What happened to Demas?
We don’t know. All we know is that some of the last words the Apostle Paul wrote before his Roman execution expressed a heartbreak: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
Maybe Demas feared being executed with Paul and fled to safety. Or maybe he succumbed to immorality. Or maybe he simply caved in to the relentless temptation of a more comfortable, prosperous life in the large, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, wealthy, culturally interesting city of Thessalonica. Whatever it was, he surrendered to the world.
But just a few sentences later in this letter to Timothy Paul says something very hope-giving: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
Remember Mark? He had been the first to desert the team. Back in the early days, during the first missionary trip with Paul and Barnabas, Mark took off from Pamphylia and returned home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Again, we don’t know why. But Paul didn’t approve. In fact, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark back on the team after the Jerusalem Council, Paul would have none of it (Acts 15:37-40).
But here is Mark, at the end of Paul’s life, fully reconciled to and fully trusted by Paul and very useful in the gospel ministry.
Demas and Mark serve as contrasts. One provides a word of warning, the other a word of hope. And as people who stumble in many ways (James 3:2), we need both.
Demas is a warning to us. He began well. Four or five years earlier, during another imprisonment, Paul refers to Demas as a “fellow worker” in the gospel (Colossians 4:14, Philemon 1:24). There was a time when Demas apparently chose, like Moses, “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
But he doesn’t appear to end well. Having once fought alongside of Paul in kingdom battles, he seems to have sided with the enemy.
So the warning is this: “Be soberminded; be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9a). Our enemy is very real and very crafty. He threatens and seduces. And even those who start strong and are leaders, like Demas, are susceptible to his deception.
Mark, on the other hand, gives us hope. He had a weak start. He didn’t appear to have the right stuff. He disappointed his leaders and friends by leaving them to bear the heat of battle while he went home.
But Mark ended well. Barnabas proved right in the long run. Mark rejoined the battle and proved a faithful, trusted, useful warrior. And, if tradition is correct, the Lord even used him to contribute a gospel to the New Testament canon.
So the hope is this: “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
Let us then be on our guard. We live with indwelling sin that is inclined toward insanity, because it is inclined to believe lies that lead to our destruction. When we are feeling the powerful pull of worldly temptation we need to take Paul’s exhortation very seriously: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:11-12). Paul knew what he was talking about. He watched co-laborers fall.
But let us also remember that God is in the business of forgiving sins and restoring stumbling sinners to himself and to useful service. Paul knew this too. “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy…” (1 Timothy 1:12-13).
We don’t know the last word on Demas. I hope that he repented in the end. But because of Mark, we know that failure doesn’t have to be the last word for us. Rather, may our last word be “But I received mercy.” And whatever may have happened in the past, let us resolve to pursue Jesus as our treasure and seek to live lives of useful service for him from this day forth.
Grateful for the mercy and patience shown to this stumbling sinner,
P.S. One of my all-time favorite messages John has ever given is called “Live to Die.” I listen to this message at least once a year as one way of remembering what life is all about. It always stirs up my love for Jesus and my desire to seek the kingdom first. So we’re making it our September feature message.
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