Continuing with my series on eschatology, I am moving along with my exegetical study of Revelation 20. My contention is that the typological hermeneutics amillennialists and postmillennialists employ when reading Revelation, especially chapter 20, does not handle the exegesis of the text, and thus does not capture accurately what the Apostle John meant to convey with this prophetic book. I am examining 5 major exegetical points I believe demonstrate my claim.
With this post, I come to the second major exegetical point: Is Satan bound now, presently, during the Church age, or does Revelation 20 describe a future binding of Satan?
The classic Augustinian interpretation of Satan’s binding, and the one still defended to this day by the majority of both amillennialists and postmillennialists, is that the binding of Satan is a present reality. He was “bound,” as it were, by the victory of Christ’s death on the cross and His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. Satan’s binding is not believed to be total, but it prevents him from deceiving the nations and thwarting the gospel message from going forth into the world.
Amillennials and Postmillennial interpreters go outside the context of Revelation 20 to build their case for their understanding of Satan’s binding. They will appeal to such passages as Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27 where Jesus speaks of the “strongman” being bound and his house plundered. It is believed the “strongman” of whom Jesus is speaking is Satan and his activities to oppose Christ’s work. Additionally, they appeal to Christ’s words in John 12:31-32, where Jesus states how judgment has come to the world and the prince of this world is cast out. Jesus words are understood to mean that Satan can no longer prevent the nations from coming to salvation.
Considering the text of Revelation 20, is this binding of Satan really just a metaphor, or symbolic language, only meant to described Satan’s limited activities as far as the gospel message is concerned? Is that what John is meaning to convey? Allow me to consider 5 exegetical points to show why this binding is yet future and is in no way a present reality.
1) The “chain” imagery. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists will often chide future premillennialists and their view of the “chain” the angel uses to bind Satan. It is argued that a spiritual being like Satan cannot possibly be bound by a “chain,” so some symbolism has to be in play here with John’s words. To suggest he can is reducing your hermeneutics to absurd literalism.
But no one is denying the use of symbolic imagery in Revelation 20:1. When considered in the context of Revelation 20, the image of a “chain” implies a captivity; or better, a complete restriction of activity the devil once enjoyed before being chained. That speaks against the “partial” binding view of the amillennial and postmillennial perspective who see Satan as merely limited with his activity, not totally removed from performing his previous activities.
Revelation 9:14, 15, is a description of bound demonic beings who are released to kill a third of mankind. The language implies clearly that they had no ability whatsoever to perform those duties until they were unbound, thus indicating the totality of their binding.
2) The characteristics of the abyss. Satan is more than just “chained.” He is chained and imprisoned in the abyss. The word “abyss” (abussos in Greek) is sometimes translated “bottomless pit” and has the primary meaning as identifying the place in the underworld for imprisoning disobedient spirits. See for example Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3. The abyss is the place where demonic spirits do not wish to go (Luke 8:31), the confinement of the demonic creatures which are loosed to plague the earth (Revelation 9:1, 2, 11), and it will be the location where Satan will be imprisoned (Revelation 20:1) [Sullivan, 18].
G.K. Beale has written probably the most comprehensive commentary on Revelation advocating the classic amillennial position regarding the binding of Satan in chapter 20. He asserts that the abyss is synonymous with “death and hades” [Beale, 984]. He further argues the term “abyss” is a metaphor describing the spiritual sphere in which the devil and his minions operate and that sphere represents a spiritual dimension existing along side the earthly realm of humanity [ibid, 987].
However, Beale’s take on the word abyss does not match what we see taught in Scripture. The abyss, rather than being synonymous with “death and hades” is distinct from them. Where as “death and hades” is related mostly with judgment upon humanity (death the human experience, hades the destination), the abyss is identified with the demonic, a place of confinement for them.
What is important to note is those demonic being imprisoned in the abyss have no contact with the human world, so the idea of Beale’s that the abyss represents the demonic sphere existing along side the earthly sphere is mistaken. Revelation 9:1 tells of a star, interpreted to be some angelic being, possibly Satan, who has the key to the abyss. When it is opened, the unclean spirits within are released upon the world. When they were imprisoned in the abyss they had no contact with the world, now that they are released, they do. The implications of that description of the abyss are clear: when Satan is imprisoned within it, he no longer has contact with the human world. Hence, he is more than just limited in his activities; his activities completely terminated on this earth.
3) The use of the purpose clause “no more.” Revelation 20:3 states that when Satan is bound, he “no longer” deceives the nations. The phrase “no longer” or “no more” or “any longer” is the purpose clause hina me eti. The clause within its context speaks of a complete cessation of activity. In regards to Revelation 20, the deception of the nations. The deception of the nations is spoken about in Revelation 12:9, 13:4, 18:23, 19:20, and here in 20:3. However, one will note how the purpose clause speaks of an interruption of something that was already taking place, the deception of the nations. Satan can no longer deceive the nations. His ability to do so has been ended by his imprisonment.
Amillennialists and postmillennialsts argue that the clause speaks to only the deception of nations. In other words, Satan can still involve himself in other activities, which we see played out in history. But again, the entire language of the passage clearly confirms a total cessation of all activity, not just one.
As Powell illustrates, “For example, if a warden says that he is putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, in order that he will no longer kill any more prisoners, this does not mean the prisoner is free to steal and do other such activities. The purpose statement does not determine the degree of the restriction at all; it is determined by the language used for the restriction” [Powell, 1].
The language of the first three verses of Revelation 20 implies just that. Satan is no longer free to do any activity at all.
4) The “seal” and “lock.” Adding to the already clear terminology of cessation of activity is the words “seal” and “lock.” A seal on the abyss where Satan is shut there in, would further strengthen the case for Satan’s inactivity. He cannot go in or out of his prison without a guard knowing it.
Additionally, the word “lock” implies a confined imprisonment out of which Satan cannot be freed until the one with the key to the lock unlocks it. In fact, all the imagery, or symbolism, being bound with a chain, sealed in the abyss, a lock locked with a key, all undoubtedly suggest a complete cessation of Satan’s activity upon the earth. What is being described in these first 3 verses speaks strongly against the traditional amillennial and postmillennial interpretation of Revelation 20.
5) The reality of Satan’s influence. Probably the most damaging piece of evidence against the idea of Satan only partially bound or having his activities merely curbed, is the reality of his influence upon the earth. Beginning even with the Scriptures we see Satan filling the heart of Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3), sending a messenger to hinder Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:18), tempting believers (1 Corinthians 7:5), blinding the minds of the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), holding unbelievers captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26), holding unbelievers in his power (1 John 5:19), and prowling about like a lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those are things happening after Christ has supposedly bound him at the cross.
The history of the world demonstrates the illogic of the concept of a bound/yet unbound Satan. Wars, man’s inhumanity against man, demonic false religions, philosophies, and false churches, godless governments, cruel dictators, and the general wickedness of men and women all testify to the fact that Satan is unbound and is fully active upon the earth. It is not until after he is bound that these things come to an end.
G.K. Beale, TNIGTC: The Book of Revelation. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).
Charles Powell, Progression Versus Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6: Some Overlooked Arguments. On-line paper.
Steve Sullivan, Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.
Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).