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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