Monday, July 21, 2014

Deceiving the nations

The "binding" of Satan in a way that keeps him from "deceiving the nations" (Rev 20:2-3) serves well as a description of the present age, in which the gospel is being spread to all the peoples of the world. In previous ages, the message of redemption was essentially confined to the borders of a single nation of the world. But now all nations are the privileged possessors of God's saving grace…Jesus himself referred to the binding of Satan in connection with the overthrow of his evil kingdom during his own earthly ministry (Mt 12:28-29). His disciples rejoiced in the fact that even the demons were subject to them (Lk 10:17-18). When Greeks came to him, Jesus declared that "now" the prince of this world would be cast out, and that when he was lifted up, he would draw all men to himself (Jn 12:31-32). Clearly the power to deceive the nations has been broken. O. P. Robertson, The Israel of God, 161-62. 
Satan is bound, meaning that his power to influence the nations is suppressed. Premillennialists and some postmillennialists associate this event with the advent of an extraordinary future era of peace and prosperity, contrasting with the present (1 Thess. 2:18; 1 Pet. 5:8). But amillennial interpretation, the binding of Satan has already taken place through Christ’s death and resurrection (John 12:31; cf. Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:9; Matt. 12:29). The present spread of the gospel to the nations, as initiated in Acts, is the result of a restriction on Satan’s power to deceive. Possibly this restriction on Satan’s power is closely associated with the present temporary demise of the Beast (17:8). The deceiving of the nations takes place largely through the activity of the Beast (13:14; 16:14; 19:20). As the Beast can suffer repeated defeats (17:8, 10), so Satan can suffer repeated defeats in his power over the nations. The loosing of Satan in 20:7-10 represents his final attempt, leading to his final defeat.

i) Premills remain unconvinced. For one thing, they point out that the binding and loosing of Satan involves a three-stage sequence:

Satan unbound>Satan bound>Satan unbound

In other words, the binding of Satan presumes that he was unbound prior to his binding. And that, in turn, is followed by his release. 

By contrast, the amil interpretation is gradualistic, with the progressive spread of the Gospel. That fails to do justice to the alternating pattern. 

We could raise some additional objections:

ii) Rather than interpreting this passage of Revelation in relation to Revelation itself, the amil interpretation relies on passages outside of Revelation. 

iii) Moreover, Robertson's projection is too schematic and idealistic. The history of Christian mission doesn't reflect the stately progress of the Gospel, where Satan's dominions fall one after another like dominos to the inexorable advance of the Gospel. What we actually witness is ground won and ground lost. Reversals. Countries or people-groups which had been pagan are evangelized. Yet after a few centuries, they may revert. It's not as if we win a nation or ethnic group to the Gospel, lock in our gains, then proceed to the next frontier. Formerly Christian countries or ethnicities may commit national apostasy or be conquered by militant followers of a new false prophet. 

iv) In fairness to the amil interpretation, it's not as if the premil interpretation is without internal difficulties. After the enemies are decimated in Rev 19, followed by a spiritual renaissance in 20:4-6, the enemies in vv7-10 seem to spring up out of nowhere. 

I still think an amil interpretation is defensible, but it needs to be retooled. 

i) It's precarious to press the sequence in Revelation. For one thing, this book is an anthology of visions. John saw one thing, then another, then another. His visions are collected in the book. But what this or that discrete vision refers to may be independent of the sequence in which the visions are collected and ordered. Think of other prophetic anthologies in Scripture. Eventually, a prophet's disparate oracles are combined in one book. But the editorial arrangement isn't the same thing as the historical sequence in which they were received, delivered, or denote. 

ii) In addition, John incorporates material from several sources. The reason scenes are arranged in a particular order in Rev 19-22 is because, to some degree, he is imitating Ezk 37-48. Moreover, he intercalates material from Isaiah, Zechariah, &c. So the sequence is arguably a bit arbitrary, inasmuch as he must find some place or another to wedge this material. 

iii) I think it's better to understand the binding and loosing of Satan as a discrete vision (among others), "interrupted" by vv4-6, which presents a repeatable principle in church history. In this struggle, both sides score temporary victories and setbacks. The boundaries of Satan's kingdom expand and contract throughout the course of church history. He is pushed back for a time. In retreat. Then he rallies and rebounds. There's no consistent pattern. No permanent borders. 

Thankfully, this won't go on indefinitely. 


  1. I appreciate this piece, steve;.thanks for posting it. One is hard pressed to find a mediating voice in the typically doctrinaire eschatalogical minefield that lies between the premillers (especially dispies) and amillers.

  2. In fairness to ii) Everything in Revelation is supposed to connection something else in The Bible.

    I am absolutely premillennial however, the issue of the Resurrection alone leaves that without dispute to me.

    1. Yes, Revelation is connected to other books of the Bible, as well as the historical narrative of Scripture. However, commentators can't simply assume whatever a Gospel writer is talking about refers to the same thing Revelation is talking about. In general, it's best to start by interpreting each book on its own terms, the flow or argument and cross-references, as well as literary allusions.