Revelation 20 is certainly one of the most used passages to support the Premillennial understanding of eschatology.
So far all that has been said is that the Premillennial interpretation of the passage does not make sense in light of a few factors.
However, it is not enough to simply say “View A is wrong because of X, Y, and Z.”
That doesn’t actually prove anything.
We now need to look viability of an alternative interpretation.
First, Revelation 20:1-3:
1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Notice that Satan is bound for 1000 years. This is the millennium that is so often referred to. The question is whether this millennium occurs before or after the second advent of Christ. Premillennialists, as the name suggests, believe that Jesus comes back and then this period starts. You can almost here the argument. Jesus returned in Chapter 19 and then we hear about a millennium in Chapter 20. Furthermore, this millennium is supposed to be characterized by Satan being bound and cast into a pit and sealed over. This doesn’t sound like our current era where Satan is described as a prowling lion.
We have already addressed the problem of the Premillennial understanding of Revelation 20 following temporally after Revelation 19. We will not repeat that here. However, for our passage it is absolutely critical that we understand what it means for Satan to be bound. At this point, the claim by the Premillennialist seems strong. Satan is clearly supposed to be bound for the millennium. He doesn’t look bound to us. Therefore, the millennium is still future.
Notice what is true of Satan during this time, bound by chain and sealed in a pit.
First, let us address the claim that if Satan is truly bound, then we would not expect to see him working, prowling around as a lion seeking to destroy us.
There is a very interesting line in one of the least read books of the New Testament:
Jude 6: And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day
If you noticed that this sounds remarkably similar to being bound by chain and sealed under a pit/abyss, then you are not alone. The point of Jude 6 is not to explain exactly how God has dealt with the angels who have abandoned Him. However, I think that the point can clearly be made: If we are to be consistent, doesn’t this mean that we must believe that demons are totally incapable of doing in work in the current era since God has said that he keeps them in eternal chains under gloomy darkness? I have not been able to find many premillennialists who believe that this is the case. If demons can still be active in this world by chained and kept under gloomy darkness, what reason do we have to believe that Satan himself could not be active in the world while bound and sealed?
Well then, one might ask, what is John talking about here? If this binding of Satan and sealing in a pit doesn’t mean that he has become inactive, then what does it mean? I think John tells us exactly what is meant: “…so that he would not deceive the nations any longer.” The literal purpose given by John for this binding is that Satan would not deceive the nations any longer.
Is this what has happened? Consider the Abrahamic Covenant. God promised to bless Abraham and his descendants in order that they might bless all the nations. However, is this what happened? Not really. Except for an occasionally individual, perhaps a family, and sometimes a city, the nations (Gentiles) were largely unaware of God and were foreigners to His promise. The God of this world had blinded/deceived the nations. However, something radical happens with the first advent of Christ. Jesus comes and tells his disciples to go out into all the world and preach the Gospel because all authority on heaven and earth had been granted to him. In Acts 1:8 we learn from Jesus that the Apostles shall be His witness “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” This is exactly what begins to happen. In Acts 8 a God-fearing Ethiopean is saved. God sends Phillip to remove the veil from his eyes. In Chapter 10 Cornelius and his family is saved. Peter says, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” Later, “Peter [was] amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles.” Following Peter, we see Paul taking the Gospel to all of the known world and Gentile after Gentile being saved. Satan’s dominion of deception over the nations is no longer.
Furthermore, do we have reason to believe that Satan has already been bound?
26And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Interestingly enough, the word for “binds” here is the same word used in Revelation 20. Notice what is happening. The Pharisees are accusing Jesus of casting out the demon in the power of Satan. But Jesus says that if a house is divided against itself, then it will be laid to waste. Rather than doing so in the power of Satan, Jesus casts out the demon against the power of Satan. For this reason he asks, “How can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man.” Jesus, in this narrative, claims that the power to cast out the demons, which is representative of the advancement of the Kingdom of God, comes from his binding of the strong man, namely Satan.
So what does Revelation 20:1-3 teach? The passage teaches that Satan is completely under the control of the sovereign Lord who has all authority in Heaven and earth. He has been bound for the time being in order that the Gospel may spread to all nations.
This brings up one last point: What about the millennium. If I am claiming that Satan was bound with Jesus ushering in the Kingdom in His first advent, hasn’t more than 1000 years passed? It should be noted that we are dealing with Apocalyptic writing which quite frequently uses numbers symbolically. Furthermore, the number itself, 1000, is used symbolically many times in the Bible:
In Deuteronomy 7:9, the Lord is described as a ‘faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments’. In the summary of the law given in Exodus 20, a contrast is drawn between the Lord’s visiting of judgement upon the third and fourth generations of those who hate him, and his ‘showing lovingkindness to thousands’ who love him and keep his commandments (Exod. 20:5-6). Similarly, in the Psalms we read that the ‘cattle on a thousand hills’ belong to the Lord (Psa. 50:10-11). The Psalmist also speaks of how a ‘day in Thy courts is better than a thousand’ (Psa. 84:10). In the well-known words of Psalm 90, the believer confesses that ‘a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night’ (verse 4). Responding to the mockers who mocked the promise of the Lord’s coming, the Apostle Peter notes that ‘with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Pet. 3:8) ~ Venema
For this reason, I believe that it is certainly possible to view the millennium as representing a long period of time, namely the time between the first and second advent of Christ, in which the gospel may spread to all the nations. There seems to be no conclusive reason to hold to a hyper-literal position that this time frame must refer to exactly 1000 years. Requiring this type of literalism for “one thousand years” goes far beyond what the Scripture itself teaches.
In my next post we will examine Revelation 20:4-6.
In Christ alone,