Satan’s Little Season
The title for today’s sermon comes from the end of verse 3. After having been bound for a thousand years, Satan will be loosed a little season. At this point I want to emphasize the word little. The duration of his final rebellion will be very brief. And it cannot be otherwise, since Jesus is the King of kings (Rev. 19:16) reigning over an everlasting kingdom (Isa. 9:6–7).
Then we come to this evening’s text, which seems to suggest that Satan’s rebellion may be more than just a “little” season. Once he is released from prison, he immediately embarks on a plan to defeat the church. He deceives the nations and gathers them to fight under his banner. And it seems like his program is rather effective. Note that the saints comprise only a camp or a city in verse 9, while the previous verse says that the number of those on Satan’s side is as the sand of the sea. Thus, it appears that Satan’s kingdom grows to the point where it nearly overwhelms the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
But before we come to this conclusion, let’s see what John actually wrote.
A Final Rebellion?
As we begin to look at this, we need to understand Satan’s final rebellion in relation to all that has been said thus far in the book of Revelation. The bulk of this book concerns God’s judgment against the first two persecutors of the church — pagan Jerusalem and pagan Rome. These two entities have now been defeated. Jerusalem was destroyed in chapter 11; and along with its destruction, Judaism, or what was left of it, was transformed into something that was completely at odds with the Old Testament scriptures. Following this, God judged Rome and cast the beast and the false prophet alive into the lake of fire forever. Then the question became, What will happen to Satan, who inspired the treachery of Jerusalem and Rome?
We were told in Revelation 12:12 that the time of Satan’s wrath against the people of God would be short. In fact, he would be allowed to vent his wrath only during the brief transitional period between the coming of Christ and the opening of the world to the gospel that took place in conjunction with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and God’s judgment against imperial Rome. That period, of course, has now ended. The binding of Satan in the first three verses of Revelation 20 guaranteed an end to his reign of terror. But when was he bound?
Last week we looked at four passages that teach unmistakably that Satan was bound during Christ’s earthly ministry. He was bound prospectively in the wilderness temptation and climactically at the cross. Colossians 2:15 says that Christ by his death on the cross spoiled principalities and powers and made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them. This means, then, that the thousand years of Satan’s imprisonment are not literal. Rather, they represent a very, very long time during which Satan is restrained. He has already been imprisoned for nearly two thousand years, and we have no idea how many thousands of years he may yet remain there.
Furthermore, the binding of Satan was for a specific purpose. The fact that Satan is bound certainly means that righteousness and peace will prevail on the earth, but more often than not this is defined in an all-too-worldly way. Some people think that it means the near eradication of sin in this world. And since I Peter 5:8 says that the devil walks around looking like a hungry lion in search of prey, they conclude that he must not be bound yet. The problem with this is that his imprisonment does not mean that he becomes totally inactive or that he has no influence. He’s bound with a chain but he can still move around. He’s more like a convicted mafia boss who continues to run his little fiefdom from jail. But none of this is a problem if we pay attention to verse 3, which relates Satan’s binding to only one matter: he was bound that he should deceive the nations no more. That is, he’s no longer able to prevent the worldwide preaching of the gospel, as he did before Jesus came when the gospel was pretty much limited to the Jews. Because Satan is bound, the gospel will now penetrate every nation and people group on the face of the planet. And righteousness and peace will prevail because these things come solely by the proclamation of the finished work of Jesus Christ and are defined by it.
While it is true that Satan’s imprisonment prevents him from reestablishing his pretentious kingdom during the millennium, this morning’s text says that he will be released at the end of the thousand years. He will then go out to deceive the nations, represented by Gog and Magog (imagery borrowed from Ezekiel 38–39), in an effort to destroy the church.
Apparently, he is at least somewhat successful in this. He gathers a massive army, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea, and lays siege against the camp of the saints, i.e., the church, which is also described as the beloved city. The large number on Satan’s side suggests a pseudo-covenant. In Genesis 22:17, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky. By gathering a massive army, Satan attempts to imitate God’s covenant. On the other hand, the saints of God are represented as a mere camp that sounds so small and helpless in comparison.
But in reality Satan’s success in this campaign is not as great as it might seem. The two images of the church give us a very different picture. For example, the camp of the saints looks back to the exodus, when the number of Jews who left Egypt under Moses numbered in the millions. There were so many of them, in fact, that Moses himself said, The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude (Deut. 1:10). So, the fact that the saints are pictured as a camp does not mean that they are few. The saints are also called the beloved city. Premillennialists imagine that this city is a rebuilt Jerusalem. I believe it testifies to the fact that God’s covenant community in the New Testament era enjoys the same privileges, in fact, better privileges, than Jerusalem had under the old economy. What are those privileges? Psalm 46 says, There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early (vv. 4–5). In fact, the rest of this psalm goes on to talk about a war that’s very much like the one we have in our text. The psalmist wrote, The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (vv. 6–11).
Given the size of the camp and the fact that the sovereign Lord of all creation protects his covenant people, Satan’s final rebellion does not seem nearly as ominous as many suppose.
But in this case what the text doesn’t say is probably as important as what it does say. It says that Satan undertakes a plan to deceive the nations and fight against the church. The number of those whom he deceives is large. But our text does not say or even suggest that it is a majority. Nor does it say that the battle is anything to worry about. To the contrary, there’s no battle at all. As soon as the devils and his troops lay siege against the city, the fire of God’s wrath comes down from heaven and destroys them. The kingdom of Jesus Christ suffers no harm whatsoever. The devil is then cast into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet awaited his arrival.
The Second Coming
Although most of us would probably not think of the second coming of Christ when we read verses 7–10, we should. Where is it? Look at the latter part of verse 9: Fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
On the surface, this interpretation seems a little far-fetched. Something of as much importance to Christianity as the second coming would certainly be worthy more ink than a mere half a verse. But there are several weighty reasons for believing that the fire from heaven symbolizes the second coming.
To begin with, the book of Revelation is not primarily concerned with the second coming. John constantly reminded us that he wrote about things that must shortly come to pass. Consequently, most of Revelation concerns things that were future when John wrote them, but were fulfilled in the first century, viz., God’s judgments against the first persecutors of the church. In our immediate text, however, Revelation leaps forward into the distant future to show the final outcome of all those who succumb to Satan’s power. We have to keep in mind, though, that this is not the book’s main purpose. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the second coming occupies so little space and is described so obliquely.
In addition to this, we should also consider the chronology of this section. In verses 1–6 of this chapter, the saints are still alive on earth. The angel, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ, comes down from heaven to bind the devil, who wanted to deceive the nations. This represents Christ’s earthly ministry. But in verses 11–15 we have the final judgment. John saw the great white throne of judgment, where all men will judged by God out of his books. After the judgment, death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire along with everyone whose name is not found in the book of life. Now, somewhere between these two passages Jesus has to come back. Other parts of scripture make it clear that he will return immediately before the resurrection and final judgment. Jesus said, When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory (Matt. 25:31). Likewise, Paul wrote to Timothy, I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom (II Tim. 4:1). Where else could the second coming be in our text, except the fire that consumes the devil and his army?
But there’s still one more thing to consider — the fire. Obviously, the fire is figurative. It represents Christ’s wrath in judgment. But on the other hand it’s not completely figurative. Fire will, in fact, be a major element of the second coming. Paul wrote that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power (II Thess. 1:7–9). Peter also spoke of the destruction of the earth by fire in that day. He wrote, But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.… But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (II Pet. 3:7 and 10). Thus, using fire to represent the Lord’s second coming is not without warrant.
If it’s true that the second coming occurs in verse 9, then perhaps that explains something else. It might seem rather strange that the Lord would unleash Satan once he was bound. Why would he do so? What purpose would it serve? For that matter, we might wonder why God created the devil at all. He knew what kind of scoundrel Satan would be when he made him. In fact, God created him just so that he would be such a scoundrel. But why?
The answer seems to be that God created Satan and unleased him for purposes of comparison. The difference between white and black is especially clear when white and black exist side by side. In another place, Paul explained why God created another villain, viz., Pharaoh. He wrote, For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth (Rom. 9:17).
After the millennium, because Satan had been bound for so long, it’s possible that some people might question whether Satan was really as bad as God said he was. If God simply cast him into hell without one last demonstration of his depravity, God might look like the bad guy. But if God gives Satan one last opportunity to demonstrate conclusively how wicked he really is, and if he does the just before the second coming and final judgment, in which Christ’s glory and righteousness will be fully unveiled, then there will be no doubt whatsoever that God was perfectly just.
Thus, we find here the greatest example of God’s absolute sovereignty. Proverbs 16:4 says, The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
Satan’s little season is just that — a LITTLE season. The Lord Jesus Christ will give him just enough rope to hang himself and no more. And Satan, so convinced in his own mind that he would prevail, will make full use of it.
This is not something the church should fear. There are three reasons why I say this. First, Satan’s final rebellion will only last a short while. It is a little season. Afterward, the church enters into the presence of Christ forever. Second, although Satan will succeed at mustering a large army against the church, the camp of God is at least as big, if not bigger. If the Jews under Moses were already as numerous as the stars in the sky, how large will the church on earth be when Christ returns? Third, the saints of God do not engage in battle anyway. God protects their city, and ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ comes again from heaven to cast all his and our enemies into everlasting destruction.
Satan’s last assault against the kingdom of Jesus Christ only establishes once again that the kingdom of Jesus Christ rules over all creation. No one — not even the devil himself — can stand in the ways of its progress. But Satan’s little season has one positive result: it prepares the world for the Lord’s second coming, which is the hope of everyone who puts his trust in Jesus Christ. Amen.