Historians devote themselves to the study of human events. Many people write memoirs, more write letters, some keep detailed diaries. Others will write poems or songs or incorporate what they have seen into paintings, drawings, frescoes or even cave art. Historians study these things; the way things used to be can be fascinating.
The Bible is partly a history of human events, but being God inspired goes much further. It reveals a realm beyond human events, a realm of created spiritual beings. The scriptures reveal them as powerful and existing in a hierarchy of their own. They are beings unlike ourselves, spirits, who have a past, present and future of their own. We know them as angels and demons.
The scripture indicates that at some point the angels and their fallen counterparts each possessed the independence of a free will. Real independence is accompanied by real consequences. At some point in angelic history a third of the angels elected to make their own kingdom. The consequence of this was to fall, forever, from the shores of heaven. Those fallen are termed demons, and among them is a hierarchy with Satan, Lucifer by name, securely ruling at its top.
At the conclusion of Revelation 19 two of Satan’s chief minions1 were dispatched to the lake of fire (lesson link). He, however, remained alive and well, free to roam about the world where he had so long exercised his deceitful influence. Look now at Revelation 20.
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. (Revelation 20:1-3–ESV)
The Devil is locked up
The first character we see is an unidentified angel. We are not given his name, but from his assignment he clearly has considerable rank and power. Assuredly these two beings are intimately acquainted with each other. Only a few specifics of this angel are given us the first being that which he is carrying: a key and a chain.
Key and chain
The key opens the door to the abyss. We have seen this place before back in Revelation 9. In that passage an angel came from heaven to earth with this same key. The angel used it to open this abyss, this Bottomless Pit as it occasionally is termed, and from this dark jail poured a demonic army. Also emerging from this lock-up was a high ranking demon, Abaddon, who was to lead that army to torment (they could not kill) those who did not have the Mark of the Beast.
So this place in Revelation 20 is a dark place, a holding cell, a prison if you will. Completing this picture of impending capture and incarceration was the second thing brought by that angel: a great chain.
Seizure and Binding
Have you ever watched the cable channel Animal Planet on TV? Sometimes they will have shows which feature the capture of nuisance animals, like alligators or snakes. Maybe even cornered raccoons or possum? Of course those shows are dramatic, but reality is also in play. Those animals don’t like being caught and so they fight. They have to be taken by force and after they are subdued they must be restrained until they are taken to their new location.
Take those concepts to Revelation 20:2. There was a run up while the angel made his way to the dragon. Who knows whether he was hiding or waiting in plain view. I don’t think we know if spiritual beings are even able to hide from each other. When the angel arrived, though, he had to seize him. He had to be taken by force. Satan was not a willing party to his arrest, nor did he turn himself in at the abyss at some court appointed time. No, he was seized and then bound. A bounty hunter is a better analogy here.
Thrown and trapped
The theme of Satan’s unwilling incarceration is carried on in John’s dream. The devil was thrown, bound, into the pit. The lid was shut and then sealed. Presumably the angel went back to heaven taking the key with him. In both the Revelation 9 passage and this one they key came down from heaven.
What God locks up no man can unlock.
No created being can unlock. Satan, the powerful enemy of God is a created being. He was chained and sealed away from humanity.
Angels are God’s agents
Never forget that angels are God’s agents present in our world only by the command of God. Some possess untold power as we see in today’s passage, but no angel is independent from God’s intentions. They are unquestionably loyal to God and will never overstep his intentions. Angels have a myriad of tasks, but they are all God assignments.
When you hear the word angel remember to consider the Bible’s description of them over and above your culture’s description of them. Sometimes our culture tells us what they think of angels. More often than not the culture is co-opting angels for mankind’s benefit. We want a thing a certain way, or we want certain comfort so we run off in our mind and concocting an imaginary creature to be all that we think we want. That is a genie in a bottle, a three-wish dispenser of human invention. In James we are told that when we ask we do not receive because we ask with wrong motives, that we may spend what we get on our pleasures. Prayer requests are not for pleasure trips.
Same story with angels. They are not at our beck and call. They are agents of God’s will and intention.
We are to be God’s agents
To properly connect this to our experience we need to grasp where humans fit in the free-will spectrum. People who are alive on earth are like the population of angels before things crystallized into a final format, that is before they were designated angels and demons. We still have choice. Our natural inclination is toward self and Satan prowls around deceiving, gobbling up the seeds of invitation God showers all over the earth. Will we be God followers? Or, will we be deceived? Will we be like angels or like demons? Like Jesus or like Satan?
Our own personal approach to life should be the same as the angels. We are to be God’s agents living and being among our fellow man: Christian and non-Christian alike. What Christ was while he walked on the earth is what we are to be as along as we walk the earth.
Whatever we do we are to do to the glory of God. Our outlook can easily drift into annoyance at the mundane or the rat race through the things we hate to get on to the things we love. Valuable pieces of life happen in the mundane. Eternal opportunities are present in things we hate, or think we hate. We do eternally well to consider our presence on the earth God-ordained and then live each of our moments as his agents.
An agent of grace or mercy, an agent of wisdom and insight, all purposefully wrapped in an intention to meet the needs of others: can we be that? Can we at least aim for that?
So that he might not deceive…
So recall that Satan was not placed in the lake of fire, but in the Abyss. He was not permanently banished, yet. That will be coming but for a 1,000 years the scriptures say the earth will exist without his deceitful influence. The scriptures first introduced us to Satan in Genesis 3 where his deceit crashed humanity. How long Adam and Eve lived without his influence we are not told, but since the fall of man Satan has been right there with us. He has come alongside humanity with nothing other than ill intent.
So in Revelation 20 humanity has that great negative lifted from her shoulders. With him parked in the Abyss the next lesson will show a Satan-less earth. Not a sin-less earth, but one without Satan’s deceptions layered on top of man’s own evil drives and tendencies. No one will be able to say, “The Devil made me do it.” Nope, he will be dispatched. There will be struggles then, but the struggles will be against self. I expect that we will continue to see all manner of evil, shortcoming, self-service even in the absence of Satan. We will also so all manner of goodness. How it will finally take shape I will venture no guess, but God’s thousand years will not be in vain I assure you that.