When Paul started the church at Thessalonica he was opposed by the Jewish community as well as the secular authorities (Acts 17:1-8). The Jews reacted to Paul’s message that Jesus was the messiah who was crucified and raised to life by God. The city officials in Thessalonica reacted against Paul’s rejection of Caesar as Lord. The idea that there is another king besides Caesar was politically dangerous. If Paul also taught Jesus was returning soon to judge the word (which 1 Thess 4:17-5:10 and 2 Thess 2 imply), the secular authorities may have interpreted this as a prophecy against the emperor and against Rome. As a result, he was forced to leave the city before he had fully prepared the church, and certainly before he wanted to leave. Acts 17:10 says the believer’s in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away at night, certainly not the way Paul would have liked to leave these new Christians.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 Paul describes this sudden departure as being “torn away” from the new Christians. The verb ἀπορφανίζω has the sense of a child that is orphaned, but also a parent who has lost a child. This is a separation under great emotional distress. Paul did not want to leave, he was forced to leave under threat from the local officials. Notice the verb is passive: Paul did not cause his own departure, he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control.
The letter was written after a short time after his forced departure and Paul thinks of the church often. The introduction to the letter says Paul prays for the church each day and in 2:17 he says he thinks of the church often. Even though Paul’s desire was to return it is possible his enemies were slandering him by saying he never intended to revisit the church. They accuse Paul of taking all the money he could could from the church and then left them on their own to face a black lash from the Thessalonian officials. The opponents are likely blaming Paul for any persecution the church faces.
Paul says he has a strong desire to return.The word for this desire is one of the strongest words for desire available to Paul, it means to “crave” something, usually in an especially inordinate way. In other places the word ἐπιθυμία is translated “lust.” This strong desire makes him make an effort to return. The verb σπουδάζω is not a light or a token effort, but rather doing “something with intense effort and motivation. Elsewhere the word is translated as “be eager to….” (Gal 2:10, Eph 4:3). His one burning desire was to return to the small community of new believers in Thessalonica and continue to build them up spiritually so they would continue the work of the Gospel in the whole region of Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess 1:7).
Even though he has made every effort to return, Satan stopped him. The word“hinder” (ἐγκόπτω) has the sense of“tearing up the road.” If an army wanted to hinder another army from pursuing them they would tear up the road, burn the bridges, etc. Paul sees Satan’s operation as making any progress Paul might make very difficult. The book of Acts does not describe this Paul’s travels in Acts 17-18 as hindered by Satan, although it is possible Paul saw the ongoing threat of further persecution at the hands of the Jews and civil authorities in Thessalonica as a reason not to return. On the other hand, Paul does not usually avoid ministry because of the threat of persecution. He may have in mind his short time in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) where he was distressed at the idolatry of the city (17:16-17) and did not have much success (17:33, no church is formed). The important thing to observe here is that Paul sees any circumstances which kept him from returning to Thessalonica as spiritual warfare.
This hindrance may have been more subtle. Paul’s efforts to travel back to the city were slowed by what seemed to be coincidental problems or bureaucratic nonsense. It is easy for a Christian to read “Satan hindered me” in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and assume there was some epic spiritual battle. Satan does not need to appear on the road in the form of a great red dragon breathing fire to destroy Paul and SIlas (in fact, does he ever really do that?) More often than not, Satan is in the details. Travel papers are lost, roads are closed, a minor bureaucrat refuses to sign a paper, luggage is lost, etc.
The important thing to see here is that the source of Paul inability to return is Satan. The church is not suffering because of the civil authorities in Thessalonica, nor are they suffering because of jealousy from the synagogue, they suffer because they are engaged in spiritual warfare. As he says in Ephesians 6:10, the struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual powers of darkness. And sometimes those spiritual powers of darkness take very subtle forms in order to hinder the Gospel.
11 thoughts on “Satan Has Blocked Our Way (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)”
A first glance at 1 Thess. 2:18 could come across like some spiritual battle as P. Long mentions however I appreciate his continuation to state that merely perhaps a road was blocked, a bridge was being repaired, travel papers were lost, luggage was lost. Perhaps we as Christians today would view Paul as being dramatic, stating that a road was closed or losing luggage is spiritual warfare. However, 1 Thess. 2:18 and P. Long’s simple explanation of Satan blocking Paul’s journey back is a good reminder to Christians today not to necessarily blame all things upon the work of Satan, but we as Christians today often rule the work of Satan completely. Often, if we are truly doing the will and work of God, we will put blame upon chance or merely mishap. But there is most definitely the aspect that if we are doing the will and work of God that Satan will want to oppose us. We also cannot overdramatize the work of Satan against us to the point of fear or discouragement. Bruce Longenecker puts its quite simply in his book Thinking Through Paul, “Somehow “Satan blocked” the way and precluded Paul from reconnecting with the Thessalonian church” (Longenecker, 69). Neither Longenecker nor P. Long are giving Satan more credit than he is due and perhaps that is why Paul simply leaves it at “Satan blocked” because he did not want to give more credit to Satan than he was due and so that the Christians within Thessalonica would not become overly fearful of Satan. This concept of not fearing Satan can also be found in the second letter to the Thessalonians, 2 Thess. Paul writes stating be faithful to God, God will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. How as Christians today can we apply this story of Paul being blocked by Satan and His later statement of God’s protection from the evil one? Perhaps it is merely a change in mindset that we need to have, perhaps when we are doing God’s will and work we ought to recognize there is an enemy who works against us
I like what you said about how maybe Paul simply used the phrase “Satan blocked our way” (2 Thessalonians 2:18) instead of going into great detail about how he did so, in order that he wouldn’t cause the Thessalonian church to become too fearful of Satan. Although I do believe it is important that we do not under emphasize the fact that Satan is working against us and trying to hinder us in our walk with Christ, we also can not allow this knowledge to make us fearful or distract us from God. As Psalm 23:4 reminds us, we should “fear no evil”, because God is with us, and Romans 8:39 tells us, “nothing can separate us from the love of God”. There are countless verses like these throughout the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, that serve to remind us that even though Satan is seeking to destroy us and to lead us astray from God, God gives us the power we need to overcome this evil, and God will never abandon us to fall prey to Satan. The story of Satan blocking Paul’s way to reach the Thessalonians can serve to further increase our trust in God because even though they were blocked for an amount of time, they eventually made it to Thessalonica. This just proves the point that God is always there to protect us and guide us, even in the midst of evil. We can use this story as just another reminder to us that God is always with us, and through him we can overcome all evil.
As believers, we should know that spiritual warfare will be apart of our lives. This is because, of course, Satan wants to take everyone he can with him to hell. Spiritual warfare does not have to be this insane situation were demons appear and so forth. Like said above by P Long, Paul experienced spiritual warfare in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, however, it was travel papers being lost, luggage getting stolen, etc. Be that as it may, one can conclude that during this time it was actually spiritual warfare because Paul saw the situations as enough to not return. Being that Paul did not normally become fearful in terms of persecution, that means he knew something greater in the spiritual world was taking place. For example, in Acts 20:22-23 Paul writes how he will boldly go into cities where imprisonment and affiliations await him. Therefore, we know he is not afraid of prison or persecution, however, he did see it as wise to not enter into the spiritual warfare going on in 1 Thessalonians.
The important part of the story in 1 Thessalonians readers should realize is that when God couldn’t send Paul back to Thessalonians because of the warfare, He had another called person that could: Timothy (Longenecker, pg 69). In verse 3:1-2, after Paul realized he could not return but needed to know how the Thessalonians were doing in their faith, he sent Timothy to the assembly instead (Longenecker, pg. 69). Timothy’s mission was to make sure the assembly stood in sound faith and were not moved by the “tempter” (devil) (3:3-5) (Longenecker, pg. 69). Timothy returned with good news for Paul, reporting the Thessalonians were continuing in faith and love, relieving Paul of his worries (Longenecker, pg. 69). Hence, although there is spiritual warfare taking place and some will be stopped by Satan, it is clear to see that God’s will allows others to come and continue to fight the battle. This should give us, as believers, tremendous faith, reminding us that Satan will put up roadblocks, however, God will always come and tear them down one way or another.
I knew that Satan had something to do with this situation with Paul because they mentioned that Paul was “torn” away from his city. Not only torn away but seperated from his new Chrisitians that he was going to begin the process of his teaching. So they were left with nothing being brand new to the city and teachings. This is not a good thing because now they could start to wonder and find differnt ways of life and different teachings as well. Not what Paul would want for his people or even himself. This hurts even more being that Paul was not the cause for being put away from his people. They were circumstances out of his control. Being blamed for taking some money from the Church and then leaving for others to be blamed by officials. Paul wanted to return to the city but Satan would not let this happen. ” He ruined to road for Paul to make his way home.” Satan should not be allowed to do these things in life. But we are the ones who have to stop him from making us make the bad choices. Being mentally and spiritually strong is key to not let these negative things take place.
There have been interesting believers who have crossed my path that believe strange things about “spiritual powers”. These thoughts often mix with exorcisms, believing those who have seizures are having demons expelled from them, all the way to believing that them spilling coffee is Satan attempting to kill them. There are many different beliefs and perceptions surrounding spiritual powers and warfare. One of the key verses to point to for evidence of Satan attacking and blocking believers is 1 Thessalonians 2:18. In this passage Paul states that Satan has blocked his way when visiting the church. As pointed out earlier in this post, these forces could have been dramatic or subtle. Today there are forces of spiritual darkness that act in different ways in different situations. There are spirits and demons that lurk and attack believers. However, there are many distractions and temptations that the forces of darkness can use in first world countries. Phones are great for connection but are a huge source of temptation and distraction. Anything can be looked up on a phone, including pornography, how to kill, black market deals and so forth. Even if the owner of a phone is not into such dark matters, this person can still be distracted by their technology. Temptation to use a phone to scroll on Tinder while in church, taking time away from spiritual disciplines, the constant ringing taking thoughts off of God. One of the most important lessons that can be taken away from this short passage in 1 Thessalonians 2 is that even if Satan or dark forces block the path, God’s will and work can still be done. Even though Paul and his entire group were blocked from going to see the church, Timothy and Paul’s letter were still able to reach the church in Thessalonica (Longenecker). Encouragement, fellowship and a positive report were still able to reach their destinations, even with Satan and dark forces attempting to block Paul and his party of missionaries. Even if Satan is blocking the path and causing trouble, if the believers are still persistent in doing the will of the Lord, that will shall be done.
The phrase “Satan has blocked way” carries many different interpretations on the barriers that could have been interfering with Paul’s return to Thessalonica. One belief I would like to eliminate is that Paul was scared of what waited him in Thessalonica. In my opinion, I don’t think Paul was scared of the ramped-up Jews in Thessalonica. Due to Paul’s character and background, I feel like he’s not the type of person to give up so easily. At the start of Pauls ministry, he was faced with strong opposition and threats from those who thought he was speaking nonsense. As Longenecker mentions Paul came to Thessalonica he and his colleagues were roughed up Philippe (Long, 59). To add on, there were key details in verse 18 where Paul’s states he tried “again and again”. So despite Paul’s knowing of the angry mob of Jews that awaits him in Thessalonica, he still made several attempts to get there. However, I believe the real barriers that blocked Paul’s path came from his time in Athens. Athens was city willed with pagan beliefs and idols that were disgraceful to God. Paul became aware of the cultural norms and was very upset as written in Acts 17:23, “So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship and this is what I am going to proclaim to you”. This could have been one of the barriers that was holding Paul back from returning to Thessalonica. Satan presence was deeply impeded in the community and Paul understood that it was his duty to apply the word of God in the city.
Paul’s character really shows through in these verses. First, Paul often changes plans depending on what the Holy Spirit leads him to do. His trust is in Christ no matter who is upset about it (1 Thes 2:1-3); ultimately, his goal is to please God and not man. Nevertheless, Paul is still very much emotional about the Thessalonians. His love for them is described as that of a nursing mother and a father. He describes them to be his children who are also siblings (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 67). Due to this kind of sacrificial love, it makes sense for Paul to experience a strong longing to see them.
I do wonder what Paul’s reasoning was for staying away while the Thessalonians were suffering persecution. It also seems to me that the people who believed that he would just leave them to suffer or cause them to suffer did not know Paul very well or did not know the extent of his love. Most often, a parent wants to keep their children from suffering as they did, but if they must suffer, a parent with the love that Paul exudes would have been willing to teach them how to endure and persevere such suffering. He also explains that although they were not able to see each other, they were in Paul’s thoughts constantly (1 Thes 2:17).
Paul explains that Satan kept him away. I love the imagery that you use to describe this type of “hindrance”. Spiritual battles are something that I struggle to comprehend due to the complexity of it. I have seen it and have experienced it, but when it comes to using words to define such an act, the task proves to be very difficult. Paul does not go into detail regarding Satan’s role. It may be because the Thessalonians would not be able to comprehend the depth or because they may have dismissed it as another excuse for his “lack of support”. Likewise, Longenecker seems to have a hard time taking this as a real reason. He writes “Somehow ‘Satan blocked’ the way and precluded Paul from reconnecting with the Thessalonian church” (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 69). Although this may simply be a reference to not having evidence of how Satan blocked the way, the author does not expound on the subject.
Personally, I believe in Paul’s words in Romans 8:28. God uses this horrible situation to build their faith and build a deeper connection. Paul would never have described the extent of his love for them, and the Thessalonians would have thought that they would never be able to withstand hardship without the help of Paul. In a way, they are moving towards a faith independent of Paul even though they are not there yet.
Paul’s journey sounds like it was very hard and very disruptive. In life It is very hard to not get distracted. I mean the bible talks about it and says that the enemy goes around like a lion trying to devour people. He knows our weak points and how to attack us. In this case he just got in Paul’s way from what he was trying to do. The battle is always spiritual and so I think for Paul in this situation and in our situations as humans when this happens is just to stay the course and trust God. The Devil wins when we stray and worry or give in to the temptations that he provides. It’s important just like Paul did to stay the course and trust God. I know that sometimes this is hard. Paul was facing pesucution and still trusted God, and a lot of people have faced that to the point of Death and still chosen to trust God. It is important to remember that no matter what the enemy does or however he tries to tempt us. We have power over that and God is bigger than all of it
Growing up in a GGF church that is conservative, I wasn’t even really aware of spiritual warfare until I was in high school, yet even now I am unsure what to think about it. I am hesitant to look at circumstances in my life and think Satan is attacking me. Whether its a physical injury, my car breaking down, a sickness, or other things, I just attribute it to the effects of evil and sin in the world. Generally I will give something a natural cause before a spiritual one. Like in this passage, its clear that Paul was driven out by the Jews from Philippi who chased him to Thessalonica as well, and the civil authorities played into this as well. Yet, Paul explicitly says this was Satan working and what ever circumstance prevented him from returning was also Satan. Maybe in my life I need to grow my understanding of spiritual warfare, but its easier for me to not attribute things to demons or Satan. Certainly I still pray for God to intervene in things that are not spiritual warfare, and it just doesn’t do anything for me to say “Satan is attacking me”. I think Paul gives us a great model of how to handle hardship, no matter what happened to him, he always turned it around and used it for the good of the gospel and God. And he gave thanks in every circumstance and that should be my attitude as well (Phil 4:10-13), whether things are happening naturally or if it is a direct attack from Satan, I can use my circumstances for God’s glory.
I go to your church and I hear about spiritual warfare all the time!
When I think of this passage, I see it as a way for us to be imitators of Paul as an imitator of Christ. Paul was craving passionately to get back to Thessalonica, as you put “this strong desire makes him make an effort to return.” Paul was so focus minded on spreading the gospel, he viewed the Thessalonian church as his child torn away from him. It’s this kind of passion, we should have as Christians to encourage one another like Paul wanted to further encourage and build up the Thessalonian church. Paul also saw his inability to return to them from Satan. And I think we as Christians today aren’t as quick to blame Satan. In one way, say I was going to be a missionary to China, but I meet opposition along the way, and I chalked that up to be God not wanting me to go to China, when in reality it’s Satan discouraging me. Similarly, I think we tend to blame God for annoyances when it could Satan trying to take our mindset off of God and spreading the Gospel message. Yet Paul, understanding that the roadblocks being from Satan, was encouraged all the more to return to the church. Ultimately, he couldn’t but Timothy was able. He was also encouraged to hear his brothers and sisters doing well as Timothy reports in 3:1-2. Paul wanted to return to the church to further his relationship with them as well as saw the roadblocks being from Satan and was encouraged to hear the church doing well. In that way, we should follow Paul’s model of striving to spread the gospel and encourage other believers, view spiritual roadblocks being from Satan, and being encouraged by our fellow believers.