Revelation 20:2

Revelation 20:2

He laid hold of the dragon
Laid hold is ἐκράτησε [ekratēse] : take into one’s possession or custody . . . arrest . . . apprehend someone.1 The dragon is the most-frequently used title for Satan in the book of Revelation (Rev. Rev. 12:3-4+, Rev. 12:7+, Rev. 12:9+, Rev. 12:13+, Rev. 12:16-17+; Rev. 13:2+, Rev. 13:4+; Rev. 16:13+; Rev. 20:2+).

that serpent of old
Serpent of old is τὸν ὄφιν τὸν ἀρξαῖον [ton ophin ton arxaion] : the serpent, the ancient [one]. This alludes to the serpent in the garden of Eden, which Satan used to deceive Eve (Gen. Gen. 3:1-6). His title as dragon and serpent were seen in the heavenly war, when he was cast out: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. Rev. 12:9+). See commentary on Revelation 12:9. Now that his two human accomplices, the Beast and the False Prophet, have been cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. Rev. 19:20+) and his demonic forces are imprisoned in the burnt regions of Babylon and Edom (see commentary on Revelation 18:2), he must fend entirely for himself.

In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea. (Isa. Isa. 27:1)

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent? (Isa. Isa. 51:9)

bound him
Bound is ἔδησεν [edēsen] : used of actual binding and imprisonment, as they attempted to bind the demoniac of the Gadarenes with chains (Mark Mark 5:3). Used of John the Baptist who was bound in prison by Herod (Mark Mark 6:17), it can also be used in a metaphorical sense, as when describing the deformed woman bound by Satan (Luke Luke 13:16). Paul said that he went to Jerusalem, “bound in the spirit” (Acts Acts 20:22). This generic angel, not said to be mighty or strong, is able to bind Satan with no mention of a protracted struggle. This is an indication of the great authority which the angel has which attends his divine mission. Although he is also a creature, a mere angel like Satan, he is empowered by the Creator and is able to bind any creature with ease—even Satan himself. This is the de facto (actual) fulfillment of what was accomplished de jure (legally) at the cross. In the bruising of Christ’s heel, the serpent had ultimately laid the groundwork for the bruising of his head: “And I will put enmity Between you [the serpent] and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed [Christ]; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. Gen. 3:15).

Here is the foundational question regarding the binding of Satan? Is he truly bound or isn’t he? The text will make plain that his binding is complete because it is followed by his being casting into the bottomless pit which is then sealed. Those who assert that Satan is bound even now are faced with a dilemma because it is obvious both from Scripture and real experience that if Satan is bound today, then “his chain is too long!” Hence, amillennialists demonstrate great zeal (and considerable confusion) in their attempt to explain this “binding” such that it is not really a binding:

B. B. Warfield, whose eschatology seems to embrace some of the elements of both amillennialism and postmillennialism, attempts to support the idea that Satan is bound in respect to heaven. He writes: “The ‘binding of Satan’ is therefore in reality not for a season but with reference to a sphere; and his ‘loosing’ again is not after a period but in another sphere: it is not subsequence but exteriority that is suggested. There is, indeed, no literal ‘binding of Satan’ to be thought of at all: what happens, happens not to Satan but to the saints, and is only represented as happening to Satan for the purposes of the symbolical picture. What actually happens is that the saints described are removed from the sphere of Satan’s assaults. The saints described are free from all access of Satan—he is bound with respect to them: outside of their charmed circle his horrid work goes on.”2

The basic problem with interpretations which assert that the kingdom described in this passage is actually upon us now, having begun at the cross, is that they are unable to understand or unwilling to recognize the delay between spiritual accomplishments and their outworking in the physical realm. On the way to Jerusalem prior to presenting Himself as king, just a few days from His crucifixion, Jesus stopped to teach a parable “because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately” (Luke Luke 19:11). The parable concerned a nobleman who “went to a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return” (Luke Luke 19:12). He instructs his servants to attend to his affairs in his absence. His kingdom is not received until the time of his return: “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants” (Luke Luke 19:15). This parable, we might observe, was specifically intended to do away with the delusion that God’s kingdom on earth is fulfilled in the Church today. Christ accomplished everything necessary for the establishment of the kingdom at the cross, but the time was not right for its commencement—there was to be an intervening age: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts Acts 1:7). The amillennialist, in his headlong zeal to make God’s kingdom on earth be now, ignores the many interpretive indicators otherwise. We agree with the amillennialist at one point: if the kingdom of God on earth is now then Satan must be bound even today. But the premise itself is flawed. Amillennialism must deny reality to cling to this error:

That something drastic happened to Satan with the first advent of Christ is seen also by the words of John John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” . . . In spite of the above passages there are people who will not believe that Satan is bound or that he has been cast out of his sphere of influence. They simply will not believe the words of Christ. “If Satan were bound and cast out,” they argue, “why is there so much evil in the world? If we believe that Satan is bound we must deny our senses.” It is better to believe Christ than it is to believe our senses.3

Kik confuses lack of faith with unsound interpretation. It is not our disbelief which tells us that Satan is not bound, it is our proper reading of God’s word which confirms our real experience. A sound interpretation of the text is in complete alignment with our experience: Satan cannot now be bound. The type of “faith” which Kik espouses is a blight on the people of God. It is founded on a flawed interpretation of God’s word and tries to fly at all costs, even denying reality, to the detriment of the believer. In this, it is like the faith of Christian Science which attributes the reality of sickness to an illusion of the mind.

Typical are amillennial explanations of the binding which is no binding at all:

There has been a binding of Satan. It is such a binding that he cannot touch a Christian. . . . We read in Revelation Twenty that Satan is also bound as far as deceiving the nations is concerned. Where previously he had completely deceived the Gentile nations now [after the cross] he could no longer do so. This does not mean that no one within a nation could not be deceived. There might be many within a Gentile nation that would be deceived by the cunning of Satan. Even though Satan is bound as far as the individual Christian is concerned, yet a Christian may, for a period of time or concerning a certain doctrine, be deceived. So also in regard to the nation. It simply means that Satan would no longer be in complete control of the nations as he was before the coming of Christ. [emphasis added]4

We can agree with Kik at one point: Christians can indeed be deceived concerning doctrine: amillennialists are deceived concerning the doctrine of the binding of Satan! Even a cursory examination of Scriptural passages written after the cross and the resurrection indicate that Satan is not presently bound:
  • Satan filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit resulting in the death of he and his wife (Acts Acts 5:3).
  • Paul said that Satan is blinding the eyes of nonbelievers in this current age so that they should not receive the gospel (2Cor. 2Cor. 4:3-4).
  • Paul told the Corinthians that Satan transforms himself (deceptively) into an angel of light (2Cor. 2Cor. 11:14).
  • Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, “a messenger of Satan” to keep him humble (2Cor. 2Cor. 12:7).
  • Paul told the Ephesians that the prince of the power of the air “now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. Eph. 2:2).
  • Paul told the Ephesians not to give place to the devil (Eph. Eph. 4:27) and that they wrestled against “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. Eph. 6:12).
  • Paul was hindered by Satan from visiting the Thessalonian church (1Th. 1Th. 2:18).
  • The coming of the lawless one, the Antichrist, will be “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders” (2Th. 2Th. 2:9). This is fulfilled, in part, by the activities of the False Prophet documented in the book of Revelation.
  • Paul delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan so that they might learn not to blaspheme (1Ti. 1Ti. 1:20).
  • James warns believers to submit to God and resist the devil (Jas. Jas. 4:7).
  • Peter warns believers to be sober and vigilant because “your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1Pe. 1Pe. 5:8).
  • John tells us that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1Jn. 1Jn. 5:19).
  • Satan is a source of deception throughout the events of the book of Revelation (Rev. Rev. 12:9+; Rev. 13:14+; Rev. 18:23+; Rev. 19:20+; Rev. 20:8+, Rev. 20:10+).

Here is a foundational danger of amillennialism: in their appropriation of “kingdom now” theology, they deny reality. But an important part of reality is the factual, historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amillennialists need to ask why a skeptical world should believe their witness concerning the historical fact of the crucifixion of Jesus for sin when they hold a theology which essentially denies reality?

This strange theory, the origin of which is traced to the Romish notion that the church is the kingdom, contends that whatever millennium there may be is being experienced in the present age. Its advocates interpret the book of Revelation as a description, or varied, descriptions, of this church age. . . . In their unenviable attempt to fit all the events anticipated in the Revelation into the history of this age, the amillennialists indulge in a form of speculation almost unsurpassed. Their abandonment of reason and sound interpretation has but one objective in mind, namely, to place χίλιοι [chilioi] (“thousand”) years—six times repeated in Revelation, chapter 20—back into the past and therefore something no longer to be anticipated in the future. The violence which this interpretation imposes upon the whole prophetic revelation is such that none would propose it except those who, for lack of attention, seem not to realize what they do. . . . In sheer fantastical imagination this method surpasses Russellism, Eddyism, and Seventh Day Adventism, since the plain, grammatical meaning of language is abandoned, and simple terms are diverted in their course and end in anything the interpreter wishes. [emphasis added]5

How much better to take both Scripture and our real experience at face value—especially when they speak in concert that Satan is not bound at the present hour.

The binding of Satan at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom is part of the seventh bowl judgment which was poured out upon the air, the domain of the “prince of the power of the air” (Rev. Rev. 16:17+ cf. Eph. Eph. 2:2). See commentary on Revelation 16:17. The same bowl judgment also brought about the incarceration of his demonic hoards. See commentary on Revelation 18:2.

thousand years
Thousand is χίλια [chilia] , from which chiliasm is derived: the belief in a literal one thousand year reign of Christ on the earth.6 As with all progressive revelation, this passage provides information which was not before revealed—the duration of the Millennial Kingdom. Although critics are fond of observing that little more is revealed concerning the kingdom in this passage, the characteristics of the kingdom are set forth at length elsewhere in God’s word—especially in the OT—so God has no need to repeat Himself here. Even though the duration of one thousand years is listed no less than six times in this passage, few are those who take it at face value. See The Abuse of Numbers. Once we deny that one thousand years means one thousand years, there is no end to the suggestions which can be offered as to what period is really in view:

The term thousand years in Revelation Twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the Messianic Kingdom upon earth. It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until His Second Coming. It is the total or complete period of Christ’s Kingdom upon earth. . . If the binding of Satan began with the first coming of Christ then it follows that the thousand years began with His first coming. . . . Now the natural objection to this view is that the period from the first coming of our Lord to the present time can hardly be described as a Millennium. For one thing wars have not ceased and wickedness is still very much prevalent. As someone has stated: “if Satan is bound he must have a long tether.” All appearances seem to be against the view that we are in the millennium now. The trouble is that we have altogether a too materialistic concept of the millennial blessings. [emphasis added]7

Again we meet with amillennialism’s characteristic denial of reality. We are actually in the Millennium now: our error is that we just don’t happen to realize it! This detachment from reality can reach ridiculous extremes: Rev. 21:1+-Rev. 22:1+. If this is true, then we all must be living in the ghetto side of the New Jerusalem. But there is no ghetto in the New Jerusalem.”8 In this rush to assert that every work of God has already come to pass, amillennialists devalue the promises of God. If this is the sum total of God’s kingdom on earth, then what’s there to get excited about? If most of the people living on earth in the kingdom have no idea they are even in such a kingdom—much less know and acknowledge the king—how can it be a kingdom in any real sense? In this, amillennialism has more in common with bizarre cults which specialize in “spiritual realities” and brainwash their adherents to ignore objective reality. This is unhealthy and unscriptural. Our God is a God of reality who does not ask us to deny the obvious:

Is the binding of Satan . . . so ineffective that murderers of saints, that dangerous enemies, still exist? What, then, becomes of God’s promises, if persecution, sore trail, threatened death and violent death itself is the characteristic of the Millennium?9


1 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 448.

2 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), 292.

3 J. Marcellus Kik, Revelation Twenty: An Exposition (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955), 17.

4 Ibid., 27.

5 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:281.

6 The ‘ch’ is pronounced as a ‘k’: kill-iasm.

7 Kik, Revelation Twenty: An Exposition, 28-29.

8 Thomas Ice, “Some Practical Dangers of Preterism,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 420.

9 George H. N. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1978, 1884), 2:268.