|Vol. 2, No. 2||Page 20||February 2000|
Satan Bound 1,000 Years
What does it mean in the revelation “Satan is bound for a thousand years?”
The passage to which the querist refers is:
“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. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall 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: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:1-10).
The Book of Revelation was written with highly symbolic imagery to confound the opponents of Christianity while at the same time providing much needed encouragement to Christians who were undergoing great persecution. That message to Christians then living was essentially that God through his foreknowledge assured his faithful followers of the ultimate victory of Christians, holy angels and the Godhead. Doubtless, the various figurative expressions were better suited to easier interpretation by the original recipients than we who live 2,000 years in their future.
The popular denominational doctrine of premillennialism is supposed to derive from this passage. However, premillennialism conflicts glaringly with other passages treating final things (e.g., the resurrection, Second Coming of Christ, the establishment of the prophetic kingdom, the identity of the church Jesus built). It is always dangerous and doubtful to emphatically espouse a doctrine from a passage that either is not elsewhere taught or that contradicts more easily understood Scripture.
Premillennialism is not new, and in a sense, it predates Christianity. The popularity of millennialism itself has soared and fallen numerous times for millenniums. Historically, its advocates have been styled as heretics by as fervent opponents.
The Jewish chiliasm [millennialism] rested on a carnal misapprehension of the Messianic kingdom, a literal interpretation of prophetic figures, and an overestimate of the importance of the Jewish people and the holy city as the centre of that kingdom. It was developed shortly before and after Christ in the apocalyptic literature, as the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, 4th Esdras, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and the Sibylline Books [apocryphal and pseudepigraphal books]. It was adopted by the heretical sect of the Ebionites, and the Gnostic Cerinthus. The Christian chiliasm is the Jewish chiliasm spiritualized and fixed upon the second, instead of the first, coming of Christ.
There are three primary theological estimates of Revelation 20:1-10. The first of the three following has been demonstrated consistently to concur with Scripture in general, whereas the latter two present doctrinal conflicts.
‘Amillennialism,’ is the view which regards the millennium as a symbol of the age of the church and identifies the binding of Satan with Christ’s work in the past (Mt. 12:29). ‘Postmillennialism’ regards it as a future period of success for the gospel in history before the coming of Christ. ‘Premillennialism’ regards it as a period between the coming of Christ and the last judgment. (The term ‘chiliasm’ is also used for this view, especially in forms which emphasize the materialistic aspect of the millennium.) . . . It should be emphasized that no other passage of Scripture clearly refers to the millennium. To apply OT prophecies of the age of salvation specifically to the millennium runs counter to the general NT interpretation of such prophecies, which find their fulfilment in the salvation already achieved by Christ and to be consummated in the age to come. This is also how Rev. itself interprets such prophecies in chs. 21f. Within the structure of Rev., the millennium has a limited role, as a demonstration of the final victory of Christ and his saints over the powers of evil. The principal object of Christian hope is not the millennium but the new creation of Rev. 21f.
What, then, can be said of the “thousand years” in Revelation 20:1-10? First, the Greek word for “thousand” (chilioi) means a “plural of uncertain affinity.” This Greek word is translated as “thousand” 11 times out of 11 appearances in the New Testament (KJV). The rendition of “thousand” in the Book of Revelation, especially due to the epistle’s highly figurative nature, may refer to a lengthy but uncertain duration. Therefore, for instance, it is futile to try to overlay the figurative prophecy of the Book of Revelation with definitive mathematical computations to arrive at some otherwise elusive eschatological date. Every date-setter (without exception, and there have been many) has proven to be a counterfeit prophet, since his projected date is now merely a historical note.
In this book of symbols how long is a thousand years? All sorts of theories are proposed, none of which fully satisfy one. Perhaps Peter has given us the only solution open to us in II Pet. 3:8 when he argues that “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” It will help us all to remember that God’s clock does not run by ours and that times and seasons and programs are with him. This wonderful book was written to comfort the saints in a time of great trial, not to create strife among them.
It is safe to say that the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years was intended to be viewed by the original recipients of the Book of Revelation as a prophecy in which the severely persecuted church could find hope. The hope promised and that they would realize, and historically occurred, was that intense persecution toward Christianity would subside. The prophecy also divulges that Satan (through his followers and devices on earth) would once again buffet the Lord’s church before the final day, ultimate judgment and eternal disposition of souls (including Satan).
Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.
The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.
Robertson, Archibald Thomas, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) 1998, c1933.
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