continue to have evil rulers. The word of God gives us glimpses of God’s providence in the midst of man’s evil rule. Many times we are not privy to how the blessings of God are being multiplied, in spite of the evil we suffer daily. We may be like Job who never knew the real cause of his sufferings but who, like Ezekiel and Paul, obtained a clearer vision of God’s greatness. Christ could say, ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, Matt. 6. 34, and yet He is indefatigable in healing and sharing His blessings with others; His vision is always perfect. Therefore, He is unperturbed by Herod’s idle threats, or Pilate’s presumption of final authority over His immediate destiny, or the desperate ‘kangaroo court’ of Caiaphas. In the midst of evil, it is God that is shaping history for the ultimate blessing of mankind and the glorification of Christ. In His infinite wisdom, God handles an infinite combination of different possibilities with the concluding result being the furtherance of His will for mankind, despite their evil. Wherever we find ourselves in this complex process, it is for the purpose of glorifying Him by leading a holy life. We may see only a small portion of the overall picture during our short lives and therefore not understand how our experience of suffering contributes to the whole. We are, however, informed by scripture that the glorification of Christ is inevitable as the grand result of all of our sufferings as the church of Christ. We, like Christ, Paul, Ezekiel, Peter, and Moses, never need to blame the rulers of the day; our relationship is with the Supreme One! Our decisions are based on a spiritual paradigm through Christ, and not on a passing political scene. Paul lived by what he taught in Romans chapter 13 and verse 1, ‘Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God’. We may confidently offer our bodies and lives to our Lord, each and every moment of our short pilgrimage, irrespective of the evil ruler of the day. As Paul faced his execution, he confidently said, ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’, Phil. 1. 21. We already know that the recompense will be an eternal weight of glory in and with Christ, that will be shared with Him forever.