After Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus preached the Gospel in Thessalonica, followed by riots incited by the jealous Jews who had claimed the church planters had “turned the world upside-down” (Acts 17:6), the only option was for them to leave the city by cover of night and head to Berea. These spiritually young believers (perhaps they were only saved for 3 weeks) as the three Sabbaths in Acts 17:2 indicate, were left without leadership and without receiving all the teaching they needed. The persecution that the apostles were facing in that city was now directed at the Thessalonian Christians.
It’s important to the understanding of this letter to note that there was no separation between church and state in that day, and all of life in the city of Thessalonica revolved around religion and false idols. The city’s economic and political power, success, and a hopeful future hinged on the right worship of these pagan idols…from a pagan’s point of view, of course. Suddenly, this small gathering of Christians was left all alone, and the hatred of the entire city rested squarely on them. They weren’t just causing an existential problem for those outside the church. From the worldview of the pagan Thessalonians, they were responsible for their sickness, loss of material blessing from their gods, and death.
We know, and the Christians in Thessalonica did too, that the worship of any other god other than the eternal, Trinitarian God of Israel is participating in the worship of demons:
1 Cor 10:20 19: What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.
Satan is the Maestro and Conductor of this world’s anti-Christ worship. Satan is responsible for designing a world system that is contrary to the true knowledge of God and executing it through his demon servants (see Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:2).
1 John 5:19: We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
This is why friendship with the world is so dangerous, as James 4:4 says, even for believers. Thinking like the world, talking like the world, acting like the world, living life like this life is all there is is functioning as a member of Satan’s cohort. Whether one is offering prayers to spirits for better gardens like in Papua New Guinea, or consumed with material posessions and good health, Satan simply capitalizes on already-rebellious hearts yearning to worship something other than Yahweh.
The Bottom Line
Satan doesn’t want humanity to rely on and submit to God’s provision for true life. As Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 make clear, he wants to be like God, therefore, his goal isn’t primarily to possess or scare you and me.
“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering…
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground…”
Many of us think Satan simply operates through the occult or video games that are overtly evil, or even products that may or may not have devious origins. No, Satan is way more clever and dubious than that. In a culture obsessed with the supernatural like Kuman or Thessalonica, he uses supernatural things to blind their eyes from seeing the light of truth. In a naturalistic, modern, prove-it-by-science-only culture like ours that leaves no room for the supernatural, it would be counterproductive for him to draw attention to the unseen world. Sure, Satan uses the occult here sometimes: He adapts, but its not very common. However in any case, like 2 Cor 4:4 says:
“…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Whether you’re a self-made, self-reliant person who’s obsessed with a hobby, or you rely on your ancestor spirits for an easy life, Satan is accomplishing his goal: shifting your eyes away from the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son. How does he do it?
He tempts you disobey God’s revealed word (1 Thess. 3:5).
He encourages political oppression and persecution (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
He tries to stir up disunity or division (2 Cor 2:10-11).
Thomas Brooks. “When men throw off the Word, Satan takes them by the hand, and leads them into snares at his pleasure”
1. Our minds are preoccupied with Satan and demons, rather than “things above.” We make assumptions about him and what he’s doing, and we look for him everywhere. In which case we are doing exactly what he wants — obsessing over him, a created being, instead of the all powerful creator who is Sovereign and uses Satan as a tool to accomplish our growth and to bring the world to His desired end.
2. We deny that he exists at all, and we deny that there is a spiritual warfare taking place over the souls of this world. At the expense of the truth of God, we deny that the world is inherently opposed and under the rule of Satan during this dispensation.