Imprisonment of Satan

SYNOPSIS - The Devil is imprisoned in the “Abyss” until an appointed time when he is released to deceive the nations into a final attempt to annihilate the saints – Revelation 20:1-3

Abyss Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash
The book of Revelation presents an image of Satan imprisoned in the “Abyss” for a “thousand years” until his release at the end of the period. During his incarceration, the “Dragon” is prevented from “deceiving the nations” - Only after his release is he authorized “to deceive the nations” once last time.
  • (Revelation 20:1-3) – “And I saw a messenger coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a great chain upon his hand; and he laid hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is Adversary and the Accuser, and bound him for a thousand years, — and cast him into the abyss, and fastened and sealed [it] over him, — that he might not deceive the nations any more until the thousand years should be ended: after these, must he be loosed for a short time” – (The Emphasized Bible).
An angel descending having the key of the Abyss.” The “Abyss” was first mentioned in the description of the “fifth trumpet” when a “star from heaven was given the key of the Abyss.” With the “key,” the angel opened the “Abyss” to unleash an army of “locusts” upon the earth. Elsewhere in the book, “stars” represent “messengers” or “angels” - (Revelation 1:19-20, 9:1-4).

In Chapter 9, the “Abyss” had a “king” over it named Abaddon and Apollyon, meaning, “Destruction” and “Destroyer,” respectively. The evil forces of this “king” were released to torment the “inhabitants of the earth,” those who did not have the “seal of God.” In contrast, in Chapter 20, an angel now descends from heaven who is authorized to bind the Devil, not to release him or his forces. This locates the imprisonment of Satan in the “Abyss” BEFORE the events detailed in Chapter 9.

A great chain in his hand,” presumably, the “chain” used to bind the Devil. This demonstrates that the imagery is not literal - A spiritual being cannot be held by a physical chain. The description also recalls that of the one “like a son of man” who “lives and was dead, and is alive forevermore, and has the keys of hell and of death” - The same figure who had the “the key of Davidhe that opens and none shuts, and shuts and none opens.” The angel in Chapter 20 descends at the command of Jesus to lock up the Devil - (Revelation 1:18, 3:7).

The dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.” The four names are verbal links to Chapter 12 - The expulsion of the “Dragon”:
  • (Revelation 12:9) – “The great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.”
The “ancient serpent” recalls the Genesis account when the “serpent” tempted Eve in the Garden:
  • (Genesis 3:15) – “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shalt bruise his heel.”
In Chapter 12, the “Dragon” was “cast” (ballō) to the “earth.” Likewise, in Chapter 20, Satan is “cast” (ballō) into the “Abyss.” He was expelled from the heavenly “court” and lost his prosecutorial powers because of the exaltation of the messianic “son.” In the interpretation of that vision, his expulsion is part of the victory achieved by the “brethren” over the Devil - “By the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, this victory was accomplished through the Death and Resurrection of Jesus - (Revelation 12:9-11).

He cast him into the Abyss…that he might not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years should be ended.” This is another link to Chapter 12 where the “Dragon” was called “the deceiver of the whole habitable earth (oikumené).” Note well - Satan was not bound from all activities, but specifically from “deceiving the nations.”

In Chapter 12, those who “tabernacle in heaven” rejoiced at the expulsion of Satan; however, a heavenly voice declared “woe” to the “inhabitants of the earth” for the Devil had arrived there enraged and knowing that he had “but a short time.” Likewise, in Chapter 13, the ones who “tabernacle in heaven” were contrasted with the “inhabitants of the earth” that render homage to the “Beast” who waged war against the “saints” - (Revelation 12:12, 13:5-7).

Also in Chapter 12, the expulsion of Satan to the earth resulted in his campaign to wage war against the “seed of the woman,” those who “have the testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 6:9-11, 12:14-17, 13:7, 14:10).

Following his expulsion, the Devil persecuted the followers of the “Lamb.”  How this activity fits with him being the “deceiver of the whole habitable earth” was not explained in Chapter 12.

The Abyss.” As with the “great chain,” the term should not be interpreted literally as a bottomless hole somewhere in or under the earth.  A spirit can no more be held in a pit than it can be bound by a metal chain.

In the “fifth trumpet,” the “star” used his “key” to unleash demonic forces that “ascended” from the “Abyss.”  In Chapter 11, the “Beast from the Abyss ascended” to wage war with the “Two Witnesses.” The same “Beast” was seen “ascending from the sea” to wage war with the “saints.”

Likewise, in Daniel 7:1-2four beasts ascended out of a chaotic sea. The “sea” represented the nations of the earth - (In Daniel, the “beasts” ascend from the “sea” and the “earth”). In Revelation, the “Beast was, and is not, and will ascend from the Abyss.” After its ascent, the “inhabitants of the earth” will “wonder” in amazement at its rise - (Revelation 17:8).

Later in Chapter 20 of Revelation, the Devil rises from the “Abyss” to deceive the nations to then “ascend” over the whole earth in a final attempt to destroy the “saints” - (Revelation 20:7-10).

Thus, the theme of something evil that “ascends from the Abyss” at the appointed time in order to deceive the nations and attack the righteous is repeated several times in the book.

Stopwatch - Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash
Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

Elsewhere, the “sea” is associated with evil and is connected to Babylon’s maritime trade, and also to the “inhabitants of the earth” - “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea” - (Revelation 8:8-9, 12:12, 15:2, 16:3, 18:17-21).

Deceive the nations of the earth.” At the end of the “thousand years,” Satan is released to “deceive the nations” and lead them in a final attempt to destroy the “saints.” In view is not the usual attempts of Satan to deceive men, but a specific effort to fool humanity into following the “Beast” in its “war” against the “saints” - (Revelation 13:7, 20:8-10).

After this, he must be loosed for a short time.” That is, during a final period when Satan is free to deceive the nations into this final assault against the followers of the “Lamb.” Several themes are repeated here from earlier chapters. Note especially, the warnings of a coming “short period” during which Satan will be released to “gather” the nations against the “saints”:
  • (Revelation 3:10) – “Because you kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of trial that is to come upon the whole habitable earth, to try the inhabitants of the earth.”
  • (Revelation 6:11) – “And there was given them to each one a white robe; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should be completed.”
  • (Revelation 9:14-15) – “Saying to the sixth angel which had the sixth trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year to slay the third part of men.”
  • (Revelation 12:12-14) – “Woe for the earth and for the sea: because the devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short seasonAnd to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a season, seasons, and half a season from the face of the serpent.”
  • (Revelation 16:12-14) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings that come from the sunrising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, as it were frogs: for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable earth to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.”
  • (Revelation 17:10) – “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.”
A thousand years.” This is the only passage in the entire Bible that mentions a thousand-year period during which Satan is bound.  Numbers in Revelation are figurative. Even the few literal numbers such as the “seven churches” have figurative applications. Furthermore, several numbers are multiples of smaller numbers - some doubled and even cubed for effect. For example, the “144,000” males from the twelve tribes of Israel is a multiple of 12 - (12 x 12 x 1,000).

The only activities described during the “thousand years” is the “reign” of the victorious saints “as priests” and the imprisonment of the Devil. There is no mention of any Temple, Jerusalem, or Israel – (Revelation 20:4-6).

The figure of a “thousand years” is a multiple of 10 and corresponds to the “tribulation of ten days” endured by the Church at Smyrna.

The thousand-year period portrays the interval between the coronation of the “Lamb” after his resurrection and the release of Satan for a final “short time” to deceive the nations into destroying the church. In the interim, he is authorized to persecute the church and otherwise cause suffering; however, he is unable to deceive the nations into the final assault on the church until the designated time at the end of the age.

Note well - In Revelation 12:12-17, an enraged Devil attempted to destroy the woman clothed with the sun but was prevented from doing so by divine intervention -  Until a “season, seasons, and half of a season.” Only afterward was he authorized to wage war against the “seed of the woman.” So also, in Chapter 13, the “Beast from the sea” was only able to launch its “war” against the “saints” after it was authorized to do so.

The image of a bound enemy who is released after a set period of time to wreak havoc once more is based on a passage from Daniel Chapter 7, one used also by the next paragraph to describe the “reign” of the saints (Revelation 20:4-6):
  • (Daniel 7:11-14) – “”I continued looking, then because of the sound of the great words which the horn was speaking, I continued looking, until that the wild beast was slain, and his body destroyed and given to the burning of the fire. As concerning the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away,—but a lengthening of life was given to them until time and season. I continued looking in the visions of the night, when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming,—and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service,—his dominion was an age-abiding dominion which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed” – (The Emphasized Bible).


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