“Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what is our proud reward and crown? It is you! Yes, you will bring us much joy as we stand together before our Lord Jesus when he comes back again. For you are our pride and joy.”1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NLT
Paul uses a lot of family language and imagery in writing 1 Thessalonians. For example, he compares his use of apostolic authority to the gentleness of a mother (2:6-7) and the encouragement and comfort of a father (2:11-12). Further, he repeatedly uses the word “brother” throughout the letter. In this section where he is discussing his separation from the Christians at Thessalonica, he again uses family imagery. The pain of separation from loved ones can be intense, especially when the parting was pushed upon you by the circumstances and against your wishes.
Paul describes the pain of leaving the Thessalonians as being as intense as that of a parent losing his child. Paul assures the readers while they are physically separated; they are still in his heart. Meanwhile, some of Paul’s opponents are trying to convince the folks in Thessalonica that Paul really doesn’t care about them; but, Paul’s heart-pain argues a different position, as do his repeated attempts to return.
But the return visit never happened because Satan cut in and prevented the reunion. Satan “prevented” (NLT), “stymied” (The Message), or “stopped” (NIV) the homecoming.
Have you ever wondered why Satan gets the blame for these plans being interrupted when on other occasions God is credited for changes to the travel itinerary? See for example Acts 16:6-10 where Paul is prevented from entering Bithynia by the Holy Spirit and concluded God had called them to go to Macedonia.
Was this just a human evaluation made in retrospect or did Paul have some supernatural gift of discernment? And just how did Satan blocked Paul’s plans? Jewish opposition? Thorn in the flesh? Political opposition? While we will never know for sure, the Thessalonians may have known exactly how Satan interfered.
These passages in 1 Thessalonians and the Acts reveal another great mystery of how God works. We know God opens doors and closes doors and can make it clear which door to enter. But we also know that Satan can cut in and stop what you believe to be a good thing to do. Questions abound when we experience the opening and closing of doors. Did God close this door or did Satan? Do I respect God’s closing of the door or do I repeatedly try to open the door, thinking Satan has blocked it? How do I tell the difference between God’s closed door and Satan’s closed door?
The open door mystery leads me to seek God with all my heart and mind and to trust Him even when I find a closed door.