Eschatology, theology

The Binding of Satan: An Eschatological Question

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeWhen 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.

Links

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.

Sources

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “The Binding of Satan: An Eschatological Question

  1. (Disclaimer: my comment below is based on my own research and conclusions… I do not claim to be explaining anyone’s position but my own, and I have no one to cite to back me up. So, please take my reply with a grain of salt as I explain myself.)

    I happen to have written on this recently over at GeoCreationism.com. http://www.geocreationism.com/scripture/genesis-6/genesis6-3b-the-120-years.html. I think you will find it interesting. The gist of it is that all of the scriptures you cite (and a few you do not) are actually quoting or summarizing the Book of Enoch (1Enoch), which tells of Fallen Angels. They are the sons of God who married the daughters of men in Genesis 6. Basically, these angels were confined to the Pit of Darkness during the 120 years preceding the Flood. They are there right now. 1Enoch calls them the stars of heaven. However, he also refers to the host of heaven, who is Satan, and is currently still at large. So, according to my reading and research, I personally believe the futurist position to be incorrect, and believe the scriptures back that up. However, saying that does not quite explain enough, because we still have demons. Why?

    According to the same writings that tell us who is in the pit of darkness, the demons in the world are spirits of disembodied Nephilim, who physically annihilated each other before their angel parents were confined to the Pit of Darkness. These Nephilim spirits will not be judged, but are forever condemned. This is why they are not in the Pit of Darkness and will never be, because the Pit is reserved for evil spirits awaiting judgement. Satan is not there now, but will be confined to there during the Millenium.

    Now here is where it gets dicy. Where do the spirits in Pit go after getting judged? According to Revelation 20:14, they get thrown into the Lake of Fire, which is separate from the Pit of Darkness. As for the Nephilim, they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire as well, falling under the umbrella of verse 15… those not mentioned in the book of life.

    One nuance I am not sure I have thought through completely: John might be referring to the disembodied Nephilim with the word “death”, in his phrase “death and Hades” in Revelation 20, where Hades is the Pit, and “death” includes the disembodied Nephilim. The reason I do not believe “death” refers to the dead people rising is because I believe Hades includes Abraham’s bosom, where the the yet-to-be-resurrected await. In fact the Book of Enoch actually describes 4 chambers of Hell, one of which matches the scripture’s record of Abraham’s Bosom where Jesus preached before His resurrection, but I have to admit that I not finished studying that yet.

    If my conclusions above are true, then it leads to an odd conclusion, that the question of “Satan’s minions” is itself a red herring. Why? Because the minions Satan uses are the disembodied Nephilim who will never go to the Pit of Darkness (not in the past, not in the future); and the spirits who **are** in the Pit of Darkness are not Satan’s minions, but are the “stars of heaven” who fell from grace some time after Satan tempted Eve.

    I want to close my comment with a disappointing observation… that the church seems to know nothing of these details, and that I only uncovered them through prayerful meditation and research. I believe this is to our detriment, because it results in people (I include myself in this) engaging in arguments over eschatological doctrine that the writers of scriptures never conceived of. My own studies have opened my eyes to this, and I now wonder how much other division exists within church because of red herrings that have their basis in unwitting ignorance, and not in truth.

    For my scriptural justification for why I believe the verses you cite were quoting or paraphrasing Enoch, you can read my article here: http://www.geocreationism.com/scripture/genesis-6/genesis6-3b-the-120-years.html. As always, the article links to my other related research, should you care to read further.

    Fascinating stuff!

    Posted by Mike | July 15, 2013, 10:04 AM
    • I’m curious…what distinguishes this statement:

      “According to the same writings that tell us who is in the pit of darkness, the demons in the world are spirits of disembodied Nephilim, who physically annihilated each other before their angel parents were confined to the Pit of Darkness.”

      …as fact as opposed to any given piece of fantasy fiction?

      Could the uninitiated even tell?

      Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | July 16, 2013, 2:37 PM
      • Probably not! so I hope I tread lightly. I found Enoch pretty fantastic the first time I read it, and wondered why God would even let this be written. I also wondered why I had never heard of it before. However, the more I compare it to the scriptures, the more I believe it. There are quotes and paraphrases from Enoch throughout the Bible, but no one talks about them. One reason because we lost them for 2000 years, until they were rediscovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Enoch has parallels of the creation account. There are subtle patterns in Moses’ writing of Genesis 6 that are much more explicit in the Book of Enoch. It’s been a fascinating thing to study.

        I must admit I’m still on my guard, because God did not see fit to see this book canonized, and there is just enough oddness in it that I can see why. The Bible must always take primacy. But giving Enoch the benefit of the doubt has explained several things I wondered about… what is Abraham’s Bosom? Why does the Bible say Abel still cries out? Who was the other man Daniel saw in his vision? Why did Moses call the Nephilim “heroes of old, men of renown?” How could there be Nephilim (Anakites, Rephaim) after the flood? And it goes on. It’s filled in the blanks, and without changing my view of God, Israel, or Jesus. Where I might differ on an issue of Eschatology, as above, I do not believe that difference to be salvific. In this case, I had not settled on an answer until I read about it in Enoch, and saw the blanks filled in. As long as my studies keep fitting in like puzzle pieces, I’ll keep going. But, you are correct… to the uninitiated (which is nearly everyone), it will seem ridiculous.

        Posted by Mike | July 17, 2013, 10:25 AM
      • ahh I see…interesting. thanks!

        Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | July 17, 2013, 7:02 PM
  2. Hey J.W. As someone who finds the partial preterist view compelling, I, too, have struggled with the binding of Satan; especially as it plays out in Matthew 12:24-29. The Pharisees were considering the fact that Jesus was the prince of demons casting out demons to which Jesus essentially responded, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” He then went on to say, “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (v. 29). I always understood this to mean that Jesus had entered Satan’s house and bound him in order to cast out demons. If that’s the case, then Satan is already bound… has been since, at least, the time of Jesus (if not sooner). What do you think?

    Posted by N.P. Sala | July 16, 2013, 12:30 AM

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