Imprisonment of Satan

Photo by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash
The book of Revelation portrays Satan as bound in the Abyss for a thousand years. Only after this period is the Devil enabled to gather the nations from the four corners of the earth to a final global “war” against the “camp of the saints, the beloved city.” However, the Lamb remains in firm control throughout these events.
The “ancient serpent” is imprisoned against his will and cannot gather the nations against the church until “released” by a higher authority.  His “war” may appear about to result in the annihilation of the saints, but God intervenes at the final moment to destroy Satan’s “army” and cast him into the Lake of fire (Revelation 20:1-14). The Lamb and his victorious followers “reign” throughout the entire episode.
(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.”
An angel descending having the key of the Abyss.” The Abyss is first mentioned in Revelation 9:1-2 where a “star from heavenwas given the key of the Abyss.” With this key, he opened the Abyss to unleash an army of “locusts” upon the earth. Elsewhere, “stars” represent “messengers” or “angels” (Revelation 1:19-20).
In Chapter 9, the Abyss has a “king” over it named Abaddon and Apollyon; that is, “destruction” and “destroyer.” His evil forces are released by this act to torment the “inhabitants of the earth,” those who do not have the “seal of God.” In contrast, in Revelation 20:1-3, an angel descends from heaven authorized to bind the Devil, not to release him or his evil forces (cp. Revelation 20:7-9). This locates the imprisonment of Satan in the Abyss BEFORE the events detailed in Chapter 9.
A great chain in his hand,” presumably, one 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 the self-description 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 glorious figure who has the “the key of David, he that opens and none shuts, and shuts and none opens” (Revelation 1:18, 3:7). The angel in Chapter 20 descends at the command of Jesus to lock up the Devil.
The dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.” These four names are verbal links to Chapter 12 where “the great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he that is called the Deviland Satan; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him” (Revelation 12:9). The label, “the ancient serpent,” also recalls the serpent that tempted Eve in Eden (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 Revelation 12:9-13, the Dragon was “cast” (ballō) down to the earth. Likewise, in Chapter 20, Satan is “cast” (ballō) into the Abyss (Revelation 20:3). He was expelled from heaven and lost his prosecutorial powers as a result of the exaltation of the “son” (12:1-5). In the interpretation of this vision, the image is explained as the victory achieved by the “brethren” over the Devil “by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 12:10-11). In other words, this victory was accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
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 is called “the deceiver of the whole habitable earth (oikumené).” Note that Satan is not bound from all activities but, specifically, from “deceiving the nations.”
In Chapter 12, those who “tabernacle in heaven” rejoiced at the casting down of Satan; however, a heavenly voice declared “woe” to the “inhabitants of the earth” because the Devil had arrived on the earth enraged, knowing that he had “but a short time” (Revelation 12:12). In Chapter 13, those who “tabernacle in heaven” are contrasted with the “inhabitants of the earth” that render homage to the Beast who wages war against the “saints” (Revelation 13:5-7).
Likewise, in Chapter 12, the descent of Satan to earth resulted in his efforts to persecute the woman who gave birth to the “son” and to wage war against her “seed,” those who keep the “commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” (cp. Revelation 6:9-11, 13:7, 14:10). That is, the Devil persecuted the followers of the Lamb on the earth.  How this activity fits in with the description of him as the “deceiver of the whole habitable earth” is not explained in Chapter 12.
The Abyss.” Some English versions translate the term “bottomless pit.” As with the binding of Satan with a “great chain,” the term should not be interpreted literally as a bottomless hole somewhere in or under the earth.  A spirit being can no more be held in a pit than he can be bound by a metal chain. Further, in the book of Revelation, the descriptions and things associated with the Abyss are fluid in their usage.
In Revelation 9:1-11, the “star” from heaven uses his key to unleash demonic forces that “ascend” from the “Abyss.”  In Revelation 11:7, the “Beast from the Abyss” is to “ascend” and wage war and overcome the two witnesses. In Revelation 13:1-7, this same Beast is seen “ascending from the sea” to wage war and to kill the “saints.” Similarly, in Daniel 7:1-2, four beasts ascended out of a chaotic sea that represented the nations of the earth (in Daniel, the beasts are said to ascend from the “sea” and the “earth”). The Beast that is ridden by the Harlot “was, and is not, and will ascend from the Abyss.” After his ascent, the “inhabitants of the earth” will “wonder” in amazement at his rise (Revelation 17:8).
Likewise, in Revelation 20:7-9, Satan is freed from the Abyss to deceive the nations to “ascend” over the whole earth in a final attempt to destroy the saints. The theme of something evil “ascending” from the Abyss/sea is a frequent one in the book.
Elsewhere in the book, the “sea” is associated with evil.  It is closely connected to Babylon’s maritime trade that empowers her but is destroyed by God (Revelation 8:8-9, 16:3, 18:17-21). It is linked to the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 12:12, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea”). And in Revelation 15:2, the saints who have achieved victory over the Beast are seen “standing on a sea of glass mingled with fire.”
Deceive the nations of the earth.” In Revelation 2:20, the “prophetess Jezebel,” an incarnation of the Great Harlot, attempts to deceive believers to engage in idolatry (“to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols”). In Revelation 13:14, the “beast from the earth” deceives the “inhabitants of the earth” into giving their allegiance to the Beast from the sea and worshiping its image. Similarly, the Great Harlot uses her “sorceries” to deceive “all the nations” (18:23). So, also, at the end of the thousand years, Satan is released to “deceive the nations” in order to lead them in a final attempt to destroy the church (Revelation 20:8-10).
In view is not the Devil’s usual attempts to deceive men, but a specific effort to deceive humanity into following the Beast in its “war” against the saints.
After this, he must be loosed for a short time.” That is, a final period during which Satan is free to deceive the nations into a final assault against the Lamb and his followers. Several themes are repeated from earlier chapters. Note, especially, the warnings of a coming short period during which Satan and his earthly servants will be released to persecute the saints and, otherwise, wreak havoc on the earth:
(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 competed.”
(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.  The numbers of the book of Revelation are almost all figurative. Even “literal” numbers such as the “seven churches” have figurative applications. Furthermore, several numbers are multiples of smaller symbolic numbers, with some doubled and even cubed for effect. For example, the figure of 144,000 males from the twelve tribes of Israel is a multiple of 12 (12 x 12 x 1,000).
The only activity that is described taking place during the thousand years is the reign of victorious saints with Christ “as priests,” those martyred for the “testimony of Jesus” and their refusal to give homage to the Beast (Revelation 20:4-6). This should be borne in mind before reading other assumptions into the passage about what is to occur during the Millennium (e.g., the passage makes no mention of a temple, Jerusalem, or Israel).
Elsewhere, saints are constituted as a “kingdom of priestsin the present as a result of the shed blood of the Lamb (Revelation 1:4-6, 5:10, 12:11). The victory of the saints during the thousand years is classified as the “first resurrection.” There is no mention in the book of a “second resurrection” or a “first death.”
The “first resurrection” means those victorious saints will not taste of the “second death” (“blessed and holy is he that participates in the first resurrection: over these the second death has no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years”). Chapter 20, thus, juxtaposes “the first resurrection” with “the second death”; saints who persevere and overcome escape from the “second death,” not necessarily from physical death.
The description from verses 4-6 includes verbal links to the letter sent to the church at Smyrna.  In it, Jesus was the “first and the last, who was dead, and lived” (kai ezésen). Likewise, in Chapter 20, it is said of the reigning saints, “and lived” (kai ezésan). Just as Satan was cast into the Abyss/prison (Revelation 20:7), so Satan was to persecute the believers of Smyrna and to “cast some of them into prison.” This church was to suffer “tribulation ten days.” All members of the church at Smyrna that remained faithful unto death would not “be hurt of the second death” (Revelation 2:7-11. Compare Daniel 1:14). And the “second death” is the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14, 21:8).
In the book of Revelation, the saints reign with Jesus in their role as “priests”; servants of God who mediate His testimony to the nations. Like that of the Lamb, their reign is paradoxical; they “reign” even while persevering through suffering, persecution, and martyrdom (Revelation 1:4-6, 3:20-21, 5:5-7, 12:11). The figure of a “thousand years” is a multiple of 10 and corresponds to the “tribulation of ten days” from the letter to Smyrna.
The thousand-year period during which overcoming saints reign with Jesus portrays the time between the coronation of the Lamb following his death and resurrection and the release of Satan for a final “short time.” During this final short time, he is unleashed to deceive the nations and to lead them in a final attempt to annihilate the church. In the interim, the Devil is still able to persecute the church and cause suffering in the world; however, he is not able to deceive the nations into this final assault until the end.
Note well, in Revelation 12:12-17, the Devil in his rage attempted to destroy the woman clothed with the sun but was prevented from doing so by divine intervention for a “season, seasons, and half of a season.” Only afterward, was he authorized to wage war against her “seed.”


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