Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Where is Satan?

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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea (Rev 20:1-8).

This is a dispensational prooftext. The sequence of events is cited as evidence for a dispensational timetable. First Satan is bound. This creates breathing space for the millennium. Then he’s released. The question then is, what does this interval correspond to in church history?

However, the premil interpretation is deceptively simple:

i) A sequence of visions is not a sequence of events. Moreover, in writing down his visions, John has to put them in some sort of order. Writing is a linear medium.

ii) But there’s a deeper issue. The text describes Satan in spatial and temporal terms. Satan is confined to a subterranean prison. But dispensational scholars don’t accept that at face value. They don’t think Satan is a physical dragon, whom the angel bound with a metal chain, and confined to the Netherworld, under lock-and-key.

This raises a question: why do they think the spatial markers are figurative, but the temporal markers are literal? Why is the “where” symbolic or metaphorical, but the “when” is literal or chronological? If you can’t find Satan on a map, why assume you can find him on a calendar? Why is the address figurative, but the date is literal?

Would it not be more consistent to either interpret both spatial and temporal representations literally or interpret both symbolically? If John is using spatial metaphors, isn’t that a literary clue to the fact that John is using temporal metaphors? A unified spatiotemporal word-picture? 

Cf. Craig Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things (Eerdmans 2001), 181.


  1. On the subject of eschatology, what do you think about historicism?

    1. The correlations constantly shift depending on what century you're living in.

    2. I think there is a fair amount of agreement among historicist interpreters on the historical outfolding of numerous prophecies. Most identify the four horsemen of Revelation with the progression of the pagan Roman Empire, for instance, which bear remarkable similarities. I think it is futurists who are most prone to reinterpret the prophesied events in terms of contemporary situations (YouTube being the prime exhibition of such). (Not that this is necessarily representative of serious futurist exegetes).

    3. It's true that premils are notorious for giving conflicting interpretations of how endtime prophecies correlate with contemporary events. It changes every decade (give or take).