Image above “Michael casts out rebel angels.” Illustration by Gustave Doré for John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Public domain.
There are four major dramatic acts in chapter 20:
1. The 1,000 Year Binding of Satan vs. 1-3
2. The 1,000 Year Reign of Christ & His Saints vs. 4-6
3. The Gog & Magog Rebellion vs. 7-10
4. The Great White Throne Judgment vs. 12-15
We will deal with the first section of the chapter in this post. How would the first century believers understand the binding of Satan? They would apply it to their daily lives in Asia Minor where Rome was present in statues and events overpowering all religion and culture. For anyone deviating from the accepted religion and culture, he would be confronted forcibly and it would impossible for him to find employment or to eke out a living. He would be shunned.
First century Christians could not say two words that would end their isolation—Kaesar Kurios—”Caesar is Lord.” They could affirm only Yēsous Κυrιοs—Jesus is Lord!
I Corinthians 12:3 tells us that under extreme persecution—”…no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
“No one, speaking by the Spirit of God, can revile Christ; so, on the other hand, no one can speak well of Christ, but by the Spirit of Christ. To say that Jesus is accursed is utter blasphemy against him. To say that Jesus is the Lord, is to speak of him in honorable terms and with reverence, and to extol his majesty. …Of this the Scripture, also, frequently reminds us, and the saints everywhere, acknowledge that unless the Lord open their mouths, they are not fit to be the heralds of his praise. Among others, Isaiah says — ‘I am a man of unclean lips’ (Isaiah 6:5).” (see Calvin, below.)
John’s churches would face severe persecution in the future. Only one had died so far Antipas (Rev. 12:13).
We should see in Revelation 20:1-3 this truth—
No matter what happens to believers on this earth, Satan is bound and is unable to do anything except Jesus Christ permit it.
How’s your vision?
Dwight Edwards writes, Paul’s “chains were not clamped on by an oppressive Roman government, but by the hand of a loving, faithful Father Who was working it all to Paul’s ultimate good and His glory. And so Paul was able to avoid bitterness toward the Roman authorities, for he did not see them as acting on their own. Paul had developed 50-20 vision which Joseph describes in Genesis.” (see Precept Austin, below.)
The circumstances may not change immediately, but a change in perspective—the Genesis 50:20 perspective—will help us stand firm for God in difficult times.
My vision was not so good. I have had recent cataract surgery and was awaiting my post-op glasses. Yesterday (5/20/2021), I finally got them! My wife said she had grown tired of my constantly saying, “I can’t see.”
In addition to all medicine can do to correct our faulty earthly vision, we also need a set of spiritual spectacles made according to the Genesis 50:20 prescription. We will face horrific persecution in the future if we remain true to Christ and bear witness to His Lordship in the power of the Spirit.
I. God is in full control over the spiritual realm. vs. 1
vs. 1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.
The angel descends from heaven to earth to bind Satan. He has what is described as the “key to the abyss.” The abyss in Scripture is the abode of demons—compare Rev. 9:1 ff and Luke 8:31. (Also see the blog posts on chapter 9.) He also has a great chain with him in John’s vision.
Note we are not envisioning real chains and cells for Satan and his fallen angels. If we do, we cannot conceive the binding of these evil powers.
One of the arguments used by the “non-supernaturalists theorists” is that a demon, who is a spirit, cannot be bound with a chain. However, compare this passage with the language of II Peter 2:4—”God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment,” (ESV) The Greek word for “hell” is tartarus a place of darkness where fallen angels are consigned. See the chart above where two different uses of chains are shown. The picture on the right is what Peter had in mind. To be held in chains is not chained to a wall, but it is chains that restrict movement such as in a prisoner is led from jail to the courtroom. He is shackled, not chained to a wall in his cell.
and Jude 6—”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.” [ESV]
Calvin says this of Jude 6—
They are not only free spirits but celestial powers; they are now held bound by perpetual chains. But we are not to imagine a certain place in which the devils are shut up, for the Apostle simply intended to teach us how miserable their condition is, since the time they apostatized and lost their dignity. For wherever they go, they drag with them their own chains, and remain involved in darkness. Their extreme punishment is in the meantime, deferred until the great day comes. (See Calvin on Jude, below.)
In both of these passages, spirits are “held in chains.” God who created these spirits is able to place them in chains. Of course, this does not have to be viewed as physical chains. John is using conventional language to describe a spiritual truth—Satan will be prevented from performing his will on earth for this 1,000 year period.
“Thin Places” where Heaven and Earth seem to draw closer
I have used this figure before, but I think it helps us realize that different unseen dimensions affect us on earth. I got the idea from the ancient Celtic teaching that “heaven and earth are three feet apart and in some places they are closer.” They called the closer places “thin places.” I have been in “thin places” where it seemed time stood still and heaven’s presence impinged on the earthly realm. I wished the heavenly “thin place” would have stayed longer. They are there for us when we need them.
Picture left from Pinterest.
“Thin places” where hell and earth seem to draw closer
Not only is heaven close to earth, so also is hell. I also have been in “thin places” where it seemed hell drew near and impinged on the earthly realm. From the “thin place of evil” I ran from as fast as I could. If I fell, I got myself back up and prayed to God to give me strength to get out. Pictured right is Vasily Ivanovich Surikov – Temptation of Christ. 1872. Public domain.
The figure below illustrates the different dimensions that are in the same area, but cannot be seen by us. I have used it before. Colossians 2:1-4 sums this up well—
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
II. Satan can do nothing without God’s permission. vs. 2
vs. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,
The verbs in this verse are past (aorist) tenses. This is the normal tense for the Greeks. This time frame—1,000 years—is mentioned five times in this chapter. In Greek 1,000 is chilioi. Persons who hold to a physical reign of Christ and His people on the earth for 1,000 years are often referred to as “Chiliasts.” The binding lasts for a duration of 1,000 years, which is the longest time frame in the Revelation. Like the other numbers, 1,000 is symbolic—referring to that period of time beginning with Christ’s Resurrection and ending with the Second Coming of Christ. (see
Two early church fathers take a symbolic view of the Millennial passage: (1) Eusebius, The History of the Church, Book 3:39:11-13; and St. Augustine of Hippo in The City of God, Chapter 22.
III. Jesus Christ doesn’t allow Satan to overpower His church. vs. 3
vs. 3 and 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.
The abyss is locked and sealed until the 1,000 is completed. This is important to the overall interpretation of the chapter. This is a reference to Satan’s curtailment of his activities on the earth. Note that Satan is no longer able to deceive the nations. Matt. 12:28-29 alludes to a binding of Satan in the life and ministry of our Lord—”28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or 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.”
However, Rev. 20 states specifically what restrictions of Satan’s activities are included. After the 1,000 years, Satan’s restrictions will be removed. He will lead the nations in rebellion against Christ. It is referred to as the Gog and Magog rebellion. The restrained demons controlling nations under Satan’s plans, will be ripe for rebellion at the end of the 1,000 years. Note earlier we saw the destruction of Babylon, the Beast from the Sea, and the Beast from the land. Now we cover the same last battle which records the destruction of Satan, the Dragon.
Next time we move to the 2nd section.
(Commentaries on which I rely sometimes without direct quotation)
Augustine of Hippo. (ca. AD 426). The City of God. Book XX. Chapters 7-9. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120120.htm
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Calvin, J. (2021). Commentary on I Corinthians; accessed 17 May 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/1_corinthians/12.htm
Calvin, J. (2021). Commentary on Jude; accessed 17 May 2021 from https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/jude/1.htm
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Keener, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Poythress, V. S. (2000). The Coming King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation. Phillsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Precept Austin. (2019). Accessed 17 May 2019 from https://www.preceptaustin.org/2_timothy_18-14
Victorinus of Pettau. (ca. A.D. 270). Commentary on the Apocalypse. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0712.htm
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