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 warns Timothy of the way men will behave in the last days before Christ’s return. Both believed Christ would return soon, though they could not be sure when He would come back. They were always ready, always looking for the increasing evil on the earth as the time draws near. In the last days men will love themselves only, seek money, elevate themselves, exploit other people, hate goodness while pretending to be religious. These men will be liars, traitors, only seeking pleasure, mistreating women, impulsive in their behavior. They will be stuck in a cycle of “learning,” being instructed in Christ to believe or mature, but it will never click with them. Timothy ought to avoid men like this. These men will be like Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, who opposed Moses, with some brief displays of power that will ultimately be shown as nothing in comparison to God’s power. In the end everyone will see that these men who sought only their own gain will have wasted their lives.
In contrast to the evil way men will behave in the last days, Paul points to himself as an example for Timothy to follow. Timothy spent years being mentored by Paul on missionary journeys. He knows of the many ways Paul suffered for Jesus, because all who walk with Jesus will be persecuted, yet the Lord rescues us and sustains us. Paul has displayed purpose, faith, endurance, love for others outside himself, all in service to Jesus and the gospel. Once he was stoned and left for dead, and yet God restored his health so that he could keep preaching the gospel. While believers may suffer for Christ, they will be rewarded by God, while evil men will become worse over time and receive no reward. Timothy does not need to look only at Paul for an example to imitate; he has known the scriptures since he was a boy, and his knowledge helped him see that Jesus was God’s Son so that he believed in Him. The scriptures are God’s word, given from the highest authority, and they can teach, reprove, correct, train, and equip all people to become who God made us to be.