Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us”
– 1 Thessalonians 2:18
This verse communicated to the Thessalonians reveals we have an adversary who is hell bent on separating brethren from each other and thwarting God’s plans. We should never forget we have an adversary. He was behind the persecution in Thessalonica that led to Paul’s being sent away for his own safety (Acts 17:10). Satan incites opposition to the cause of Christ. Those who have yet to surrender to Jesus are described as the instruments of the devil. They are “dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Eph. 2:1-3). If you have yet to receive Jesus as Savior, whether your realize it or not, you are under the influence of Satan!
Paul says, “but Satan hindered us.” The term “hindered” (ἐγκόπτω ĕgkŏptō, eng-kop´-to) means to impede, to detain, or prevented. Satan can hinder and prevent our plans from coming to pass. He can impede our path. How does Satan impede our path? What are his tactics? Looking back at Acts 17 where Paul was separated from the Thessalonians in the first place, we see what many of his tactics are.
First he often works through the religious who aren’t persuaded by the gospel of grace (Acts 17:5a). If you read through Gospels and Acts it is usually those who are the most religious who are the source of opposition to the gospel. Salvation frees us from the “aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,” through the “precious blood of Christ” (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus didn’t come to make us religious. He came to introduce us to the way of knowing God personally as Savior and Lord. He came to introduce Himself to us. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You sent” (John 17:3).
Second, Satan uses envy (ζηλόω zēlŏō, dzay-lŏ´-o or ζηλεύω zēlĕuō dzay-loo´-o) covetousness or jealousy mixed with emotion to stir up opposition. Envy is at the root of much evil perpetrated against people. People like the limelight. When Paul preached the gospel in the power of the Spirit and people began to respond, the powerless religious leaders were jealous. Watch out for those whose motivation for “ministry” is getting people to their group rather than getting people to God for His glory. When you see that know that Satan is at work. When people are more concerned with and preach the name of their church or group instead of the Name above all names, the enemy is at work. Watch that.
Third, he works through “evil” men (πονηρός pŏnērŏs, pon-ay-ros´) or people. This is a very descriptive word which speaks of those who are characterized by being hurtful, evil, degenerate, calamitous, spiritually diseased, derelict, vicious, malicious, wicked, lewd and devilish. God calls His people to holiness (e.g. 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Thess. 4:3, 7). Satan is diametrically opposed to holy hearts and holy living. Wherever “evil” is present you can be sure Satan has a hand in what is happening.
Fourth, Satan uses mob tactics; he stirs up a riot. Whereas God is orderly (e.g. 1 Co. 14:33, 40), Satan is chaotic and loves a riot. Satan loves anarchy and he uses it to oppose God’s people. Ever try to share the gospel at an abortion clinic or Gay Pride parade or event? If you have, you know that it isn’t long before you’ll be accosted by an angry mob followed by a riot. Why does this inevitably happen? Why does such opposition try to shout down those who speak for the Lord? Because the enemy is behind it. Satan and his message of sin is no match for the powerful gospel. He knows that. So if he can’t reasonably oppose the gospel, he incites others to shout down in an effort to shut up people preaching the gospel or ministering God’s truth in His love. Remember that next time you are mobbed and don’t be surprised or fearful. Just stand strong in the Lord’s power and might.
Fifth, Satan uses violence as when he stirred up the mob to attack Jason and drag him before the rulers of the city (Acts 17:5b-6). When those preaching the gospel or ministering don’t run away from the mob, the enemy is not averse to ratcheting up the volume and even resorting to physical violence. When violence ensues the enemy is at work. Look at the apostles; they were stoned; beaten with rods; scourged; imprisoned and treated in harsh unmentionable ways. Why did that happen? Because of evil people but understand Satan was behind it all. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. It’s against Satan and his minions (Eph. 6:12).
Sixth, Satan uses lying accusations as in the accusation that the apostle’s proclamation of Jesus was contrary to Caesar and the Roman government (Acts 17:7). Wherever untruths, half-truths, deception, false witness and false accusations are present, so is the influence of the enemy. When we speak in half-truths we open the door for the enemy to enter in. God’s way and standard is to speak His truth in His love (Eph. 4:15). Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with truth (Rom. 12:21). Don’t lie, be truthful!
Seventh, Satan stirs up opposition as when they “troubled” (ταράσσω tarassō, tar-as´-so) or agitated the crowd and rulers. Satan uses strife and conflict to get his way. Why is it turmoil is so prevalent when we’re preparing to go to church? Why do we persist in silly and superficial spats and disagreements? Part of it is our flesh and sinful nature rearing its angry head. But Satan is the one pouring fuel on the fire of our flesh! These are all things we should be aware of. The fruit of the Spirit is a love that is peaceful (Gal. 5:22-24). “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God ; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).
The next time you are envious or jealous, opposed by people with evil intent, have a group with a “mob” mentality confront you, are physically attacked or falsely accused, just keep in mind your enemy is probably at work. Then rely on God’s power, put on His armor. Use the weapons God has given you for this battle. Use His truth to hold you together. Keep your heart protected with His righteousness. Go with the powerful gospel of peace. Use faith and truth as your shield against Satan’s accusations. Keep your mind protected with the helmet of salvation and don’t forget the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. And above all pray. Do that, and you’ll win the day (cf. Eph. 6:10-18).