Chaining The Dragon

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Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. (Rev 20:13 RSV)

John saw a vision of an angel coming down from heaven, on a mission from God. The angel was equipped with the key to the Abyss (or bottomless pit, as also mentioned in Rev. 9:1ff, and probably the same as Tartarus in II Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) and a great chain. This angel had the task of binding the dragon, Satan, the Devil, for 1,000 years. Notice in this vision that the angel doesn’t have to struggle with Satan and defeat him, but only seize and bind him, for he is already defeated and ready to be seized. Jesus had accomplished the defeat and facilitated the binding of Satan by his own submission to death and his victorious resurrection. In Revelation 12:7-12 we read that in another of John’s visions he had seen Satan defeated “by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” Jesus’ death, in fulfillment of God’s promises from the very beginning, unseated Satan and broke his dominion.

Jesus himself had said that he must bind Satan in order to despoil his house or kingdom. When accused of doing miracles by Satan’s power Jesus demolished that accusation and then said, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” (Matt. 12:28-29 NIV) In order to take what Satan had claimed as his own, Jesus first had to bind or confine Satan. Since our citizenship in heaven depends on being removed from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13-14), we can conclude that Jesus has done as he promised and overcome his powerful adversary; that after his own death, burial, and resurrection, the strong man was bound, and his house open to plunder. Jesus also taught his disciples that the “gates of Hades” would not prevail against his church (Matt. 16:17-20).

Just before his own betrayal and crucifixion Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:31-32 NIV) Jesus taught then that Satan must be bound in order to take what he had claimed away from him (which includes sinners like ourselves), and that in the process of his own imminent death Satan would be driven out and judgment begin. Shortly after this Jesus again mentioned judgment in the same context, describing judgment as one of the things the Holy Spirit would convict the world of (John 16:7-11); the Holy Spirit whose full fledged arrival upon the apostles occurred about seven weeks later (Acts 2:33).

Then again, in Heb. 2:14-15 we read “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (NAS)” So Jesus, through death, broke the power of Satan and made freedom possible for all of us who have flesh and blood. As John put it, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8b NIV) These verses leave little doubt as to when the binding of Satan occurred. His power was curtailed, his kingdom despoiled, and his activities limited when Jesus had accomplished his victory over death. That victory was sealed with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:21-22). No one need be subject to Satan. Freedom for the prisoners has been won (Luke 4:18, Gal. 5:1). Satan himself cannot come between God and his child (Rom. 8:37-39), but instead “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The dragon has been chained.

Since Satan has been defeated, the Christian has the assurance that we can “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7b, 1 Peter 5:8-9) Christ, by his sacrificial victory, has set limits on Satan, and plundered his kingdom. He took away the “keys of death and hades” (Rev. 1:18)

Knowing that Satan has been bound and his power limited, men who choose evil and death are truly without excuse (Acts 17:30). When freedom has been won, choosing oppression is a perversity that requires judgment and condemnation, but many “love darkness rather than light” (John 3:19-21). Since John’s vision in Revelation 20 included the statement that after 1,000 years Satan must be released for a short time, it appears that Satan will again have his “heyday” of activity when, apparently, men are given the god they have sought, the king they have clamored for, the prince of darkness they serve, even in his defeat. As with other time periods in Revelation, the 1000 years must a symbol, a complete number (10 being a number used in this way, including multiples of 10). “Dragon” is a symbolic depiction of Satan, a “chain” is a symbolic description of his being limited, and “1,000 years” is a symbol of a God given period of grace. God has not left himself without testimony but much of mankind rejects Him until the fullness of time (Acts 3:21, 17:31) when He lets them see just what they have chosen before bringing on the judgment. The purpose of Satan’s release is most likely to sharply challenge men to turn from him and repent (Rev. 9:20-21, 16:11). Mankind receives what mankind chooses. Nevertheless, “terrible times” are not sufficient to turn men to the Lord (II Tim. 3:1ff, Matt. 24:12). As things grow worse in this world, and Jesus said they will (Matt. 24:8, 12-13), the contrast between righteous and unrighteous ought to grow more apparent, unless indeed the Son of Man will not “find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8). But we are assured that there will indeed be a “camp of God’s people” (Rev. 20:9). Still, when Satan is released “for a little time” before the end, most will be calloused to the “increase in wickedness” and will think the world normal, as it was in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), not even realizing how pervasive wickedness and violence have become. It is an easier thing to discern the time of Satan’s binding, when Jesus overcame him according to the scriptures, than to discern the time of his release, immersed as Christians are in the culture of their own times. Yet, even when Satan is loosed from limitations imposed upon him by God’s will in Jesus Christ, the Christian victory remains firmly in place and freedom in Christ a certainty, guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit.

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