“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20).
In Acts 17:5-10 we read of Paul’s escape from Thessalonica because of the wickedness the Jewish leaders were brewing. “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.” This is what Paul was referring to in verse 17 of our opening text.
Hindered by Satan
Paul states that Satan had hindered his return to Thessalonica to see and minister to the brethren he loved. The Greek for ‘hindered’ means literally, “to cut a trench between one’s self and an advancing foe, to prevent his progress.” The Jewish leaders were doing all they could to stop him coming back into the city, and for now they were successful. There are other passages in Scripture which speak of the religious leaders in this manner. “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44) … “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not” (Revelation 3:9). Some commentators suggest that Paul was referring to an illness that kept him from them. “Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” … “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (Galatians 4:15, 2 Corinthians 12:7). This idea does not fit the context of the Thessalonian letters.
We see clearly here that no matter who opposes us, be it the government, religion or individuals, our fight is not with them but with Satan who inspires them to do so. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his demons have to work through people because they can only be in one place at one time, for they are neither omnipotent nor omnipresent. Wherever God is building, it is certain that Satan has his demolition team to move in as quickly as possible. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). The moment we make a stand for the Lord, the devil will not be too far away with his resistance. “And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” (Zechariah 3:1).
A way through
Paul did not give up because he could not be with the believers, so he took pen and ink to get spiritual letters through to them. God always makes a way to get His word into the hands of those seeking the truth, and there are no powers on earth or in Hell that can hinder that. If Satan had not hindered him, the two Thessalonian letters would not have been written, and would not be in our Bibles to edify us. “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Why did Paul bother? The answer is found in the fact that he loved those he was ministering to. This is seen when he wrote that he was absent from them, but “not in heart” (:17). Instead of deflating his love for them, the satanic hindrance made his heart grow fonder of them. This letter, delivered by Timothy, was proof that Paul had not forgotten the Christians in Thessalonica, nor had his affection for them been diminished through his personal suffering. Instead it made him want to see them even more.
To him, they were his crown of rejoicing when Christ returns. “As the victor in the games could point to his crown as the proof of his powers, so Paul could point to the Gentile churches as the proof of ministry” (The People’s New Testament). They would be the evidence of his love for Christ and the gospel. Paul had made it his life’s work to see others saved and following Christ. “Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly” (2 Corinthians 10:15). It gives us cause for rejoicing to see those we have ministered to growing in the Lord. “For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John :3-4) … “Therefore, my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
We may worry about how we are going to cope when the message of the Gospel is banned in our nation. How will we reach out to the lost when our churches are closed down? God does not leave us without the means to get the job done. Though we might be hindered by ungodly religious and political leaders, God can never be defeated by the schemes of the enemy. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11) … “The gates of hell shall not prevail against” the church of Christ (Matthew 16:18). Right up until the end of the Church Age the message of salvation will be broadcasted around the world. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).