The Bible says that Satan is “bound,” but it also says he’s “a roaring lion” who wants to destroy people. Can both be true? How should we understand Satan’s power in the world today?
Revelation 20:1–6 describes an angel who “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, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended.”
So, the angel binds Satan, and it’s for a purpose: “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”
But 1 Peter 5:8–9 says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Well, is he bound? Is he roaming around? What are we to make of this?
A principle of Bible interpretation goes like this: Let the clear passages of Scripture help to interpret the less clear ones. Are there any clear passages of Scripture that say the evil one is being bound today? Yes. In Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27, Jesus talks about himself as binding the strong man, Satan, so that he might plunder his house. Jesus made it clear that through his earthly ministry he came to defeat Satan. You see this in Colossians 2:15. Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus’s death and resurrection render the evil one powerless.
So, over and over again, New Testament passages say that Jesus has dealt Satan a decisive blow. Jesus does this so that Satan may no longer deceive the nations. That’s the point in Revelation 20:3. While Satan is presently bound, the gospel is advancing in a way that it never has before. Whereas before, under the Old Covenant, only Israel received the light of God, now the gentiles are being welcomed in. The gospel is going out. The binding of Satan doesn’t mean that he’s not still working, but something new and unique happened through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A parallel passage is in the Gospel of John. Again, let the clear passages of Scripture help to interpret the less clear ones. In John 12:31, Jesus speaks about his death, saying, “Now is the judgment of this world, now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” The “ruler of this world” is Satan. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He’s saying. Satan is no longer permitted to deceive the nations as he once did. Now, all people are going to be drawn to Jesus through what he’s done through his cross and resurrection.
So, Satan is still a real force in the world today. He deceives people. He tempts people and leads them astray. But we know that he’s a defeated foe. Christ’s work of redemption bound him, and now the nations are coming in, through the proclamation of the gospel.
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