Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Binding the devil

Alan has posted the following challenge to amillennialism:

1) I disagree with Alan’s premise. One emblematic function of time and space is that time and space can both serve as barriers. They can separate one thing from another.

i) So, for instance, Satan is incarcerated in the abyss because physical confinement restricts his field of activity. Not that Satan is literally confined by physical barriers. Rather, that’s a way of symbolizing how God delimits what Satan is capable of doing.

A comparable example is the New Jerusalem, which is portrayed as a fortified city on a mountaintop. To some degree the imagery its background in ancient siege warfare. But here the mountain and the walls are too smooth and steep for an invading army to scale. The walls are too hard and thick to breach. And the gates are guarded by angelic sentinels. This is a supermax paradise, designed, not to keep people in, but to keep people out. Cf. R. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People,” Novum Testamentum 29/3 (Jul., 1987), 254-264

ii) But by the same token, time is also equivalent to a physical barrier. What’s past can’t hurt what's present or the future. What’s future can’t hurt what’s past or present. What’s present can’t hurt what’s past or future.

If, say, you and I are separated by a thousand-year interval, if you happen to live a thousand years before or after me, then there’s nothing you can do to harm me, or vice versa. You might as well live on the far side of the moon. Indeed, there’s a sense in which time is a more effective barrier than space. For spatial barriers can often be breached or traversed, but sufficient distance in time rather than space is insurmountable.

2) I think John is using temporal and spatial metaphors to illustrate the same principle: beyond a certain point, God’s people are immune to diabolical harm. Satan can do his worst in this life–he can kill or torture God’s people, but killing them releases them. Killing is actually an escape. Once they pass from earth to heaven, they are out of reach. God puts distance between his people and their Satanic adversary. Both spatial and temporal distance. And these are equivalent metaphors.

3) In that respect, I see Rev 20:1-3 and 4-6 as two back-to-back panels. The binding of Satan is obversant to the martyrs in heaven.

Revelation is, of course, situated in the context of persecution. The persecution of Christians by Jews and Roman officials. That doesn’t mean Revelation is describing or responding to a particular decade in 1C history. The imagery is more generic and hyperbolic than that. And that’s why it’s adaptable to analogous events throughout church history.

4) In what sense are the nations both exposed to deception and shielded from deception? I think Satan is “bound” in reference to the “full number” of the elect (6:11). They are “sealed” (chap. 7). That’s another protective metaphor.

By contrast, you have those who bear the mark of the beast, which is the diabolical counterpart (or counterfeit) to the divine sealing.


  1. Steve,

    I have never thought about that before, although I must confess a general lack of thinking about my millennial position (amil) these past few years.

    In your view what does the unbinding of Satan refer to?

  2. Satan's deception of those who bear the mark of the beast. I think those are equivalent metaphors. Picture language for the same basic idea.