In the late 1970’s we planted a church in Northern New Jersey. As it happened, the charismatic movement was sweeping through the area. Itinerant preaches captivated congregations with casting-out-demons sermons. Behind every ill, it seemed, Satan lurked.
Nowadays, at least in my church circles, Satan’s treated less seriously, if at all. However, in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul explained he had wanted to re-visit the Thessalonians “but Satan hindered us.”
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, ESV).
What do we know about Satan? Here’s a brief back-story . . .
A God-Created Fallen Angel.
“All things were made [by God] through [the Word who was God] (John 1:3). “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, God created Satan and created him good. But in Genesis 3, Satan, in a serpent’s form, is tempting Eve to disobey God. Between chapters 1 and 3 some angels sinned. “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell . . . ” (2 Peter 2:4).
How did they sin? In Isaiah 14:12-15 Isaiah prophecies against the king of Babylon with language that seems too strong to refer to merely a human king. Wayne Grudem comments, “It would not be uncommon for Hebrew prophetic speech to pass from description of human events . . . to heavenly events that are parallel to them . . . ” (Systematic Theology).
“How are you fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of the Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven above the stars of God.
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the depths of the Pit.”
Not God’s Equal.
Rebellious angels are now confirmed in their evil by God. Therefore, Satan as a fallen angel is “leashed” by God.
“All right,” the Lord said to Satan, “everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself.” (Job 1:11,12, TEV).
Satan is no more God’s equal than a puppy whose leash we hold. We’re not chess pieces caught up in a cosmic match between two equal masters, pawns in the hands of competing powers. Yet, as an angel, Satan wields greater power than we humans.
Here are a few of Satan’s goals in his nefarious rebellion . . .
- Replace God’s reign (see Isaiah 14:12-15 above).
- Slander God’s character (see Job 1:11,12 above).
- Destroy God’s purposes for mankind (Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death—Hebrews 2:14,15).
Here are three parts of Satan’s plan . . .
- Deny God’s Word (Did God actually say . . . ? You will not surely die—Genesis 3:1,4).
- Seek to make humans think they are the measure and goal of everything ( . . . you will be like God—Genesis 35)
- Distort God’s truth (Paul condemning Bar-Jesus: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”—Acts 13:10)/
(Note: above “Aims” and “Strategy” gleaned from bible.org/seriespage/commendation-and-thanksgiving-1-thess-213-20.)
Interestingly, when we read the Acts account of Paul in Thessalonica (17:1-9), author Luke mentions hindrance from men’s attacks, but nothing about Satan. I suspect that’s because God is telling us that often Satan carries out his strategies through humans, whether as individuals or in organizations. In other words, the hostile Thessalonians opposing Paul and the gospel were Satan-inspired
That’s what I take Paul to imply in Ephesians 6:12—For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Human “rulers and authorities” that oppose Christ and his gospel are empowered by “the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world.” So they are whom we’re fighting against as we follow Jesus and spread his message.
The Long-Red-Underwear-One 21st Century.
Don’t laugh. But don’t ignore either. Satan’s as real now as when Jesus was among us. His aims and strategies and tactics are the same. We have an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Following Jesus in an evil-one-controlled world (1 John 5:19) amounts to spiritual warfare. For how to fight see 1 Peter 5:9 and Ephesians 6:10-20.
Paul’s Odd Tactic.
As far as I can tell from Scripture didn’t return to Thessalonica and command, “Get behind me, Satan!” He simply went on to Corinth. Which suggests to me, Paul saw Satan’s hindrance as God’s guidance. Just as the Lord used Satan’s attacks on Job for a greater good in Job’s life, so he used Satan’s attacks through the Thessalonians for a greater good in spreading the gospel. With the way back to Thessalonica blocked, Paul wrote letters to them and preached the gospel in Corinth.
Showing us that sometimes when Satan seems on the loose doing his devilish work,
our Lord still has him leashed for his good purposes.