President of Theological Studies.org
1 And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
One distinctive of amillennial theology is the belief that Satan is bound during this present age. This belief stems from an interpretation that sees the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1-3 as being fulfilled today. The purpose of this work is examine the amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3 and address the question, "Is Satan bound today?" In doing this, our evaluation will include the following: 1) a brief definition of amillennialism; 2) a look at the amillennial approach to interpreting Revelation; 3) an explanation and analysis of the amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3; and 4) some concluding thoughts.
Amillennialism is the view that there will be no future reign of Christ on the earth for a thousand years.1 Instead, the thousand year reign of Christ mentioned six times in Revelation 20 is being fulfilled during the present age. According to amillennialists, the "thousand years" is not a literal thousand years but is figurative for "a very long period of indeterminate length." 2 Thus the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 describes the conditions of the present age between the two comings of Christ. During this period Satan is bound (Rev. 20:1-3) and Christ's Kingdom is being fulfilled (Rev. 20:4-6).3
Before looking specifically at how amillennialists interpret Revelation 20:1-3, it is important to understand how they approach the Book of Revelation. Amillennialists base their interpretation of the Book of Revelation on a system of interpretation known as progressive parallelism. This interpretive system does not view the events of Revelation from a chronological or sequential perspective but, instead, sees the book as describing the church age from several parallel perspectives that run concurrently. 4 Anthony Hoekema, an amillennialist, describes progressive parallelism in the following manner:
According to this view, the book of Revelation consists of seven sections which run parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church and the world from the time of Christ's first coming to the time of his second.5Following the work of William Hendriksen,6 Hoekema believes there are seven sections of Revelation that describe the present age. These seven sections give a portrait of conditions on heaven and earth during this period between the two comings of Christ. These seven sections which run parallel to each other are chapters 1-3, 4-7, 8-11, 12-14, 15-16, 17-19 and 20-22. What is significant for our purposes is that amillennialists see Revelation 20:1 as taking the reader back to the beginning of the present age. As Hoekema states, "Revelation 20:1 takes us back once again to the beginning of the New Testament era."7 Amillennialists, thus, do not see a chronological connection between the events of Revelation 19:11-21 that describe the second coming of Christ, and the millennial reign discussed in Revelation 20:1-6. As Hendriksen says, "Rev. 19:19ff. carried us to the very end of history, to the day of final judgment. With Rev. 20 we return to the beginning of our present dispensation."8 The amillennial view sees chapter nineteen as taking the reader up to the second coming, but the beginning of chapter twenty takes him back once again to the beginning of the present age. In other words, the events of Revelation 20:1-6 do not follow the events of Revelation 19:11-21.
With the principle of progressive parallelism as his base, the amillennialist holds that the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 took place at Christ's first coming.9 This binding ushered in the millennial kingdom. As William Cox says,
Thus the present age is the millennium and one characteristic of this millennial period is that Satan is now bound. This binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3, according to the amillennialist, finds support in the Gospels, particularly Jesus' binding of the strong man in Matthew 12:29. As Hoekema states,
Hoekema also points out that the word used by Matthew (delta epsilon omega) to describe the binding of the strong man is the same word used in Revelation 20 to describe the binding of Satan.12 In addition to Matthew 12:29, amillennialists believe they have confirming exegetical support from Luke 10:17-18 and John 12:31-32. In Luke 10, when the seventy disciples returned from their mission they said to Jesus, "'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'" (Luke 10:17-18). According to Hoekema, "Jesus saw in the works his disciples were doing an indication that Satan's kingdom had just been dealt a crushing blow-that, in fact, a certain binding of Satan, a certain restriction of his power, had just taken place."13
John 12:31-32, another supporting text used by amillennialists states: "Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." Hoekema points out that the verb translated "cast out" (epsilon kappa beta alpha lambda lambda omega) is derived from the same root as the word used in Revelation 20:3 when it says an angel "threw [ballo] him into the abyss." 14
What is the significance of this binding of Satan according the amillennial position? This binding has special reference to Satan's ability to deceive the nations during the present age. Because Satan is now bound, he is no longer able to deceive the nations as he did before the first coming of Christ. Before Christ's first coming, all the nations of the world, except Israel, were under the deception of Satan. Except for the occasional person, family or city that came into contact with God's people or His special revelation, Gentiles, as a whole, were shut out from salvation.15 With the coming of Christ, however, Jesus bound Satan, and in so doing, removed his ability to deceive the nations. This binding, though, did not mean a total removal of Satan's activity, for Satan is still active and able to do harm. As Cox says, "Satan now lives on probation until the second coming."16 But while he is bound, Satan is no longer able to prevent the spread of the Gospel nor is he able to destroy the Church. Also, according to amillennialists, the "abyss" to which Satan is assigned is not a place of final punishment but a figurative description of the way Satan's activities are being curbed during this age.17
Hoekema summarizes the amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3 by saying,
"We conclude, then, that the binding of Satan during the Gospel age means that, first, he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel, and second, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church."18
Though amillennial scholars have clearly and logically laid out their case for the amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3, there are serious hermeneutical, exegetical and theological difficulties with their interpretation of this text.
1) The approach to interpreting Revelation known as "progressive parallelism is highly suspect The first difficulty to be examined is hermeneutical and deals with the amillennial approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation. In order for the amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3 to be correct, the interpretive approach to Revelation known as "progressive parallelism" must also be accurate. Yet this approach which sees seven sections of Revelation running parallel to each other chronologically is largely unproven and appears arbitrary. As Hoekema admits, the approach of progressive parallelism, "is not without its difficulties."19
The claim that Revelation 20:1 "takes us back once again to the beginning of the New Testament era,"20 does not seem warranted from the text. There certainly are no indicators within the text that the events of Revelation 20:1 take the reader back to the beginning of the present age. Nor are there textual indicators that the events of Revelation 20 should be separated chronologically from the events of Revelation 19:11-21. In fact, the opposite is the case. The events of Revelation 20 seem to follow naturally the events described in Revelation 19:11-21. If one did not have a theological presupposition that the millennium must be fulfilled in the present age, what indicators within the text would indicate that 20:1 takes the reader back to the beginning of the church era? A normal reading indicates that Christ appears from heaven (19:11-19), He destroys his enemies including the beast and the false prophet (19:20-21) and then He deals with Satan by binding him and casting him into the abyss (20:1-3). As Ladd says, "There is absolutely no hint of any recapitulation in chapter 20."21
That John uses the formula "and I saw" (kappa alpha iota epsilon iota delta omicron nu) at the beginning of Revelation 20:1 also gives reason to believe that what he is describing is taking place in a chronological manner.22 Within Revelation 19-22, this expression is used eight times (19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11, 12; 21:1). When John uses "and I saw," he seems to be describing events in that are happening in a chronological progression. Commenting on these eight uses of "and I saw" in this section, Thomas states,
The case favoring chronological sequence in the fulfillment of these scenes is very strong. Progression from Christ's return to the invitation to the birds of prey and from that invitation to the defeat of the beast is obvious. So is the progression from the binding of Satan to the Millennium and final defeat of Satan and from the final defeat to the new heaven and new earth with all this entails. The interpretation allowing for chronological arrangement of these eight scenes is one-sidedly strong. 23
A natural reading of the text indicates that the events of Revelation 20 follow the events of Revelation 19:11-21. It is also significant that Hoekema, himself, admits that a chronological reading of Revelation would naturally lead one to the conclusion that the millennium follows the second coming when he says, "If, then, one thinks of Revelation 20 as describing what follows chronologically after what is described in chapter 19, one would indeed conclude that the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 will come after the return of Christ.24
Herman Hoyt, when commenting on this statement by Hoekema, rightly stated, "This appears to be a fatal admission."25 And it is. Hoekema admits that a normal reading of Revelation 19 and 20 would not lead one to the amillennial position. In a sense, the amillennialist is asking the reader to disregard the plain meaning of the text for an assumption that has no exegetical warrant. As Hoyt says,
The hermeneutical foundation of amillennialism is, indeed, a shaky one. The seriousness of this must not be underestimated. For if the amillennialist is wrong on his approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation, his attempt at placing Satan's binding during the present age has suffered a major if not fatal blow. 2) The amillennial view does not adequately do justice to the language of Revelation 20:1-3 According to the amillennial view, Satan is unable to deceive the nations as he did before the first coming of Christ, but he is still active and able to do harm in this age. His activities, then, have not ceased but are limited.27 This, however, does not do justice to what is described in Revelation 20:1-3. According to the text, Satan is "bound" with a "great chain" (vv.1-2) and thrown into the "abyss" that is "shut" and "sealed" for a thousand years (v. 3). This abyss acts as a "prison" (v. 7) until the thousand years are completed. The acts of binding, throwing, shutting and sealing indicate that Satan's activities are completely finished. As Mounce states:
The elaborate measures taken to insure his [Satan's] custody are most easily understood as implying the complete cessation of his influence on earth (rather than a curbing of his activities)."28
Berkouwer, who himself is an amillennialist, admits that the standard amillennial explanation of this text does not do justice to what is described:
Those who interpret the millennium as already realized in the history of the church try to locate this binding in history. Naturally, such an effort is forced to relativize the dimensions of this binding, for it is impossible to find evidence for a radical elimination of Satan's power in that "realized millennium." . . . The necessary relativizing of John's description of Satan's bondage (remember that Revelation 20 speaks of a shut and sealed pit) is then explained by the claim that, although Satan is said to deceive the nations no more (vs. 3), this does not exclude satanic activity in Christendom or individual persons. I think it is pertinent to ask whether this sort of interpretation really does justice to the radical proportions of the binding of Satan-that he will not be freed from imprisonment for a thousand years. 29
The binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 is set forth in strong terms that tell of the complete cessation of his activities. The amillennial view that Satan's binding is just a restriction or a "probation," as Cox has stated,30 does not hold up under exegetical scrutiny.
3) The amillennial view conflicts with the New Testament's depiction of Satan's activities in the present age The view that Satan is bound during this age contradicts multiple New Testament passages which show that Satan is presently active and involved in deception. He is "the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4). He is our adversary who "prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). In the church age he was able to fill the heart of Ananias (Acts 5:3) and "thwart" the work of God's ministers (1 Thess. 2:18). He is one for whom we must protect ourselves from by putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-19). Satan's influence in this age is so great that John declared "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). These passages do not depict a being who has been bound and shut up in a pit. As Grudem has rightly commented, "the theme of Satan's continual activity on earth throughout the church age, makes it extremely difficult to think that Satan has been thrown into the bottomless pit."31
What then of the amillennial argument that Matthew 12:29 teaches that Jesus bound Satan at His first coming? The answer is that this verse does not teach that Satan was bound at that time. What Jesus stated in Matthew 12:29 is that in order for kingdom conditions to exist on the earth, Satan must first be bound. He did not say that Satan was bound yet. As Toussaint says:
By this statement He [Jesus] previews John the Apostle's discussion in Revelation 20. Jesus does not say He has bound Satan or is even in the process of doing so. He simply sets the principle before the Pharisees. His works testify to His ability to bind Satan, and therefore they attest His power to establish the kingdom.32Jesus' casting out of demons (Matt. 12:22-29) was evidence that He was the Messiah of Israel who could bring in the kingdom. His mastery over demons showed that He had the authority to bind Satan. But as the multiple New Testament texts have already affirmed, this binding did not take place at Christ's first coming. It will, though, at His second. What Jesus presented as principle in Matthew 12:29 will come to fulfillment in Revelation 20:1-3. Luke 10:17-18 and John 12:31-32 certainly tell of Christ's victory over Satan but these passages do not teach that Satan is bound during this age. No Christian denies that the work of Christ, especially his death on the cross, brought a crushing defeat to Satan, but the final outworking of that defeat awaits the second coming. That is why Paul could tell the believers at Rome that "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). For the one contemplating the validity of amillennialism the question must be asked, Does the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1-3 accurately describe Satan's condition today? An analysis of multiple scriptural texts along with the present world situation strongly indicates that the answer is No. 4) Satan's deceiving activities continue throughout most of the Book of Revelation According to amillennialists, Satan was bound at the beginning of the Church age and he no longer has the ability to deceive the nations during the present age. But within the main sections of Revelation itself, Satan is pictured as having an ongoing deceptive influence on the nations. If Satan is bound during this age and Revelation describes conditions during this present age, we should expect to see a cessation of his deceptive activities throughout the book. But the opposite is the case. Satan's deception is very strong throughout Revelation. Revelation 12:9, for instance, states that "Satan. . . deceives the whole world." This verse presents Satan as a present deceiver of the world, not one who is bound.33
Satan's deception is also evident in the authority he gives to the first beast (Rev. 13:2) and the second beast who "deceives those who dwell on the earth" (Rev. 13:14). Satan is certainly the energizer of political Babylon of whom it is said, "all the nations were deceived by your sorcery" (Revelation 18:23).
Satan's ability to deceive the nations throughout the Book of Revelation shows that he was not bound at the beginning of the present age. Grudem's note on the mentioned passages is well taken, "it seems more appropriate to say that Satan is now still deceiving the nations, but at the beginning of the millennium this deceptive influence will be removed."34
The amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3 that Satan is bound during this age is not convincing and fails in several ways. Hermeneutically it fails in that its approach to interpreting the Book of Revelation is based on the flawed system of progressive parallelism. This system forces unnatural breaks in the text that a normal reading of Revelation does not allow. This is especially true with the awkward break between the millennial events of Revelation 20 and the account of the second coming in Revelation 19:11-21. Exegetically, the amillennial view of Revelation 20:1-3 does not do justice to the language of the text. The binding described in this passage clearly depicts a complete cessation of Satan's activities-not just a limitation as amillennialists believe. Theologically, the view that Satan is bound today simply does not fit with the multiple New Testament texts that teach otherwise. Nor can the amillennial view be reconciled with the passages within Revelation itself that show Satan as carrying on deceptive activity. To answer the question posed in the title of this work, "Is Satan bound today?" The answer from the biblical evidence is clearly, No.
3. Among amillennial lists there are differences of opinion as to exactly what Christ's millennial reign specifically is. Augustine, Allis and Berkhof believed the millennial reign of Christ refers to the Church on earth. On the other hand, Warfield taught that Christ's kingdom involves deceased saints who are reigning with Christ from heaven.
4. This approach to Revelation can be traced to the African Donatist, Tyconius, a late fourth-century interpreter. Millennium based on a recapitulation method of interpretation. Using this principle Tyconius saw Revelation as containing several different visions that repeated basic themes throughout the book. Tyconius also interpreted the thousand years of Revelation 20:1-6 in nonliteral terms and understood the millennial period as referring to the present age. This recapitulation method was adopted by Augustine and has carried on through many Roman Catholic and Protestant interpreters. See Alan Johnson, "Reve lation,"Expositor's Bible Commentary, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), v. 12, pp. 578-79.
9. Hendriksen defines what the amillennialist means by "first coming." "When we say 'the first coming' we have reference to all the events associated with it, from the incarnation to the coronation. We may say, therefore, that the binding of satan [sic], according to all these passages, begins with that first coming" Hendriksen, p.226.
22. Harold W. Hoehner says, "Though these words are not as forceful a chronological order as 'after these things I saw' ( (meta tauta eidon; 4:1; 7:9; 15:5; 18:1) or 'after these things I heard' ( meta tauta ekousa, 19:1), they do show chronological progression." Harold W. Hoehner, "Evidence from Revelation 20," A case For Premillennialism: A New Consensus, Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey L. Townsend, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 247-48.
28. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerchnans, 1977), p. 353.
Grudem also adds, "More than a mere binding or restriction of activity is in view here.
The imagery of throwing Satan into a pit and shutting it and sealing it over him gives a picture
of total removal from influence on the earth." Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology
33. The argument that the casting down of Satan in Revelation 12:9 is the same
event as the
binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 breaks down for two reasons. First, in
Revelation 12:9 Satan was thrown from heaven to the
earth. But in Revelation 20:1-3 he is taken from the earth to the abyss. Second,
in Revelation 12:9 Satan's activities, including his deception of the nations,
continue, while in Revelation 20:1-3 his activities are completely stopped as he is
shut up and sealed in the abyss.
34. Grudem, p. 1118.
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33. The argument that the casting down of Satan in Revelation 12:9 is the same event as the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 breaks down for two reasons. First, in Revelation 12:9 Satan was thrown from heaven to the earth. But in Revelation 20:1-3 he is taken from the earth to the abyss. Second, in Revelation 12:9 Satan's activities, including his deception of the nations, continue, while in Revelation 20:1-3 his activities are completely stopped as he is shut up and sealed in the abyss.
34. Grudem, p. 1118.
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