When does the binding of Satan occur? Is it something yet to come, or is it something which has already happened? Here, I will analyze the futurist position on these questions: the notion that Satan and his minions are yet to be bound.*
Futurism is, essentially, the position that the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation (and many elsewhere) are largely yet to be fulfilled. This is in contrast to historicism- the view that these prophecies have been fulfilled through the church age (with some yet future); preterism- the view that many of these prophecies have already been fulfilled in the past; and idealism- the view that these prophecies have spiritual meanings which may be fulfilled multiple times through history until the End.
The central passage for the question at hand is Revelation 20:1-3:
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. 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. (NIV)
The futurist interpretation of this passage would be fairly straightforward: at some point in the future, before the millennium, Satan will be bound. Many futurists hold that this also includes Satan’s minions. Representative is Paul Benware: “With the removal of Satan comes the removal of his demonic forces and his world system” (Benware, 334, cited below). It is on this point that the question I have turns. Consider Jude 6:
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (NIV)
Note the interesting parallels with the passage from Revelation 20. Both use the language of “chains” and reference a time when something will happen after this binding. Yet Jude 6 seems to imply the definite binding of these demonic forces from the time it was written or even before. Why? Jude 5 gives the temproal context, which is sandwiched in between discussion of the Exodus and Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah predate the Exodus, but the overall context of the passage is given by Jude as being around that time period (“I want to remind you…” v. 5).
Moreover, 2 Peter 2:4 states:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…
Again, in context Peter is discussing a number of past events. So it certainly seems that at least some demonic forces have already been bound. Benware writes of these passages: “The Scriptures reveal that Satan and his angelic followers will be judged for their sin and rebellion…” (329, emphasis mine). Now, Benware is clearly saying that there will be a judgment in the future, and that seems correct from both passages. However, he does not note anywhere in his major work the difficulty these verses present to his own view, for he insists elsewhere that amillenialists are incorrect when they view this binding as being a present reality (129ff). But he does grant that at least some demonic forces are bound now.
The question, then, is how is it that futurists can consistently insist upon the impossibility of Revelation 20:1-3 being a present reality while already granting that it is, at least in part, fulfilled? That is, if one grants that at least some demonic forces are bound, it seems that one cannot insist that certain spiritual forces cannot possibly be bound at present. Thus, it seems to me this particular aspect of futurism is not on as strong a ground as many insist.
Indeed, one may read Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2 and get the impression that these things have already occurred. There is no stipulation within the text to say that only some wicked angels have been bound. Indeed, they both seem to imply the total binding of all demonic forces. But this would not be compatible with the standard futurist interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3.
*Readers should note that I am not here intending to critique the overall futurist position. Instead, I am merely wondering about one specific aspect of some futurist interpretations.
Check out my other posts on eschatology (scroll down for more).
Also, read my review of Benware’s massive work on premillenial dispensationalism, Understanding End Times Prophecy.
Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).
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