What does Revelation 20:2–3 mean by saying that Satan is bound a thousand years in the bottomless pit? Is this referring to a future millennium or is Satan already bound?

Revelation 20:2–3 reads:

And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

Premillennialists usually take this verse to refer to a literal binding of Satan during an earthly millennium in the future. I used to hold to this view, but I am now convinced that this is incorrect. Let me explain.

First of all, I believe that the thousand years refer to the current Gospel age. I will not take time to explain this, but William Hendriksen,—in his book More than Conquerors (pp. 184–5),—has shown rather conclusively that there is a striking parallel between Revelation 11–14 on the one hand and Revelation 20 on the other hand. Both segments divide history into the birth of Christ and ending with the second coming of Christ in judgment. In other words, Revelation 20 does not cover a future period, as commonly assumed. I would highly recommend you to read the book.

abussos) must be symbolic. Satan is a spirit being; how could he be shut up in a hole, bottomless or otherwise? Thus even the verbs: “cast,” “shut,” “seal,” “loosed,” must also be understood symbolically. Is there any reason then why we should not take the thousand years symbolically? But the point I wish to highlight here is that the passage must be referring not to a physical binding, but to a restriction of activity or a curtailing of power.

Thirdly, the casting out and binding of Satan is not mentioned only in this passage. When the seventy disciples of the Lord returned after their preaching tour, they reported to the Lord saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Lk 10:17). Notice the Lord’s reply: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Lk 10:18). Did the Lord mean to say that he saw Satan visibly falling like lightning from the sky? Quite obviously not; Satan is a spirit being. The Lord must again be using symbolic language. What does He mean but that Satan was cast down in order that the preaching of the Gospel might not be hindered? When the disciples reported back to the Lord, they sounded almost boastful, and the Lord had to remind them that it was because God had cast Satan down.

In another passage, the Pharisees accused the Lord of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mk 3:22). Among the Lord’s statements in response, He said: “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house” (Mk 3:27). Now, the word rendered ‘bind’ (Greek: deô) is exactly the same word rendered ‘bound’ in Revelation 20:2. What does the Lord mean by spoiling Satan’s house, but the advance of the Gospel in the world, which was in a certain sense under the dominion of Satan? Remember how Satan, who is called “the prince of this world” (Jn 12:31), had offered Christ all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down to worship him (Mt 4:8–9)? Does this not explain what Revelation 20:3 mean by the binding of Satan so that “he should deceive the nations no more”? Is this not also what the Lord was referring to when He said: “… I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18b)? Satan, who hitherto had blinded the nations so that they walk in their own ways, would be prevented from doing so during the Gospel era until towards the end when he shall be loosed for a season.

We may say that the binding of Satan begun when the Lord triumphed over him in the temptation in the wilderness. This binding is manifested in the advance of the Gospel in the beginning of the Lord’s ministry; and it was sealed in the Lord’s death and resurrection. This is why after the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem for His death, a voice from heaven declared: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31; cf. Col 2:15).

Now, it may be asked: “If Satan is presently cast out and bound, why is it we still see millions of people and even nations blinded by Satan and held captive in false religion?” We may answer in two ways: first, we must believe in the doctrine of sovereign election, and realise that God has no reason to prevent Satan from blinding any who may be reprobate.  Calvin has well said:

Christ, by dying, conquered Satan, who had the “power of death,” (Heb 2:14), and triumphed over all his forces, to the end that they might not harm the Church,… God does not allow Satan to rule over the souls of believers, but gives over only the impious and unbelievers,—whom he deigns not to regard as members of his own flock,—to be governed by him (ICR 1.14.18).

But more importantly, secondly, we must remember that the binding of Satan is relative to the preaching of the Gospel. The Church has a responsibility! If we are sitting quiet and complacent, could it be that it is not that Satan is not bound, but simply that we are not trying hard enough to preach the Gospel or to be witnesses for Christ?

Satan is already bound. May the Lord grant us, before Satan is loosed again for a season, that we be ever zealously preaching and witnessing for the Lord Jesus Christ.