The Devil is imprisoned in the “Abyss” until the appointed time when he will be released and launch his final assault against the saints – Revelation 20:1-3.
Next, Revelation presents Satan bound in the “Abyss” for the “thousand years” until his release at the end of the period. During his imprisonment, he is prevented from “deceiving the nations,” and only after his release will be free to do so. The passage includes verbal links to the expulsion of Satan from heaven in chapter 12.
The “Abyss” was first mentioned when the “fifth trumpet” sounded. At that time, a “star from heaven was given the key to the Abyss” with which he opened it and unleashed an army of “locusts” upon the earth. Elsewhere, “stars” represent “angels” – (Revelation 1:19-20, 9:1-4).
- (Revelation 20:1-3) – “And I saw an angel descending from heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a great chain upon his hand; and he laid hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and fastened and sealed it over him that he might not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years should end, after these things he must be loosed for a short time.”
In chapter 9, the “Abyss” had a “king” over it called Abaddon and Apollyon, meaning “Destruction” and “Destroyer,” respectively. Evil forces were released from it to torment the “inhabitants of the earth” who did not have the “seal of God.” Here, the angel descends from heaven with the authority to bind the Devil, not to release him. This locates the imprisonment of Satan in the “Abyss” BEFORE the events detailed in chapter 9.
“A great chain in his hand,” which demonstrates that the imagery is not literal. A spiritual being cannot be held by a physical chain.
“The dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.” The four names provide links to chapter 12 when the “Dragon” was expelled from heaven:
- (Revelation 12:9) – “The great dragon was cast down, the ancient serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him.”
The “ancient serpent” recalls the Genesis account when the “serpent” tempted Eve in the Garden. In chapter 12, the “Dragon” was “cast” (ballō) to the “earth.” Likewise, here, Satan is “cast” (ballō) into the “Abyss.” He was expelled from the heavenly “court” and lost his prosecutorial powers because of the exaltation of the messianic “son.” In the interpretation of that vision, his expulsion was part of the victory achieved by the “brethren” through the “blood of the Lamb” – (Genesis 3:15, Revelation 12:9-11).
“He cast him into the Abyss…that he might not deceive the nations anymore,” another link to the twelfth chapter when the “Dragon” was called “the deceiver of the whole habitable earth (oikumené).” However, in the “Abyss,” Satan is not bound from all evil activities, only from “deceiving the nations.”
“The Abyss.” As with the “great chain,” the term should not be interpreted literally as a bottomless hole somewhere under the earth. A spirit can no more be held in a pit than it can be bound by a metal chain. In the “fifth trumpet,” the “star” used his “key” to unleash demonic forces that then “ascended” from the “Abyss.” In chapter 11, the “Beast from the Abyss ascended” to wage war with the “two witnesses.” And in chapter 13, the same “Beast” was seen “ascending from the sea” to wage “war with the saints.”
Likewise, in Daniel, four beasts ascended out of the “sea”, which represented the nations of the earth. In Revelation, the “Beast was, and is not, and will ascend from the Abyss.” After its ascent, the “inhabitants of the earth” will “wonder” at its rise. Later, the Devil rises from the “Abyss” to “deceive the nations,” which then “ascend” over the whole earth in the final attempt to destroy the “saints. And thus, the theme of something evil that “ascends from the Abyss” to “deceive the nations” and attack the “saints” is repeated several – (Revelation 17:8, 20:7-10).
“After this, he must be loosed for a short time.” That is, during the final period when Satan is released to “deceive the nations” and attack the followers of the “Lamb.” The “short time” is referenced several times in the book, the period when Satan is released to “gather” the nations against the “saints” – (Revelation 9:14-15, 12:12-14, 16:12-14, 17:10).
“The thousand years.” This is the only passage in the Bible that mentions any thousand-year period during which Satan is bound. Numbers in Revelation are figurative. Furthermore, several numbers are multiples of smaller numbers – some doubled and even cubed for effect. For example, the “144,000” males from the “twelve tribes of Israel” is a multiple of 12 – (12 x 12 x 1,000). The “thousand years” is a multiple of 10 and corresponds to the “tribulation of ten days” endured by the church at Smyrna.
The thousand years point to the interval between the coronation of the “Lamb” and the release of Satan for the final “short time” when he will “deceive the nations” and launch a last and especially vicious attack on the church. In the interim, he is authorized to persecute the church and otherwise cause suffering; however, he is unable to “deceive the nations” to launch this last attempt to annihilate the “saints” until the designated time at the end of the age.
In the twelfth chapter, the enraged “Dragon” attempted to destroy the “woman” but was prevented from doing so for the “season, seasons, and half of a season.” Only afterward was he authorized to wage war against the “seed of the woman.” So also, in chapter 13, the “Beast from the sea” was only able to launch its “war” against the “saints” after it was authorized to do so. And now, in chapter 20, the Devil is not released to launch his final “war” against the church until the end of this period.
In short, the wars waged against the “two witnesses” by the “Beast from the Abyss,” against the “rest of the seed of the woman” by the “Dragon,” against the “saints” by the “Beast from the sea,” and when Satan is released from the “Abyss” to attack the “camp of the saints” all portray the same final attempt by Satan to destroy the people of God.
Likewise, as the verbal links demonstrate, the “ascent of the beast from the Abyss,” the “ascent of the beast from the sea,” and the release of the Devil from the “Abyss” all picture the same unleashing of satanic forces against the followers of Jesus.