By Forrest D. Morris
Some passages of Scripture receive more than their share of speculative interpretation. Such is certainly true of Revelation 20. Millennial theorists have given all sorts of fanciful treatments of this chapter. One of the most often asked questions in our Bible study groups is "What is meant by the binding of Satan?" First, let me dislodge from anyone the notion that I am approaching this with a dogmatic disposition. I would like to suggest some thoughts for your careful study. If anyone sees error in what I am writing, I should be most pleased to hear from him. So with that having been said, let us approach our study.
What The Text Says
And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him in 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 (Rev. 20:1-3).
Please observe carefully what the binding of Satan accomplished: "so that he should not deceive the nations any longer." So far as I am able to understand from the text, this is the restriction that was placed upon Satan by this binding. I don't believe that we should try to make the text say more than it does. He was to be bound in this area of activity. There are other areas of activity in which he continues to move. For example, "You adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). The binding of Revelation 20 would not hinder the activity of 1 Peter 5:8.
How Had Satan Deceived The Nations?
Sometimes the activity of Satan is clearly catalogued in the Scriptures. At other times we must search more diligently to see what he is up to. Our text tells us that he had "deceived the nations." As we look back into the history of the people of God, we often see hostile nations rise up to seek to destroy God's people. Sometimes God used an evil nation to bring discipline upon his people. One case in point is Babylon. In Jeremiah 25, the prophet said, "I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And the Lord has sent to you all his servants the prophets again and again, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear" (vv. 3-4). Then God spoke and said, "Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send . . . to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land . . . and I will make them a horror, and a hissing, and an everlasting desolation . . . and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years" (vv. 8-11). Babylon was a wicked nation. Yet God would use it to discipline Judah. "Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation . . . for their iniquity" (v. 12). The extent of the iniquity of the king of Babylon (not just one king, but symbolic of all) is seen in Isaiah 14:3-23. The king is a tool in the hand of Satan. This nation is deceived by the devil.
The Four Beasts of Daniel Seven
In Daniel 7, we read of Daniel's dream of the four beasts (vv. 3-11) which are interpreted as being four kingdoms (vv. 17-28), namely, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. In describing the fourth beast (Rome) he says, "It devoured and crushed, and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns." Then he tells of seeing a "little horn" come up that possessed eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth uttering great boasts." This "horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them" (v. 21). "He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One" (v. 25). Quite obviously, this nation would be deceived by the devil.
This beast is prophetic of the same nation that Revelation 13 describes. Observe John's description of the beast that comes out of the sea as an instrument of Satan:
And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast. . . And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. . . And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him (Rev. 13:1-7).
It is not difficult to see the identity of this beast we compare what John says with what Daniel says. Daniel tells us that this beast is the fourth kingdom of the four he described. That makes it the Roman empire and its emperors. The little horn that would rise up and make war with the saints would be a persecuting emperor. Daniel said he would do this for a time, times, and half a time (3 = times). John said it would be for forty-two months (3 = years). This corresponds with the 1,260 days of Revelation 11:3; 12:6. The Roman Empire as a persecuting force against God's people - Christians - was under the authority of the devil.
We even see the devil using governments at other times to try to overthrow the plan of God. He used Herod in his effort to devour the man child (Christ) after his birth (Rev. 12:1-5; Matt. 2). He used the decadent governing Jewish power along with Rome to crucify Jesus. But the greatest deception of all was that of Rome's persecution of Christians and the demand for emperor worship. It was this deceiving power that was to be limited by the binding of Satan.
The Battle of Armageddon
In conjunction with the binding of Satan there was to be another great event - the overthrow of Rome under the symbol of the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). This is not some future battle. It symbolized the overthrow of the persecuting beast - Rome. The details of this overthrow are seen in Revelation 19. Under the symbolism of the rider of the white horse, Jesus makes war with the beast (Rome). "The beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence . . . these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone" (v. 20). Please observe that this describes the destruction of the beast. That beast was Rome, so he is describing the overthrow of Rome. Let me repeat: This is not some future battle, but the overthrow of persecuting Rome. The saints of God were not defeated! God always wins the battle! No one can defy the saints of the living God and come out victorious. The beast is destroyed!
What Happens To Satan?
At the time of the destruction of the beast in the lake of fire, something happens to Satan, the one who had given the beast his authority. That brings us back to our text in Revelation 20. The devil is bound with a great chain and thrown into the abyss. Need I remind you that this is symbolic? He is not thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet are - not at this time. He is cast into the abyss. So at the time (if we can put a time on symbolic events!) that Rome is destroyed, Satan is bound. (Let me suggest just here that we should not equate this binding with that mentioned in Matthew 12:25-29. That was another area of Satan's work that was limited.) Now, remember, he is bound in the sense that "he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed." He had been able to do something that now he cannot!
The 1,000 Years
Are these literal years? Of course, not. This is symbolic language and we cannot count out a literal 1,000 years. The figure 1,000 is used in the book of Revelation to indicate completeness. Insofar as the devil's power to control Rome, he was completely bound. It's hard for us not to think in terms of a time span and then try to find literal periods for the symbolic language, but let's just think of a complete time. What happens after the thousand years of being bound? "After these things he must be released for a short time" (v. 3). "And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the sea shore" (vv. 7-8). After his release, Satan once again will try to deceive the nations. He wants to overthrow God's kingdom. That's what he tried to do over and over again. When he could no longer do that, he brought his attack against individual Christians (Rev. 12:17). Now, he tries again to overthrow Jesus. But this time he goes too far! "Fire came down from heaven and devoured them (the armies). And the devil who deceived them was, thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (vv. 9-10). In his final battle, Satan goes down to everlasting defeat. He is this time thrown into the lake of fire where he will be tormented forever. The poor guy never wins! Sometimes it may seem like he is winning, but ultimately the victory belongs to the Lord and his Christ! And the victory belongs to those who belong to him. You can be victorious only when you are under the banner of Jesus Christ. That is the message of the book of Revelation and it is God's message over and over in Holy Scripture.
The devil still has power today. He is as a roaring lion seeking to devour you (1 Pet. 5:8). He is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). He is the shrewd and cunning tempter (2 Cor. 11:3,13-15). He tempts, blinds (2 Cor. 4:3-4) and lies (John 8:44). He is after you! To overcome him we must submit to God, and resist the devil; then he will flee from you (Jas. 4:7). The first step is in our submission to God. We must watch and pray (Mt. 26:41); put on the shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) and then fight against him and the wickedness that he promulgates in this world. He is a mighty foe, but his doom is certain. If you are on his side, your doom is also certain. Let us all align ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ!
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 24, pp. 748-749
December 17, 1987