Revelation-Part 44

By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003
When will Satan be bound? Where will it take place? For how long will he be bound? What is the purpose of this binding? These are the questions Dr. Thomas answers in this month’s article.


Events of the Seventh Bowl, #4: Satan Bound

This month, we want to continue our study of the book of Revelation by summarizing another event of the seventh bowl judgment. We have already described the first three of eight events that comprise that bowl: (1) the second coming of Christ (19:11-16), (2) the summons of the birds to a human feast (19:17-18), and (3) the slaughter of Christ’s human opponents (19:19-21). This month the fourth event of the seventh bowl is Satan’s imprison­ment (20:1-3).

The Time of the Binding

Some may find it surprising that we have entitled this section “Satan’s imprisonment” instead of using a title about the millennium. Since the first two of six mentions of a “thou­sand years” occurs in the three verses, one might expect to find the word “millennium” in a title for the verses. The subject of the millennial kingdom is quite appropriate in connection of the fourth event of this bowl, as it will be in connection with the next event of the bowl too. Nevertheless, the reason for the brief description’s inclusion is to tell of God’s punitive dealing with “the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan” (20:2) as a part of the ongoing series of judgments against the earth. The twofold mention of “a thousand years” is only incidental in the description.

As will be recalled, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet will play a major part in preparations for Armageddon (see Rev. 16:13). They will use three unclean spirits to as­semble a huge army for the battle of that great day. The beast and the false prophet will be sent to the lake of fire as part of the third event of the fourth bowl, but the chief energizer of this trio, Satan, will survive their judgment and will remain to be dealt with in the fourth event. Since the seventh bowl is another name for the seventh plague of the seven last plagues (see Rev. 15:1, 6, 7), the last of the last plagues cannot end until the dragon of Revelation 12, the instigator of rebellion against God, has met his end.

Earlier, we have noted the chronological sequence in the fulfillment of the eight events of the seventh bowl. That sequence sets the binding of Satan and the millennium as the next event after the battle of Armageddon just described in Revelation 19:19-21. Some, how­ever, have surmised that the binding of Satan is an event of the past, such as the crucifix­ion of Jesus Christ, which resulted in a limitation of Satan’s activities through the spread of the gospel throughout the world. But the binding of this rebellious creature and his consign­ment to the abyss spoken of in Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of a complete termination, not just a limitation, of his activity on earth. To date, no such termination has occurred. The uniform testimony of the New Testament is that Satan is free to roam the earth as a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan is not bound between Christ’s two advents; otherwise, explaining his release at the end of the millennium is impossible. This fact in itself fixes the millennium at some point in the future, not the present.

The Place of the Binding

The angel who will bind the devil must descend from heaven (Rev. 20:1) in order to fulfill his task. By this time Satan will have been limited to an earthly mission, having been cast from heaven in the middle of the future seventieth week (Rev. 12:7-9). Through the last three and a half years, he will have been busy venting his wrath against the earth and against the followers of the Lamb who remain accessible to him in that sphere (Rev. 12:12).

The angel has in his possession the key to unlock or lock the abyss, or more specifically, the shaft that leads down into the abyss. This is the same abyss encountered in Revelation 9:1. The abyss, also mentioned in Revelation 11:7 and 17:8, is different from the lake of fire referred to in Revelation 19:20. The lake of fire is more severe and is a permanent place of punishment. The abyss is place of temporary confinement and more on the order of a locked dungeon rather than an open, shallow pool of fire.

The angel has with him “a great chain upon his hand” (Rev. 20:1). This is not a chain such as the ones placed on Paul (2 Tim. 1:16) and Peter (Acts 12:6-7). Those were mate­rial chains such as would be useless in shackling a spiritual being like Satan. Jude 6 speaks of a spiritual chain used to bind the angels who sinned. That is another spiritual chain, the kind necessary to bind and place in prison a spiritual being. Such a chain is stronger than the one that bound Sampson (Judg. 6:6ff.) and stronger than the ones that restrained the Gerasene demoniac, the ones broken by the evil spirits called Legion (Mark 5:3-9). Draped over the angel’s hand, the chain will be ready to use on the devil.

The Duration of the Binding

The six-fold repetition of “a thousand years” (Rev. 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) indicates the great importance of the length of Satan’s imprisonment. Some interpreters, in citing Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, have sought to avoid the obvious meaning of “a thousand years” by point­ing out that God’s clock does not follow our reckoning. In the Psalm and 2 Peter passages, however, the thousand years are a literal thousand years. Others have interpreted “a thou­sand years” by making it symbolic of a relatively long age of indefinite length or by equating the period with the time between Christ’s two comings. Again, however, those efforts simply avoid the obvious. If the divine and human authors had intended anything other than a literal number, they would have used something indefinite like “for a little time” as they do later in the paragraph (Rev. 20:3).

In Revelation non-symbolic usage of numbers is the rule. The fact is that no number in Revelation is verifiably a symbolic number. For example, the 144,000 in Revelation 7:4-8 results from multiplying a literal 12,000 people by a literal twelve tribes of Israel. Ample evidence supports the conclusion that “a thousand years” is literal, not symbolic. The future binding of Satan will be of that duration as will the future Messianic kingdom which will exist on earth prior to the new heaven and the new earth.

The Purpose of the Binding

With Satan’s confinement, he will be unable to pursue what he has sought to do throughout the ages, since the time of the fall—deceive the nations (Rev. 20:3). He must remain in that place of confinement, still bound by chains, for the entirety of the specified lengthy time-period. During his incapacitation, the nations will be quiet and willing subjects of the Rider on the white horse, following His victory at Armageddon. After Satan’s release, however, some among those nations will allow his sly trickery to lead them in another rebellion against God (Rev. 20:7-9).

The origin and identity of the nations has been a subject of discussion. Some have theorized that only the beast and his demonic armies will meet their end in the battle of Revelation 19:19-21, leaving untouched the rest of humanity, but the text is clear that those are human, not demonic, armies. Another theory has it that not all people on earth will join the beast in that battle, leaving some unaffected people alive on earth to populate the millennium and eventually defect under the dragon’s leadership. Yet that explanation does injustice to the exhaustive categorizations of humanity of Revelation 19:18.

The only suitable identification of the nations sees them as the redeemed but unglorified population on earth that will enjoy divine protection from the beast and therefore not be involved in the battle of Armageddon (see Rev. 11:13; 12:12-17). As identified in Revelation 12, they will be the faithful remnant of Israel, and along with them will be Gentiles who have offered support for Israel during the last half of the seventieth week (see Matt. 25:31-46). Such a nucleus of redeemed people will reproduce offspring to populate the earth during the millennium. At the beginning, all will be followers of the Lamb, but as they reproduce, some of their offspring will decline the opportunity to be the Lamb’s followers. They will be rebels and will probably eventually outnumber their parents. Under such ideal conditions as will exist in the millennium, the rate of population growth will be much more rapid so that by the end of the period, when the dragon is released, he will gather an army that numbers as “the sand of the sea” (Rev. 20:8). Once again after his release, he will deceive the nations into following him, but this time for only “a little time” (Rev. 20:3).

Great days lie ahead for planet earth. The Lamb on the throne will control the world system, which at present is subject to the prince of the power of the air. The dominant deceiver of the nations will be powerless to control people as he does now. Yet he will, after his release, succeed in gathering a huge army of rebels to go to war against God once again. What evil force will keep this army from turning to the Lamb during the thousand years? The only remaining evil force will be the fallen nature of human beings. Human depravity by itself will keep the world from becoming a haven reserved for righteousness alone. If depravity can accomplish so much under those ideal conditions, how much more can it accomplish in the present day? The only avenue of escape from one’s own evil inclinations is an active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work at Calvary. May many who read these words turn to Him before the return of Christ sets in motion the clock of end-time events with the unleashing of God’s wrath against a rebellious humanity.

Note: For more details on the binding of Satan and the millennium, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 403-412 and 567-585. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or

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