1 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 20:1-7).
i) When was Satan bound? Amils typically think Satan was bound at the first advent of Christ. They think the binding of Satan spans the church age.
Premils typically think the binding of Satan refers to a subsection of church history towards the end of the church age. They base this on a chronological reading of Revelation, along with the contrast between his incarceration and his release.
There are a number of factors we have to take into account in assessing these alternatives.
ii) Is the arrangement of Revelation chronological? Many interpreters think Revelation is more cyclical than linear. They think it contains recapitulation. They disagree on the degree of recapitulation. Some think Revelation subdivides into seven sections. That would be appealing, given John’s fondness for septunarian numerology, but there are problems with that analysis:
a) Revelation doesn’t have clear breaks subdividing the scenes into seven sections.
b) Revelation isn’t the kind of book that the author wrote from scratch. Rather, it’s a record of John’s visions. As such, we wouldn’t necessarily expect it to exhibit the kind of artificial literary symmetry which would be possible if he were writing from scratch. John is an editor, not a creative writer.
c) Although John is fond of sevens, there are other significant figures in his numerology.
iii) The presence or absence of recapitulation isn’t strictly a dividing line between amils and premils. Premils like Keener and Mounce (2nd ed.) admit a degree of recapitulation. Conversely, a preterist like Charles thinks the arrangement is chronological.
iv) I myself think Revelation is somewhat repetitious, and intentionally so. That some scenes roughly parallel other scenes seems undeniable to me.
However, Revelation does have some progression. It builds to a climax. Even the recapitulations tend to develop what was said before.
iv) To the degree that Revelation has a recapitulatory structure, the arrangement is spatial rather than temporal. Like folding panels that face each other.
If some events are spatially related rather than temporally related, then that will affect our view of sequence. In that event, it wouldn’t be a case of one scene following another, but one scene corresponding to another. These might be contrasting scenes, depicting the same interval from different perspectives.
v) Revelation isn’t a straightforward historical narrative, with a clear past, present, and future. Rather, it’s a record of John’s visions. The series of visions doesn’t have many temporal markers, informing the reader when things happen in relation to other things. It doesn’t tell the reader where he is in the series of events. Is a particular scene past, present, or future to the reader?
Because we’re living 2000 years later, it’s tempting to place ourselves at certain points in the text. Or, conversely, to place various scenes somewhere along a timeline of church history. But the original audience didn’t have that retrospective viewpoint. That’s reading more into the text than is there. The framework itself doesn’t correlate the scenes to an external timeline. His visions aren’t time-indexed.
To take a comparison, two events might happen in the same month. One will be earlier and one will be later in relation to the month. However, that doesn’t tell you what month it is. That doesn’t tell you if it’s earlier or later in relation to the year. Is it January, March, July, November?
vi) Likewise, because we’re simply dealing with record of discrete visions, the record itself doesn’t tell the reader if these scenes refer to repeatable or unrepeatable events. What we have is a literary sequence of images, which derives from a visionary series of images. Discrete mental pictures, edited into a literary sequence.
Take the theme of martyrdom in 20:4. Christian martyrdom is not a one-time event. Christian martyrdom can (and does) happen periodically throughout church history.
It’s likely that some members of John’s churches were facing the prospect of martyrdom. So they’d see 20:4 in reference to their own time. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s confined to the 1C.
All we have in 20:4 is John’s vision of martyrdom and revival. The vision itself doesn’t indicate when that occurs or how often that occurs. The vision doesn’t arrange itself on a calendar. Where we place that vision in church history isn’t given in the text. Our chronological assignment is external to the text.
Likewise, is the binding of Satan a one-time event? Is the loosing of Satan a one-time event? This is just something that John saw, in a trance. The vision itself doesn’t correlate with a specific time in church history. By that I mean, an image, considered on its own terms, doesn’t map onto any particular event in church history. The actual timing isn’t given in the mental picture. No date. No year.
No doubt the visionary scene is meant to have an extratextual referent (or referents). But you can’t tell from the vision itself if that’s past, present, future, repeatable, or unrepeatable. Perhaps this alternation occurs throughout church history.