Premillennialism and Amillennialism: A Brotherly Conversation, Part 5
If you’ve been following my discussion with Richard Winston about our differing views concerning Revelation 20:1–6, you recognize that we both look at the Scriptures with a historical-grammatical hermeneutic. We desire to explain the author’s original meaning in his historical context with a normal understanding of how language works. In today’s post, we finish our conversation about whether Revelation describes present or future events and turn to a discussion about the binding of Satan in the abyss.
Greg: We need to move on to other issues in Revelation 20, so I don’t want to belabor a single point in our conversation. But I will respond briefly to your explanation of how Revelation reads as a current description of the church age and then turn our attention to the binding of Satan.
To begin, I’m not sure how persuasive it is to argue that μετὰ ταῦτα (after these things) is parallel to ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν (in the last days) because Theodotion used the term to update the Old Greek recension of Daniel over 50 years after Revelation was penned. In fact, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think we’re even certain that Theodotion was relying on the OG Daniel. Moreover, even if we could establish a linguistic parallel of the two phrases, they have to be interpreted in context. In Daniel 2, everything in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was future to him, including events that have already taken place from our perspective. Furthermore, in Rev 1:19, John is told to write the things he has seen, things that are, and “are to take place after these things” (μετὰ ταῦτα). If μετὰ ταῦτα refers to things that are, then what does “things that are” refer to?
Still, you make an excellent point about Revelation 12. You are right, I do not take the beginning of that chapter to be in the future. I believe that it refers to Satan’s desire to destroy Israel’s Messiah, but the Messiah successfully ascends to his Father’s throne. That’s already history. However, I think those verses are simply intended to fill in the backstory so that we can appreciate what happens to Israel after the Messiah’s ascension, i.e., the events described in Rev 12:6ff.
I can also fully agree with you that the phrase “last days” in the NT refers to days that began with the exaltation of Christ. Texts like 2 Tim 4:1ff. and the series that you listed would not make sense otherwise. But the events that the Bible assigns to the “last days” do not necessarily characterize the entirety of the last days. Take Peter’s Acts 2:17 reference to Joel 2, for instance. The “last days” are characterized here by visions and prophecies, that neither you or I believe are normative for the church currently. Then the “last days” are characterized by cosmic, catastrophic events which are scheduled to take place “before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day” (Acts 2:19–20). So most of what Peter says is not ongoing today, though they are part of the “last days.”
Furthermore, your point that “Revelation uses future tense at times for present reality, and past tense for future reality” is well-taken. John is describing what he sees, just as he was instructed, and I suppose we cannot rely exclusively on verbal tenses for our debate on present or future. (Although, I am still persuaded by the obvious inclusio in Rev 1:1 and 22:6 that frames the entire book of Revelation as intending to show the things that must soon take place.)
Maybe it is more fruitful to discuss an actual event and its position as present or future, viz. the binding of Satan in the abyss. This is a fascinating account no matter what your eschatology. But in order to keep the events of the kingdom a present reality, you equate what happens to Satan in Revelation 20 with Revelation 12 and the decisive victory of Jesus over Satan on the cross (John 12:31; Col 2:15). In contrast, here is why I take this event as future.
First, the binding of Satan (Rev 20:1–3, 7) seems to be an unprecedented event. Satan is seized by an angel, chained, bound for a thousand years in the abyss, over which a door or gate is shut and sealed until his release. In an earlier post, you equated this event with John 12:31 where Satan is “driven out.” That may be exactly right. Jesus says in anticipation of his death, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”
Yet Jesus cannot mean that that at the moment of his cross work the world will be finally judged and Satan will be finally cast out of the world. Because final judgment has not come to the world and the NT attests to Satan’s influence after the cross. Satan blinds the minds of believers (2 Cor 4:4), he holds unbelievers captive (2 Tim 2:25–26), he energizes the “sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2), he makes war with believers (Eph 6:10–13), and he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking people to devour (1 Pet 5:8). So commentators typically explain that the cross did not finally end Satan, but signaled Satan’s final judgment. He is a defeated foe whose destruction is now certain. Satan made war again the Son and expected to defeat him. But Jesus triumphed over him (Eph 4:8; Col 2:15) and sealed his doom.
The Prince of Darkness grim—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little Word will fell him!
How does Revelation 12 relate to this explanation? In Revelation 12, Satan tries to devour the Messiah but he ascends to the Father’s throne (Rev 12:5). Next, Michael and his angels defeat Satan and vanquish him from heaven to the earth (12:7–8), where he desperately makes war with those who follow the Lord (12:12–17) “because he knows his time is short” (12:12). Why is his time short? Because the final salvation and the kingdom and authority of God are about to come.
When that kingdom arrives, (Rev 20:1–6), Satan, who has already been vanquished from heaven (ch. 12), is now shut up in the abyss so that his ability to “deceive the nations” will cease altogether. We know that this is a complete cessation of Satan’s ability to deceive on the earth because we see what happens in Rev 20:7–8 when Satan is loosed for a little while and causes widespread deception. If you do not read the text in the same manner, then what sense is Satan released for a short time? What is the great battle that ensues? In what sense is Satan cast into the lake of fire?
Richard: You help make a point I am trying to make in your discussion of John 12:31 and Satan’s present binding. Since other, clearer NT texts argue that Satan is presently decisively defeated (John 12:31) and yet still active (the references you cite), this means that Satan in theory can be bound in a bottomless pit (if such language is not intended to have literal referents [Rev 20:1–3]) and yet still be involved in persecuting the saints (Rev 12:13-17). He has been “driven out,” and yet he is still actively fighting against God and his saints.
Why equate the binding of Satan in Rev 20:1–3 with the actions of John 12:31? First, Rev 20:3 identifies the purpose of God sealing him in the abyss: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” You cite 2 Cor 4:4 to argue that Satan cannot be bound now in this sense because he blinds the minds of unbelievers. But 2 Cor 4:6 goes on to make the point that God overcomes such blindness on account of the work of his Son: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (all English citations NIV). Just as God spoke the words and brought about the first creation, so he now speaks the words and brings about the new creation (see also 2 Cor 5:17). Satan does seek to blind the minds of unbelievers, but since Christ has dealt the decisive blow to Satan’s kingdom and bound him, Satan cannot succeed in deceiving the nations when Christ gives his powerful call (cf. Matt 29:16–20).
And this is why I keep returning to Rev 12: this chapter anticipates these realities. As you admit, Rev 12:1–6 refers to the first advent. Revelation 12:7–12 then highlights the realities that flow from the successful first advent. Satan, who seeks to lead the whole world astray (v. 9), is hurled to the earth, and can no longer accuse the saints of their sin (v. 10b) because salvation and the kingdom have come (v. 10a) through the atoning work of Jesus Christ (v. 11). That first advent inaugurates the last days, the “short time” between the first and second comings of Christ (v. 12).
During that time, Satan persecutes the church. Yes, he is bound, meaning that he cannot prevent unbelievers can being called to salvation in Christ, but he is also waging war against God’s people (Rev 12:13–17). After the child is taken up to God and his throne, the woman flees into the wilderness where she is nourished for 1260 days (v. 6). Now, if v. 6 is referring to the ascension, then this time period of 1260 days begins with the first coming of Christ. At the end of the chapter, after the description of Satan’s defeat at the cross (vv. 7–12), we are told that the dragon persecutes the woman, but again reference is made to God’s care for her which lasts “for a time, times, and half a time” (v. 14). If a “time” is a reference to a year, then you have a 3.5 year period of Satanic persecution and divine care in v.14, which is roughly equivalent to the 1260 day period of Satanic persecution and divine care in v. 6.
The point is this: Rev 12 provides the clearer text and blueprint for understanding Rev 20. Revelation 12 tells us that Christ’s first advent accomplished salvation for the saints, and also touched off a time of Satanic persecution. Revelation 20 tells us that during the time, while the satins are being persecuted, they are actually reigning with Christ while the kingdom of God goes forth victoriously to overcome Satanic opposition (who is decisively bound, despite present appearances). If that sounds contradictory, that’s the point of apocalyptic: to reveal ultimate realities despite present appearances.
Now, as to Satan’s release at the end of the 1000 years, this is likely a reference to a short period of increased Satanic activity immediately prior to the return of Christ (a period of more intense tribulation, if you will). The reader is prepared for this by the vision of the measured temple and the two witnesses in Rev 11:1–14. I won’t give you all the details of my interpretation due to space, and you probably wouldn’t agree with them anyway.
But, for the sake of the main points: the holy city and the temple in vv. 1–2 are figurative references to the saints (perfectly consistent with Rev 21:2, 9ff; Eph 2:14–22 and 1 Pet 2:4–5). They are persecuted by the world for 42 months (another reference to 3.5 years, i.e., the interadvent period [does this mean we’ll have to have a post on Daniel’s 70th week?]. Changing images, we are told the two witnesses (again, the saints: the two witnesses are called lampstands [v. 4] which is how God identifies the churches in 1:20) minister during that time (1260 days [v. 3]) and are preserved from ultimate harm (vv. 4–6). Notice the parallels to Rev 12 and 20: during the interadvent period, the saints ultimately triumph even if they suffer harm.
However, at the end of that time, the beast is able to overpower and kill them (v. 7), and the two witnesses lie dead for 3.5 days (v. 9) until God reanimates them and judges their oppressors (vv. 11–13 [Notice, by the way, the figurative description of the place of their execution in v. 8]). I would argue that this is the same scenario we find in 20:7–10: a short period of intensified persecution at the very end of the interadvent age which is resolved by the return of Christ and the final judgment (20:11–15).