By Clinton D. Hamilton
Of great interest is the role and status of Satan. His origin, work, and nature continue to seize the attention of people in general and that of the religious in particular. Satan’s relation to the fallen angels and their relation to men also capture the imagination and interest. The question to be considered in this column concerns Satan and his condition.
Question: Why isn’t Satan reserved in chains of darkness till the judgment as the other spiritual beings who left their habitation?
Response: The question assumes that Satan is not bound but the basis on which the querist makes this conclusion is not stated in connection with the question. The first issue to consider is whether Satan is bound. This is the issue with which this response will begin. No doubt, the querist by the expression “reserved in chains of darkness” alludes to Jude 6. Evidently, the querist believes that Satan is not now in those chains but that the other fallen angels are, which angels are to be identified as those mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. It is on these assumptions underlying that I shall deal with the issue addressed in the question. Accordingly, my remarks should be interpreted in this light.
Satan is a term which means an adversary or opponent. Satan is also to be identified with devil, which term means false accuser or slanderer. In Matthew 4:1, 5, 8, it is said that the devil tempted Jesus but in verse 10, Jesus referred to him as Satan. In verse 11, it is said that the devil left Him. Accordingly, one is justified in using the term Satan and diabolos interchangeably to refer to the same being. Mark relates that Jesus was tempted of Satan, whereas Matthew says he was tempted of the devil (Mk. 1:13). Jesus also equated the term Satan with the term beelzebub (Matt. 12:22-30). In the moral world, Satan is the accuser and the slanderer in dealing with men as he seeks to lead them away from God. It is evident that he is permitted to do this by God who is the sovereign of the entire universe, both material and spiritual. By nature, he is a spiritual being with powers normally associated with angelic beings but is limited in what he can do by God who cast him and those in association with him from heaven (2 Pet. 2:4: Jude 6).
Satan and those in association with him were cast into tartarus, a division of hades, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved to judgment (2 Pet. 2:4). Jude says they are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness to the judgment of the great day (v. 6). It should be observed that each shares the same state or condition, both Satan and the angels associated with him in the rebellion. This rebellion consisted in their leaving their proper rank or level of authority and exceeding the limits of their jurisdiction within their ranks. Principality in Jude 6 is from arche and refers to level or rank. Their sin consisted in their not observing the rank and order that God set. Likewise, they did not keep their proper habitation. Habitation is from oiketerion which literally means a dwelling where an inhabitant resides. In the context of Jude 6, it evidently refers to the dwelling or bounds appointed to them by God which they deserted in the rebellion.
In response to their rebellion, God cast them out of heaven into hades, a compartment of which is tartarus. Is this a place or location in the same literal sense as is understood in our everyday language? One must remember that these are spirit beings not subject to material place and location as are we. Evidently, when place or location is used in relation to them, it is metaphorical or figurative language used for our comprehension. One can only understand the unseen and unknown by use of terms which one knows and understands from experience. Metaphors are helpful because they are stated or implied likenesses by which comparisons are made. Consequently, what is not understood is made clear by a metaphor. The metaphor is a comparison that makes clear the unknown thing. Parables are extended metaphors. When Jesus wanted His followers to understand aspects of the kingdom of heaven, He used parables such as the sower. From what they knew from common life and experience, they could grasp through the comparison made that which they previously did not know. Metaphors are therefore most useful.
If Satan and his angels are reserved in darkness in chains, what is their condition? Learning this will enable one to be able to answer the question raised with greater clarity and accuracy. Reserved is translated from the verb tereo which means to guard, keep, preserve. It can have a happy outcome such as one’s being kept to a deliverance or salvation yet to be revealed (I Pet. 1:4) or can be one of retribution as it is in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. Consequently, the term does not have the meaning of a place or location but rather refers to the keeping that God has decreed. But if God is doing the guarding, the keeping, or the preserving, this is within the realm of His jurisdiction and His power to permit or not permit. In other words, they can only do as God permits for it is He who does the guarding, the keeping, or the preserving.
Chains is from desmos which means bonds. Again, the language is metaphorical. As a prisoner is bound and limited in what he is able to do, so it is that God has bound the rebellious angels and they can do only what is permitted by the nature of their bonds. The metaphor does not imply place or location as does the literal condition upon which it is based. God keeps or guards these rebellious angels to the punishment of the great Day of Judgment. Satan, the leader of the rebellious angels, suffers their same bonds. Consequently, there is no distinction between him and the other angels. All of them share the same retribution of bonds.
Having understood from scripture what Satan’s punishment is and having understood the nature of this punishment enables one to grasp the truth in relation to the issue posed by the querist. There is no distinction between Satan’s punishment of bonds and the other angels’ bonds. Therefore, he is not in one condition and they in another. Both of them share the same punishment and are in the same condition. What is described in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 is shared by all of them alike. It is my conviction that the question is based on a position (that Satan is not bound or reserved in the same sense that the other rebellious angels are) which is not taught by the scriptures.
Within the bonds, the guarding, or the keeping that God has these angels in, there is given to them a certain permission to interface in the moral and spiritual world with men. For instance, Job was afflicted by Satan but God put a limitation on him as what he could do to Job. Satan had a broad range of things that he could do to Job but he could not take his life (Job 2:6). Satan was kept or guarded by God and could not exceed what God had set as his bonds. Demons, whom I believe are rebellious angels as appears clear from their interaction with Jesus (Matt. 8:2; Mk. 5:7; Lk. 4:34), likewise have permission to interface with men as is evident from what the New Testament shows them doing. They knew Jesus to be the Son of God and that they were reserved for torment or punishment. They wondered if Jesus was going to torment them before the time set (the judgment of the great day). It is obvious that they had the same permission as did Satan but both they and he are reserved to punishment.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 21, p. 5
November 4, 1993