At this point in Revelation, it is impossible to place the events of chapter 20 after the events of chapter 19. Why? Satan cannot be prevented from deceiving the nations that have just been slain (Rev 19:19-21). This is simply illogical!
Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy that arranges its vivid images in numbered sets that parallel one another and intensify as God exonerates the righteous. Let’s briefly review the three parallel segments in Revelation.
The first segment begins with the appearing of the risen Christ and ends with his second coming in chapter 11. In this segment, Jesus opens seven seals to allow persecutors to harass his Church. The seventh seal unleashes seven trumpets that are designed to warn these persecutors to repent. The last trumpet is a bold announcement of Christ’s return: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Revelation then “starts over” and intensifies its parallelism. The second segment begins with the birth of Jesus. “The dragon stood before the woman … She gave birth to a male child … but her child was caught up to God” (12:1-5). In this segment, the dragon enlists three helpers to persecute God’s people. The Lord responds by pouring out seven punishing bowls on those who are aligned with these helpers. The second segment ends with Jesus appearing on a white horse to throw Satan’s little helpers into the lake of fire—and notice that “the rest of the world was slain by the sword that came from” the mouth of Jesus (19:11-21). It is the end of history as we know it.
Revelation must “start over” and escalate its parallelism once again. The third segment begins with an angel seizing “the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan,” and binding for “a thousand years … that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended” (20:2-3). This final segment ends with Christ coming to usher in the Age to Come (Rev 21-22). The pattern of parallelism is clear. Revelation 20 begins with a “start over.”
John sees “an angel coming down from heaven holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him” (20:1-2). Did this really happen at the cross? Did Jesus “bind” Satan at Calvary?
The same Greek word for “binding” (deo) occurs repeatedly in the NT (Luke 10:17-18; John 12:31-32; 16:11; Col 2:15; Heb 2:14; 1 John 3:8). What did Jesus mean when he said, “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt 12:28-29)? Evidently, the binding of Satan began during his earthly ministry!
Did the binding of Satan completely immobilize him? No, John says that the binding specifically pertains to deceiving the nations (Rev 20:3). The bigger question is: what does Satan want to deceive the nations into doing? The answer lies in the quick shift in focus to the martyrs in heaven (20:4). Satan is “bound” in the sense that he cannot deceive the nations into wiping out the Church from the face of the earth (“Armageddon”). Satan may persecute God’s people through his three helpers, but he cannot dupe the world into executing a Christian holocaust.
How is this comforting? No matter how rough it gets for Christians, there will always be a faithful remnant to testify of Christ’s gospel. And that is great news!