It is a veritable contest in which Timothy and every servant of God is engaged; the prize for which we strive and run is to lay hold on eternal life. There seem to be two anchor points in that running. The one is the point of departure, which is the confession in our Lord which we make before many witnesses. The other is the point of arrival, which is the glorious Parousia of Christ, called in the text the “manifestation” (epiphaneias) of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul charges Timothy before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, before God in Christ, to keep and cherish the commandment to flee from the error of making godliness a matter of worldly aggrandizement and that he pursue after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness. This is a command, a charge which Paul must pass on from God in Christ and which should be passed on from Timothy to all who are in the ranks of the runners of the race.
This must be done till the appearance of Christ. The question as to how soon this phrase presupposes the return of Christ to be, is not difficult to answer. We should bear in mind that the apostles were not told the exact time when the kingdom would be established. The times and the seasons God has put in his own power. The time of the return, the exact time, even the very angels in heaven do not know. Matt. 24:36, Acts 1:7. It is as one writer states it, “the prophecy was, in its nature, a dim one, only to be interpreted by history; and it is natural that to them the lofty truth should be a present reality” The fact is that for each of us, as far as our eye of faith and hope is concerned, this appearance of Christ is equally near at hand, whereas none knoweth the exact hour. This makes it possible for Paul to write to Timothy, and, in him to the church, to hold the commandment fast until the glorious appearance of Christ. And this reality in no way conflicts with the truth that “salvation is now nearer than when we first believed” as stated by Paul inRomans 13:11.
There is a most intimate relationship between the “good confession of our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate, and the “manifestation” which in God’s own time will show who is the ‘blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. . . .” Moreover, there is also here a strong motivation for Timothy and all of us to keep the Commandment until that glorious event. It is really the joy which was set before Christ and the joy and prospect of the final reward which shall be to all who keep this commandment, to him that overcometh in the battle of faith and hope.
Let us attempt to understand this a bit better.
It is well to understand the import of the phrase “before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.”
We are of the considerate opinion that this phrase “before Pontius Pilate” must not be generalized to mean simply “at the time when Pilate was governor,” but that it refers to the very definite, historical and dramatic confession, an epic in all the words of Christ, which he confessed when he, the Lord of glory, stood before the judgment seat of Pilate in the judgment hall of the latter in Jerusalem; it refers to the confession recorded in John 18:36. Our reasons for believing that Paul has this in mind are more than one. In the first place, because the phrase “who witnessed” in the Greek is a participle in the Aorist tense. It is point action, and refers to a definite, once-for-all confession. In the second place, because the exact point at issue before Pilate, the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, is also the exact issue here in Paul’s admonition to Timothy, to wit, the question of the relationship of both slaves and masters to Christ, the Lord. The issue is that of the “new dimension” which Christ brings into every relationship by his spiritual Lordship in our life and lives. In the third place the sequence of the text here speaks of the relationship of Christ to all the kings and lords of the earth, which relationship was not “manifest” in Pilate’s judgment hall, but which will be the point and the substance of the matter “manifested” in God’s own time in the return of Christ, the Parousia.
This latter point calls for just a bit of elucidation.
It should then be observed that Paul denominates this answer of Jesus in Pilate’s hall at the occasion of his trial to be “the good confession.” It is quite evident that this confession was rather well-known in the churches. Paul uses the article “the” with “confession” in the sense of a demonstrative pronoun. The churches must have remembered this, even so much so that the phrase found a place in the Apostolicum.
Besides, we should notice that it was rather singular that a man witnessing in his own defense would be said to “confess.” Here it is called a good, a noble, an honorable confession. It was “kalos,” good! It is really the one beautiful confession, than which there is none better. Truly it is an epic in the drama of the history of the God of our salvation saving His people in Christ. First of all, it was beautiful in content. Here is royal dignity in the form of the Servant of God. He is the King of peace, the King of righteousness, and he is such not by usurpation of power but as directly appointed by God in His decree “I have anointed my King in Zion.” He it is who was ever coming to Zion, and who now has come, meek and lowly and riding upon the ass, the foal of an ass. He is the blessed Potentate, not acclaimed thus by men, but inwardly blessed and assured that his throne is established in righteousness, that he loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity, and that he is anointed with oil of gladness above his fellows. He is the King-Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, Heb. 1:8, 9. It is a good confession also as to form. For the crucial question is really whether he has disturbed the people, forbidden to pay tribute to Caesar and is, therefore, an insurrectionist, or whether he is innocent. Now Christ was innocent from the charges as determined by Pilate. Says he “I find no fault in him.” Now Christ could have been silent as far as the charge went. But he did not. He confessed the good confession. He confessed that he was a King and that he had a Kingdom. In this “confession” the following ought to be noticed. This Kingdom is “not of this world.” It is not on the plain of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Macedonia and Rome. Were it such a kingdom he would have had his soldiers fight for him. But soldiers he does not have to keep him from being taken by the Jews. Hence, his kingdom cannot be from hence. Pilate and his soldiers cannot meet Christ’s army. There is none as the kings of the nations have. This confession is forensic in the highest sense. It meets and neutralizes the accusation of the Jews head on. And, lastly, this good confession convinces the judge, Pilate. He sees that he is harmless. But, then, it still puzzles him and causes him amazement. All the Evangelists register Pilate’s amazement: Thou art then a King?? Thou?? For Christ had posited that he was a King. He did not have soldiers, his kingdom did not interfere with paying tribute to Caesar, his disturbance of the people was not insurrection against Rome, the “powers that be”; yet he is a King! That he is innocent Pilate is convinced of, but the manner of this King Pilate does not grasp. He has come into the world to bear witness of the truth??! What is truth,” asks this Roman skeptic!
We, who with Timothy have confessed his name before many witnesses, have heard his “voice.” We heard it because we are no longer out of the father of the lie, but have been born from above, we are “out of the truth.” And now we look for the manifestation of this King when he shall be manifested, that is, gloriously set forth as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
The last time we wrote on this passage (see former issue of the S.B.) we noticed what it meant that God “quickeneth all things.” That causes us to see the transcendent God in his immensity of power and wisdom and might, causing Job to prostrate himself in the dust. Here we see the King before Pilate. Before both of these Timothy is admonished to hold fast the commandment. On the one hand this causes us to tremble in holy awe and reverence, and on the other hand to be confirmed that we stand in our confession with him who is the Author of our salvation and confession. That comforts and gives assurance, and the future beckons us onward in hope for his final “manifestation.”
Who is this King of glory? sings the Psalmist in the twenty-fourth Psalm. The refrain is “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates: even lift them up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.” Psalm 24:7-10.
When this shall all be fulfilled we do not know. No man can pin-point it on the calendar. It will be in “his own times.” It will be a time which is appropriate, when all history shall have been written by God from the book, the Scroll in his right hand, and when history shall have “come to pass.”
But what a manifestation that will be!
He will be manifested as the king of glory, according to the text:
1. In his relationship to all the kings and potentates of the angelic hosts as well as the potentates among men, and that, too, in contradistinction from the prince of this world, the Devil, who once “offered” him all these things if he would but worship him.
2. In his relationship to all death, the only one having immortality and life, who was dead, but lives forevermore! He, the LORD of glory, will then be seen as the light which is unapproachable in the glory in all the saints. For this Christ is God in the flesh, the Shechinah of glory in his holy temple, his people!
What an incentive to hold fast the commandment!
What a glorious prospect to presently say: this is our God, for him we have waited, in his strength we have run the race, and from him we receive the crown of life and of glory.