How is Satan “bound”? (Revelation 20:1-3)

INTRODUCTION. According to Revelation 20:1-3, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” But if that is the case, how is he, at the same time, prowling about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8)?

Last Friday evening, during a discussion of the end times, a friend mentioned the consideration that, if Satan is “bound” immediately after Christ’s ascension, then how do we explain verse like 1 Peter 5:8, which speaks about the devil’s ongoing activity during the “thousand years?”

A REVIEW OF THE LAST DAYS

Before we plunge deeply into this controversial text (Revelation 20:1-6) and the equally controversial subject of the “thousand years,” it would be good to review some basics of the end times so that we have a common vocabulary and a common framework. I have expressed my views on these topics in detail in my book, The Last Act of the Drama, which I self-published with Amazon in October 2021, and this review will be based on the explanations in that book.

The last days began with the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Hebrews 1:2). Jesus, the Son of God, performed His earthly ministry, accomplished His work of redemption by His death on the cross, was buried, and rose again from the dead in glorious resurrection. He commissioned His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and then ascended to heaven to await the Father’s command for His return to end history and judge the earth. Of course, there is no controversy among evangelicals concerning these truths, but there is a great deal of debate about what happens between Jesus’ ascension and His return, especially regarding the end times, the time just before His return.

Since I have written about my view in detail in my book, I will not supply explanations here, but will just present my view, especially as it relates to the “thousand years.” From Revelation 20:1-3, we know the beginning event and the ending event of the “thousand years.” That time period begins when the “angel” “bound him (Satan) for a thousand years” (20:2). Then, when “the thousand years were completed,” “he must be released for a short time” (20:3). This is confirmed in Revelation 20:7, where the Scripture says, “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.” So, the beginning and the end of the ”thousand years” are given, but questions remain. When, exactly, does this period occur? What precedes it and what follows it? What occurs during this period? What is the purpose of Satan being bound and what is the purpose of the “thousand years”? Who is this “angel”?

In my book, I explain that the “thousand years” is not intended as a literal 1,000 years but simply suggests a long period of time. I use the term “relatively literal,” meaning that “thousand years” gives us the right mindset. It gets us in the ballpark. The “thousand years” is a long time. The “angel” (Rev. 20:1) is the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ as He is ascending to heaven to assume the throne (See Rev. 5, when He arrives in heaven.) The “angel” must be Jesus, because no ordinary “angel” has the authority to lay hold of Satan and throw him into the abyss. Only Jesus, as God the Son, can do this. Thus, Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years.” The “thousand years” begins with Satan being bound during Jesus’ ascension and ends with Satan’s release “for a short time” (20:3). The “thousand years” is followed by the 42 Months (Rev. 11:2, 3; others), which is followed by the Last Day.

THE OBJECTION STATED

But if Satan is bound in the abyss for the “thousand years” and the “thousand years” begins with Christ’s ascension, how do we explain the New Testament’s references to an active devil during the entire time from the beginning of the church forward? For example, in his first epistle,  the apostle Peter warns that, “your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Why would Peter issue this warning if the devil is bound in the abyss? Jesus tells the church at Smyrna that “the devil is about to cast some of you in prison” (Rev. 2:10). Paul declares that we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11) and devotes a whole passage to spiritual warfare so “you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:10-18, esp. 6:11). How can “bound in the abyss” be reconciled with these passages?

THE OBJECTION ADDRESSED

While Satan is bound during the “thousand years,” he is not bound absolutely. He is not bound such that he is unable to do anything, but the Scripture states that he is bound specifically in his ability to deceive the nations. In Revelation 20:3, we read “he (the angel, who is the glorified Christ) threw him (Satan) into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, SO THAT he would not deceive the nations any longer” (emphasis mine). The purpose for Satan being bound in the abyss is SO THAT (the Greek is ἵνα, which indicates purpose) he would not “deceive the nations.” That is, the devil’s ability to hinder the spread of the gospel among the nations is “bound,” but the Scripture is silent about Satan’s other abilities.

This specific binding of Satan in this way is very strategic for the spread of the gospel among the nations and for the building of Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18). Remember, before His ascension Jesus has commissioned His church (Matt. 28:19-20) and has given the church the mission to “make disciples of all the nations.” When the first of the seven seals is broken (Rev. 6:1-2), the church is pictured as a rider on a white horse whose only weapon is “the bow” of the gospel and who “went out conquering and to conquer.” To enable the church to accomplish her mission of making disciples by proclaiming the gospel, the Lord Jesus removes Satan from the playing field before the church rides out. Jesus commissions His church, then binds Satan in the abyss for the “thousand years,” then sends out His church conquering and to conquer. With Satan bound SO THAT he will not deceive the nations (prevent the gospel from advancing among the nations), the “thousand years” is a period of tremendous gospel advance as the Lord Jesus builds His church through the proclaiming church.

SUMMARY

To summarize, then, when the Scripture says that Satan is bound for the “thousand years,” it means only that his specific ability to deceive the nations is neutralized so that the gospel is free to spread among the nations without Satan’s interference. The fact that Satan is bound does not, however, affect his ability to oppose and persecute the church or to create havoc and chaos in the world or to raise up evil leaders and governments or to create false religions that draw many to destruction.

My next post on this subject will be about Satan’s shifting agenda (or mission) as the Lord brings about His plan for the salvation of His elect.

SDG                 rmb                 3/29/2022                   #508

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