The Binding of Satan
All genuine Bible scholars will agree that the millennium begins with the binding of Satan and concludes with his release. This is clearly taught in the only Biblical passage in which the "thousand years" mentioned can be understood as a basis for the millennium — Revelation 20:1-6. (You will notice that in each of the five verses beginning with verse two we find the thousand years mentioned.) In verses two and three it is clearly shown that the millennium lasts from the binding of Satan until the loosing of Satan.
The first item on the agenda of the millennium is, therefore, the binding of Satan. In his vision, John saw an angel coming down out of heaven. This angel came with a key and a chain and he laid hold on Satan "and bound him for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:1, 2).
Amillennialism, differing from the other views of Christ's return, sees this event as the first item on the agenda of this present age.
Although we ought always to be able to show from God's Word why we believe what we do, it is more necessary for us to do this about the second coming of Christ today because of all the dispensational literature and broadcasting which bombards us. It comes to us claiming to be the truth — the only way we can read the Scriptures.
In that light the question comes to us: What is meant by "the binding of Satan?" First, we must clearly understand how this "binding" took place. A careful reading of the New Testament will supply the information we need.
Writing about Christ's death on the cross, Paul states that through that death Christ "despoiled the principalities and powers, (and that) he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:15). Notice that Scripture says Christ "despoiled the principalities and powers ... triumphing over them." Speaking of His own work, Jesus said,
But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then has the kingdom of God come upon you. Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house.Matthew 12:28, 29
The word "bind" in this passage is the same one we find in Revelation 20:2. In His last public discourse Jesus said, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31, cf. 12:20-32). Again, the word "cast" is the same one which we find in Revelation 20:3. In 1 John 3:8, we read, "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Similarly, we read in Hebrews 2:14, 15, that Christ came "that through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." Here Christ's death is seen as the instrument through which an end is put to the devil's power over death. Luke 10:17, 18 reminds us that Satan's kingdom has been given a decisive blow through the works of the disciples as they went out with the message that "The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you."
What we learn from all of this is that through all of the work of Jesus Christ, in fact, through His victory over death and His resurrection, the "strong man" — the devil, is bound. How full of meaning are those words of Jesus from the cross, "It is finished!"
Second, let us return to Revelation 20 because there we find clearly stated the reason for this binding. Verse three tells us: "that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished."
In the Old Testament the church was found in Israel. During the dark centuries of the Old Testament era Satan, being true to the many names given him (cf. Revelation 20:2) repeatedly deceived the powerful nations so that they fell upon Israel, upon the church. Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome all had their turn. But now with Christ's work finished the church is to be found in every tongue and tribe and nation. The church is not restricted to one nation.
Because of Christ's work Satan is bound so that the message of the Gospel can go unhindered wherever God will have it go. This is emphasized in the passages already mentioned, Luke 10:17, 18 and John 12:20-32. Both passages emphasize that Satan's binding is related to the spreading of the Gospel. Dr. William Hendriksen wrote:
the devil is bound in this one respect, that he is unable to prevent the extension of the church among the nations of the world by means of an active missionary program, and that he cannot cause the nations — the world in general — to destroy the church as a mighty missionary institution.The Bible On the Life Hereafter, p. 152
Satan can engineer a lot of things, as we will soon see, but he cannot hold back the missionary work of the church.
What a comfort this is for the church during this present age which we call the millennium. In response to Jesus' command to go into all the world with the Gospel, the church can go forth!
Third, it is important to understand the exact nature of this binding. Perhaps it would help to see how this same word bind is used elsewhere in the New Testament. We read, "Art thou bound unto a wife?" in 1 Corinthians 7:27. In Romans 7:2 we read, "For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth." In each of these verses the word bind is being used in relation to marriage. Indeed, marriage is a binding of two as one. However, everyone knows that in marriage there is still a certain freedom. No husband or wife is free to have affairs on the side. They are bound to each other. However, they are free to develop their distinct abilities and interests. They work independently of each other. They are bound, yet free. To the Ephesian elders Paul spoke of himself as being "bound in the Spirit" (Acts 20:22). He is restricted in that he must go to Jerusalem, but he is not immobilized.
In a similar way Satan is bound. A divine restriction has been placed on him. However, he is still free to tempt and ruin lives. He is called "the prince of the power of the air ... that now worketh in the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). Therefore, we are warned: "Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (Peter 5:8).
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual of wickedness in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:11, 12
Satan is "bound," yet still free to tempt and ruin lives!
Finally, we also must see how long this "binding" will last. For some, of course, the millennium will last for a period of a literal one thousand years. The understanding of this "thousand," however, is to be found in the symbolism of numbers as they are used in the Book of the Revelation.
The number 10 is the number which is generally understood to speak of the completeness of God's will and decree. There were, for instance, ten plagues in Egypt. They constituted the completeness of God's wrath. There are ten commandments. These comprise Jehovah's perfect, complete law. Here in Revelation 20 we have the number 1000 which is 103, or 10 x 10 x 10. This means that 1000 refers to the completeness of God's will and decree. In other words, the one thousand years of the millennium during which Satan is bound refer to the period of time during which God is working out His sovereign will concerning history.
How long will this millennium last? How long will Satan remain bound? Until all that God has willed comes to pass. Until every last one of God's elect hears the Gospel and by grace believes. Until it is time for iniquity to ripen and be judged forever.
When we look in God's Word for information about this present age — the Millennium, we see that God shows us what it is like in heaven, as well as on earth.
The Heavenly Scene
After telling us that he saw an angel coming out of heaven to bind Satan (Revelation 20:1-3), John's vision switches scenes to heaven (Revelation 20:4-6) and gives us a glimpse of the heavenly glory. We see in this vision another result of Christ's victory over sin, death and the grave.
Why do we say that Revelation 20:4-6 pictures the heavenly aspect of the Millennium? For at least two reasons. First, John saw "thrones." The place for thrones (symbols of authority, power and rule) in the Book of Revelation is normally heaven. Out of the forty-seven times the word throne is used in the last book of the Bible, only three are not in heaven. Second, John sees "souls." These cannot be understood as resurrected saints, as some want to. Rather, they are to be understood as deceased saints in the intermediate state. Now, the word soul is used in Scripture for living people, just as we use the word today, but whenever it is so used it is always accompanied by a modifier such as a numerical adjective or every (cf. Genesis 46:18, Acts 7:14). Besides, some of these souls are beheaded (v. 4).
According to this passage there are two kinds of believers experiencing this heavenly side of the Millennium. There are those "that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus," i.e., they are the martyred saints who were faithful in the face of persecution and who died for their faith. Also in heaven are those who are designated by the words: "and such as (or, whoever) worshipped not the beast..." These words refer to all other Christians who have departed this life, believers who are "asleep in Jesus."
"The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished" (v. 5a). These words are parenthetical. They simply point out that those who die outside of Jesus, those who die in their sins, do not know this joy of the heavenly aspect of the Millennium.
They are excluded from the fellowship with and the participation in the reign and judgment of Christ.L. Selles, The Book of Revelation, II, p. 72
They do not experience what verse 4 tells us the believers do.
It may be objected that the word until indicates that when the thousand years are finished the "rest of the dead" will live again. Thus, the pre-mils and dispensationalists teach a second (or third, or fourth) resurrection — one that comes at the end of the Millennium. They finish this Scriptural statement with something like: "but after the thousand years the rest of the dead shall live, too." However, this is incorrect for three reasons.
- We may not add to Scripture what we wish it to imply. Rather, we must study what it actually states.
- This suggested implication says even more than the pre-mils and dispensationalists wish to say. They would never wish to teach that the wicked participate in a resurrection unto life. And yet the use of the word life in verses 4 and 5 is parallel in meaning. Instead, when the wicked are raised it is only so that they will be cast into eternal fire because theirs is eternal death, not life.
- The word is very important. It is not to be understood as referring to a temporary wait. That is as implying that after the Millennium they will live again (in spite of the fact that the text is tortured into saying this in The Living Bible and the NIV). It is true that the word until can mean a change comes after the activity in question has come to an end. For instance, "It is night until day breaks." Everyone knows and understands that when day comes night is no more with us. However, we read another use of until in 1 Corinthians 15:25, "For he must reign, till (or, until) he hath put all his enemies under his feet." Certainly this does not mean that Christ's reign ceases when all enemies are under his feet. Rather, in this case, the word until means that this is the purpose of this reigning. In Revelation 20:5a the until does not mean that the rest of the dead will live again because of another resurrection. The word until could be replaced with while. This only points out that the purpose of this living not is that they do not and would not know eternal life, in direct contrast to the believer (v. 4).
After this parenthesis, we are told that those of whom we have read in verse 4 are "the first resurrection." Over them "the second death hath no power" (v. 6).
"The First Resurrection"
There are two ways in which amillennialists understand the first resurrection; both are related and ought to be seen together. Some see this first resurrection as the experience of those who have died and are now "resurrected" with the Lord in glory because of what Christ did for them. Others understand this first resurrection as being "born again" (John 5:25; Romans 6:4; Colossians 3:3). Actually, being with the Lord after death (the first explanation) is not possible without knowing new life in Christ (the second explanation). Thus, both explanations together apply to this first resurrection.
Over these the second death has no power. The first death is what we know as physical death. The second is the eternal experience of body and soul in hell.
What are the departed saints doing now? They are "priests of God and of Christ" (v. 6b). They reign with Christ. They do this in fellowship with Him.
What a comfort for the church in John's day! What a comfort for the church today!
The Earthly Scene
Scripture says much more about the earthly aspect of the Millennium. In fact, many details are given to us. For an outline of these details we must turn to Matthew 24:4-14.
Perhaps a word about Matthew 24 and 25 is in order. The disciples were with Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Earlier, as they left the Temple they reacted to what Jesus had just said, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (23:38). Showing Him the buildings of the temple, they heard Jesus respond that one day it would be thrown down. After they arrived on the Mount of Olives they asked Jesus when this would happen and what would be the signs of His coming and the end of the world.
Though, indeed, the disciples confused two separate events, there was a similarity between them. The destruction of Jerusalem was a foreshadowing of the end of the world.
"Signs of the Times"
As Jesus answered, He laid out for them a mini-apocalypse, as it were. He, first of all, outlined the events in history that say that Jesus is coming. However, they were not signs of His immediate appearance (24:4-14). Next, Jesus revealed the great Tribulation which says Christ's return is very near (24:15-28). Third, the appearance of the Son of Man was pictured (24:29-31). After this, there was an interlude of application (24:32-25:30). During this interlude Jesus spoke of the necessity of being prepared. By means of parables Jesus clearly stated that readiness means faithfulness to God. Then Jesus returned to the order of events and portrayed His glorious coming in Judgment (25:31-45).
It is with the first part of Jesus' answer that we now are concerned. The other portions we will consider at the appropriate time.
In verses 4-14, Jesus laid out for us what are commonly called the "signs of the times." These were but "the beginning of travail" (v.8). Therefore, we must never view any of the signs which Jesus listed as infallible evidence that His return is immediate. These are but evidences that He will come again. When a teacher leaves the room for business in the office the students are left on their honor. They are to work silently and diligently. However, this freedom is sometimes too much for the students. They become noisy. Therefore, it becomes necessary to have an eagle-ear listening for teacher's return. Suddenly a distant door closes and ringing in the hall is the sound of footsteps. "Sh! Here she comes!" The class returns to diligent work. She has not yet arrived, but the footsteps are signs of her coming. The signs of which Jesus speaks are the "footsteps of His coming."
All through the Millennium they are present. The "footsteps" say that Jesus is coming!
One of the signs which tell us that Jesus is certainly coming is the presence of false Christs (vv 4, 5). They were present in the New Testament era and they are present today. Father Divine and the more recent Jim Jones and Sun Myung Moon are no different from the false teachers of the New Testament era or the antichrists of 1 John. Some claim to be Christ or God; all carry the Bible and at the same time corrupt the Scriptures.
Wars and rumors of wars (vv. 6, 7) have been with us from the beginning because of sin. Some well-meaning, but misled Christians tried to tell us that World War II was certainly a sign that Christ's coming was near. It was a dreadful war and it told us that Christ is coming. However, almost forty years have passed and other terrible wars have come and gone. And "the end is not yet" (v. 6).
Famines and earthquakes are each in their own way horrible experiences. Yet they, also, are only the beginning of birth pangs. They are not signs of Jesus' immediate appearance (vv 7, 8). In his commentary on this passage, Dr. Hendriksen wrote,
These disturbances in the physical realm are indeed foreshadowings and portrayals of that which, on a much more extensive and intensive scale, will take place in the realm of nature at the end of the age; but except in that very general sense they cannot be correctly termed signs.(p. 852f)
All that we need to do is glance at the daily newspaper to see that famines and earthquakes are not uncommon. If it is objected that there seem to be more quakes today than in yesteryear, a study of history will tell two things. First, there were many quakes — some terribly devastating — recorded on the pages of history. Second, areas now well populated and troubled by quakes were once unpopulated. No one knows how often the earth shook before people were on the scene.
Jesus continued to list false signs of His immanent coming — signs which say no more than that He is on His way. He mentioned persecution (v. 9). Many believers through the centuries could testify to the intense hatred that the world had for the Truth. Never would it snuff out the church. Satan is bound. However, God's saints must, from time to time, experience the oppressions of unbelief. Nazism, Communism, nationalism, secularism, as well as the false religions of the world have brought and continue to bring pressure on believers — even in "free" lands.
A "falling away from the Truth" (vv. 10, 11) is also seen in this present age. The religious liberalism of today and the destructive criticism of Scripture is terrifying. We shudder as we see churches that once were Bible-believing now crumble and decay. We are deeply disturbed as we see men rethinking their Christian faith to the point where they adopt new views which are contrary to Scripture. Sometimes those movements and those attitudes are said to be the evidence of Christ's imminent return. But a study of history soon reveals that falling away or apostasy has existed as long as the Christian Faith has been with us.
The result of this apostatizing is that there is a waning of discernment and love for the Truth (v. 12). Even though we are plagued with this today, again, it has ever been with the church. The epistles to the seven churches (Revelation 1-3) and references in the epistles of Paul all speak clearly about this "waxing cold" as already appearing.
Preaching the Gospel to the Whole World
There is one sign, however, which says that it is time for the end. "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come" (v. 14). Hendriksen call this "The First Preliminary Sign" in his The Bible on the Life Hereafter (p. 116).
How is Jesus' statement to be understood? His words certainly cannot be construed as meaning that there will be a world-wide turning to Christ. Scripture rather clearly indicates the opposite. Nor is He saying that every living individual will have the opportunity to hear and believe before He comes again. Rather, Dr. Hoekema explains Christ's meaning as:
that the gospel will become so much a part of every nation that it cannot be ignored. The gospel should arouse faith, but if it is rejected, it will testify against those who reject it. The preaching of the gospel to every nation, therefore, will underscore the responsibility of every nation with respect to that gospel. The Bible and the Future, p. 138
The church must be diligently engaged in the fulfillment of the Great Commission during this present age. The gospel will go as a testimony of God's mercy and grace in Christ Jesus and of God's wrath against sin. When, at last, the gospel will have gone into all the world, it will be the time for the end.
This work has not yet been accomplished. Many strides have been made — much darkness has been penetrated. However, there is still much darkness to break through. There are peoples who do not as yet have the Bible. There are unevangelized tribes. The Word must go forth! Then, when God shall have decreed that this sign has been fulfilled, the end will come.
Amillennialism believes in a progressive development of evil and good during the Millennium. While the gospel is going forth, nations are being confronted by it and believers are learning to act as citizens of God's Kingdom in this present age, there is also a development of wickedness on every hand. Of this Jesus spoke in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30). Secularism, humanism and hedonism are all growing. The conditions described in 2 Timothy 3:-1-5 seems to be coming closer to our lives. The Millennium is not one in which evil's advances have been checked; nor is it one in which God's Kingdom is not seen. Believing that to God belongs the Kingdom, the power and the glory, we pray "Thy kingdom come."
One day, in God's time, He will answer the prayer of the church, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."