And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 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 (Rev. 20:1-3).
A reader writes, "Please enlarge on the binding of Satan."
The book of Revelation is not so easy to understand, chiefly because it is composed of visions. These visions are given in signs and symbols (Rev. 1:1), and the symbols are not always clear. The general rule which applies here is the rule for the interpretation of all Scripture: Scripture interprets Scripture. Symbols used in these visions must also be interpreted in the light of other scriptural passages where the same or similar symbolism is used. And the interpretation must be in harmony with Scripture as a whole. But even such exegetical work is not always easy. What is true of Revelation as a whole is all the more true of Revelation 20. Symbols are used in this chapter which are difficult to interpret, and the result is that many different interpretations have been offered of this chapter in particular and of the book as a whole.
These different interpretations have resulted in radically different eschatologies or doctrines of the last things. Most of the differences in the interpretation of Revelation 20 begin with interpretations of the 1000 years or millennium mentioned in this text.
Premillennialists interpret the 1000 years as a literal period of 1000 years during which Christ shall return to His chosen people, the Jews; establish with them a glorious kingdom in Palestine (after the pattern of the kingdom of the Jews during the reigns of David and Solomon); restore the temple worship; and make them a light to all the other nations. They say that the coming of Christ is prior to (pre) the millennium.
Postmillennialists also envision the 1000 years as a period (not a literal but a symbolic period) in which Christ’s kingdom will be manifested in great glory. But these folk do not envision a kingdom in Palestine with the Jews, but a kingdom spread over the whole earth. They do not see the kingdom established through the return of Christ, but see the kingdom gradually developing as Christianity becomes more and more influential and succeeds in transforming more and more of the institutions of society until all comes under the rule of Christ. After (post) the millennium is realized here on earth, Christ comes. (Some postmillennialists, however, speak of the coming of Christ Himself not as a historical event, but as the realization of the kingdom here on earth.)
I believe that these two views of the text are not only wrong, but are relatively recent innovations in the history of Christian thought. With rare exceptions the church throughout the ages has maintained that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 is a symbolic number which indicates the time between the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and His bodily return in the clouds of glory.
It is designated as 1000 years because 1000 is 10 x 10 x 10. Ten is the number of God’s full purpose. There are ten commandments, for the decalogue is the full expression of God’s moral will for man. There were ten plagues, because the plagues on Egypt were the full expression of God’s wrath against a nation that would not let His people go. 1000 years measures the period of New Testament history when God realizes His purpose in the gathering of the church from Jews and Gentiles through the exalted Lord. When the church is gathered, Christ comes, for God’s purpose is accomplished.
This is why the text says that when the 1000 years are over, the devil will be loosed for a little season. Only a smidgeon of time remains after he is loosed and before Christ returns. Those who hold to a symbolic 1000 years have maintained this position consistently over the centuries.
If we agree on the symbolic meaning of the 1000 years, and if we agree that the number of years designates the period from Christ’s ascension to the time of His second coming (or shortly before it), then we have more light on the rest of the text.
First, the binding of Satan has to be symbolic. It cannot be taken literally in any case, for Satan cannot be bound with a chain and thrown into a literal pit which is then locked with a key. Satan is not a material being such as we are. He, though fallen, is like the angels in heaven, spiritual beings whose substance cannot be measured or weighed with human instruments.
Satan’s binding is further described in the text: the angel "cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him." This certainly cannot mean that the devil was actually thrown bound into hell, for we know from other parts of Scripture that he is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2) and that he goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). Paul describes Satan and his angels as "not flesh and blood," but "principalities," "powers," "the rulers of the darkness of this world," and "spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).
When our Lord cast out the devils from the Gadarene demoniac, their anxious question to the Lord, recognizing His absolute sovereignty over them, was "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matt. 8:29). They feared being forced to go to hell before the great Judgment Day. Thus we must take this binding figuratively and recognize that the vision John saw was filled with symbols.
- Volume: 9
- Issue: 22
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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