2 Timothy 4:17b-18 “I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.”
“The lion’s mouth” is probably less a reference to the later Roman practice of feeding Christians to the lions, and more an allusion to the words of Psalm 22, “Rescue me from the mouths of the lions.” It was a colorful way of saying, “I am not dead yet. My execution has been delayed.”
But it was only a matter of time. Still, Paul understood that even in his death the Lord would rescue him from every evil attack and bring him safely to his heavenly kingdom.
Isn’t that the ultimate deliverance? On the one hand, Luther warns us not to lose our proper respect for death: “I am not pleased with examples which show how men die gladly. But I am pleased with those who tremble and quake and grow pale before death and yet suffer it. Great saints do not die gladly. Fear is natural because death is punishment. Therefore, it is sad.”
But the Savior who never leaves us alone went through death for us to absorb all of its punishment. Death’s stinger has been plucked. Jesus’ return to life means that when we go through death, he will be there with us, too. And now life is waiting for us on the other side. The death that looked like danger ends in heaven’s safety.
You see, Paul felt deserted at his first hearing, but the Lord stood by him. Soon, however, his case would not go so well, humanly speaking. The judge would condemn him. The officers of the court would lead him away. The executioner’s sword would swing. Then the Lord would open an escape hatch between his world and ours. And as Paul stepped through that door, he would see that he was not alone. The great cloud of witnesses that surround us would welcome him (Hebrews 12:1). He would see the face of the Lamb who sits on the throne, who would spread his tent over him (Revelation 22:4 and 7:15). And Paul would be truly safe.
Jesus never stops being the Savior who rescues us. In life he rescues us from sin and fear and guilt and dangers to our bodies we may not even realize. In death he rescues us from this world altogether. We will be truly safe when he brings us home.