This letter was written by the Apostle Paul, while in prison in Rome. This was Paul’s second imprisonment. He was released from his first imprisonment, where he was under house arrest (Acts 28:30). Tradition holds that at the time of writing this, his last epistle, Paul was in Mamertine Prison, which was a “death row” prison. It is clear from the letter’s contents that Paul expects to be executed.
His purpose in writing this letter to his primary disciple Timothy was to bolster Timothy’s courage, and provide him with all the reasons why he too ought to embrace living life as a faithful witness who does not fear death, loss, or rejection. By application, Paul’s letter applies to any believer who desires to gain the most from their time on earth.
Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, with many exhortations and warnings. He thanks God for Timothy and expresses how much he misses him. Timothy served with Paul on many missionary journeys and the two had the relationship of a father and son. Now imprisoned and soon to be executed, Paul writes that he is unashamed that his life will end in such a way. He does not want Timothy to shrink back from following in his footsteps, even if it will lead to imprisonment and death, as it will for Paul. Paul reminds Timothy of the character of his grandmother and mother, both who are strong believers in Jesus. Paul also reminds Timothy of a special gift God gave him, that he keep the flame alive and use this gift to serve God, because God has not made us to be cowards, but to be strong, loving, and disciplined.
Paul reflects on his life, the purpose God and Christ called him to, to preach the gospel and serve as an ambassador for God, reconciling sinful men to Him through faith in Jesus. It is a special purpose, one which Timothy was also given, and Paul does not want Timothy to abandon that calling through fear of rejection by the world. Paul has suffered for Christ without shame, for he fully believes Jesus will reward him on the Day of Judgment.
Paul presents two examples to Timothy, two sets of people that Timothy knows personally. Phygelus and Hermogenes, who have betrayed Paul and are following untrue doctrines, as are the churches in the Roman province of Asia. These men are not to be emulated. But then there is a mutual friend of theirs named Onesiphorus, who has visited Paul in prison and encouraged him, and was not embarrassed to be associated with Paul. Paul prays that God will show great mercy to Onesiphorus on the day of Judgment, for he sought Paul out even while he was incarcerated, and he was profoundly helpful to Paul during his mission in Ephesus. This is a man Timothy ought to emulate.