As should be very obvious by this point, Paul frequently referred to Satan in various parts of his writings, to a much greater extent than most of us are wont to do. We find one of the more casual references to the efforts of Satan in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20: “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” In order to better understand this passage and what it says about the workings of Satan in trying to hinder the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, it is worthwhile to examine some of the context and reason why Paul was unable to be in the presence of the brethren of Salonika.
Fortunately, we have a record of Paul’s time in this area in Acts 17:1-9: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.”
This particular example provides a case study of how Paul interpreted what happened to him in Salonika as being motivated by Satan. In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul states that Satan hindered Paul from seeing the brethren again face to face. In Acts 17, we see the mechanics of what hindered Paul, namely the envy of the Jews at hearing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ that stirred up a mob that forced Paul out and required Paul’s host, Jason, to post a bond for the security of the city to prevent future disorders. The whole scene appears out of a KKK-style effort at intimidating those who bring unwanted social change as a way of bullying people who have different opinions from the masses. For the sake of historical context, this sort of Jewish anti-Christian collusion with heathen mobs in order to attempt the intimidation of Christians is by no means an isolated phenomenon, as it would later result in the martyrdom of Polycarp in the second century AD. We see, though, that Paul clearly calls anti-Christian intimidation efforts the workings of Satan, and the people who attempt to attack Christianity as evil men.
Obviously, there are implications from this. One of them is that Paul’s personification of the problems faced from opposition as springing from Satan justifies the same approach being used by believers today to recognize that a great deal of contemporary anti-Christian hostility in society springs ultimately from Satan and his demons. Additionally, we can see that attempts to harass and intimidate people have not greatly changed over the past two thousand years. Just as was the case in Paul’s time, those who make reasoned but unpopular cases and deliver unwanted truth are often respond to with violence by those who are envious of the esteem that people can gain from those who are willing to be convinced by the truth. And those who are envious or threatened by unwanted truths have easy recourse to stir up evil men (and women) and seek to use violence to speak where they lack the facts and rhetorical skill to speak otherwise. Nothing has changed when it comes to the response that envious and hateful people deal with unwanted truths by seeking to silence truthtellers with violence.