Friday, August 29, 2014

Saints, Satan, heaven and hell

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-4).
John's millennium receives disproportionate attention. That's unfortunate inasmuch as his millennium is secondary or penultimate to what follows. Of much greater importance is how the story ends (chaps. 21-22).
i) One question is where the millennium takes place. The text itself doesn't specify the locale. It's essential to the premil scheme that it happen on earth. Conversely, an earthly setting would be awkward (but not fatal) for amils. 
In favor of the earthly locale is the parallel with 5:10. By contrast, amils appeal to the parallel in 6:9-11 (cf. 14:13). In that event, it takes place in heaven. This is reinforced by the fact that v4a has its background in Dan 7:7-27, which is set in heaven. On balance, I think there's more exegetical support for the heavenly setting of the millennium. 
ii) There is, however, another related issue. How is the binding of Satan related to the millennium? One key is the probable contrast between the location of Satan and the location of the saints. The "pit" or abyss is a synonym for hades or the netherworld. In John's symbolic cosmography, that's down under. The lowest part of the universe. And that would form a natural contrast to heaven, which is the upper story of the universe. 
Indeed, this implicit contrast would furnish supporting evidence for the heavenly setting of the millennium. 
That, in turn, suggests the significance of their respective domains. The spatial separation between the saints in heaven and Satan's incarceration in hades means, among other things, that the saints are safe from Satan. Out of reach. Untouchable. He can't get to them. Not only is he imprisoned, but his prison is physically separated (symbolically speaking) from them. He's at the opposite end of the universe. 
iii) Incidentally, this may be one reason why Scripture uses the sky to symbolize God's dwelling place. God is invisible. You can scour the earth, but never find him. 
Putting God in the sky (as it were) is a way of saying God is out of sight. Too far away to be seen. Transcendent. 
Of course, God can make himself accessible to man. But that's at his initiative. 

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