Satan and Salvation History (Fourth Revision)

Article Index

 

by Mark E. Mountjoy

Introduction

Where there is an enormous clash between Full Preterism and Atavism is on the question of the whereabouts and activity of Satan during and immediately after Jesus' earthly ministry.  Preterists carry over the Amillennial teachings that Satan was cast out and bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18).  Yet Jesus did not say he saw Satan bound, and further, it is possible to interpret what Jesus said as a vision he had of what would happen in the near future (Revelation 12:13). The Gospels simply do not demonstrate Satan's absence at all (Matthew 4:1-11; 16:23; Luke 22:3). Neither is such an absence established  by anything Acts or the remainder of the Pauline or the rest of the New Testament epistles portray.

And so, this same question becomes even more important for a correct understanding, exegesis and interpretation of the Book of Revelation—why? Because Preterism's mixed message makes two opposing claims about what Satan was doing and where he was, at once.  Unfortunately, Preterism's claims ALREADY has the upper hand among the masses of people who now believe Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled by A.D.70.  It will not be very easy to change minds a second time to a view of Bible prophecy that actually ends with the power of the Jewish people being scattered, not by Titus, but by Hadrian.

But it makes no sense and what we consider most untrue is that Satan was bound and then loosed to round up the Jews to revolt against the Romans in the A.D.66-70 debacle.  According to Preterists Satan was bound during the ministry of Jesus and loosed on the eve of Jerusalem's fall.  In this scenario Satan was free during the forty-two months of the Jewish war and then cast into the lake of fire in A.D.70.

Accordingly, Preterists, in their zeal and overconfidence, believe nothing in second century Jewish history would indicate that the serpent did anything militarily or otherwise that would warrant a belief that a final Jewish revolt—nearly seven decades after the destruction of the Second Temple—might more easily describe and satisfy the juxtaposition of events that we see from Revelation 20:1 to the release of Satan in Revelation 20:7-10. 

Problematic Passages

One of the first features that strikes one as unique (and strange) is Full Preterism's insistence that Revelation chapter 20 fits neatly into historic events which happen from A.D.30 to A.D.70.  To make this claim, however, is to commit oneself to a form of intellectual conundrum of exegetical dishonesty that glaringly defies logic, history and even the imagination, no matter what.  In terms of logic, it is impossible to understand how the Day of Pentecost of A.D.33 shows up anywhere as late as Revelation chapter 20; and there is no reason for it!  In terms of history, Full Preterists can't explain why the Zealots of the Jewish world were still in large enough numbers to pose serious problems to the stability and safety of the Roman Empire as early as A.D.73 (Masada, the Forests of Jarden and Machaerus) shortly after Jerusalem fell. 

But even more: Under Trajan new and even more dangerous commotions arose in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Cyrene, leading to thousands of deaths on all sides.  And, lastly, the Full Preterist aversion to the process of Bible prophecy reveals its disconnection the most by its regarding the almost four year long Simon Bar Kokhba rebellion, its size and initial success and its audacious Messianic goals as a thing of very little consequence and entirely beyond the scope of prophecies that directly address its outcome.  The passages that prove most problematic for their view are summed up in one verse in Revelation 20, (i.e., vs.8) but two detailed chapters in Ezekiel 38 and 39.

Now, it is already evident that Satan was not bound in the earthly ministry of our Lord and none but the self-deluded would dare say otherwise.  But it is in Acts where it becomes more and more obvious that Satan's ability to move around becomes clear . . .

From what can be seen,  not only in Acts (see Acts 5:1ff and 8:10), but also in 2 Corinthians 11:14, evidence of this evil spirit's work at a time when he was supposedly bound can also be plainly observed.  Not only that, but Paul's notions about Satan in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Ephesians 2:1 do not blend well with the idea of Satan being behind proverbial bars.

Moreover, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, Paul describes Satan working with "all power and signs and lying wonders." Paul's prophecy envisions the downfall of the Jewish people in unhappy circumstances that would lead to the entrapment of thousands of pilgrims in the doomsday city and Temple.  With context as king we can only come away with the idea that the mystery of iniquity was then being orchestrated by a free agent: Satan himself (see also 2 Timothy 2:26 and 3:8 in this regard).

Not only was Satan at work in Judea (see James 4:7), not only was he at work in Achaia and Macedonia (1 Thessalonians 2:18), but he was also very active and aggressive in Asia Minor as well (1 Peter 5:8 cf. 1 John 5:19).  In all these situations and in all these texts, we never once get even the faintest idea that Satan is under lock and key in any bottomless pit!

Revelation's Similar Theme

Now, from what we have seen above, there is no evidence or proof that Satan was absent from the world in any way, shape or form.  Can anyone disagree with this assessment?  All we see is that he was definitely in command of the "children of disobedience" whose minds were blinded to the glorious Gospel of grace (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Book of Revelation, then, follows hard upon those reports with even more evidence that the devil could hardly be said to be shut up, sealed and bound in an abysmal prison in the Apostolic period.

Note Revelation 2:24; 13:4 and 16:13 (where John writes, "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet"), this is not proof of the devil's absence, but his very real and malevolent presence!

Thus, from what we are told, then, Satan was quite active and quite free—in the Gospels, Acts and in the epistles.  In all that time nothing changed, but Paul saw that something would soon change (see Romans 16:20). Hence, only in Revelation 12:3-17 does Satan suffer humiliation and only there does his historic downfall come into direct view.  There it reads:-

3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.  4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.  5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.  6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven,

'Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down,

which accused them before our God day and night.  11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony;

and they loved not their lives unto the death.  12 Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!

for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.'

13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.

14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.  16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

It must be remembered that, in conventional wisdom, Revelation 12 happens either when Jesus was born or further back, in prehistoric times.  The contextual constraints of the chapter, however, do not allow this latitude of historic wiggle room.  In fact, the chapter puts Satan's downfall within the scope of the Eve of the Destruction of Jerusalem (see Revelation 13:4 "and they worshiped the dragon that gave power to the beast"). 

From these important observations it must be realized that we cannot depend on familiar suppositions that insist on preconceptions and willfully draw conclusions from isolated texts out of accord with the larger controlling context. 

We believe a faithful exegesis cannot and will not end up with a "Yes" and "No" answer about whether Satan was free or bound in the A.D.30—70 span, but will give one and only one definitive answer (either a yes or a no).

I believe we face a conundrum, a faux pas, a serious and damaging interpretive gaffe if we retain this aspect of Amillennial eschatology.  It is serious because it does not connect the dots in order for us to see any logical progress of the New Testament narrative.  It is damaging because what is erroneously assumed makes Full Preterism look like a self-refuting ideology riddled with bizarre assertions and contradictions.

A different approach may well produce corollaries that cannot otherwise be seen or realized by treating each chapter or verse as a separate and unrelated issue. The chart below gives you a visual snapshot of Satan's power, whereabouts as it is outlined in the Book of Revelation. 

This map is interesting because it puts Revelation 20 into a completely different contextual perspective than if we went directly into that chapter and attempted to define it all by itself. This map also pulls the entire weight of what John says about Satan and demonstrates, cogently, that Revelation 20 cannot be retrojected back to the earthly ministry of our Lord. If the antecedent issues in Revelation are meaningful (and they are) we must concede the material from Revelation 2:13 through Revelation 19:21 to a period of at least three decades after the Cross and the day of Pentecost.

Seals and Trumpets and Bowls

With concern to the Seals (S), Trumpets (T), and Bowls (B), many Christians will not agree that these are a set of three series of seven judgments. Instead, it is believed that they are a different way of talking about ONE and the SAME thing. Now, whether we all agree with this or not, can we all agree that none of these happened during the first Advent of our Lord? Can we all concur that these happen after the Book of Revelation was written (whenever it was written)?

If we can make this much progress, I believe we will come a long way towards ironing out systemic errors that persist when we only look at the little picture while neglecting the overarching details.

Some Christian ideas about the meaning of the millennium actually assume section C and sections A, B and C are all one and the same thing.  Are they?  In the Scriptures it is clear that in Revelation 12:7-12 Satan was cast down to the earth, in Revelation 20:1-3 Satan was taken from the earth and cast into the bottomless pit—

"1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,  3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.  4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

Revelation 20:1-4 shows that Satan was bound before the souls of those martyred by the beast were given judgment and their reign. But in Revelation 20:7-8 Satan was released from the bottomless pit. These are two different things, coming from two different directions (from above to below) and two totally opposite places (from the bottomless pit to the breadth of the earth! So, if the Scriptural information forbids this conflation, Revelation 20 has to happen, not only after the earthly ministry of our Lord, but also after the worldwide ministry of the Twelve Apostles and Paul, and after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70!

The dynamics of Revelation 12, along with the sweeping events that follow in Revelation chapters 13 and 14, 15 and 16, 17 and 18 and 19, along with Revelation 20:1-4 absolutely prevent the culmination of events from Revelation 20:7-15 from being subsumed in the fixed and artificial timeline designated by Preterists.

The assertions, ideas and implications that flow from Preterist claims have real serious ramifications!  If they are correct, that is well and good, but if they are in error their teachings have to be challenged and confronted with all counter-evidence at our disposal because these new teachings will have a direct bearing on what we believe about the final years of the Second Temple period and the downfall of the Second Jewish Commonwealth, the final outcome of the Jewish State in antiquity as it is reflected in the prophecies, signs and symbols in the truth of the Book of Revelation.

We need to continually be prepared to ask good questions:

1. Where was Satan after the Cross but before the Destruction of Jerusalem?

2. Did he have access to heaven, just as he did in the Book of Job?

3. Was his seat in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, or was it in Asia Minor, the hotbed of withering Hellenism? 

4. When did Satan and his angels suffer defeat at the hands of the Archangel Michael? Did this happen in time immemorial, or was it on the Eve of the fall of Jerusalem in the autumn of A.D.66?

5. Does Revelation chapter 13 describe or imply emperor worship? Or does it point to Zealot sacrilege gone haywire?

6. Was Satan bound before or after the sentencing of the Beast and the False Prophet, and

7. What were the consequences of his reemergence from prison?

8. When and where does that episode play itself out in actual history, and finally,

9. What two chapters in the Old Testament did the Holy Spirit give John as as a direct reference point to Satan's final defeat?

The Biblical answers to these critical questions will have a cathartic and profoundly transforming effect on the habitual ways the Christian church has traditionally handled the concept of Revelation 20's millennium, and the Second Coming. For this reason I am asking each of you to download and share this information with any Christian official you believe might be interested in taking a look into this matter. As always, I hope and pray that the materials and resources that appear on this website will both edify and encourage you toward a deeper confidence in Christ our Lord. With these Atavist studies, it is hoped, we can achieve a more profound appreciation of the accuracy of the first Christians' belief that the end of the priesthood, the Temple, the holy city—and even the State itself—how it was really at hand and how it unfolded in real life.