Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Satan's messenger

Why is Paul’s thorn in the flesh more referring to the word, rather than a physical ailment?

2 Corinthians 12:7

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

There is religious speculation that the thorn in Paul’s flesh was physical, possibly an eye ailment, but that’s all it is – religious speculation.  They’re not getting that from Paul himself.  It is actually the opposite, he wasn’t worried with his physical body at all; he was more concerned that people were attacking the message.

It is consistent throughout scripture that thorns refer to people who are against you. The following verses talk about the Kingdom when the gentiles will no longer be that constant thorn in the flesh by attacking Israel.

Numbers 33:55

But if ye [Israel] will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

Joshua 23:13

 Know for a certainty that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; but they shall be snares and traps unto you, and scourges in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.

Ezekiel 28:24

And there shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor any grieving thorn of all that are round about them, that despised them; and they shall know that I am the Lord GOD.

God dealt with Israel as a nation, so the thorns in the flesh were against the nation, not individuals.  But Paul represented the church, the Body of Christ and the vexation was directed at him personally. 

You can make a case that Paul had a physical infirmity, but when you study out Paul’s life and ministry and the Word, he is not so concerned with his physical body.  So I don’t think the thorn in the flesh is something physical.  Paul actually glories in the fact that he bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

2 Corinthians 11:23-28

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

Colossians 1:24, 30

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:  

If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.

2 Timothy 1:8

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;

Philippians 4:11-13

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

So Paul wasn’t trying to avoid physical suffering, but what I see as I study Paul’s life is that everywhere Paul went, Satan energized men to attack him—both his message and him, as the messenger.  I see that when he says “the messenger of Satan to buffet me,” that there is a constant Satanic attack against Paul.  In the Bible, Paul and the Grace message are synonymous.

2 Timothy 1:8

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;

So as I see it, the thing that was vexing Paul was not the physical, but it was the fact that every time he would preach he felt like it was in vain.  For example, when you share God’s grace message with others, what is going to vex your soul?  You’re not worried about them physically attacking you; what you’re worried about is that people will reject you because of what you believe and what you’re sharing.

That is what was happening with Paul.  That’s why we study Acts.   As he went out sharing God’s grace message and ministering as he was supposed to, there was a constant satanic attack.  Paul represented the church, the Body of Christ, and he was the only one who knew the information about the Mystery until the revelation was complete, so at first Satan’s main focus of attack was Paul.  He was trying to stop Paul from getting his message out.   

The reason why God allowed it was to keep Paul humble.  You have to remember that Paul was receiving visions and revelations from the Lord.  He was seeing the Lord.  The natural human heart would boast in that – “Look at me.  I’m special”; but with that specialness came suffering.  That suffering was that God allowed Satan to cause Paul to suffer.

I don’t see Paul talking about suffering physically. Thorns represent people in the Bible.

Acts 9:15-16

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

If we stop there we see Paul’s ministry.  Christ saved Saul to go out with this message.  But look at the next verse—it begins with “for.”  Only one man held this office of a special apostle.  What accompanies this special apostleship is a special suffering.  You and I in our daily lives don’t suffer like Paul.  We suffer some things to a small degree, but not what he went through, emotionally in particular.  He had the care of all the churches and he was being vexed daily by people.

For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

God allows Satan to attack people; Job is an example.  God asks Satan if he had considered His servant Job.  Of course he did.  Job lived there in the East; he was right in Satan’s lap.

Job 1:6-8
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

It is God himself who says to Satan, ‘There is Job.  Do whatever you will to him but he will still be faithful to me.’  “Job” means “persecuted.”  James refers to him as a type of the Little Flock in the future.

James 5:10-11

Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

So who was vexing Job?  Satan.  But who allowed it?  God.  He gave Satan a long leash.  He could take anything but his life.  God gave Satan leeway with Job.  That is consistent for Jews throughout the scriptures.  God calls the antichrist indwelt by Satan ‘the rod of his indignation.’

Isaiah 10:5

O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.

So God allows Satan to vex the Jews through people.  The same thing is happening with Paul.  God is allowing Satan to buffet Paul to keep him humble.

With Job, it was to test him.  Throughout the nation of Israel’s history, it was to humble them because of their sin.  And with Paul it was to humble him.  Quite frankly, God allows troubles in our lives to humble us.  He will use circumstances, but primarily people to do it.  What caused the circumstances that made Job suffer?  Satan.  What caused Paul’s circumstances?  Satan. 

1 Thessalonians 2:18

Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.

God and Paul say that Satan hindered Paul. Did Satan just appear and tell Paul that he couldn’t go? No. So who hindered him?  People who were energized by Satan for that purpose.  I will show you why I believe Paul is hindered by people and not some type of physical infirmity.

Satan used unbelieving Jews in Acts 9 and the gentile politicians to withstand Paul.  Then he’d have to leave and go somewhere else.  Then Satan would use unsaved Jews to try to kill Paul.  Everywhere Paul went, either unsaved men or politicians withstood him.  It was a satanic attack.

Let’s look at Acts 17.  Paul is preaching in Thessalonica.

Acts 17:5-10, 13

But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason [the believer who was housing Paul], and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews…

But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.

Let me explain that.  Paul goes to Thessalonica to establish a church just like we’re doing here.  We’re going to grow; the testimony is going to go out and people are not going to like it.  The ‘unbelieving Jews’ get the politicians to say, “That’s not zoned for a church.  You can’t meet there.”  All of a sudden you have a problem.  Unbelievers and politicians will work together to stop Paul.  The same thing will happen to us.  Notice – “they troubled the people and the rulers” in verse 8.  How is Satan hindering the message for the Thessalonians?  Through people; through lost men in government.  Look at verse 9...

And when they had taken security of Jason,

You know what they did?  They knocked on the door and confronted them:  “Joe and Sarah, we have word that there is a church meeting here.  You’re not zoned for a church.”  (But we’re going to meet anyway.)

They took security of Jason – they took a bond out on his home.  And they said that if we see that trouble-maker Paul and those Christians meeting in your home, we’re going to confiscate your house.  You know what Paul does?  He didn’t want that to happen so he looked for another place to meet; and it works out for God’s glory because he goes to another place and preaches the gospel.  That is how Satan hindered him.  He could never go back there; but he could send others and he sent the letter.

So that’s the thorn in the flesh – Satan used men.

In 2 Cor. 11:22-30, Paul talks about his sufferings.

2 Corinthians 11:22-23

Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? 0I speak as a fool) I am more;

Why does he bring up all these Jewish men?  Because as Paul was preaching to the Corinthians, Satan would use these Jewish men to teach the Law.  He did it with the Galatians as well.  That was consistent throughout his ministry.  Wherever Paul went, God allowed these men to come behind him and preach the Law.  Why does God allow that?  Take grace ministries for example.  We see these huge churches that take in lots of money that they’re extorting from the people because they don’t teach the mystery truth; and here we are struggling just to keep going and we ask, why doesn’t God do something about that? The answer is in 1 Corinthians.  Look where Paul was.

1 Corinthians 11: 18-19

For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. [He wasn’t there but he knew that they were very carnal.]

For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.

As we suffer going against the religious grain – being the little group believing this message, the truth of God’s word, even though our brethren in the Body of Christ don’t believe it  God is getting the glory.  We’re a small remnant but God is using us powerfully.

2 Corinthians 6:9

As unknown, and yet well known;

God allows the heresies that they might make us shine brighter.  If I lit a match in this room with all these lights, it would just be a little light.  But if I turn out all the lights, the same match would be very bright.  If someone is looking for the truth in the midst of all the confusion around us and they hear this (grace) message, they’ll know that this is the truth and out of all the churches, they’ll recognize that the little group of grace believers has the truth rightly divided.

Paul had to learn by experience that God allowed these men who kept coming behind him for his own sake and for God’s glory.  So I believe that Satan buffeted Paul through men, one in particular, and not through a physical infirmity.


  1. Every time I get discouraged and down, because of the circumstances that I'm encountering with sharing Paul's grace message and sound doctrine, the Lord always lifts my countenance with encouragement from your studies, Bro. Ron. I almost knew to expect it as I came here to see if there was any new posting:o)

    You just don't know how I needed this answer, and it is right on time! As a matter of fact, I think I'm going to print it out and keep it in my notebook as a reminder and to go back to for encouragement as needed:o)

    Thank you, Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. Dear Anonymous:

      To God be the glory!

      That others might be encouraged and grow in his marvelous grace is exactly why I labour in the Word and Pauline doctrine.

      Thank you, too, for sharing your words of encouragement.

      Grace and peace,
      Brother Ron