From: Reinterpreting Revelation Twenty Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
One “Millennium” or Two?
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
Copyright © 2014 by author
Reproduction of this book for non-profit circulation by any electronic or print media means is hereby freely granted at no cost—provided the text is not altered in any manner.
If accompanied by additional, supplemental material—in agreement or disagreement—it must be clearly and visibly distinguishable from the original text.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3)
Chapter Two: The Evidence for Bimillennialism (Revelation 20:4-6)
Chapter Three: The Bengel-Wesley Double Millennium Scenario
Chapter Four: The First Millennium of the Martyrs—the Gospel Age
Chapter Five: The Second Millennium of All the Triumphant Saints—
Eternity (Revelation 20:5-6)
Chapter Six: Satan’s Final and Ultimate Defeat (Revelation 20:7-10)
Chapter Seven: The Final Judgment and Its Consequences
Special Introductory Note
for 2014 Edition
Judging from the sole printed text I have of this manuscript, it appears that this version of the study was finished by about 1990. The evidence: due to the type of printer it was run on and the fact that the original text referred to the Soviet Union as still well entrenched makes it obviously written before its collapse into its components in the Fall of 1991. In spite of the number of years that have passed, I have not attempted a comprehensive expansion and rewrite of this volume through the consultation of a wide variety of newer sources as I have done on a number of my studies. This has resulted in useful volumes (I hope), but far, far longer than they otherwise would have been.
Here I have opted to simply improve what I had—and only add a modest amount--rather than attempt to incorporate large segments of new material. Hence [Page 3] I have done a number of rewrites for clarity and a better presentation of the evidence and occasionally have added new relevant data and rewritten material where I recognized I had erred in my earlier analysis. (It also turned out I had a thin folder of notes compiled after the original manuscript was written.)
The main emphasis has been on correcting any obvious errors that escaped my attention at that earlier time. I have also added translations for comparison that were not used in the original text or simply did not exist at that early a date.
The interpretive scenario adopted in this book is thoroughly fatal to all forms of premillennialism. For that matter it is inconsistent with existing forms of amillennialism as well. I’ve never heard of anything like it except in a single church bulletin article almost as old as this manuscript.
Perhaps I missed it—there’s so much written and keeping up with this one narrow theme has hardly been the center of my attention through the decades of my adult life. Even if there turns out to be some other major study of the theme—to my surprise—the amount of work that went into this should still provide something of interest and value to the reader. Not to mention challenge your assumptions that have gone into interpreting the chapter in the past.
Even if you should find nothing useful in this proposed scenario, it is still likely that you will find parts of the remaining analysis useful since we cover the entire chapter and not just verses 4-6.
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
One of the greatest difficulties posed in analyzing a text that has been preached on, taught on, and written on for hundreds of years and thousands of times is that we carry into the discussion a set of assumptions concerning what the verses have to say. Based upon that accepted “reading,” interpretation is then superimposed upon it and the exegesis confidently presented as soundly based upon the Biblical text.
When our “reading” of the text is sound, exegesis can provide new and true penetrating insight into the meaning and intent of the passage that we had previously missed. However, in other cases it does not. Exegesis can lead us far astray, into attitudes and doctrines that a more restrained handling of the text would cause us to avoid or brand as speculative, at best.
In other cases, the root problem does not begin with our mishandled interpretation; it is based on something more fundamental: we assume that the text is saying certain things when the appearance is only superficial rather than real. When this type of error is made, can the exegesis avoid being fatally flawed?
Revelation twenty is a fine example of the problem. Interpretation is fundamentally divided between two schools of thoughts: “amillenialism” and premillennialism (including dispensationalism) in its various shades and forms. The latter holds to the belief that at some point in the presumarly near future—has premillenialism ever held to a date other than the near future?—Jesus will descend from the heavens and set up a earthly throne and rule for a thousand earth years [Page 5] from Jerusalem. The “amillenialist” seeks some form of figurative, metaphorical or spirutalistic interpretation of the millennium, asserting that earth years are an irrelevancy and the abiding triumph of Christ is the central truth to be garnered from the text.
Both schools of thought share the same fundamental reading of the passage: a single period of a “thousand years” is under consideration in the passage no matter what interpretation one puts upon the number. But is that the case? The purpose of this volume is to challenge that assumption, to call for closer attention to the actual wording of the passage, and to present the evidence that two periods of a “thousand years” are clearly referred to in the chapter.
Those few individuals who have embraced some form of this approach will be examined in detail along with weaknesses in their reading, which we will hope to correct. Arguments antagonistic to this proposed approach will be discussed and the entire chapter carefully analyzed on a verse-by-verse basis.
In the composition of many books, heavy overt reliance upon earlier writers is both the path of candor and the one (hopefully) most useful to the reading audience. The labors of prior scholars becomes your building blocks. In the present case, the distinctive development of our central thesis is of such a nature that earlier volumes are of minimum value either in defense of it or as criticism. The scenario had not occurred to them and thus it is hardly surprising that they did not deal with it.
Although rarely cited in my notes, I twice (several years apart) consulted a wide range of Revelation commentaries to seek what they could offer in helping me understand the text of this chapter. Although of virtually no direct value in regard to bimillennialism, they did provide useful thoughts in regard to the general meaning of the [Page 6] text as developed by various schools of thought. I then laid aside the entire work for six further years to allow my initial draft to “ferment” and then undertook a modest further study of additional Revelation commentaries to complete my research. I have shared my preliminary findings with a few preachers, some accepting and others rejecting all or part and their criticisms have been incorporated. It was as of this point that I wrote the original draft of this manuscript c. 1990.
Beyond presenting the case for “bimillennialism,” a secondary purpose of this study is to make plain the Old Testament roots of Revelation twenty. To the Jewish Christians of the first century—well grounded in the Law and the Prophets—many immediate parallels surely jumped into their minds as they read John’s inspired narrative. Two thousand years later, most Christians come from a Gentile background and have only a cursory knowledge of the Old Testament.
Yet one can not fully appreciate John’s work without grasping those parallels that would have automatically come to mind in the age he wrote. Hence we have carefully sought out similarities between his revelation and what the authors of the old covenant had to say. In some cases they are clear cut and in other cases only suggestive; in all cases they help us recreate the conceptual background that they took for granted and which is little known today.
Time consuming and sometimes leading to blind ends, the prolonged effort in this regard took this author through what seemed like many hundreds of cross-references in commentaries and traditional and sometimes rare cross-reference works. (This was before the wonderful convenience of on-line cross-reference materials became available.)
[Page 7] The end result has been an extensive selection that will, hopefully, provoke the thinking of the reader. By searching these out, we further enter into the thought world of John and the early Christians and obtain an enhanced ability to understand the points he is striving to convey to his readers. Our detailed examination of such Old and New Testament texts should be of value regardless of whether one adopts the central assumption that forms the core of this book.
The book of Revelation was not written—nor any Biblical work for that matter—as an intellectual puzzle. These epistles, narratives, and histories were written not just to “reveal” God’s will, important as that was in a system that claimed to be supernatural in origin.
They were composed to explain, to encourage, to exhort men and women facing a dangerous world that was not above using the powers of society and the state to destroy them and their faith. Hence to bring out the expository themes of the chapter is only to do John justice, to raise the text about the purely intellectual to the level of personal application.
Those who seek only a dry and pedantic analysis will be disappointed by this volume. To understand the doctrinal and theological points John is presenting is vital, but when one proceeds to the level of personal application then one is treating the passage the way John intended. To some “scholarship” requires a distancing from the text almost amounting to alienation. The individual who shares the faith of John the Revelator should not be ashamed to go beyond such a narrow framework and seek out the spiritual lessons relevant to those of that faith today.
[Page 8] Even so, the challenge of this book is to re-examine the “obvious.” If its thesis is correct, the central assumptions on which all shades of interpretation have been based needs to be drastically revised. Some ways in which it can be done are suggested. In certain cases we have spun out a possible interpretation—and then rejected it. It may be that some readers will find some of these alternative approaches more convincing than the one the writer himself has embraced. What is attempted is to show that there is not merely one definitive approach that one must take if one adopts bimillennialism, but that in at lest some of the cases exegesis may take more than one road.
Something else is certain: If our scenario of bimillennialism is fundamentally sound, it means every form of premillennialism currently existing is erroneous. And if it can not even read “the plain words of scripture” and come up with the correct number of years being discussed, how can its exegesis be trustworthy in the more obscure sections of the text?
In contrast, “amillennialism” with its emphasis on a non-literal number of earth years is faced with far fewer difficulties. Although it, also, has misread the text, it has never made any specific number of years essential to its interpretation of the nature of the “millennium.” It will need to rework its exegesis, but the degree of embarrassment it faces is modest. In contrast, premillennialism is dealt a blow to its very heart. Theoretically, I suppose, a premillennial form of bimillennialism can be created, but (seemingly) only at the cost of repudiating the very core of its existing doctrine. Hence “amillennialism” can retain credibility even after adopting bimillennialism but can premillennialism and dispensationalism?
Roland H. Worth, Jr.
NOTE: There are several fine translations currently available and for years now I have been using the New King James Version. Since the original research on this subject was begun with the New American Standard Bible, I have opted to continue with that as the primary translation rather than do the extensive adaptation required to utilize the NKJV which would seem to serve no useful purpose: If the argumentation does not convince the reader, altering the text to a different version would be most unlikely to make the case any stronger.
The Binding of Satan
20:1 (KJV): And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
NASB: And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
20:2: And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.
NASB: And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
20:3: And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season.
NASB: And threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
1. The person doing the binding: “an angel” (20:1).
The Bible pictures angels as having their primary “residence” with the Father in heaven (Matthew 18:10; Matthew 22:30; Hebrews 12:22; cf. “heavenly host,” Luke [Page 11] 2:13). This is not intended to suggest that they are eternal for they are placed in the same category (Psalms 148:2) as all other created things, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded and they were created” (verse 5).
No effort is made to number them; they are described as so numerous as to defy the human imagination. Enoch is quoted as referring to the Lord coming “with many thousands of His holy ones” (Jude, verse 14). At the announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds “suddenly there appealed with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God . . .” (Luke 2:13).
Protesting against the folly of using violence to arrest Him, Jesus warned, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). Since a legion consisted of a thousand men, Jesus is arguing that the Father could provide twelve thousand angels to prevent His capture if such had been part of the Divine plan. The fact that such a vast force could be disposed of immediately (“at once”) provides some idea of the vast number lying behind the usually vague numerical references.
[Note: This is the way I originally wrote the text about 15 years ago, but something about a legion equating a thousand men rang alarm bells in my head—probably because back then I had not done but a minimum reading on anything related to the topic. In the first century A.D., we are likely talking about 4,800 men plus cavalry (typically 200 horsemen) and the first cohort of the legion appears to sometimes—but not uniformly--have been doubled, adding an additional 480 men to the fighting unit. Going with the 5,000 men as an approximate number and multiple it by the 12 legions that could promptly have gone to Jesus’ rescue, we are talking about 60,000 angels, with the clear implication that these were only the ones that could be immediately sent!]
[Page 12] In its brief picture of the heavenly “Mount Zion,” Hebrews 12:22 refers to the “myriads of angels” there present. (“Thousands upon thousands,” NIV; “innumerable angels,” ESV.) The picture painted in Revelation 5:11 combines angels with “living creatures and the elders” and presents there combined numbers as “myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands.” (NIV’s effort to get across the mind numbing figures: “thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.”)
The Bible puts great stress on the holiness and moral purity of Jehovah (more properly rendered, Yahweh). Hence it is no surprise that these heavenly attendants are pictured in similar language. They are called “holy angels” by Jesus (Luke 9:26). In 1 Samuel 29:9 David’s moral character is compared to that of an angel, “I know that you are pleasing in my sight, like an angel of God” is pleasing. The idea is that David possesses the moral stature that defies legitimate carping. Other translations sometimes bring out this idea more clearly by rendering “pleasing” by the more explicit ethical term “blameless” (RSV) or “as good as” (NKJV) or simply “good” (ASV; JPS = Jewish Publication Society Holy Scriptures of 1917/1955).
Angels are servants of God, whose purpose is to carry out the tasks assigned to them by Him. They are pictured as “all [being] ministering spirits” (Hebrews 1:14). If we may be permitted to stretch a New Testament term slightly, they might be considered as a kind of “celestial deacons,” since the root idea of deacon is not to lead but to serve. Since their duties may vary immensely from time to time and place to place, it is not surprising that some texts simply present the general thought of their “deaconing” (servant) role without elaborating upon the details.
[Page 13] Understandably, they have special concern with those who are counted as part of God’s people: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14; cf. verse 13, which tells us that angels are under discussion.) They are not out serving their own interests but those of the redeemed. The details are left unclarified. Would there have been room to list them all? Could we have even understood them all? Their responsibility is left so broadly worded that one would naturally assume that it takes any and all forms necessary to accomplish the desired end.
In a similarly ambiguous fashion we read in Matthew 18:10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This indicates a personal interest not merely in groups of people, but in specific individuals as well. The nature of their work is unstated but the value and importance is clearly implied for if it weren’t of value why be assigned the duty of it in the first place?
Perhaps also along the same line of angelic interest in individuals can be placed a comment made after an imprisonment of the apostle Peter. When an amazed Rhoda left him standing at the locked door, she rushed to tell the others assembled in prayer that Peter had escaped from jail. The brethren refused to believe it and insisted, “It is his angel”--presumably in contrast with Peter himself (Acts 12:15; the reference here, however, could be to a fear that he had been executed and now appeared in an angelic, post-death form). In addition to such vaguer texts, other passages provide specific examples of the nature of the type of services provided in past ages by angels.
[Page 14] Angels are pictured in the context of providing for spiritual good and of reinforcing the efforts of those seeking spiritual excellence. It is an angel who instructs Cornelius to send for Peter so he may hear the gospel preached (Acts 10:1-7). They are pictured as taking the souls of the righteous dead “to Abraham’s bosom” in the Hadean world, where they enjoy the happiness they lacked in this life (Luke 16:22).
During His earthly ministry, the Son of God enjoyed their assistance: “the angels were ministering to Him” (“ministering to His needs,” New English Translation = NET) at the time of His forty days of temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). In Gethsemane He pled in prayer for a way of escape from the cross. “Yet not My will, but Thine be done.” And then “an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him” (Luke 22:43).
Angels are also pictured as executing temporal judgments. Perhaps the classic Old Testament example of this punitive aspect of their function were the three angels God sent first to Abraham and then on to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:1-19:22). Although they took the form of physical men (18:1-2) and even partook of a meal with Abraham (18:2-9), they are specifically called angels (19:1).
In Sodom, they warned Lot to flee the city “for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the Lord that the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (19:13). The wrath was neither indiscriminate nor inappropriate: The prolonged sin of the cities was both “great” and “exceedingly grave” (18:20) and God went so far as to have the angels go to the city and personally verify what was going on [Page 15] before unleashing His retribution. So far gone was the city that not even the insignificant figure of ten righteous individuals could be found within it, for if there had been it would have been spared (18:22-33). How much more generous a minimal number could any city possibly expect?
Such a punitive duty is also found in the New Testament as well. Not in the highly figurative descriptions of John, but in the straightforward history of Luke we read:
And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. And the people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:21-23)
Upon this occasion at least, he had delivered a master oration that rocked the crowds. (Or, if you are a bit more suspicious, a reasonably decent speech that the crowd responded to in the way they knew they were supposed to, with cheers and adulation.) Yet he was not punished either for his apparent success or the speech’s contents. Nor was he smitten dead because of how the crowd had responded with vain acclaim for his rhetoric. Instead the text singles out the fact that he had started to believe himself as great as the blind praise the mob was giving him: “he did not give God the glory.”
And the agent of Divine wrath was the angel though the listeners surely attributed the death to other causes (cf. “eaten by worms and died,” verse 23) rather that the Divine power that was utilizing those other elements. As unbelievers they looked to the physical cause of death, while Luke looked at the Divine instigation of it. The unbeliever was content with the proximate cause; the Christian with the ultimate.
[Page 16] This Herod was a particularly appropriate choice for receiving the wrath of God since he was in the process of launching a persecutionary pogrom against the Jewish believers in Christ:
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to church, in order to mistreat them (= “cruelly attacked” [Holman Christian Standard Bible = Holman]; “land violent hands on” [ESV]; “in order to ill-treat them” [Weymouth]). And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intended after the Passover to bring him out before the people [i.e., to get their approval and applause for the execution, RW]. (Acts 12:1-4)
Angels were also used to accomplish temporal protection. The previously given example of Peter being miraculously freed from prison is a prime New Testament example (Acts 12:8-11). Peter made his escape, as if in what we today might call a trance state, thinking he was “seeing a vision” (verse 9). Only when he was full away from the jail and the guards did it fully penetrate his consciousness what had really happened, “Now I know for sure that the God has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting” (verse 11).
[Page 17] Nor was this the first time that angelic intervention frustrated the repressive measures of the church’s foes. On the earlier occasion, the power of the Jewish religious-secular establishment came down upon the heads of the apostles:
But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy; and they laid hands on the apostles, and put them in a public jail. But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” (Acts 5:17-20).
In Acts 12 it was the Roman power acting against the new faith; in Acts 5 it was the Jewish power structure of the Sanhedrin. Surely one purpose of including a case of escape from both such powers was to convey the message that though God’s intervention might be restrained, when He decided it was time to act, neither Gentile nor Jewish temporal power could frustrate His purpose.
The Old Testament also speaks of the protective power of angels. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” (Psalms 34:7). Since the preceding verse mentions how the “poor man” cried to God for justice and that God “saved him out of all his troubles,” verse seven may be intended to convey the idea that one means God uses to accomplish that goal is angelic power.
In a passage treated in the New Testament as Messianic prophecy but which (in the original context) appears to be at least partially a more general pledge of Divine protection for human beings in general, it is said that, “He will give his angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalms 91:11; “protect you,” ESV).
[Page 18] Yet even in the Messianic application, Jesus did not escape all hurt and anguish; rather, He triumphed over them. If God did not permit His own and unique Son to escape earthly turmoil while ultimately giving Him the triumph, one would not expect the application of this to everyday living to exclude such hurts and anguish either. Yet so total is the ultimate victory over the frustration, pain, and humiliation, that it is as if they had been totally escaped (verse 12).
God utilized angelic protective power in regard to the people of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20). The angel would be spokesman on God’s behalf (verse 22: note the parallelism between “obey his voice and do all that I say”). If disobeyed, the angel had authority to punish them (verse 21). With the angel as their guide into Canaan, God would act to destroy their foes who were already in possession (verse 23). Later God told Moses it was time to move out, “But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angels shall go before you . . .” (33:34; cf. 33:2).
Perhaps with later incidents as well in mind, Isaiah wrote, “In all their affliction, He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them; and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old” (63:9).
Not only did angels act to protect collective Israel, but also individual Israelites as well. When Daniel escaped death in the lion’s cage he well know what had made it possible, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him: and also toward you, O King, I have committed no wrong” (Daniel 8:22). Similar angelic intervention in the fiery furnace is also implied (Daniel 3:25-27, especially verse 25).
[Page 19] In light of these various examples of angels acting both protectively and retributively, there was a clear-cut conceptual legacy of angels being cast in active roles on behalf of God’s people. What John does in Revelation 20 is to take this idea one step further and present angelic action against the ultimate source of earthly evil, Satan himself. He thereby illustrates, on a grander scale, God’s use of angels to protect His people and humankind in general.
a. Was the “angel” in Revelation 20 Jesus Christ Himself?
It has been contended that Jesus appeared in a pre-incarnation form as an “angel” in several Old Testament passages and that John is similarly picturing Jesus under an angelic image in the current text. Assuming this was the case, since it is Jesus who has all authority in our age (Matthew 28:18), it would arguably be more fitting to have Him personally do the binding of His archenemy as well as being fully in keeping with its Old Testament precedents.
[Page 20] Among the passages appealed to to vindicate such pre-first century appearances of the Lord, one of the most powerful is found in Judges 2:1-4. Here an angel speaks in such a way and language that he seems to present himself as if God:
Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’ ” And it came about when the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel that the people lifted up their voices and wept.
In Genesis 32 we find Jacob wrestling with a mysterious visitor. In verse 24 he is called “a man [who] wrestled with him until daybreak.” He speaks as if he had made God’s covenant with Israel, as if Deity.
The “man” also leaves the hint that he may be far more than a mere angel in verse 28, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” Jacob seems to have interpreted this as an assertion of supernaturalness for he justified the naming of the place as Peniel because, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (verse 30).
[Page 21] Another blurring of the line between angel and Deity is likewise found when Moses saw the burning bush and was commissioned to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. The being revealing himself is at first specifically identified as an angel: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2).
Yet the individual who says this also makes it plain that it is God who is speaking:
When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses!” and he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)
He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:6)
Such texts could be explained on the basis that since the angels were on Divine missions and since they spoke by commission of the Father Himself, that they spoke as if it were the Father. If nothing else, these used “Father” language so there could be no delusion that the message originated in the angel himself rather than the Father. The angel was merely the messenger. Of course, in other cases it could be that both were present at one or more stages of the proceeding.
[Page 22] Some powerful analysts have argued in the opposite direction so let us assume that one or more passages such as those above require more than our suggested “accommodative” approach to the “Father” speaking—the Father speaking through the angel. Even if so, it is still hard to see how they are sufficient to establish that the “angel” in Revelation 20 is Jesus Himself. Certainly the vast majority of cases where “angels” are spoken of in the two testaments just that is intended—supernatural messengers, not the eternal Son.
Furthermore, one would be hard pressed to find any New Testament passage (outside the one currently at issue) where there is any significant suspicion that Jesus is clearly intended. To proceed a step further, the Book of Revelation in particular is full of passages mentioning both Jesus and angels; it seems to maintain a steady distinction between the two. Hence the most natural interpretation is that when an “angel” is referred to in Revelation 20 that is all that is being alluded to. In other books the situation might well be different—but not here.
Some have found intra-Revelation evidence by overgeneralization: in Revelation 20 victory is gained over Satan by an angel; in Revelation 12:9 Christ gains victory over Satan. Hence the victor in chapter 20 must once again be Jesus, but presented under the image of an angel. By such misleading reasoning, were not all the great military victories by General MacArthur in World War Two really cases of victories by General Eisenhower? (Or name any two generals in any war that you might wish; the point remains the same.)
The ongoing war between God and Satan results in multiple defeats of Satan—in chapter 12 by Jesus and in chapter 20 by an angel, acting on behalf of the Father . . . or should we say on behalf of Jesus since He was ruling as Messianic King. And since a fundamental theme of the Apocalypse is to herald the unquestionable triumph of the Messiah, why shouldn’t Jesus be explicitly mentioned in chapter 20 if He were directly envolved? Indeed the lack of it argues strongly that He is acting through an agent.
[Page 23] Furthermore, even a cursory examination of the two passages show they are different incidents: In chapter twelve the devil is thrown out of heaven while in chapter twenty he is thrown down into the bottomless pit. The symbolism of where the Devil is thrown from is different as is the place he is thrown into. Why would one then anticipate the thrower is identical when the other two points are not?
For that matter, was not the expulsion from heaven the greater victory? Would it be all that unlikely for a being of lesser rank to carry out the second and “lesser” assignment of “jailing” the prisoner?
The evidence is far too fragile and conjectural for what it is introduced to prove. Hence we still need to remind the reader that so far as Revelation itself goes, we read clearly of Jesus and we read clearly of angels—never of where one is plainly described under the image of the other.
b. Which angel did the binding?
Having eliminated Christ as the one doing the binding, that still brings us no closer to identifying which angel carried out the task of binding Satan. In fact, the text provides us no information hinting at the identity. Although religious mythology has invented the names of scores of supposed angels, the Bible is characterized by avoiding naming them.
[Page 24] Our normal human reasoning would be that the “jailing” of such a significant “felon” as Satan—“Heaven’s most wanted,” if you will—would naturally be executed by some ranking or leading individual. Not merely an angel, but a special angel. An “archangel” if you will.
We read of “archangel” in the Bible only in the singular. The archangel’s presence at the return of Jesus is mentioned by Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:16), but not his identity. In Jude, verse 9 we find a reference to “Michael the archangel.” In light of that rank he would be the most obvious choice.
Some have found a hint of there being seven archangels (at least) in Revelation 8:2, “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” However you will note that they are conspicuously called “angels” rather than “archangels.” Furthermore they are trumpeters (as what comes next tells us), their soundings announcing earthly disasters. In what regal court have royal trumpeters ever been regarded as being chief officials over everyone else?
In the pseudeprigphal First Enoch (chapter 20) we find seven “holy angels” who are named and who are labeled “watchers” and who have specific assignments given by God. Later Enoch sees “four presences as they uttered praises before the Lord of glory.” “And these are the four angels of the Lord of Spirits and the four voices I heard in those days.” (Both quotes from chapter 40.) Although none of these are labeled “archangels,” their specialized and broad areas of responsibility would seem to imply that they are cast in such a role. In the Apocrypha we find two angels mentioned by name in such a manner that many have assumed that they are regarded as archangels in everything but terminology—we refer to Gabriel and Raphael.
[Page 25] The strongest evidence for multiple leading angels comes from Daniel 10:13, “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” His words left Daniel speechless (verse 15) and he provided strength and encouragement to Daniel (verse 18).
The angel Gabriel was also given the responsibility for communicating an understanding of God’s message to Daniel (Daniel 8:15; 9:21-22), though in that context he isn’t even labeled an angel though the context requires such. He revealed to Zacharias the coming birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:18) and to Mary the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:27). In terms of revealing God’s will this Gabriel played a clearly important role, but at no point is any New Testament terminology used suggesting greater authority than other angels, nor is the title “archangel” bestowed upon him.
Although Daniel 10:13 certainly provides first class evidence for there being a leadership cadre of angels—in marked contrast to the trumpeters in Revelation 8:2—we still have no convincing Biblically based evidence that would elevate Gabriel to that rank as well. But assuming he was, why would he—a documented message bearer—be given this violent a role? To use a human analogy: you don’t send a teacher but the sheriff to throw the villain into prison. Which is what happens in Revelation 20.
True, there could well be some unnamed archangels (per the implication of Daniel 10:13 and the practical reality that a vast number of angels would surely require the existence of a leadership element), but that still leaves us completely adrift in speculation [Page 26] and nothing even tentatively strong to latch upon. Furthermore, unlike Gabriel, we find Michael in personal confrontation with Satan. In Jude (verse 9) we read of how “Michael the archangel . . . disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses. . . .”
Especially significant is that such confrontation is referred to inside Revelation itself. In 12:7 Michael is described as if the immediate commander of the angels in conflict with Satan, “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war.”
(1) Since Michael is the only angel in conflict with the devil who is identified by name and (2) since his role in conflict with Satan goes back at least as far as the death of Moses and (3) since he is the only angel that we can prove had archangel status—if one is to hazard an identification of the imprisoning angel in Revelation 20 at all, Michael would seem to be the inevitable choice.
How does this interlock with the angel’s action in chapter 9:1? “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him” (9:1). He proceeded to open the pit in verse 2. The possessor of the key is typically considered to be Satan--the “star from heaven which had fallen to the earth”—acting either directly or through his human intermediaries. Although this is a natural reading of the text, it would not be impossible for the “him” who has the key to refer back to “the fifth angel” at the beginning of the verse.
If 9:1 has Satan possessing the key to the abyss it seems odd indeed that it is the angel who has it in 20:1. Furthermore in chapter 9 it is out of the bottomless pit that come punishing “locusts” to inflict pain on unbelievers, on “only the men who do not [Page 27] have the seal of God on their foreheads” (verse 4). Would the devil unleash forces to punish his own followers and, even more incredibly, keep those forces from injuring his enemies who were followers of Christ? These factors should motivate a reconsideration of exactly who has the “key” in chapter 9.
c. The significance of an angel doing the binding.
It is significant that an angel does the binding. It is not in man’s power to accomplish it: man may frustrate and defeat Satan, but it requires the direct intervention of supernatural power to cramp Satan’s subversive endeavor.
Yet it is neither the Father Himself nor the Son who undertakes the binding. The fact that it is carried out (and successfully) not only demonstrates how vast is the power of Jesus and His Father. It is so overwhelming that they do not even have to personally utilize it; they can successfully delegate to angels the use of their power to bind Heaven’s most powerful and dangerous foe.
Angels are portrayed in the scriptures as natural possessors of great power that far exceed those of mortals. Paul refers to them as “mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). The apostle Peter contrasts apostate excesses with angelic self-control and notes that “angels . . . are greater in might and power” than they (2 Peter 2:11; “stronger and more powerful,” NIV).
[Page 28] Angelic power does not, however, free them from the obligation to obey Jehovah, “Bless the Lord, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word” (Psalms 103:20). The ultimate source of their power is the Father and with that power behind them even Satan cannot successfully resist being bound and cast into captivity by the appointed angel.
2. The authority of the angel to act: his possession of “the key of the abyss” (20:1).
The person who has the key to a house has the ability to enter into it. The assumption normally is that he has the right and authority to have that key and hence the right and authority to use it as he or she deems best and appropriate. In one famous passage concerning the apostle Peter, we find the linking together of having the “keys” and having the authority to permit or forbid:
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Two translations that bring out the intention better than a more literal rendition does:
[Page 29] International Standard Version (ISV): “I will give you the keys to the kingdom from heaven. Whatever you prohibit on earth will have been prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will have been permitted in heaven.”
God’s Word translation: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you imprison, God will imprison. And whatever you set free, God will set free.”
The one who had the “keys” was expected to either “bind” or “loose”—the physical analogy, of course, being to lock or unlock, to keep out or let one enter—the language showing that the possession of the “keys” carried with it the authority to do either as most appropriate. The same authority to “bind” and “loose” was also given to all the apostles and was not a prerogative of Peter alone (Matthew 18:18).
Granting the apostles this kind of authority was not what later generations would call clericalism, whereby God bound Himself (supposedly) to back the decision of a certain level of church office holders. Rather the decisions were backed—and were inherently authoritative—because this level of church officer holders, the apostles, were given the spiritual gift that guaranteed the proper use of the keys: inspiration, to assure that they said the right thing in the right way so human errors could not contaminate the results.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13) Due to such inspiration only the right things would be permitted and forbidden, thereby protecting believers from later style clerical excesses in which zeal and a humanly invented orthodoxy overruled such “inconveniences” as the scriptures that inspired individuals wrote.
[Page 30] In Revelation 3:7 a different wording is used to provide the idea of authority such as that which goes with the possession of the “key,” “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this.” Though the imagery shifts from binding and loosing to opening and shutting, the idea is still the same: once done, it is final and irrevocable. The action of teaching permission or prohibition provides the definitive conclusion as to which category something belongs within. No one has the ability or power to alter it. (And even if God permitted it, it would be surely at the hands of divinely inspired spokespeople and not mere everyday mortals like you and I!)
In Matthew 16:18 and Revelation 3:7, the authority that goes with the key is unlimited and unrestricted. In contrast, in Revelation 20, the key is issued for a prescribed reason and is task specific: so the angel can open the bottomless pit and bind Satan therein (verse 3). The key was used in chapter nine, however, for a much different purpose, to loosen and to permit wrath to pour out and punish humanity for its sins (verses 1-11):
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. And he opened the bottomless pit; and smoke went up out of the pit. . . . And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth. . . . And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.
Hence we have in the Book of Revelation both figurative usages of the word “keys:” as authority to bind (chapter 20) and as authority to loose (chapter 9). In these two texts, the key is used in regard to the same place (the “bottomless pit”) and is utilized by an angel.
3. The double binding of Satan: by chain and by enclosure.
a. “A great chain” is utilized (20:1).
Satan is not going to be permitted to do what he had been doing previously. His word promising restraint and good behavior was not going to suffice (assuming it would even be given); he had showed himself so untrustworthy only the most drastic action could be trusted to sufficiently curb him.
The angel is sent forth to enforce this Divine edict. Satan will be made doubly secure against his worst troublemaking. First, “a great chain” will restrain him. A chain does not normally stop movement, but it does limit it. Instead of enjoying free and unrestricted access, Satan can no longer roam as freely as he would wish, seeking man’s destruction.
[Page 32] Perhaps the best analogy would be with the animal world: Chain a dog and it can’t bite you unless you get too close. But allow temptation and despair to weaken one’s resistance and then one comes close enough to the Devil that he can get a good “bite” out of your hide.
The chain is furthermore pictured as “a great one,” heavy, huge, guaranteeing it can do its job. This is probably for several reasons. Due to Satan’s power (see below) it had to be “great” (strong enough) to actually hold and restrain him. Due to its Divinely given purpose and origin it had the mighty power that was capable of doing so. It conceivably could even be called “great” also because of the moral purpose behind it, to restrain the greatest foe of mankind.
God has not seen fit to reveal all the elements of this chain, all the “links” that work together to rein in the Devil. Biblical texts do suggest at least five of them. One is the gospel itself since it is through the gospel that God has used His power to transform us from prisoners of sin to free men and free women: “For I am not shamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Another key link in the Divine chain restricting Satan is God’s continued faithfulness in standing by the Christian no matter what one goes through: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
[Page 33] A third linkage keeping Satan from power over us is that God guarantees us a way out of our crises other than the path the devil wants us to take. He doesn’t guarantee that it will be easy or comfortable, only that it exists and is available: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The scriptures do not deny that some decisions are hard to make or that there may be no pleasant way out of a bad situation; but we do have the promise that there is a non-sinful alternative if we seek it out. Listening to those who claim we have no options guarantees Satan wins, but even Satan does not have that much power.
A fourth tie in the chain is that God has denied Satan the ability to overwhelm us, but it is a conditional denial—conditional on what we do: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). [God’s Word: “Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.”] Consider the list of things that contribute to our ability to successfully resist as found in Ephesians 6:10-17.
The final link that we will mention is the important fact that even a temporary Satanic victory need not be a permanent one. Our present does not have to be our future. Even when we have given ourselves into slavery to him, God still promises that the shackles can be broken: “With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
[Page 34] In some wars, the POWs are faced with an impossible situation: we are too far from friendly forces, the camp is too strongly guarded, the foe is too numerous, the capturer is just flat too smart to permit an escape. Not so with the Devil. God has so limited his power that even if we permit ourselves to be captured, there remains a way back if we just grab it.
The first two of the “links” we examined represent matters solely in God’s discretion, though they represent powerful inhibiters of Satan’s over-all ability to triumph: God provides man a way out of his sin and a solemn guarantee not to go back on it. An implicit anti-Satanic thrust may be “all” this is. On the other hand, there is no gainsaying the fact that the final three require more active, explicit anti-Satanic activity on God’s part; they required a curbing or limiting of his power.
Picture these as “links” in Satan’s chain or substitute whatever other imagery you prefer to convey the concept. We still return to the fact that they all hinder Satan; they all limit Satan’s options in his campaign to dehumanize mankind into less than its potential. They are all obstacles. They hinder him; they “bind” him from the unlimited freedom of action he seeks.
God has provided believers the salvation, the strength, the opportunities the Devil would deny. The Devil may (so to speak), howl, rage, and be a general nuisance . . . but there is no way that he can turn God against us or overcome the firm boundaries God has imposed on him through his “chain.” He is firmly bound and crippled from accomplishing his task of our destruction, unless we become willing partakers of his folly.
[Page 35] No person has ever sold his soul to the devil except in the pages of fiction. Multitudes, however, have freely given their souls and not even grasped the eternity of solace that they would otherwise have received.
b. His enclosure: “and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him” (20:3).
The believer is not only protected from Satan, but in vital ways Satan is segregated off from the world: he is “shut” up and “sealed.” There are things he will no longer be permitted to do; actions he will no longer be able to carry out. Both the chaining and the confining stress in different ways the dramatic limitation imposed on the Devil’s power.
Zechariah pictured the same thing when he wrote of how, through the coming of the Messiah, “I [God] will also remove the prophet and the unclean spirit from the land” (Zechariah 13:2; cf. verses 1-5). “Unclean spirit” is commonly read as an indication of the Divine triumph over demons, but it should be noted that the term is in the singular as if the unclean spirit, the master, the guiding spirit, the leader (i.e., Satan) is specifically in mind.
[Page 36] Even if Zechariah means “all manifestations of unclean spirits” Satan has to be included in that number at some point for he has that fundamental corrupt nature himself. If the mere demonic denizens following his orders were removed and he himself left to plague the earth, then the “unclean spirit” would still remain in the land, would it not? (Likewise the text must include those demonic “disciples” as well; otherwise their leader would be confined while they still ran wild and the “unclean spirit” would still be in the land.)
4. Why restraint was needed: to curb Satan’s success / to protect others from his worst.
a. Satan was out to “deceive” not help or elevate (20:3).
Although the widely suggested motive of misplaced pride as Satan’s fundamental sin that led to his fall may well be right, the Bible (at the most) only hints at his motives. It is far more concerned with what Satan does than with why he does it. The cynic might find in this an implicit warning: if we deal with the “why” we are dealing with history, all safely in the past; if we deal with what he does in the first century or today, we edge into an area of personal repercussions as we have to judge his success or non-success in turning us from the path of the morally ideal life. History is so much “safer.”
[Page 37] However it turned out that way, Satan became one who simply can’t be trusted; his central purpose in life is deception (to “deceive”) not to enlighten--to burden rather than elevate, to deprave rather than exalt, to encourage the world to accept everything than brings personal pleasure and to scorn those who seek the alternative lifestyle God offered through Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus stressed during His earthly ministry that the Devil’s basic character is such that not only does he have no respect for truth, but that he doesn’t even care for the physical survival of those who hinder his goals,
“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
ISV: “Whenever he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.”
God’s Word: “Whenever he tells a lie, he's doing what comes naturally to him. He's a liar and the father of lies.”
Jesus doesn’t deny that the Devil could speak words that are true—during the forty days of temptation in the wilderness Satan quoted scripture repeatedly to the Lord. The words may be truth but their use may not be so: Truth is truth only so long as it is being rightly used.
[Page 38] So Satan might even cite scripture, but beware of the “spin” he will put on the words: he will distort, misrepresent, misapply, and otherwise misuse the truth—in whatever manner he finds useful to support his deception. Hence the “words” may be true, but not the interpretation or application that he puts on them! (Perhaps Jesus seems particularly disturbed by this fact in John 8 since He personally endured such distortion during the forty wilderness days.)
Nor was Satan really all that interested in mere “petty ante” matters such as individual souls. What is said in Revelation suggests the much wider and grandiose nature of his goals. In 20:3 we read that he “deceive(s) the nations;” in 12:9 that he “deceives the whole world.”
The individual he gladly embraces, of course, but he is still acting in behalf of far broader national, international influence and control. Yet he is fundamentally dishonest even in this: He uses all, but he favors none except to the extent that he can temporarily utilize them for the subversion of peace and fundamental moral principles. All nations are usable as he can bend them to his will—not in the interest of permanently favoring some one particular power but in the interests of advancing his own agenda.
The binding and confining are done to burst apart this grandiose empire building. Satan conspires but God still rules and now the guts are torn out of Satan’s existing success by being confined to the bottomless pit.
b. Satan sought influence over “nations” (20:3). .
Satan claimed control over the world during Jesus’ ministry:
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)
Arrogant bravado, along the lines of the legendary conmen who used to sell New York’s Brooklyn Bridge to naïve out-of-towners? In part quite probably, but other texts make plain that he did possess considerable power in his own right, however much he exaggerated it to make his argument more powerful.
Jesus Himself conceded that Satan had vast influence on earth. On the way to Jerusalem, He referred to how “the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31). To His disciples shortly before His death He gave the words, “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me” (John 14:30). When the Holy Spirit came, the Spirit would speak “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:11).
[Page 40] Although earthly rulership might be partially included in these references, it is hard to believe that this was the primary thought in mind or even a secondary one: The Sanhedrin, Pilate, Caesar, and all other temporal powers were forces in behalf of justice and equity upon many occasions and not just powers favoring evil. But behind all these was that force called Satan who is pictured in terms of being an unalloyed subversive power against fairness and equity and good character. John, who penned these remembrances of the Lord, later wrote of this fundamental reality, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
Paul alludes to how Christians’ pre-conversion conduct was “according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Although here Paul speaks in the singular of a “prince” and a “spirit,” he later makes clear—by the use of the plural—that there are many adversaries to discipleship:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
God’s Word: This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world.
Weymouth: For ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world--the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.
[Page 41] Outraged Jews or Gentiles might be the immediate cause of adversity, but the root causes lay far deeper in the spiritual war being waged for the world. They were but self-deceived tools not realizing how they were being manipulated and used. By powers greater than themselves and, ultimately, by Satan.
Behind the powerful rhetoric describing our non-human opposition, there is no effort to spell out the details. Possibly those details would be far more confusing than clarifying to our mortal minds and, therefore, we are simply giving a verbal summary of the shape of the foe rather than a detailed analysis. The enemy exists and Satan’s influence is widespread and undeniable to those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.
But the New Testament stresses that though this is undeniable, that it is wrong to overstate that power as well. The power of evil had been, was being, and still is being challenged. Through the ministry and resurrection of Jesus (as seen below) that power was crumbling and with the Devil’s confinement in the bottomless pit it would crumble even further. But that did not mean that it ceased to exist or was any less venomous: We speak of wounded wild animals and how they are none the less still dangerous and can kill. The same is true of Satan. He may, so to speak, walk with a crutch but he can still kill us with it. Or to use the animal analogy, he can still give deadly rabies to the unwary.
Hence the desire to stress the twin realities of Satan being reigned in while continuing to be dangerous. Realism and candor required an acknowledgement of both facts.
5. The New Testament teaches a first century binding of Satan.
In our discussion so far, we have hinted at a first century fulfillment of the binding of Satan. Assumption, however, is far from conclusive evidence—however reasonable we may hold the assumption to be. Hence we need to digress from our textual study of the book and examine the evidence that the New Testament writers considered this event to have occurred in their own age.
a. The New Testament evidence.
If one seeks a direct text that states, “Jesus had Satan bound at such and such a point” one won’t find it. (Then, again, perhaps we understate the power of our own evidence: read carefully our comments on Matthew 12:24-29 below.) Evidence, however, comes in more forms than that of direct statement. Christ’s ministry, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension are pictured by the new covenant writers as a series of Divine conquests over Satan that limited and ultimately destroyed the heart of the power he had previously possessed and used to mankind’s injury.
[Page 43] These events of Jesus’ life established Jehovah’s right and power to place whatever limitations on Satan that He desired; they established the reality of the “muscle” (if you will) behind the Divine blessings and protection mentioned in such passages as Romans 8:38-39. God had tolerated Satan doing much that He would now no longer permit. Satan was being reigned in—decisively and permanently. Or, to the use the language of Revelation 20, he was being chained.
For example, the seventy Jesus sent out to preach throughout Israel during His ministry were given the ability to cast out demons. When they returned to report, Jesus pictured their triumph as the fall of Satan:
And the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy [i.e., Satan], and nothing shall injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
Although commonly introduced as proof of a primeval fall of Satan from heaven, contextually it clearly refers to the triumph of Christ’s power—exercised through the seventy—over that of Satan. In other words, to what had just happened during the healing ministry of the seventy. Not only did Satan “fall from heaven” as the result of their healing successes, his future power was being already substantially limited or bound for they were promised a continuing supremacy “over all the power of the enemy.”
[Page 44] Satan was simply not going to be able to get away with all he had previously. He was being chained. Indeed that explicit imagery of Satan being bound is used by the Lord in explaining why His own miracles were successful:
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” And knowing their thoughts He said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” (Matthew 12:24-29)
Satan’s power amply earns him the title of “strong man;” it was through a limitation, a curbing of his power that Jesus’ miracles were made possible. Indeed, the Lord describes it as a “bind[ing]” in the final words of the verse. Although I would not wish to overstress its significance, it should still be noted that the word “binds” in Matthew 12:29 renders the same Greek word translated “bound” in Revelation 20:2.
[Page 45] What provides special food for thought is that the party bound in both cases is identical--Satan. Although the use of this word in Matthew 12:29 may not conclusively prove that the binding of Revelation 20:2 has taken place, it certainly establishes that at least part of the intended binding had already begun during Jesus’ ministry.
In connection with His coming execution, Jesus mentions the “cast[ing] out” of Satan:
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from this earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But he was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. (John 12:31-32)
“Cast out” is an interesting word choice; it shows that what happens is involuntary, that it is done to the person against his willing and perhaps over even his vehement opposition. When it is connected with a “ruler” it most naturally conveys the idea of a ruler losing his throne due to the intervention of a stronger power. If the Devil is “cast out” as “ruler” would not that stripping of power from him convey the same idea of his losing power through being bound and isolated in the bottomless pit? Indeed the fact that an angel “binds” him (Revelation 20:2) and “throws him into the abyss” (20:3), shows that he is being “cast out” of where he was (John 12:31). Hence the two texts interlock quite well.
[Page 46] Different rhetoric, but the same concept. And it is identified as occurring through the death of the Lord.
Christ’s victory is also linked with His death in Hebrews 2:14-15:
Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
The victory over fear (verse 15) is specifically identified with Jesus’ triumph not over evil in general but over “the devil” in particular (verse 14). This was accomplished through the Lord”s “death” which “render[ed] powerless” the devil. This last phrase is rendered “might break the power” (NIV) but “destroy” in the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and Holman. The ASV of 1901 renders it “bring to naught.”
The Greek word here is katargeo and means “literally, to reduce to inactivity” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, under “abolish”). Its exact connotation will vary from passage to passage. “Destroy” in the traditional English sense of elimination or even ceasing to exist obviously will not fit the Hebrew text for the Devil will continue to exist until after his long term imprisonment is ended and he is cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).
[Page 47] If one concedes the propriety and greater correctness of “rendered powerless,” that person can hardly deny that Satan has been bound. If one prefers “destroy,” since that won’t fit the existence of Satan, what else could it possibly refer to than his previously vast powers being crippled and reduced—being destroyed. By their being gutted, does not that fit the imagery of “bound” and confined found in Revelation 20?
In short, Satan was bound in the first century; it is an accomplished fact rather than one waiting some point in future history. Hence we are living during the millennium this very day.
Approaching the binding of Satan from a slightly different approach we find that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus are pictured in terms of a stripping of power from the hands of His enemies in all their forms, which would include Satan in particular:
Having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When he had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them having triumphed over them through Him. (Colossians 2:14-15).
“Disarmed” renders the Greek apekduo and is rendered by the same English word in the ESV, NKJV, RSV, and NIV among others. God’s Word spells it out in more detail, “He stripped the rulers and authorities of their power.” The World English Bible similarly speaks of how He “stripped the principalities and the powers.” Thayer’s still widely used Lexicon (page 56) defines it as “wholly to strip off for one’s self (for one’s own advantage), despoil, disarm.” The idea is of a victory so great and obvious that there can be no gainsaying who the victor is and who the loser is.
[Page 48] “Triumphed” is identically rendered in the RSV, while the NKJV and NIV prefer the form “triumphing” as do various others. Strictly speaking the word refers to the public display of triumph over one’s enemy—such as a returning general having his troops lead those they had captured through the streets of their home city. In the only other New Testament usage (2 Corinthians 2:14) the imagery seems to be of such a victory parade. The idea is of an enemy who has not only lost, but whose defeat is so overwhelming that you are publicly displaying the proof of it.
In short, we see Satan both stripped of weapons (“disarmed”) and publicly humiliated by being led in a “triumph.” Put what interpretation on these words as you wish, but how can they add up to anything but a massive destruction of his prior power? Is not such a massive loss of power and prestige a portrayal of an enemy that has been “bound”? Especially when we remember that a military “triumph” had the enemy bound in chains during the march. The language is an obvious parallel to Satan being “bound” with “a great chain” in Revelation 20:1-2.
We concede that since “rulers and authorities” (both in the plural) are under consideration, it would be impossible to limit this passage to Satan alone. However, if Jesus had “triumphed over” and “disarmed” all of His enemies except the most dangerous of all, Satan, was it all that much of a complete victory?
The imagery seems to be that of all those demonic tools serving Satan. The vivid description only makes sense if the victory extended far above the demonic ranks to the “capture” and disgrace of their leader. Hence Satan would need to be included in this number of vanquished foes though he is not the sole subject of discussion. And, once again, if this be true has he not—in a very real and concrete sense—been chained and bound?
[Page 49] In what might well be taken as a commentary on the above passage we read in 1 John 3:8:
The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
Can this be done without the Devil being simultaneously “bound?” Would he permit it if his “wings haven’t been clipped”? Furthermore, can the Devil’s works be eliminated without it representing a curbing of his influence and power—a curbing and limitation being the real world equivalent is being bound and chained to gut his trouble making potential?
Revelation 12 also develops the connection between a curbing of Satanic power and the Ascension mentioned in Colossians: When Jesus “was caught up to God and to His throne” (verse 5), war in heaven erupts and Satan is “thrown down to the earth” (verse 9). This is interpreted as a decisive victory over the Devil:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night.” (12:10)
[Page 50] In other words, the Devil used innuendo and suspicion as his tools to undermine the acceptability of all the saints—just as he had done in the Old Testament to Job. By being “cast out from where he could easiest do this, does this not represent a limiting, a dramatic restriction of his power, one that can even legitimately be pictured as a binding that cripples him from acting against God’s people to the full extent and full manner he would prefer?
To contend that in Revelation 12 the binding involves a departure to earth while in chapter 20 it involves confinement to the bottomless pit, does not change the fact that both events constitute a limiting or binding of Satan’s ability to freely function against the people of God.
“But chapter 12 occurs before chapter 20!” Excellent point! So the two events can’t/aren’t likely to be fully equivalent.
On the other hand consider this means of fitting the two events together: We would probably not be wrong in seeing in each of the texts we have examined different stages in the process of binding the Devil. Indeed, since they all speak in the imagery of crippling the Devil while referring to more than one event, the adequate reconciliation of these verses with the “one time” binding in Revelation 20 would seem to require one of two approaches.
[Page 51] The most appealing is that we regard it as a binding process—one that was fully accomplished (to the degree that God intended it to be) in the events of Revelation 20. Or: Considered in its entirety, it consisted in a number of individual steps, each defeating and humiliating Satan; viewed cumulatively, as if one single event, it can be pictured under the one powerful image of the breaking of Satan’s power through an angelic binding in Revelation 20.
Regardless of how we choose to reconcile these earlier texts with Revelation 20—and we must reconcile them to be fair to both the passages—it does not alter the fact that in a very real and substantial sense Satan was considered as “bound” in the first century. Hence the (first) millennium in Revelation 20 was viewed as having already become a reality. This may not fit twentieth century speculative theories, but it does full justice to the texts early Christians had in their hands.
If the binding of Satan occurred in the first century, how does one
explain the immense amount of evil that remains in the world?
The problem of evil is a long-standing one and appears in many different contexts. There are those who wonder how God could ever have permitted evil at any time in world history. In the perfect world of Adam and Eve, He yet permitted the tempter to exist and to (successfully) attempt to subvert them. If one can explain ‘why” God did so, will one have much difficulty explaining the existence of a period when Satan is “chained” and yet is permitted sufficient leeway to subvert other souls?
[Page 52] Even those who insist upon a premillennial reign of Christ on earth as coexisting with the binding of Satan must face a variety of this same problem. Even freed from direct temptation by Satan is not human weakness itself sufficient to perpetuate sin from one generation to another? Something is surely wrong in the hearts of many during this alleged period for we are told that upon his release, Satan will find it easy to recruit vast multitudes to war against Christ and His people.
Can not the question be legitimately raised here as well: Did the binding of Satan serve any constructive purpose? Had his influence for evil been fully curbed even when bound? Indeed, if the binding of Satan be equated with the banishment of hurt and injury and sin, in what “meaningful” sense can we say that Satan will be bound at all during this hypothetical future period when the world is so primed and enthusiastically willing to follow him upon his reemergence?
On the other hand, if the people have been miraculously “altered” to be perfect law-abiders are they even in need of redemption any longer? They can’t do evil, can they? And how can there be anything within them that Satan could attack to win them to his side at the end of the earthly millennium?
On the other hand, if sin remains, can not the objection be made that the binding of Satan is only superficial since evil remains alive and well in the heart of humanity on planet earth—just waiting for the opportunity to leap forth at the return to freedom of Satan?
[Page 53] Whichever approach to man’s nature one attributes to earthlings during the puported earthly millennium, one is forced to the same basic conclusion: If there is no contradiction between the fact that Satan is bound and the active or latent existence of evil within human hearts during the millennium, then there can be no contradiction between the existence of evil in the world TODAY and our already being within the millennium of Revelation 20.
Let us consider the matter from a different standpoint: We examined several scriptures that showed Satan being reigned in—restricted—bound—during Christ’s life and ministry and death. Yet the Devil was still able to win his significant victories:
The vast bulk of the religious leadership rejected Jesus.
The Gentile ruler (howbeit unwillingly) collaborated in His death.
One of the innermost twelve disciples (Judas) was subverted and accepted a bribe to betray where He could be arrested.
All the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested.
The mob cried out for His death.
He was humiliated by a public crucifixion—unjust, unlawful, and uncalled for by any reasonable earthly standard.
Yet the scriptures we have examined picture the Devil as, in effect, “bound” during this period! If such evils could be permitted and yet they regard Satan as in some serious and meaningful sense “curbed” and “limited”—“bound” to keep him from doing what he normally would have done—where is there any contradiction between you and I living in the millennium today and yet an abundance of evils plaguing our society?
[Page 54] It would appear that our modern minds wish to read into the concept a total banning and elimination of evil when the Bible writers saw in it a drastic curbing, restricting, and limitation of Satan’s powers and abilities.
The problem, hence, lies not in the existence of evil within our contemporary millennium, but our desire to read into the period a comprehensive purity, peacefulness, and happiness that the scripture writers did not intend. We wish a total destruction of the Devil’s power while the Bible writers were content with a dramatic reduction in them. We need to define Bible language in the sense that the Bible writers themselves use it rather than in the sense we would desire and expect.
Some have considered the “binding” and imprisonment of fallen angels as further evidence that the binding of evil supernatural power should not be confused with the complete abolishment of evil. This confinement is referred to by the apostle Peter in his second epistle:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)
And making the imprisonment angle even more parallel to Revelation 20 are those varied translations that render along the lines of the NIV: For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment
[Page 55] In other words they are “bound to” those “pits” until their judgment. Jude uses even more explicit imprisonment language, invoking the language of permanence—for that matter isn’t that imagery of a thousand years, from the human perspective of one’s life compared to that longer period, one of “permanence” as well . . . though we know, intellectually, that it isn’t?
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (Jude, verse 6)
It is commonly assumed that the “demons” we read of in the Bible are actually fallen angels such as these. It is certainly an adequate hypothesis that explains their conduct: there are no texts that contradict it or make it improbable; it is completely consistent with the data that does exist.
But once one concedes the identity of fallen angels as equaling demons, then one is faced with a category of beings who already were not merely “bound” for a thousand years but who were under “eternal bonds,” yet who could still inflict intense pain and agony—as the New Testament accounts of demon possession and exorcism bear witness. If the binding of fallen angels/demons did not result in a complete abolishment of their ability to do harm, why should we expect if of Satan?
One could deal with this by contending that only some angels / demons were so bound. This seems impossible to reconcile with the texts, however. “When they sinned” they were cast down, suggesting an immediacy of retribution on whoever had transgressed, one and all at the time of their sinning (2 Peter 2:4). None were spared or the retribution postponed.
[Page 56] Likewise in Jude it is a blanket statement, “Angels who did not keep their own domain” were put under “eternal bonds,” as if there were no exceptions. If demons be under consideration, a distinction between bound and unbound ones seems to clearly falter and can not be sustained.
All such questions should not distract us from a very important truth: though the Devil can still inflict harm upon humankind, his binding means that his ability to do so and the tools available to him have been dramatically reduced. Satan labors under disabilities he did not face before the coming of the Lord and His triumph over death. He works under disadvantages he never encountered previously. If life is sometimes difficult—if the world can even become a living nightmare (and it can)—stop and ponder how many times worse it would be if a loving Father had not placed restrictions upon the Devil’s behavior and abilities—had not crippled the powers he once had used!
A British writer utilizes a dog chain illustration such as we used earlier and then suggests
a more unusual analogy[:] It is like the famous American gangster, Al Capone, running Chicago from Chicago Gaol. Plenty of activity, plenty of danger—but a strict limit. . . . [I]f old Capone were not in the gaol, things would be very different. So with Satan. There is all the difference between being powerful and bound and being powerful and free.
[Page 57] Finally, protests that Satan can’t possibly be bound because of the multitude of evils found in the world today often seem to revolve around the unstated assumption that without Satan sin would disappear from this world. The temporal and spiritual worldview from which such objections spring is open to the strongest challenge: they maximize Satan’s role and minimize man’s own. The sad truth is that if Satan had literally no personal impact at all on this current world, fallen man would still be quite capable of making a moral catastrophe out of his own life and misery out of every one else’s.
Once Satan successfully got sin introduced onto planet earth it has bred quite successfully without his direct involvement. The myth of man selling his soul to the Devil is one of the saddest lies of all time; man doesn’t sell it, he freely gives it in the delusion he is advancing his own personal interest and desires. The Devil may “stir the pot,” but sin is quite capable of reproducing without his direct involvement.
The Bible lays the blame for sin not only upon Satan but upon our own voluntary participation in it: The Devil rarely tries to “strong arm” us; his stock in trade is preying on our own weaknesses whatever they may be. Ever since Adam fell, mankind has been morally schizophrenic. Paul put it this way:
The flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)
Weymouth New Testament: For the cravings of the lower nature are opposed to those of the Spirit, and the cravings of the Spirit are opposed to those of the lower nature; because these are antagonistic to each other, so that you cannot do everything to which you are inclined.
[Page 58] The Aramaic Bible in Plain English has this interesting rendering: For the flesh craves anything that opposes The Spirit and The Spirit craves whatever opposes the flesh, and they both are contrary one to another, lest you would be doing whatever you want.
Note the closing words in these translations: what we most naturally wish is not the lifestyle God desires. In the age of miracles, the Devil sometimes personally tempted humans to sin, but sin still continued to exist whether direct Satanic involvement was present or not.
Satan doesn’t have to create within us the desire to sin; our very self-centered, self-pleasing lifestyle creates the predisposition to want to sin. Indeed, James paints sin as self-entrapment when he writes:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God;” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
[Page 59] The Lord eliminated much of the incentive to sin by dramatically curbing and limiting Satan’s power; now it is up to the individual believer to complete that victory in our own lives by conquering our individual inclination to sin—whatever form it may take: If it moves have sex with it; if it will further our career do it; if it will make us richer embrace it; if it will do harm to those we dislike encourage it! The list goes on and on and may even vary from time to time in our lives. So to have Satan’s power bound and limited does us precious little good if we freely give our souls into his subjugation. To him, we are little more than yet another “midnight snack” that has thrown itself on his dinner table.
6. The place of Satan’s confinement: “the abyss” (NASB); “the bottomless pit” (KJV) (20: 1, 3).
The Greek term is abussos, “bottomless.” “So “bottomless pit” brings out clearly this element of immeasurability—it also shows that the expression is not to be taken in a literal, this-earthly sense for in this world-space-time continuum it is impossible to have a literal bottomless pit. This, in turn, casts serious doubt on the effort to literalize the “thousand years” in the following verses. “Abyss” (NASB) only suggests an open space—though a vast one with a deep, perhaps unseeable bottom. At the most it implies the elements of “unlimited” or “unmeasurable” hugeness found in the older KJV rendering.
[Page 60] The “abyss” is pictured as the proper and ultimate dwelling place of the demons. Those Jesus was about to cast out plead to be sent elsewhere:
And they were entreating Him not to command them to depart into the abyss (abussos). Now there was a herd of many swine feeding there on the mountain; and the demons entreated Him to permit them to enter the swine. And He gave them permission. And the demons came out from the man and entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. (Luke 8:31-33)
It is hardly likely that “the lake” is the abyss they fear for what is the physical death of the pig shells they are within to demons? This factor alone would make us expect they had something far more significant in mind than mere temporary or permanent exclusion from possessing anyone. If we turn to the parallel account of their protest in Matthew we find confirmation of our deduction, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (8:29)
Combining the data from the two accounts we find that there was an ordained/established “time” when they were to be fated for the Abyss but that that time had not yet arrived; in addition when it did arrive they would face “torment” there. The lake could not meet either description so one seems compelled to identify the Abyss the demons feared with the abyss of Revelation 20.
[Page 61] The picture of the Abyss as a place of anguish for the wicked is not mentioned in chapter 20, where its specific role as a place of confinement for the Devil is all that is mentioned. Its role as a place of anguish for evildoers is in keeping with the other picture painted of the Bottomless Pit in Revelation. When the angel unlocks it in Revelation 9:1-2, we read that “smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace.” The punishment aspect is not made explicit, but the imagery is one that would most naturally go with such a place. Indeed, if a place of punitive justice is not intended, the portrayal as if it were a smoking furnace seems odd indeed.
Romans 10:7 is crucial in our efforts to interlock the Abyss with other Biblical descriptions of the afterlife. In this verse we discover that the Abyss is where Christ was when he was in the grave:
Or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
In Acts 2 we find David quoted concerning the then yet future Messiah and we discover that when He died He went to Hades:
Because thou did not abandon My soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. (Acts 2:27)
He [David] looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor His flesh suffer decay. (Acts 2:31)
[Page 62] The fact that Jesus is pictured as being in both Hades and the Abyss seems to require that the Abyss is not exclusively a place of wicked beings, but that the righteous, at death, go there also—or, at least, to a part of it that is far more pleasing. There is a kind of inherent good sense in this as well: In light of the huge number of those who have lived and died, a “bottomless” location would certainly be an appropriate description for a place huge enough to hold the entire deceased human race.
Hence it is a place where both the righteous and the wicked are present. We already saw that Christ went to Hades and the Abyss. In the story of Lazarus the beggar—be it history or parable—we read of the uncaring rich man and how after death he was “in Hades [and] he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). Lazarus and those like him are “being comforted [has peace, God’s Word]” while those like the rich man are “in agony [suffer, God’s Word, ISV]” (verse 25).
Since the identification of the Abyss with Hades can quite credibly be made from the texts we have examined, then there must be some way of “separating” these two types of people or else all would be suffering. The Lazarus narrative confirms this deduction and explains how both can be in the same place and yet enjoy such widely different treatment:
“And besides all this, between us [Abraham, Lazarus, and the righteous] and you [i.e., the wicked] there is a great chasm fixed [immovably fixed, Weymouth; sit in place, NIV; a wide area separates us, God’s Word], in order that those who wish to come over here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:26)
[Page 63] Since the word is only explicitly applied here to the place of punishment, some attempt to make “Hades” apply strictly and exclusively to the place of ongoing punishment. The righteous are considered in some “other” unnamed place. Yet our texts from Acts 2 clearly indicate that the sinless Christ was received into Hades and in the current text the two sectors are picture as so “close” that at least limited communication is theoretically possible. How then could only one “side” be pictured as Hades?
An alternative approach would be to contend that there are two totally different Abysses or Hades, one that Jesus and the human righteous and wicked go to and one for the demonic creatures including Satan. After all, some kind of language that describes a place of confinement and punishment was required to show that demonic creatures reap their reward as well. Hence the appropriation of the language to their place of imprisonment would make a great deal of sense. Indeed, could the kind of “prison” that would be fully adequate for mortals be anywhere close to adequate for supramortals?
Even so, this would seem to introduce needless complication into the interpretation by doing so. The simplest solution remains to say that there is only one such Abyss / Hades and that it is the depository for all the dead and also the confinement place for demons and Satan as well. The danger here, of course, is that we could have oversimplified the more complex! But it is consistent with the very limited available data.
Just as this life is only a stopping point on the way to one’s ultimate rewards, so is Hades / the Abyss. Although its existence is extended in duration, it remains only a temporary abode for it will ultimately be abolished. In Revelation 20:14 Hades is pictured as being “thrown into the lake of fire,” along with all the wicked (verse 15). The righteous are no longer there for they have received their heavenly [Page 64] reward in the New Jerusalem; the wicked go from their interim place of punishment to their permanent one. To cautiously use an earthly analogy, they go from the city jail to state prison. If they have disliked what they have already gone through, they are going to dislike even more what is in store.
Digression: Earlier we emphasized the extreme unlikelihood that the angel who binds Satan is Christ. Having identified Hades and the Abyss as identical, this is the appropriate place to draw attention to a text that offers at least some (in our judgment, slim) credibility to the approach we rejected,
“[I am] the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” (Revelation 1:18)
The “angel” in Revelation 20 is likewise pictured as having the “key of the abyss.” Since both Christ and the angel are identified as having the key, might not the angel be Christ under a different image? Perhaps, but not necessarily so.
In light of the heavy emphasis in this last New Testament book on both angels and Christ, the intermixing of one under the image of the other seems distinctly unlikely within the confines of that book. (In the context of other Bible books, where both are not introduced separately, might be a totally different matter.) The fact that the angel was using the key on behalf of Christ in Revelation 20 would be sufficient explanation for his having possession of the “key.”
[Page 65] Peter has the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:18), yet the kingdom is still Christ’s, so Christ possesses the ultimate control of the keys and Peter’s usage is limited to what the Owner has authorized. Though the same keys are used by both, there would be no temptation to blend the two individuals into one.
Nor is there any need here. What we have in the book of Revelation seems most likely to have been an angel using the “key” by delegation of Christ, to fulfill an assigned task. Revelation 1:18 seems far too indirect evidence to alter this conclusion.
7. The four-fold picture of the bound one: “the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil, and Satan” (20:2).
The same four-fold description is also found earlier in the prophecy:
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:9)
[Page 66] These two verses appear intended to represent the high point and low point of Satan’s earthly success. In 12:9 he is successfully “deceiv[ing] the whole earth” while in Revelation 20 his unilateral power to be so successful again is removed: “that he should not deceive the nations any longer.” Yet even at Satan’s high point in chapter twelve, he is already on the down hill slop since we are informed that the Devil and his angels had been “thrown down” out of heaven. Denied further access to heaven, their operations are limited to this earth. Triumphant here, but only temporarily for Christ’s power was already gaining the upperhand that would “bind” them even in regard to their earthly mischief.
a. The bound one is “the dragon.”
The word is only found in the New Testament in its final book. In Revelation 12:3-4 he is pictured as huge (“great,” verse 3; “enormous,” NIV) and destructive (“and his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth,” verse 4). Murderousness also is found for here he seeks to “devour [the] child” who is newly born (verse 4).
The dragon is combative for he “waged war” (12:7); he uses his power for evil since he leads the war against Michael and the angels (verse 7) and “make[s] war” with the followers of God on earth (verse 17). Its inner nature is “unclean” (cf. the “impure” inner creatures that come out of its insides in 16:13). That his speech is powerful and threatening can be seen in the fact that the phrase “he spoke as a dragon” (13:11) is used to convey that thought.
[Page 67] From such references we find our initial suspicion confirmed: The word “dragon” is intended to convey the images of hugeness / vastness, dangerousness, powerfulness, and in addition to all of this—or perhaps even because of it—the idea of monstrousness as well, both “physically” and as to its evil intents. A “dragon” suggests an uncontrollable beast that does as it wishes and will destroy men and women if they dare get in his way. One would be hard pressed for a better image whereby to picture Satan in his evil potential.
In Revelation 12, the dragon is definitely synonymous with Satan. His power is spelled out in detail and yet even after his defeat in heaven (verse 8), he still has the power to “deceive the whole world” (verse 9). It is as if the very evilness poses an attraction for fallen mortals. Even though Satan has lost the heavenly war, man does not permit that to hinder giving him service. Even his “physical” monstrousness (12:3) does nothing to turn generic man away. Clearly it is not just that the devil wants to “deceive,” but also that there is something in many that wishes to be deceived—for it gives sanctions to their worst instincts, desires, and behaviors.
In addition to its inherent negative connotations, the imagery of a monster / dragon may also be utilized because it was used in the Old Testament of enemies of God, over whom Yahweh gained the victory in spite of their vast worldly power and influence. It is used, for example, of the Egyptian Pharaoh where he is pictured as a gigantic and vicious crocodile style creature:
Speak and say, “Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the great monster (“dragon,” ESV, KJV; “crocodile,” God’s Word) that lies in the midst of his rivers, that has said, ‘My Nile is mine, and I myself have made it.’
And I shall put hooks in your jaws, and I shall make the fish of your rivers cling to your scales. And I shall bring you up out of the midst of your rivers, and all the fish of your rivers will cling to your scales. And I shall abandon you to the wilderness, you and all the fish of your rivers; you will fall on the open field; you will not be brought together or gathered. I have given you for food to the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the sky. Then all the inhabitants of Egypt will know that I am the Lord, because they have been only a staff made of reed to the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 29:3-6)
The King of Babylon is depicted in similar terms but the threatening vastness of his frightening power will not rescue him either, writes the prophet Jeremiah:
“Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured me and crushed me, he has set me down like an empty vessel; he has swallowed me like a monster (“dragon,” KJV; “serpent,” NIV), he has filled his stomach with my delicacies; he has washed me away. May the violence done to me and to my flesh be upon Babylon,” the inhabitant of Zion will say; and, “May my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,” Jerusalem will say.
[Page 69] Therefore, thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am going to plead your case and exact full vengeance for you; and I shall dry up her sea and make her fountain dry. And Babylon will become a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and hissing, without inhabitants.” (Jeremiah 51:34-37)
Hence the dragon / monster image was one that Jewish Christians were fully acquainted with and would have vividly recalled to their minds the earlier Divine conquests over Satanically inspired powers.
b. The bound one is “the serpent of old.”
The Greek word rendered “serpent” in this verse is ophis; the word for dragon is drakon. In actual usage, a “dragon” can lose that connotation and become the name for a dangerous “serpent.” In at least one place in the Apocalypse, the text conceptually slides from the “monster” aspect of a “dragon” to that of an equally hostile and dangerous “serpent:”
And when the dragon (drakon) saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. And the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, in order that she might fly into the [Page 70] wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent (ophis). And the serpent (ophis) poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon (drakon) pouted out of his mouth. (Revelation 12:13-16)
Since the “serpent” is identified as the one who spit out the water (12:14), but the “dragon” is also identified as doing so (12:16), it follows that both are images of the same dangerous being. Perhaps the ease with which the two words / ideas flow together accounts for them being used as descriptions of the Devil in Revelation 20:2 as well as 12:9. Yet the use of both expressions is relevant because they stress different aspects of Satan’s nature. “Dragon” suggests his impressiveness, power, dangerousness, and monstrousness (as already noted), while “serpent” suggests his wisdom and cunning, unleashed to ignoble goals.
That image can be used in a constructive sense as in Matthew 10:16 where believers are told to be “shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” The innocence of the Christian’s wisdom is demonstrated by the comparison with “innocent as doves.” In contrast, the evil of Satan’s shrewdness is demonstrated by words that mean adversary (“Satan”) and accuser and slanderer (“Devil”) [See definitions in Vine’s Expostiory Dictionary].
[Page 71] Such language implies his unrestricted callous unscrupulousness. He is the ultimate utilitarian, using any and every convenient means to accomplished his desired goal without any shape or form of ethical restraint. When one combines these destructive attitudes with his power (pictured to us as that of a dragon) we behold the embodiment of one who is dangerous to any and all who defy him. Power and ruthlessness are the world’s most dangerous combination.
The use of ophis in various passages (sometimes rendered as “viper”) gives further evidence of what specific negative traits are included in the characterization of Satan as a “serpent.” Just as individuals could be “destroyed” by literal serpents (1 Corinthians 10:9), this metaphorical serpent was out for spiritual destruction. Poisonous serpents are so deadly that one would not think of giving it to a loved one (Matthew 7:10; Luke 11:11).
Even if warned “to flee from the wrath to come” those with a viper-like disposition were unlikely to heed it (Matthew 3:7). The viper personality will demonstrate itself in the evil that is said, the evil that resides in the heart (Matthew 12:34). Such individuals are capable of murdering even the most righteous religious leader (Matthew 23:29-32) and are worthy of “the sentence of hell” (verse 33). The cumulative picture is one of someone with no scruple, who will neither listen to discretion nor hesitate to inflict the severest harm on the most innocent.
The Old Testament also associates severely negative traits with serpents. Its bite “stings” (Proverbs 23:32) and will cause the loss of self-control (verse 33). Those who are “wicked” and “speak lies” from their childhood (Psalm 58:3) are so vicious that they have “venom like the venom of a serpent” and, like a snake, they can not hear the call for change (verse 4). Here a snake is connected with moral incorrigibility and a stubborn refusal to ever change that lifestyle of harmfulness to others.
[Page 72] Describing him as “the serpent of old” showed that Satan’s dangerousness was no new phenomena. He had not “turned over a bad leaf;” he had always been that way. For as long as man could remember his actions, they were of an evil nature; he was acting now as he always had and always would. He was consistent, but it was a wrong-headed consistency. (The question of when Satan first became evil is an irrelevancy from the human standpoint; what is relevant is that he has perpetually been the enemy of mankind throughout his dealings with the human species.)
Describing Satan as “the serpent of old” would also have conjured up in the minds of the reader the fall of Adam and Eve since their corrupter is also pictured in such terms. Paul shows that it was normal usage among the early Christians to make this connection when he writes:
But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Such remains Satan’s nature and why he has always been and always will be a plague to the well-being of humanity as long as the world survives. Not as dangerous as he could be or once was for he has been bound and his greatest powers stripped from him, but quite fatal if one is not on guard. Like an ancient gladiator wounded in one arm, he can still carry out his destructive intents on the unwary and the unconcerned.
c. The bound one is “the devil.”
The King James Version is misleading on the subject of demonology because of the terms it chose to use: by using both “the devil” and “the devils” the distinction between Satan and his demonic followers is obscured. Devil renders the Greek diabolos and devils translates daimon, the latter being the Biblical “demons.” There is but one Devil, while there are many demons. (We exclude those limited cases where the word “devil” may be used because of its meaning rather than because it has Satan or demonic beings specifically in mind.) To use the same term for both the leader and his followers introduces needless confusion.
Diabolos means “an accuser, a slanderer” and is derived from a word meaning “to accuse, to malign” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).
In one of the best Old Testament texts showing him living up to the meaning of this name, the alternative identification of “Satan” (see below) is actually used. We find that Job was an outstanding moral man in his day and age: “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1). God was impressed by this faithfulness (1:8). So Satan proceeded to lodge the accusation that the only reason for Job’s loyalty lay in the fact that he had not had to pay any price for being moral and upright:
“Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face.” (Job 1:10-11)
This leads to the trials narrated at length in the book of Job.
In the New Testament age, the demons who possessed individuals and brought them pain, discomfort, and horror were acting upon the Devil’s orders:
“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)
Satan not merely accuses or slanders humans to God, he also does the reverse and accuses God to man. In the case of Eve, he assured her that God would not fulfill His threats (Genesis 3:3-4). He implicitly claimed that God was trying to keep profound knowledge from her for if she dared to eat the fruit she would then and only then be permitted to “know good and evil” (Genesis 3:5)—not to mention being “wise” as well (3:6). He pictures sin as if it would further the individual’s own happiness, joy, and self-interest when it would really produce massive heartache as the result.
Sounds much like the propaganda for moral evil today, does it not? The Grand Master of Lies is still at work. Through his functionaries he propagandizes the supposed injustice of God for He dares to censure and punish the sin and rebellion in which they specialize. The Devil criticizes the moral restrictions of God as somehow violating “true” love, which love permits one to do whatever one wishes provided it does not too transparently “injure anyone else.”
[Page 75] Satan’s attempt to alienate man from God only began in Eden, but the propaganda line he fathered continues to be propagated to this day: He accuses and slanders the fairness, justice, and even reasonableness of God: He couldn’t possibility have really demanded those absolutes if He had our best interests at heart could He? All part of an unceasing effort to perpetuate the gulf that sin created between Creator and created.
The one who casts aside the moral inhibitions may think s/he is only engaged in a kind of self-liberation. In truth, one is being self-sold into slavery and is casting one’s lot with the great opponent of God for “the one who practices sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:8) no matter how many “plausible” excuses can be made. It is no great surprise that a being who can act in such unscrupulous ways is himself the embodiment of moral and spiritual failure!
1 John 3:8 immediately proceeds to point out that the Devil is only trying to get us to adopt his own behavioral style—his persistent, unceasing, and never reversed lifestyle: “The devil has sinned from the beginning.”
The Devil’s conduct implies a callous but yet rationally calculating being. He does not recklessly act out of instability, but in order to obtain predetermined goals and purposes. Hence we read of the “schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). His goals are destructive rather than constructive. He has the “power of death” (Hebrews 6:14) rather than life.
[Page 76] When he tries to entice us to follow his lead, he is not helping us upward but it laying a “snare” (1 Timothy 3:7). He pretends that our interest is in his heart when he actually cares for that no more “than a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He wants a meal, not a dinner partner. No wonder he is pictured as a ruthless foe who needed to be “bound” so that his harm against the human race could be restrained!
d. The bound one is called “Satan.”
The word means “adversary,” which well sums up his relationship to God Almighty. He is not a friend; he is foe. He is not co-laborer; he is enemy. Being a “slanderer” of God, what else could he be? So it is no surprise that whatever promotes God’s purposes he opposes either by outright confrontation and denial or by corrupting the intent and purpose.
Just as he is also the slanderer of men to God, Satan is also the adversary of humankind (as if the two ideas could be separated!). By driving a partial or total wedge between the two, Satan defeats the long-range best interests of humanity. Total alienation is far from required; partial alienation provides a salve for the human conscience while guaranteeing man’s condemnation.
[Page 77] Of course he is careful to disguise his real intents and goals. Paul refers to how “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He wears the public aura of a promoter of human good and even of “Christianity”—provided that the variety of it reinforces mankind’s worst instincts either by explicit approval of depraving behavior that deadens the ability to distinguish between right and wrong . . . or by inflating man’s self-confidence in his native “goodness.”
The former encourages the outright transgression of God’s word while the latter frees man from the guilt that is designed to come when God’s will is ignored or denied. Like a decadent politician, Satan promotes the positive rhetoric of good feelings and self-esteem in order to further his own interests. He always wants you to feel good. “You’re okay; I’m okay”—no matter what you do or to whom.
Satan is not pictured as passive, but as active. He is, if you will, a missionary for his cause. He is extraordinarily flexible in what he urges because he has no scruples; success is all that counts to him.
“The activity of Satan” is manifested in the conduct of the anti-Christ described in 2 Thessalonians. His conduct is pictured as exhibiting “power and signs and false wonders” (2:9). Speak in tongues—of course he will. Make the physically sick (temporarily) well or think they are going to get well—of course. But whatever supernatural acts he appears to manifest are but false wonders” (verse 9) targeted at those who wish God’s blessings, but do not have “the love of the truth” necessary for salvation (verse 10). Since this anti-Christ is aping Satan in these regards, these must also be the attributes of Satan himself.
[Page 78] His unscrupulousness may also be manifested in less grandiose ways. We are warned of the “schemes” (plural) of Satan (2 Corinthians 2:11). Because he appeals to the worst in the individual, because he urges us to do that which will antagonize God, what he uses is properly labeled “temptation.” If we have a weakness, that is where he will attack us (as in 1 Corinthians 7:5). Whatever can be used to discourage our faith he happily utilizes, including physical ailments such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul goes so far as to call it “a messenger of Satan to buffet me” in verse 7.
Satan will put obstacles in the way as we try to serve God (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Attempting to do that will draw us away from him and that is what he fears the most.
So much a gambler is he, that he even attempted to entice the Lord Himself away from the straight and narrow (Luke 4:1-13). In a very real sense, those famous forty days were only the beginning, for we read that Satan “departed from Him until an opportune time” (verse 13).
The relationship of Satan to God may well be pictured as one of continuing warfare—we see that in the book of Revelation in particular. However, the fact that there are only two sides to choose between is brought out under other images as well. All are offered the opportunity to “turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18), but the choice is not forced or imposed upon them involuntarily. They are warned of the consequences through Divine revelation, but what they do with that warning is left as their choice.
[Page 79] The New Testament presents Satan / the Devil as a real person, not merely as a metaphor for evil and corruption. In Revelation 20 we find this perpetual enemy of the human race being dramatically curbed / bound, chained, restrained, no longer permitted to do all he wishes or previously could. Dangerous he remains, but not the danger he once had been.
 N. S. Gill. “The Size of the Roman Legions: Complicated Formulas and Changing Numbers in the Roman Legions.” At: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/romemilitary /qt/051611-Size-of-the-Roman-Legion.htm. Accessed September 2013.
 Richard Brooks, The Lamb Is all the Glory. Inset, Chapel, Essex (England): Evangelical Press, 1986. Pages 172-173.