This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. 2 Timothy 1:15
Paul was imprisoned again in Rome and he expected to be executed (2 Timothy 4:6). The Bible doesn’t tell us the details, but it seems that after Paul was released from the Roman imprisonment mentioned at the end of the book of Acts, he enjoyed a few more years of liberty until he was re-arrested and imprisoned in Rome again.
One can go to Rome today and see the place where they say Paul was imprisoned. It is really just a cold dungeon, a cave in the ground, with bare walls and a little hole in the ceiling where food was dropped down. There were no windows; it was just a cold, little cell that would have been especially uncomfortable in winter.
Paul wrote this letter from his second Roman imprisonment, and soon after he wrote this letter he was condemned and executed in Rome at the command of Nero. Paul sensed this; therefore 2 Timothy is not only the last letter we have from Paul, there is also a note of urgency and passion we might expect from a man who knew he would soon be executed:
“9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments (2 Timothy 4:9-13).
All those in Asia had turned away from me: The great apostle Paul, at the end of his days and a fantastic missionary career, was almost all alone. He was not praised by the world, or even regarded much among other Christians.
If there were Christian radio back then, no one would want to interview Paul. If there were Christian magazines back then, Paul would not have been on the cover. Paul would have had a hard time finding a publisher for the books he had written. For many Christians of that day, Paul seemed too extreme, too committed, not flashy or famous enough. Even the Christians of Asia – where Paul did a great work (Acts 19) turned away from Paul.
Geographically, Asia in the New Testament doesn’t mean the Far Eastern continent as it does today. It means the Roman province of Asia, which today would mostly be Turkey. Phygellus and Hermogenes: These were two notable men who among those turned away from Paul, were not faithful, and did not hold fast.
These two were not the only ones, but Paul found it necessary to point out Phygellus and Hermogenes particularly: He names two of the deserters – probably the best known – in order to put a stop to these slanderous attacks. For it usually happens that deserters from the Christian warfare seek to excuse their own disgraceful conduct by inventing whatever accusations they can against faithful and upright ministers of the gospel.
We don’t know much about Phygellus and Hermogenes; this is the only place they are mentioned in the Bible. It’s a terrible thing to have your name recorded in God’s word as an example of unfaithfulness.
Earlier in his ministry, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I suppose it seemed exciting, even popular, to follow the example of Paul in his younger years. He was famous inside and outside the church. He traveled the world and planted churches wherever he went. Paul was a highly sought after speaker. In the early years people mobbed Paul and his companions. Foreigners wanted to sacrifice to him as a god:
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”- Acts 14:11-13.
The call to follow Paul meant following him not only in the exhilarating early years, but also in his old age, imprisoned, forgotten, alone. So also to follow Christ is not only to follow Christ when life is easy, but when life gets ugly, even deadly. The call to follow Christ is the call to take up the cross and follow him.
Times were tough for Paul. He would be put to death soon. But he still had a call from God to preach the Gospel and witness to Jesus Christ. A Call to remain faithful even unto death.
We live in tough times right now, but that doesn’t change our Call to follow in Christ’s steps, to share his Gospel, and to remain faithful even unto death. God is faithful in good times and bad. May he grant us grace to be the same.