1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5
Destined for Affliction
In this short vignette, we see the heart of the great Apostle for his charges, those whom he served as midwife when the Spirit birthed anew these Thessalonians into the Kingdom. He was torn away from them by those who hindered the preaching of the gospel and run off to Berea, those same people then running him off from that town when they heard he was there (Acts 17:1-15). So concerned for their well-being, he dispatched young Timothy to see how they were doing when he was in Athens.
There are two matters in this passage that deserve attention. First is Paul’s statement that he wanted to visit the Thessalonians time and again, “but Satan hindered us.” How are we to understand this? Quite simply, we must acknowledge that there are demonic forces in the world that seek to thwart the work of God at every level. This is the plain teaching of Scripture. We even see in the gospels where our Lord was constantly faced with demonic opposition either from those afflicted by such possession or those who wanted to kill him. This should not startle us. Indeed, the Apostle Peter tells us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We take comfort in knowing that regardless of our adversary’s fury, he is ever on our Savior’s leash: “This far and no farther,” we learn from Scripture’s account of Job (chs. 1-2). Through such struggle the Lord teaches us to pray without ceasing like the widow who pleaded justice (Luke 18:1-8).
The second matter that comes glaring at us is a truth few wish to hear, particularly in a country where Christians have carried so few burdens, and that is that we are destined for affliction. Paul had warned the new believers in Thessalonica of such, “just as it [came] to pass.” This is a hard truth and hard to bear, and one which is coming to America—indeed is already at the door. And yet, we should not be surprised. We have been the benefactors of a Christian heritage from Plymouth forward, not that our nation was ever perfect, but that it at least assumed a Christian ethos. That has changed. But we must understand that from a Scriptural point of view, our history is the anomaly in the world. Paganism was bound to triumph at some point given man’s natural inclination to sin. The Church has always been a minority throughout history and generally quite powerless. And as we draw closer to the end, both Satan’s masks and gloves will come off. We must steel ourselves with fasting, prayer, and Scripture, just as our Lord did (Matthew 4:1-11), and take up the cross and follow him (Mark 8:34).