The Amillennial View of the Binding of Satan
By Rev. Carl A. P. Durham
We turn in this address to Revelation 20:1-6, particularly focusing on the "binding of Satan" for a thousand year period. First, two points of explanation for this lecture's title:
1. I do not claim by this title that only amillennialists view the Devil as bound - obviously, the incarnational and soteriologicial work of Christ by which He destroyed the work of the devil and bound him should be the object of rejoicing for any serious, Bible-believing Christian. Rather, the word amillennial here is simply meant to highlight the symbolic interpretation which I give to Revelation 20 as a whole and the binding of Satan in particular. As an amillennialist, I view Revelation 20's reference to a thousand year millennium as a symbolic number, rather than a literal thousand year period, (Hence, 'a'-millennialist, meaning "no millennium"), and the binding of Satan for those thousand years as a symbolic reference as well.
2. However, such a symbolic interpretation of the thousand years in Rev. 20 does NOT mean that I view Revelation 20 as empty of significance or that I deny the reality which the thousand years is meant to signify. The thousand years is a symbol of something; something which I believe to be of utmost important for all Christians, namely, the present reign of King Jesus over all His enemies. Perhaps then a better word than 'amillennialism' (which by the privative 'a' may imply to some that we don't believe anything about the millennium) would be what Jay Adams has called "realized millennialism", i.e., the view that we are in the millennium of Revelation 20 now and there is not a literal millennium to come before the Last Judgment - precisely because no such literal millennium is needed: Christ is already reigning with His saints on earth as well as heaven and Satan is already bound!
This then is the good news. The present and future success of Christ's kingdom on earth now is ensured. Why? Because Satan is a defeated foe, plundered by Christ and bound already, as Revelation 20:2 makes clear. But some would disagree with my conviction that Satan is already bound and the millennium begun. I have in mind here the premillennial dispensationalist who believes that only Christ's second coming will usher in the millennium of Revelation 20:1-9. In their view, Christ must return to earth again to bind Satan. Then the reign of Christ's kingdom on earth for a thousand years will begin and then will the nations be 'undeceived' (Rev. 20:3). Until Christ's return, Satan is actively deceiving the nations, hindering the gospel and ravaging the church sufficiently to prevent the reign of King Jesus from taking place on earth. But after Christ returns, then He will reign with His saints from Jerusalem for a thousand years (Rev.20:4-9). Proponents of this view are therefore called premillennialists because they believe that Christ's Second Coming must take place before Satan is bound, the kingdom of God established and the millennium inaugurated.
Now, there are many comments which come to mind about this idea that only Christ's second coming will effectively bind Satan and bring the kingdom to earth. But I want us to think in particular about how this premillennialist dispensationalist view renders the kingdom of God on earth as non-existent today. Adherents of this view say that the nations in Rev. 20:3 (literally the ethne, the Gentile world) are so deceived and Satanically incapacitated as to make it impossible for the kingdom of God to be established on earth at this time. For them, the kingdom is a future hope of which the church of today is not a part! In fact, according to these dispensationalists, the separation between the church of today and the future kingdom of the millennium is so complete that they divide the Bible into two books: the book of the Kingdom and the book of the church, with a different gospel for each of these ages: the gospel of free grace which the church is to preach today and the gospel of the kingdom which will be preached after Christ returns and the kingdom millennium begins.
But for now, the kingdom of God and the good news of its arrival on earth is non-existent. Only after the Church is raptured up to heaven and Satan is bound in the bottomless pit will the Gentile world have an unfettered opportunity to know the full earthly reign of Christ in their lives. This will be the great conversion of the Gentile world, the "7th dispensation", the "kingdom dispensation" when Christ will take the kingdom covenanted to David and bring it to earth successfully for the first time. Only then will Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the kingdom be fulfilled.
Pause and take that in. Here are people, in fact, many American Christians, who truly believe that Satan must be bound at some future return of Christ before the promises of the kingdom on earth can be fulfilled and before the gospel can truly be effective in the conversion of the nations. Until then, the nations are so deceived that evidence of Christ's reign on earth will be meager as society goes from bad to worse. Such folk, like my dear grandmother, grimly concluding that the "end must be near" (as things in American Society in the 60's went from bad to worse), seek to escape from this world's problems by hoping that the rapture is about to happen. There is no hope in this view, you see, for the nations to be undeceived now; for the gospel to have worldwide success, progress and growth now.
But it gets worse: at least some dispensationalists think that Christ indeed did attempt to bring the kingdom of God to earth at His first coming, but could not establish it in the face of human disobedience and sin. According to premillennial dispensationalist Dave Hunt, quoted by Bruce Barron in his book, Heaven on Earth?, God had a "thorough-going change of plans" after Jesus was unable to overcome the antagonism of the Jews. According to Barron, Hunt claims that, "Jesus came to earth initially at the Incarnation to inaugurate the kingdom of God but, when rejected by the Jews, narrowed his agenda and called forth the church instead." Barron shockingly then concludes, taking his cue from Dave Hunt: "Dispensationalists assume that human disobedience can cause God to make considerable midcourse adjustments."
Now, apart from the weighty Theological problems which such an 'Open' view of God invites, (even if one acknowledges like the Scofield Bible that God at least knew ahead of time about the rejection of His kingdom, but seems to have been unable to do anything about it), there is the narrow question as to whether Christ really did view His inauguration of the kingdom of God as such a failure and whether He really viewed the calling forth of the church as a parenthetical afterthought or 'plan b'? What was Jesus' own view of His present kingly rule over the nations?
In answer to such questions, take Jesus' view of the present state of the kingdom when He speaks to His church in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20: "All authority is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and makes disciples of all nations, (the same word from Rev. 20:3, ethne is used here), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Notice especially the breadth of authority upon which Christ bases His Great Commission in Matthew 28:18's claim, "All authority is given unto Me." Here Christ's claims the legal right, ability and power to do as He pleases with the heavens and the earth. The authority (exousia means absolute prerogative) is His to do what He wants. What then does He want to do in Matthew 28:19-20? He wants the nations, the ethne, to be discipled and "taught to observe all the things which He has commanded." Is He going to allow the Devil, then, to continue to deceive the nations and thereby hinder His desire for the discipling and incorporation of the nations into His church?
Moreover, God the Father appears to be just determined as His Son to see the reign of His kingdom and the binding of Satan realized on earth here and now. Consider, for example, Psalm 2:7 & 8, which are interpreted as describing Christ's resurrection victory in Acts 13:30-33. Here is Christ publicly declared to be the Son of God by virtue of the resurrection. What then does God the Father intend to do for the Son since He has risen from the dead, victorious over His enemies? The answer is found in Psalm 2:8: "Ask of Me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance."
When did the Son take His opportunity to make this request to rule over the nations? Surely at His ascension, forty days after Easter. Remember what Christ says to the church as He prepares to ascend, echoing the language of authority and power in the Great Commission? "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8) After Pentecost, this promise of power for the church was fulfilled, when the Holy Spirit was poured out by Christ from His ascended glory in heaven (Acts 2:33).
How then did the Church interpret the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost? Did they view themselves as merely a parenthesis, in survival mode waiting for the rapture, waiting for the real inbreaking of the kingdom of God after Christ's second coming? Evidently not, for in Acts 4:24-29 the church quotes the same Psalm about Christ inheriting the nations, interprets their struggle in terms of that Psalm and prays for boldness to witness to the men whom Christ has been given as His inheritance, whether they be found in "Jerusalem, Judea or the ends of the earth"! Evidently, the early church did not agree with Dave Hunt's contention that God had to change his plans and postpone His Davidic, Messianic promises of earthly rule until the millennium. They speak as if God's words from David's lips in Psalm 2 are already being fulfilled in their midst!
But still I hear the skeptic voice concern. "What about the binding of Satan? Is he not a roaring lion looking for whom he may devour? Is not Satan's sway over the world, demonstrated by the rise of all sorts evil in our midst, proof that Jesus couldn't overcome the disobedience of the nation of Israel and the Satanic blindness of the nations and therefore inserted the church age as a stop gap while kingdom plans were 'put on hold'? It still appears to me that God had to change His plan from the initial, prophetic inauguration of the kingdom of David to one of merely gathering a few converts into a temporary institution called the church." (Moreover, to make this potential objection even more potent, we could add that many consider the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:2-3 as far different in its finality than any earlier defeat of Satan mentioned in Scripture because it says that Satan is "thrown into a bottomless pit.) "That", many premillennialists would say, "has not happened yet."
But do you realize that Jesus Himself viewed Satan as definitively bound by virtue of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God among men at His incarnation? See how Jesus reasons with his foes in Matthew 12:28-29: "If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or, how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man?"
Here Christ is arguing that his power over the demonic world, far from being proof of his alliance with Satan, is proof of Satan's defeat. He is declaring that He has bound the strong man. Yes, to be sure, Christ acknowledges that Satan still has an organized kingdom, which "stands" according to Matthew 12:26. Nothing Jesus says implies that Satan will henceforth be inactive in this world. But he is bound and defeated to the extent that he can stop neither the arrival nor the advance of the kingdom of God. "The kingdom has come." The proof of this, Jesus points out, is that Satan cannot stop the deliverance of those who had been previously under his domination.
So, yes, Jesus acknowledges that the kingdom of Satan is still "standing". And we would agree with those who say there are components of the glorious victory of Christ over all his enemies which await the second coming. But I don't believe such a consummation includes the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2-3. Compare Jude, in the sixth verse of his book, who maintains that the very demons who were so active against Jesus' ministry and whom Jesus defeated in our previous text in Matt. 12 were already "bound and in prison" since the days of Noah! Nor were they active only during Jesus' ministry. For these very fallen angels, who are the demonic "principalities and powers" against whom we wrestle in the church according to Ephesians 6:11&12, are the ones Jude declares to be "chained in darkness for the judgment of that great day." As Professor Strimple helpfully concludes (pg. 124, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell Bock):
"We might well ask, then: If Jude, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can describe all of these (still active) demonic beings as in everlasting chains now, why should it be thought that to interpret Satan's being bound as a reference to what is true now is somehow inconsistent with Satan's present activity?"
So, yes, Jesus and Paul and Jude all acknowledged that there is a time when Christ's victory will be consummated, when Satan activity will finally cease and Satan himself will be thrown into the "lake of fire" (Rev. 20:10). But even now, he is bound and therefore unable to stop the arrival and advance of the kingdom. That is the great Christian hope for every believer, whether postmillennial, amillennial or classic premillennial.
Now, before summing up this lecture, let me give you two final words of application:
1. Precisely because Satan is bound and the kingdom is come, do not be afraid of laboring for the Gospel wherever God places you. There is no place too desolate, too wicked, too hard, to difficult for the church to claim as its place in Jesus' name. Every square inch already belongs to King Jesus. George MacDonald has a beautiful illustration of this in describing the ruins of an old church above the Atlantic ocean on England's shore, which he and a friend named Percivale have just discovered and are exploring:
"What a waste, bare churchyard it was!…Not a tree stood in that churchyard. Rank grass was the sole covering of the soil heaved up with the dead beneath. The ancient church stood in the midst, with its low, strong, square tower, and its long narrow nave, the ridge bowed with age, like the back of a horse worn out in the service of man, and its little homely chancel, like a small cottage that had leaned up against its end for shelter from the western blasts. It was locked and we could not enter. But of all world-worn, sad-looking churches, that one was of the dreariest I had ever beheld. Surely it needed the Gospel of the resurrection fervently preached therein, to keep it from sinking to the dust with dismay and weariness."
"Returning to the other side" (writes MacDonald), "I found Percivale seated on the churchyard wall, next to the sea. "That church is oppressive," said Percivale. "It looks like a great sepulchre, a place built only for the dead - the Church of the Dead.""
(MacDonald responds) "It is only because it partakes with the living, suffers with them the buffetings of life, outlasts them, but shows, like the shield of the Red-Cross knight, the 'old dints of deep wounds.'" "Still," answers Percivale, "is it not a dreary place to choose for a church to stand in?"
(MacDonald) "The church must stand everywhere. There is no region into which it must not, ought not, enter. If it refuses any earthly spot, it is shrinking from its calling. This one stands high-uplifted, looking out over the waters as a sign of the haven from all storms, the rest in God."
How powerful a message the church has to declare: In the midst of all the world's tumult, all is under the victorious sway of Christ's kingly throne already!
2. Precisely because Satan is bound, he is a more dangerous foe than before for those unaware of his stratagems. Listen to Owen's description of mortified sin and see if you don't agree that it gives us an insight into why the defeated, bound, Devil seems today to be at least as, if not more, active and virulent than before he was defeated by Christ: (pg. Vol. 6, pg. 30):
"As a man nailed to the cross; he first struggles, and strives, and cries out with great strength and might, having what may be called a 'dying pang' that makes an appearance of great vigor and strength, so when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved…."
Isn't that what happens now that Satan is bound? He is more furious than ever "because his time is short." (Rev. 12:12). He now resists as a wounded animal whose viciousness is more dangerous precisely because he knows he is dying! Such thoughts should temper any triumphalism in our hearts, make us diligent to be "aware of Satan's devices" (2 Cor. 2:11) and realistic about the effort needed to claim this world for Christ. The mopping up activity with which we are now charged as the victorious church is to be carried out in just the same costly way as the victory by Christ was won: through suffering, through the blood of the martyrs, through the church demonstrating her likeness to Christ by carrying her cross - these are the ways victory is accomplished. As Jesus Himself said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. Remember the word that I have spoken to you. No servant is greater than His master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 16:18, 20).
To sum up, listen to these words from two Scots who have enjoyed fruitful but costly years of service in the kingdom: first, words regarding the costliness of this victory from my beloved Pastor in seminary, the late William Still:
"As Christians who triumph in this world through Jesus Christ, we are given an intelligence from God in respect of the world we live in through which, on the ground of Christ's victory given to us, we look to see that victory wrought out in our own circumstances also. This does not always mean that we are able to take the enemy by the 'scruff of the neck' and cast him out. That was not how it was with Jesus: He did so in the Temptation in the wilderness, but not on the Cross: He went through death and conquered by overcoming death. We also may have to die many deaths, but we will overcome in the resurrections of survival and fruitfulness which will ensue through faith which refuses to be defeated, even in death! As Frederick William Faber says, we…'learn to lose with God; For Jesus won the world through shame, and beckons thee His road. For right is right, since God is God, and right the day must win; To doubt would be disloyalty, to falter would be sin.'
Listen finally to Sinclair Ferguson, who sums up the victorious fruit of Christ's present inauguration of His kingdom and His present binding of Satan as follows:
1. The kingdom of God is here now. Live in it (even if things never get any better).
2. The time to reach the nations is now because the deception of the nations is removed. Go to it.
3. Christ is worth dying for in this world. Therefore, live for Him.
Any eschatological view that doesn't adhere to these three main points is less than it should be. May God give us grace to live in God's kingdom now; go to the nations with the Gospel now, and be willing to "die many deaths" in order to serve Christ with all our lives, now.
Rev. Carl Durham is the Minister of Sovereign Redeemer Fellowship, of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho.