What’s up with NLT in 2 Tim. 4:1?
Premillenial language, if not the intent, is present in the New Living Translation’s rendering of 2 Timothy 4:1, “And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus––who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:”. Literally, the verse reads, “at his appearing and his kingdom.”
The idea of “setting up” a kingdom comes straight out of the premillenial playbook. One site proclaims that “Jesus Christ Will Descend To Jerusalem To Set Up His Earthly Kingdom.”
The NLT rendering is similar to the “GOD’S WORD Translation” which renders the phrase, “because Christ Jesus will come to rule the world.” Um, nope. He is not coming to rule the world, but to claim his own and take them into eternity.
Christ’s return (his “appearing”) will be that of the full revelation of his kingdom (so The Lutheran Study Bible). In this verse, we see the “eternal kingdom” that Peter mentions in 2 Peter 1:11. At his appearing he will exercise the power inherent in that Kingdom for judgment — both to punish and reward (see 2 Tim. 4:8).
The phrase, “at his appearing and his kingdom,” has been identified as a hendiadys, so the sense would be something like, “his appearing in his kingdom,” or according to Bullinger, “his kingly appearing.” That would contrast with his first appearing in humility. Weymouth translates “kingdom” as “Kingship,” and Moffatt as “reign,” lending weight to Bullinger’s translation and helping us to avoid the picture of earthly borders.
A similar construction of this figure of speech is in the next verse, in 4:2, “exhort with complete patience and instruction,” which ought to come out something like the NRSV: “with the utmost patience in teaching.” ISV is a bit looser, but shows the same idea, “with the utmost patience when you teach.”
That Paul has in mind here the revelation of the eternal kingdom and not the evangelical invention of a millenial earthly kingdom seems clear from verse 18 in the same chapter, where he contemplates being brought safely “into his heavenly kingdom.” Here, at the end of his life, Paul’s thoughts look forward Christ’s “kingly appearing,” and appeals to Timothy in a powerful charge to preach the gospel, under the hastening and powerful shadow of that coming, at the end of all things.