7. How Is Revelation 20:1‑10 to Be Understood?
What the Binding of Satan Means
In Revelation 20:1‑3 we are told that an angel, that is, a God‑sent messenger, came down from Heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain to bind Satan. Who this God-sent messenger was we learn from Revelation 1:18 where the Son of God says that He has the keys of hell and of death, i.e., the power over Satan and eternal death. And the chain by which Satan is bound cannot be a chain of iron or brass because Satan is a spirit and a spirit cannot be bound by such a chain. This, therefore, is figurative language and means that Satan has been deprived of his power. Other passages of the Bible tell us in plain words what here is indicated in a figure of speech, to wit, that Jesus the Son of God was sent to this earth by the Father to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8) - to crush the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15) - that He, the Stronger One, overcame the strong one, Satan, and bound him (Matt. ),
This was fully accomplished when by the vicarious death of Christ for our sins the power of the devil was taken from him (Heb. -15), and the "prince of this world was judged and cast out" (John ; ; cf. Luke ). Satan no longer has any power over men or a claim against them (Rev. 12:10). All men are called by the Gospel "to turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:18). And every man who accepts this call of God cannot be held by Satan, but is “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. 1:13). It is the will and purpose of God to call all nations by the preaching of the Gospel to repentance and salvation (Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30), and since the redemptive work of our Savior has been finished, Satan is bound in so far as for "a thousand years" he cannot "deceive the nations" by hindering or stopping the victorious course of the Gospel.
It must not be overlooked that this binding of Satan, his being cast into the bottomless pit, etc., is not to be understood absolutely, as if Satan were banished from this earth so that he could no longer approach men for the sake of tempting them. We are warned: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (1 Pet. 5:8-9). According to this plain statement of Peter we and all our brethren, as long as we are yet in the world, are exposed to the trials and temptations of Satan and all the evil spirits (cf. Eph. 2:2; 6:12ff). And as we learn from 1 Thessalonians 5:1‑3, this warning and exhortation to constant vigilance is meant for all Christians of all times, unto the day when the Lord will come to judge the world; for this "Day of the Lord" is none other than the great Judgment Day, the day of our "gathering together unto Him" "ever to be with the Lord" (2 Thess. 2:1; 1 Thess. 4:17). Satan therefore will not be bound in a future time, but has been bound already. The judgment over Satan and his angels will be fully executed on the Last Day (Rev. 20:10). Unto that day he is bound, relatively speaking.
The Loosing of Satan
A short time before the end comes Satan "must be loosed a little season," and he will go out "to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city” (Rev. 20:3, 8-9). This will happen "when the thousand years are expired" (v. 7), that is, when that time during which Satan had not the power to stop the spreading of the Gospel will come to its end. Then he shall "be loosed for a little season," namely, insomuch as he then will not be hindered by God from exciting to hostile activity the enemies of "the camp of the saints, the beloved city," that is, the enemies of the "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:22-23; cf. Psa. 46:4‑6). This assault against the camp of the saints is made by all the enemies of Christ. "Gog and Magog" are evidently, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39, symbolical names or terms for all powers "in the four quarters of the earth" that are enemies of the true church of the living God.
How is this assault made? Not only by bloody persecutions by means of fire and sword, but also by false prophets. By false prophets more harm is done to the church than by bloody persecutions, as Satan is well aware of. The assault of false teachers is made upon the heart of Christ's Gospel, namely, upon the fundamental Christian doctrine, the doctrine of the Vicarious satisfaction for our sins by the suffering and the death of the Son of God (Rom. ). False teachers are also assaulting the need for obedience to the Gospel through faith, repentance, and water baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts -38). And last but not least, they are assaulting the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:15-17), which is the formal principle of the Christian religion, by denying which such false teachers attempt to destroy the foundation of the city of God (Psa. 11:3; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5 ; 2 Tim. 3:1‑5).
Oh, let us be vigilant and keep our eyes open in order that we may not neglect to see the signs of the time in which we are living! (Matthew 16:2-3).
The Length of the "Little Season"
How long this "little season" will last during which Satan will be loosed no man is able to tell (Acts 1:7; Mark 13:32‑37); for with God "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8). But since in Revelation 20:2-3 the "thousand years,” denoting a long period, and the "little season," denoting a short time, are placed in contrast to each other, so much seems to be clear that the "little season" will not last long, at least by far not as long as the first period, the "thousand years." According to the distinct declaration of our Lord that no man knows the day or the hour when the end will come (Mark 13:32‑37; Acts 1:7), we can only regard the "thousand years" as a symbolical number denoting a long time. As we have already studied, this time began with the binding of Satan when Christ overcame him (Matt. ), destroyed him (Heb. 2:14f), and cast him out (John ), and thus with the sending out of the Gospel into all the world (Matt. 28:18‑20). Then these "thousand years" together with the "little season" during which Satan is loosed again, constitute the time of the New Testament, beginning with Christ's redemption and lasting to Judgment Day. For immediately after Satan's last assault upon the beloved city, the church of the Living God, God's judgment will follow (Rev. 20:9‑15). During this period of the New Testament, the souls of the departed confessors are "living and reigning with Christ" in Heavenly bliss and glory (v. 4). A minute description of this reigning and living with Christ in Heaven we are not able to give. But we know that this royal glory is not visible, or manifest, on this present earth. For the text speaks only of the sainted souls that are "with Christ," and God tells us by Paul: "When Christ, our Life shall appear," which will occur on Judgment Day (Matt. 25:31; 2 Thess. 1:7‑10: 1 Thess. , etc.), "then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4; cf. Phil. -21).
It might be objected that in this same book of Revelation (chapter 5:8‑10), we are told how the four and twenty elders in Heaven praise the Lord, saying: "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth." But this text itself is clear enough to preclude a reigning on this present earth; for it strictly distinguishes between the present state of the elders: "Thou hast made us unto God kings and priests," and their future state: "we shall reign on the earth." This future "reigning on the earth" will not be done on this present earth, but on the "new earth" (Rev. 22:3-5) which God will make after the destruction of this present world (Rev. 21:1).
This is in complete harmony with the promise of
the Lord: "Ye which have followed Me, in the
regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory,
shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:5). This is the fate of those who died in unbelief, who had no part in the spiritual resurrection; they are NOT "living with Christ, our Life, but are in death, "death feedeth on them" (Psa. 49:14); they are kept in prison (1 Pet. ), eternally excluded from the blessed communion with Christ our Life. In this state of death they will remain until the time of the New Testament is finished; but then, on the Day of Judgment, their body will be revived, and the Judge will pronounce His condemnatory sentence upon them, as is explained in Revelation 20:11‑15 (cf. Matt. 25: 41, etc.).
The above interpretation of Revelation 20 is based on, and is in full accord with, each and every word of Scripture pertaining to this matter, and therefore we are certain of its being correct. Whereas the misinterpretation of the millenarians not only disagrees with but directly contradicts, all plain Bible‑passages on this subject, as shown above. Let us keep in mind that the Holy Spirit explains Himself in His Word, and that one passage (Revelation 20), and especially figurative expressions, must be interpreted in harmony with all others; for God does not contradict Himself. All false explanations not only make the Bible unclear, but also pervert it (2 Pet. ; Isa. ).