Making Sense of the Binding and Releasing of Satan in Revelation 20


You mentioned that the thousand-years referred to in Revelation 20 is synonymous with forever or eternity. If that is they case, why does it say Satan will be released after the thousand years? How is that so?

The question really gets into trying to make a metaphor walk on all fours, particularly a metaphor that is in the context of apocalyptic literature. The metanarrative that you have in John’s Apocalypse is about Satan, who has been defeated by Christ. If you look throughout the Scriptures, you see how Christ comes, and He makes a spectacle out of the principalities and powers of darkness (Col. 2:12). He triumphs over them by the cross and that triumph is not a temporary triumph. It is an eternal triumph. It is a triumph that will forever demonstrate that Christ is victor and that Satan is defeated.

Now, within the context of the metaphor, within the context of the overall metanarrative as well, you have Satan released for a short time. After his eternal vanquishing, he is released for a short time. This is tantamount to saying that after Christ has made a spectacle of principalities and powers of darkness, with the domain of Satan being defeated, Satan has yet a short time, in this metanarrative a short time. This is part of the narrative communicated in apocalyptic language and you cannot try to make the metaphor walk on all fours.

The whole idea of thousand is used in many different ways metaphorically. It can be used to say that God owns all the cattle on a thousand hills (Psa. 50:10). In other words, this is a way of saying God owns everything. It can also be used to say that God’s loving kindness is to a thousand generations (Exod. 20:6), i.e. an everlasting lovingkindness. You cannot try to make the metaphor walk on all fours. If you do, you end up with loose strings popping out all over the place.

I mentioned this before, but it is sort of like someone saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” and you start asking “What size are the dogs?” and “What color are the cats?”

The grand metanarrative of John’s expanded Olivet Discourse, which is the Book of Revelation—No Olivet Discourse appears in the Gospel of John but the Synoptic Gospels record them (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21)—John’s Apocalypse gives you an expanded Olivet Discourse. Within this expanded Olivet Discourse, he says

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-2).*

This is a way of saying that Christ eternally defeats the powers of darkness through His triumph. This is a way of talking about Christ defeating Satan. Yet, in the narrative of the Apocalypse, the people of God are going to suffer under Satan, the Beast, and the woman who rides the Beast. John is telling the readers, Satan is going to be set free for a short time. He is going to continue to wreak havoc upon the earth. That is what is going on in the story.

The thousand years is indicative of everlasting and complete defeat. As the metaphor continues, God keeps His covenant to a thousand generations, indicative that His mercy is forever, so too Satan is forever defeated, but John is saying the worst of the tribulation still looms on the horizon; therefore, Satan must be set free for a short time, he must surround the camp of God’s people, the city He loves, before Christ coming in judgment

He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time and ultimate vindication.

Think about the language of Revelation 20—many years ago I took the time to memorize the passage and cogitate upon the passage for hours upon hours as I would walk and think about it—you have an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss, and having in his hand a great chain, how does an angel, if you are pressing the language, hold in his hand a great chain? An angel is a non-corporeal being. Then he takes the Devil, and throws him into the abyss, then locks and seals it, how is that done? Did he really throw Satan into some kind of container and then put a lid on top of it? If you take apocalyptic language and you try to make it walk on all fours, you end up with unmitigated nonsense. You got to read the language in which it is intended.

The language itself is very, very interesting, because it is not just an apocalypse in the sense of an unfolding, but it is a linguistic matrix that has its roots in the rest of Scripture. What makes Revelation so easy to understand is the overall understanding of Scripture as a whole. In other words, if you understand the Scriptures as a whole, Revelation does not come out of left field. Think about it. Revelation is only four-hundred and four verses with two-hundred-seventy-eight being direct allusions to Old Testament passages. Those who are familiar with the Bible, right away see what is going on in the apocalyptic language because it has its roots in the linguistic matrix of the rest of Scripture.

—Hank Hanegraaff

Learn more about understanding end time passages in the Bible in Hank Hanegraaff’s books The Apocalypse Code and Has God Spoken.

This blog adapted from the May 11, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

*All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984).


Is Amillennialism Scripture Twisting and Heresy?


Do you think amillennialism a heresy that comes as the result of Scripture twisting?

The timing of the tribulation or the meaning of the millennium is not something that we want to affix the word “heresy.” This is something that we can debate vigorously as Christians but we simply do not have to divide over. Therefore, I would not affix the word “heresy” to this.

There are Christians who believe that the millennium is a period of time between the first and second comings of Christ, so they still associate an indiscriminate amount of time, perhaps two thousand or more years, to this time frame (i.e. amillennialism). We do not at this point or an amillennial cannot tell you exactly how much time will lapse because the Second Coming of Jesus Christ has not yet taken place.

Some Christians take the millennium to be a kind of semi-golden age that comes about either before (postmillennialism) or after (premillennialism) the return of Jesus Christ.

The premillennial position is a position which says that after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ people will be saved, and there will be a one-thousand-year semi-golden age with a rebuilt temple and reinstituted temple sacrifices, and some even say that those temple sacrifices will atone for sin. Then there will be a great apostasy at the end of this millennial age and then the eternal state.

I personally do not agree with the millennium being a period of time. What Revelation is communicating is not quantity of time, but a quality of vindication for the martyrs. In other words, they will suffer for a short-time their vindication will be an eternal vindication.

The most well known use of the symbolic number “thousand” in Scripture is found in John’s encouraging promise to the persecuted first-century church that the saints who would be martyred for resisting the mark of the Beast would reign in glory with Christ for “a thousand years” (Revelation 20:1-7). Failing to read Revelation in its appropriate historical and literary context, many have misconstrued John’s words in Revelation 20 as a literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ until the end of the “millennium” at which time the rest of the dead will be raised and Satan will be released to wage war against Christ and the resurrected saints. Rather than allowing one metaphorically rich passage in the apocalyptic letter of Revelation to override the rest of the clear passages in Scripture that teach a single, general resurrection of the dead (e.g. John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), we must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture. When we do so, it becomes clear that in keeping with the traditional use of “a thousand” as a numeric symbol of ultimate completion, John is simply here promising his readers that though God would allow the Beast to execute his reign of terror for “ten days”—a relatively short time—God would vindicate the martyred believers by allowing them to reign with Christ for “a thousand years”—a comparatively limitless time. By suggesting that Satan would be bound during this period and that the rest of the dead would not be resurrected until after the thousand years had ended (vv. 2-3, 5, 7), John was simply using symbolic chronological bookends to highlight the qualitatively (as opposed to quantitatively) unique vindication that the martyrs of this great persecution will experience at the general resurrection of the dead. John’s vision of the vindication of “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4) is thus the climactic answer to the prayer for vindication—“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”—that was called out in chapter six by “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (6:9-10). (Hank Hanegraaff, Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible REALLY Says About the End Times…and Why It Matters Today [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007], 256-257)

Now I think ultimately to settle this in your mind requires something that I think few people spend enough time with, and that is an understanding of the art and science of biblical interpretation. To understand the Book of Revelation —this includes Revelation 20 where this idea of thousand years is repeated six times—you have to have a good understanding or good grasp of the Old Testament Scriptures. If you do not, you might get caught going off on a fantastic fantasy journey as opposed to grounding yourself in the well-spring of the Old Testament.

—Hank Hanegraaff

Learn more about understanding end time passages in the Bible in Hank Hanegraaff’s books The Apocalypse Code and Has God Spoken.

This blog adapted from “What’s your view on Amillennialism, is it heretical?