Previous article in this series: January 15, 2016, p. 184.
Regardless that dispensational premillennialism insists that its expectation of a millennium of earthly power, riches, peace, and glory for Israel does not rest exclusively, or even mainly, on Revelation 20, Revelation 20 is fundamental to this eschatology.
If the premillennial understanding of Revelation 20 is in error, the whole of this doctrine of the last things is shown to be false.
In the immediately preceding articles in this series, I have given the premillennial explanation of, with some criticism of this explanation.
In this article and the following, I subject the premillennial understanding of Revelation 20 to further, and fuller, criticism.
First, a number of incidental errors contribute to the false premillennial understanding and explanation of Revelation 20. “Incidental” does not mean unimportant. These incidental errors are serious. But they are not the main, most obvious error of the premillennial interpretation.
It is an error on the part of premillennialism that it assumes that the events recorded in Revelation 20 follow the events of the second part of Revelation 19 temporally and historically.
According to premillennialism, the millennium of Revelation 20 will follow, in time and history, the appearance of Jesus Christ with the armies of heaven to destroy the kingdom of the beast—Antichrist. Premillennialism reads Revelation 20 as though it were the next chapter in a book of history. And the book of history, on the premillennial reading, is of such a nature that each chapter records events that follow in time the events of the preceding chapter. Premillennialism readsas though the apostle had written, “After the events recorded at the end of Revelation 19, an angel bound the devil.”
Temporal succession is not the relation between Revelation 19 and Revelation 20, as it is not the relation between other chapters in the book. Repeatedly, the book of Revelation takes the reader to the very end of history, only in the next chapter to survey the same period of the last days of history with regard to other, important developments. For example, Revelation 16 concludes with the end of human history, as is evident from the events themselves that are mentioned in the chapter and as is pronounced by God Himself, “It is done” ().
Chapter 17 does not, therefore, record further events in subsequent history. Rather, chapter 17 describes the same last days that are the subject of chapter 16, but now with regard to the judgment of the great whore.
The relation between Revelation 19 and Revelation 20 is not temporal. The events prophesied in Revelation 20 do not succeed the events prophesied in chapter 19.
Rather, Revelation 20:1-10 teaches the truth about the last days, from the ascension of Jesus to His second coming, with regard to the millennium. The truth of the millennium, or thousand years, includes the binding of Satan, the victory of the persecuted church in the millennium, and the final assault of Satan on the saints when the thousand years expire. The attack of Satan’s army upon the camp of the saints in Revelation 20:8, 9 is the same as the beast’s attack upon Christ and His army in . The destruction of the Satanic forces in Revelation 20:9 is the same as the destruction of the beast and his followers in .
The Binding of Satan
Another error of the premillennial explanation is its notion that the binding of Satan for a thousand years, which is taught in Revelation 20, puts an end to virtually all of his evil activities upon the human race and all of his corrupt influences within humans. This understanding of the binding of Satan allows for the premillennial view of the millennium as a period of history during which all kinds of evils, including human sins and sinfulness, are severely curtailed. Satan’s influence having been thus restricted, a majority of the human race will be saved, sin will not so strongly trouble mankind, and earthly life will prosper, as could not be the case were Satan on the loose.
The binding of Satan allows for the conversion of much of the world’s population, for the “golden age” of history, and for largely untroubled human life in the “golden age.”
In the interests of the flourishing of his earthly kingdom of God during the millennium, premillennialist Alva J. McClain explains the binding of Satan as resulting in the “total absence of war and…rigid control of disease and death” on earth. In addition,
the binding of Satan will show…the yet unrealized and vast possibilities of human life in physical existence on earth, even where sin still exists in a society composed of both regenerated and unregenerated men…. What this binding of Satan by our Lord will mean to the world has been well stated by Fausset: “A mighty purification will be effected…. Though sin will not be abolished—for men will still be in the flesh ()—sin will no longer be a universal power, for the flesh is no longer seduced by Satan. He will not be, as now, ‘the god and prince of the world’; nor will the world ‘lie in the wicked one’: the flesh will be evermore overcome…. The nations in the millennium will be prepared for a higher state, as Adam in Paradise, supposing he had lived in an unfallen state.”1
The error of this premillennial fantasy is its failure to take note of the text’s explicit description of the one effect of the binding of Satan, as it is the one purpose of Jesus Christ with this binding: “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled” ().
The binding of Satan has nothing to do with the restricting and lessening of his evil influence upon the human race. Humans remain totally depraved, completely under the control of Satan, as they were before his binding. They remain incapable of any good, hostile to the gospel, haters of God and of each other. There is no more openness to the gospel when Satan is bound than there was before he was bound. The expectation of premillennialism, therefore, that a majority of the race will be saved as a result of the binding of Satan is utterly mistaken. Although bound, Satan holds the masses of humanity in spiritual bondage; works to fill the cup of the world’s iniquity; instigates persecution of the believers in various countries; raises up heretics within the churches; and causes denominations of churches to apostatize from the truth.
One thing, and one thing only, Satan is restrained from accomplishing: deceiving the nations. During the millennium, Satan is unable to unite all the nations of the world as the kingdom of Antichrist. This divine restraint through the Lord Jesus with regard to a premature rising of the kingdom of Antichrist is the reference of the apostle in: “And now ye know what withholdeth that he [the ‘man of sin’ of verse 3] might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.”
In the Greek original of this passage, “withholdeth” and “letteth” translate the same Greek word meaning ‘restrain,’ or ‘hinder.’ Throughout the present age until almost the very end, Someone and something restrain Antichrist from making his appearance and accomplishing the devil’s purpose with him, namely, to unite all the world against the church of Christ Jesus. Only when the Restrainer is “taken out of the way” () will “that Wicked [Antichrist] be revealed” ( ). Revelation 20 describes this restraint as the binding of Satan.
The purpose of this binding of Satan and “withholding,” or restraining, of the Antichrist is, mainly, that Christ may gather the elect church out of the nations, something that would be impossible were the antichristian world-power to be established prematurely.
After the thousand years, when Christ has gathered His elect out of the nations, Satan will be loosed a little season (Rev. 20:3). He will then deceive the nations into forming the world-kingdom of the beast (vv. 7, 8).
Of a binding of Satan that virtually eradicates evil from the world, so that there can be a “golden age” for fallen mankind in history, Scripture knows nothing. Certainly, Revelation 20:1-10 predicts no such thing.
The gospel of Revelation 20 is Jesus’ gathering of the church throughout history. This great work of God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit determines that Satan will marshall his forces for a final, all-out assault on the kingdom of Christ—the church—when, and only when, the Lord Jesus, King and Savior of the church, allows and wills it. Until Jesus’ work of gathering the church is completed, “he who now letteth will let” (II Thess. 2:7).
These misunderstandings of Revelation 20 by premillennialism are not insignificant.
But they are not the fundamental error of premillennialism with regard to Revelation 20.
What the fundamental error is, I will point out in the next installment of this series on the millennium.
… to be continued.
1 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1959), 483.