This pure speculation, but I read some 1st century history that makes me wonder if St Paul precipitated his own death by sarcastically lampooning the emperor.
In 66 A.D. the Emperor Nero left Rome to compete in the Olympic games and make a concert tour of Greece. At Olympia, he competed in the four-horse chariot race. The historian Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars, reported that Nero drove his chariot with at least 10 horses. The emperor was thrown from his chariot during the race and had to be picked up and put back at the reins.
The emperor was unable to remain in his seat and gave up the race before the finish. Since he was the emperor, the judges crowned him the winner anyway. Nero generously declared the whole province a free country and gave the judges large sums of money.
This humiliation would have been fresh news when the buffoonish emperor returned to Rome and soon afterward had the apostle Paul beheaded. Could there be a connection between Paul’s execution and a letter he penned from a prison cell in Rome? The apostle wrote this in his last letter to his young friend Timothy:
An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. . . . [T]he time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.
~ 2 Tim. 2:5, 4:6-8.
Nero the athlete had also won a crown, but he never finished the race. Nero did not compete according to the rules, yet was awarded the crown.
I think the stern apostle shows a sense of humor in combining this bittersweet farewell to Timothy with a joke at Nero’s expense. Anyone else think there is something to this?