Binding Satan

It is not uncommon today to hear professing Christians speak about “binding Satan” or demons in general. This typically refers to having a spiritual authority to confront and hinder the evil activity of the Devil and his angels. Some believe this is possible in any circumstance simply by commanding it “in Jesus’ name,” assuming you have strong faith. God certainly has authority to incarcerate any of His creatures for His sovereign purposes. But is this really a power granted to all the saints to use at will, or does God alone determine the limits of His arch enemy’s activity?

The Lord Jesus Christ certainly cast out demons among other miracles (e.g. Matt. 8:28-32; Mk. 1:32-34; Lk. 9:37-42). During His earthly ministry, He likewise delegated this authority to His apostles (e.g. Matt. 10:1; Mk. 6:13) and some other early disciples (Mk. 9:38ff). These supernatural acts demonstrated His sovereignty and that of His kingdom over the physical and spiritual realms (i.e. over all creation). The chief end was to authenticate Him as the Son of God with the message of God. In fact, all miracles recorded in the Bible were to authenticate the divine message of the one performing the miracle. The Lord Jesus unquestionably had heavenly authority, and He transferred that authority to the church in Scripture to represent His kingdom until He comes again.

But miracles in the early church ceased when the apostles passed off the earthly scene. They clearly decreased as the early church transitioned from the apostles themselves to their doctrine recorded in Scripture (Acts 2:42; 28:30). The apostle’s teaching is that of Christ, and His teaching is that of the heavenly Father (Jn. 12:50). The ministry of the church, therefore, is not healing disease and confronting demons but representing Christ and His kingdom with His Word. That is His command (Matt. 28:18-20).

And the Word of God teaches us clearly that Satan, like all demonic angels, has a limited sphere of operation. As was discussed in our study of the ninth chapter of Revelation, the Devil can only act upon his evil intentions as it fits into the Almighty’s eternal plan for His creation. This book plainly teaches us that God will lift His restraints on rebellious men and angels during the seven-year Tribulation at the end of this age. In so doing, the treachery of the satanic rebellion will be fully exposed, and God’s wrath toward sin will be fully expressed in a historical setting (Rev. 6-18).

This sets the stage for Christ’s return to earth in great power and glory (Rev. 19). When He comes again, He will destroy His enemies, establish His righteous throne, and reign unchallenged for one thousand years. Then God will eradicate sin, destroy this universe, and create a new heavens and a new earth in which only righteousness exists (Rev. 21-22; cf. 2 Pet. 3:13).

In our study, we now find ourselves between Christ’s appearing and the new creation. Revelation 20 gives us a chronological synopsis of the thousand year reign of our Lord and the subsequent final judgment of all rebels. But the first three verses explain that our Sovereign will immediately have Satan restrained. We are informed of the power delegated to bind him, the period for which he is to be bound, and the purpose of his binding.

Binding Satan (20:1-3)
The Power (v. 1)
The authority (i.e. the power) to control Satan’s activity belongs to God alone, and He can delegate that authority as He chooses. As Jesus temporarily delegated authority to the apostles to cast out demons, so God here commands “an angel” to retrain demonic activity. This is clear in that the angel is “coming down from heaven,” and he is equipped with “the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” This language describes a deputy with jurisdiction to arrest and imprison a criminal. The “key” signifies permission (cf. 9:1).

A demonic horde will be unleashed on the earth at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. As indicated in our study of chapter 9, this may include the most wicked fallen angels bound in the abyss (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Satan will be cast out of heaven and given permission to release many of these bound demons. This holy angel has permission to once more imprison them all. For more on “the bottomless pit” see our study of chapter 9.

The Period (v. 2)
The period of this incarceration will be for the duration of the “thousand years” of Christ’s reign in this present universe. He rules humanity with absolute authority during this time (Rev. 19:15), and He will not permit rebellious angels to incite an insurrection among humans as they do presently. The destructive, evil influence of demonic angels on the fallen human nature (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:4) — which reaches its peak in the Great Tribulation — will no longer be permitted. As 20:7-10 explains, a final expression of treason will be permitted but quickly crushed immediately before the Great White Throne judgment (20:11-15). At that point, all rebels will be sentenced and cast into the eternal lake of fire — forever banished from the kingdom of heaven.

Here, “the dragon,” introduced in 12:1, is identified again as “Satan.” He is, as the name implies, the “adversary” of God, Christ, and His people. His destructive power and prominence is once more being emphasized. As the instigator of all rebellion against God (cf. Rev. 12-13), he is the most powerful rebellious creature. However, his power is absolutely no match for the Lord God Almighty. His foolish attempt to exist outside of the Creator’s authority was doomed even before iniquity was found in his heart (Is. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-15; cf. Gen. 3:4-5).

Satan is also identified as “the serpent of old” because he lured mankind into the rebellion by possessing a snake in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1ff). He is also called the “Devil,” since he is the “accuser” of God’s people (Rev. 12:10) — always falsely “slandering” the saints. He attempts to prosecute their sin in God’s courtroom (cf. Job 1-2), while God emphasizes His ability to justify the saints by His grace through faith in Christ who is their Advocate (1 Jn. 2:1; cf. Rom. 8:34; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 7:25; 9:24). The Devil’s accusations will end when he is cast out of heaven midway through the Tribulation.

Satan’s binding highlights Christ’s sovereignty over all His enemies. When He reigns in the Kingdom, absolutely no rebellious activity will be permitted. Although rebellion is in the hearts of unredeemed humans born during that time, they will not be enticed by demons nor permitted to act upon that evil.

The Purpose (v. 3)
Satan is “cast” by the angel “into the bottomless pit,” where he is “shut…up.” He and his demons are thrown into the prison of the abyss, and the door is again locked (9:1-2). The phrase, “set a seal on him,” could mean they are marked for destruction, which they are. However, it could refer to being kept in silence as not to have influence. Like the contents of a letter sealed in an envelope, or that of a scroll rolled up and sealed (cf. Rev. 5:1), so the Devil and his angels will be completely restrained until God finally releases them for judgment.

The imprisonment of the Adversary and his minions will be “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years [are] finished.” Again, mankind will have no external temptation during Christ’s millennial reign. The Devil will not be permitted to use “the lie” to incite rebellion (cf. Rom. 1:25; 2 Thess. 2:9-12). The Lord will break the seal, as it were, and open the prison “after these things.” Why? The end of verse three notes that Satan and the demons “must be released for a little while.” This brief period, as noted earlier, is described later in verses 7-10. In preparation for the Great White Throne judgment, the Lord will permit one final expression of treason before He forever crushes all rebellion. It will serve to emphasize, once more, that Almighty God’s judgment is just.

So it is God alone who has authority to bind or loose Satan and other demons for His sovereign purpose. No human being, not even the most devout among the saints, has any business confronting these supernatural, wicked beings. They exist in another realm, and our concern is not with them personally. The holy angels of God frequently engage in very real warfare against demons on a supernatural plane (e.g. Dan. 10:13; Jude 9). But we cannot and must not presume that we are remotely capable of engaging the enemy on that level without potentially dangerous consequences (e.g. Acts 19:14-16). Again, the exception is Christ and those early apostles and disciples for the purpose of authenticating God’s Word.

While we do wrestle against the temptations brought by demonic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12-13), we do so by casting down every high-minded argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:3-5). We are aware of the vicious schemings of Satan and demons in general (2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Pet. 5:8), but we are never commanded to confront and issue commands for them to be bound. To do so reflects a profound ignorance of Scripture and is arrogant, since it presumes that we have such power. We do not have such delegated authority, but we do have the Word of God and prayer for our part in the spiritual battle (cf. Eph. 6:14-18; Matt. 6:13; Jude 9)!

That correlated doctrine is perhaps not what you might expect when studying this passage. But the passage does highlight God’s authority over Satan, and we must humbly look to God to deal with the enemy. This we know: God binds and loosens the Devil and his angels in His perfect time and for His eternal purposes. We can rest assured that our enemy’s ultimate end is eternal hell, and our future as saints of God is the joy of eternal life in heaven’s kingdom free of sin or its consequences!

Do you yield to God’s sovereign authority and His clear instruction through our Lord Jesus Christ regarding His kingdom? Do you trust Him to lead you away from overwhelming temptation and to deliver you from the evil one? Do you rest in the promise that He will ultimately punish all rebellion and establish His kingdom of righteousness?

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© Copyright 1997-2016 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

Serving God:
Christian Character (Part IV)

How should Christians respond to their enemies? Since we are Christ’s representatives to a rebellious world, there will definitely be opposition. Most unbelievers do not seek to do us harm, but there are some who will take an open, determined stand against us collectively and even personally. We must be careful to engage them in a way that honors the Lord.

Our service to God requires that we express the character of our Lord Jesus Christ as we minister. While we are weak in the flesh, we are nonetheless to strive for this goal. Paul elaborates in 12:9-21 by describing four areas of Christian responsibility as we serve God in this world.

Our personal responsibility is to love others according to God’s will. This means that we hate sin and hold fast to what is righteous (v. 9). We are therefore responsible to love other believers with brotherly affection, to be diligent to minister to them, to endure persecution together, and to be involved in their lives (vv. 10-13). This builds up the Church to fulfill its mission as heaven’s present embassy on earth.

That is why our responsibilities extend beyond the Church. As explained in verses 14-16, we are to be friendly, understanding, impartial and humble toward all unbelievers. We want to spread the Gospel, and the Lord’s message needs to be supported by our godly response to the world.

However, in 12:17-21, Paul turns to the issue of those who are openly opposed to God’s will and to believers who represent it. These are enemies of Christ and His Church, who express their hatred in various ways. What are our responsibilities to them? The apostle teaches us to behave properly, seek peace, avoid vengeance, and overcome evil.

Serving God: Christian Character – Part IV (12:17-21)
Responsibilities to Enemies (vv. 17-21)
Behave Properly (v. 17)
Reacting to harsh treatment by others takes determination, foresight and lots of prayer. Jesus taught His disciples to watch and pray in order to avoid temptation (Matt. 26:41). Realistically, it is very difficult not to respond to hateful, hurtful speech and actions in like manner. In our flesh we are weak, and we are easily tempted to defend ourselves.

However, uncontrolled anger rapidly leads to ungodly behavior, and that never honors God. In the Book of James we read: “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20). Anger is, in and of itself, not a sinful emotion. In fact, to be indignant over sin reflects godly character (Ps. 7:11; Matt. 16:23; Mk. 3:5; 10:14; Jn. 2:14-17). But it can quickly get out of hand for even a devout believer (e.g. Acts 23:1-5).

The devil is always eager to exploit believers for his evil purpose (Job 1:6-11). We must be aware of his strategy and ever on guard against his attacks (2 Cor. 2:11; Eph. 6:10-18). Jesus told Peter that Satan wants to sift believers like wheat, and God allows such times of testing to refine us (Lk. 22:31-32; cf. Job 1:12; 2:6; Jas. 1:12-15). Like Peter, we can fail miserably in the face of temptation (Mk. 14:66-72). But confession, repentance, and understanding the Lord’s will restores us to fellowship and motivates us to more faithful service (Jn. 21:15-22; 1 Jn. 1:9; 1 Pet. 5:6-11).

With that background, we can better grasp what Paul means in verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (cf. 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:8-9). In other words, we should never respond to an unbeliever’s attacks with sinful behavior. On the contrary, we must strive to conduct ourselves in a wise, godly manner — in a way that even our enemies would recognize as good.

The Christian responsibility to an enemy is never retaliation, although that is our fleshly inclination. The Old Testament teaches “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24; Deut. 19:23-25), but that only applies to civil retribution. It ensured that the punishment for a crime was commensurate with the wrongdoing. Never was it intended to sanction personal retaliation.

Jesus teaches us that our goal is not to demand our rights when treated unfairly (Matt. 5:38-42). There is no justification for revenge. Of course, this does not mean that we cannot flee persecution if possible (Matt. 10:23). Neither does it mean that we cannot defend ourselves or others if attacked in a criminal way (Lk. 22:36). But we must not be aggressors (1 Tim. 3:3; Gal. 5:20).

We are simply not to respond to evil actions with more of the same. Such behavior will not properly reflect the character of Christ or His kingdom. The only thing that will honor God and accomplish His righteousness is to behave righteously. Anything less is failure.

Seek Peace (v. 18)
That is why we must seek peace even with those who are not in any way peaceful toward us either in their attitudes or actions. Paul says it this way in verse 18: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Our goal must always be peace with others, even going the extra mile to achieve it.

The apostle even instructed Timothy to teach believers to pray for all men, including unbelievers, from the greatest to the least. He explains that the intended purpose is “…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

In short, peaceful relations with unbelievers facilitates evangelism. It is very difficult to evangelize an unbeliever if we are at odds with them. The kingdom of God is best represented in a civil environment.

However, as Paul notes here, sometimes peace is just not “possible.” The attitudes and actions of others play an equal role in achieving and maintaining peace. While we may do everything in our power, the other party may not reciprocate. In that case, there is nothing more we can do, except to always be willing to communicate and reconcile should they have a change of heart. The move toward peace which “depends on you” is that for which you must give an account to God.

Avoid Vengeance (vv. 19-20)
To follow through with what he has already taught, Paul now says that we must avoid vengeance. As noted earlier, there is never any acceptable situation to seek personal revenge. If we are wronged, no matter how serious the offense, we do not have the authority or the right to punish the offender ourselves.

It is difficult for us to wait on God to punish evil doers, but He will in His own time. And His judgment –whether temporal in this world or eternally in hell — is just and thorough. God is the great equalizer, and we must leave it Him to right all wrongs.

Therefore Paul says to believers, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath” (v. 19a). He means that, although we are right to be angry with the sin behind the wrongs done to us, it would be sin to let our anger lead us to personal revenge. Instead, we are to leave room (“give place”) for God’s wrath.

Quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35, Paul prompts us to recall God’s clear will in this matter: “…for it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (v. 19b; cf. Heb. 10:30). King David wrote: “It is God who avenges me…He delivers me from my enemies” (2 Sam. 22:48, 49). In Nahum 1:2-3 we read: “God is jealous and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked.” There is little doubt that God is the just Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25-19:29; Rom. 1:18-2:16).

So we must avoid taking vengeance on our enemies and leave it to God. In place of vengeance, we are to show them love. Our Lord Jesus explains this in Matthew 5:43-48. There he tells us that we must love those who do not love us. For to love only those who show us love is something even ungodly people do. But to love our enemies is to be like our Father in heaven. He shows common grace to all in this world even though all deserve immediate judgment. He defers His wrath for the end.

As children of God, we are to seek the common good of all people. As Jesus said, this applies especially to those who hate us, curse us, treat us spitefully and persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Why? Because that is the truest test of trusting God to avenge us, and in this way He is most glorified. That is a tall order, but it is our responsibility. It does not mean that we compromise God’s will or condone sin, but it does require that we not refuse to show them kindness.

Paul again quotes the Old Testament (Prov. 25:21-22) to support his point:

If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals
of fire on his head.

While we may not be able to live at peace with some people, the love of God compels us to be ready and willing to meet their basic needs if such a need arises (Lk. 10:29-37). To refuse that would be nothing less than hatred. The above proverb emphasizes that showing love to those who do us evil will starkly contrast their hatred with God’s love. This will, in turn, bring them shame and guilt (an ancient custom was to place burning coals in a pan on one’s head to demonstrate remorse). It does not mean they will necessarily stop persecuting you, but it always glorifies God by exalting His righteousness.

Overcome Evil (v. 21)
This leads us to the final verse of chapter 12. Paul concludes that our ultimate response to our enemies is to “overcome evil with good.” However, he first says, “Do not be overcome with evil.” This has a dual meaning. On the one hand, we must not permit our enemy’s evil to overwhelm us and cripple our service to God. On the other hand, we must not let the weakness of our flesh lead us to sin and make us ineffective. The former obviously gives rise to the latter as we have noted.

This goes back to what the apostle has already established: We must behave properly and seek peace while avoiding vengeance. The reality is that for us to respond with evil is far more damaging to us personally and to our ministry than any evil our enemy can do to us. God is able to take care of our enemies and still use us to minister for His glory.

Overcoming evil with good thus requires that we not be overcome with evil. So, in order to be a living sacrifice to God, we can do nothing less than control our fleshly responses (12:1-2). Persecution at the hands of our enemies perhaps poses the greatest challenge. If we are going to successfully display Christian character as we serve the Lord, we will have to guard our responses to our enemies.

A Christian’s responsibilities to an enemy are to behave properly, seek peace, avoid vengeance and overcome evil with good. This is how we serve God as we interact with unbelievers — even those who openly hate us.

There will always be situations where serving God means being on the receiving end of someone’s hateful attitudes and actions. Whether it comes from erring Christians, false believers or openly ungodly people, how have you responded? What have you learned about your weaknesses and how to better guard against them? How quick are you to confess your failures, learn from them, and more effectively serve the Lord?

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© Copyright 1997-2013 Stanly Community Church. All rights reserved.