Satan Unbound, Christ (Still) Victorious
One of the major objections to postmillennial eschatology (the idea things in general get better over time) is that Satan is not bound, therefore we should expect things to get worse. The argument is that from Revelation 20 we see that Satan will not be bound until this “millennium.” From 1 Peter 5:8 we see that Satan is prowling around like a lion. Obviously Satan can’t be bound! For some reason, this seems to be the sticking point on millennial views. One side says that if you believe Satan is not bound then you don’t believe in God’s power and you’re just reading the Bible wrong, the other side says that if you believe Satan is bound then you are just blind to the evils of the world and you don’t read the Bible with a “literal” hermeneutic. Both arguments have their strengths and weaknesses, but I generally have leaned to the side that says that Satan is bound insofar that he cannot deceive the nations.
So one day I was just hanging out on Facebook and I saw a thread that was discussing Christian Reconstruction, postmillennialism, etc. The thread included people on just about every side of the argument. Both sides were flinging their exegesis at one another, the same arguments over and again. But then, I saw an argument that I had never heard before. The argument was from Martin Selbrede, the Vice President of the Chalcedon Foundation. It wasn’t a new argument historically, but it was new to me:
“A distinction must be made here: there are statements in the gospels about ‘binding the strong man’ to spoil his goods, and then there is the binding of Rev. 20. Many postmils do not distinguish between these two bindings and answer Yes to the question (or may even say, as Dr. McDurmon has, that all postmils believe Satan is bound without mentioning the distinction). However, if these two bindings are not the same, one can theoretically say Yes to the binding described in the gospels (not sure anyone can avoid this without making Christ a liar) but No to the binding of Rev. 20 being in effect on earth. Such a postmil would be Benjamin B. Warfield, who taught that the Great Commission is fulfilled completely, to the last living man, despite Satan being unbound on earth insofar as Rev. 20 is concerned.”
Now I find this whole paragraph fascinating. Why? For two reasons. The first reason is because I had never heard of a postmillennialist who believed that Satan was not bound yet. Now, as Selbrede says, there is a distinction in what is described in the two instances of binding in Scripture. In the gospels, Jesus is referring to his earthly ministry. In Revelation, John is referring to the binding with respect to Satan’s access to the throne of God in heaven. Selbrede further elaborates on this point:
“Warfield agreed with the exegetical work of William Milligan that the two time spans of Rev. 20 represent ‘life in the intermediate state’ (1000 years) and our life on earth (micro chronon, a little season, as parallels in Rev. 6:11 and 12:12 point to) and these two periods run simultaneously in the vision but sequentially (little season to thousand years) for any given individual. If you're breathing air, you're living in the little season, and when you die in the Lord, you pass into the thousand years (heaven) where Satan no longer has access to you (as he did before in Job 1 and Zech 3, but no longer after having been cast out and limited to the earth for his domain in Rev. 12, which triggers his wrath because he only has ‘the short time’ (the earthly realm) to inflict harm but no longer in a position to accuse in heaven.”
So in this view, Satan is bound with respect that he cannot get to heaven, which fits the imagery of the angel casting him out. Selbrede does point out the difference in the little season (life on earth) and the thousand years (heaven) not as a literal description of time, but as a contrast of how much longer the vindication and reign of the saints in heaven is compared to the little season of suffering we suffer in this life. The thousand years speaks to a quality it speaks to the perfect quality inherent in reigning with Christ.
The second reason I find this interesting is because he espouses a view that I had thought of as a possible logical end to postmillennialism. To be clear, I’m not saying this is the logically necessary end, but it certainly is a logical possibility in postmillennial thinking. That view is that at the end of time, each and every last living soul at the time of Christ’s return will be saved. This is not universalism, wherein each and every human being throughout history is saved regardless of faith in Christ, but that at the time when Christ returns he will find faith on the earth, so much so that every person believes and knows the Lord, so that no one has to teach his brother or neighbor. I find this view very compelling in light of the prophecies of the Old Testament in reference to the New Covenant and how it changes the world. It fits. Selbrede says that this is actually the view of one of the major conservative postmillennialists of the last century, B.B. Warfield:
“Such a postmil would be Benjamin B. Warfield, who taught that the Great Commission is fulfilled completely, to the last living man, despite Satan being unbound on earth insofar as Rev. 20 is concerned. So here is a major postmil (died 1921, head of systematic and polemic theology at Princeton before it went liberal) whose view of Christ's victory was so total that it was achieved in the face of Satan's unbridled opposition, while today's postmils (who do not believe the Great Commission will be completed to the last living man being saved) have the benefit of a bound Satan in their theology and still can't get the football into the end zone.”
When I first read this comment, it stung. I was the postmill who said Satan was bound but we still won’t get the football into the endzone with respect to Christ’s historical victory. I find the faith of men like Selbrede and Warfield to be admirable. Intellectually, I can say that I assent to this view. But admittedly, I struggle to see the reality of this possibility, even as a very optimistic postmill. The question to myself was this: if God can save one, why not a few? If a few, then why not many? If many, then why not most? That is where I stopped asking the question. Now I must continue the question: if not most, why not all? Now when I say all, I don’t mean all throughout history from beginning to end. The Bible is fairly clear that this is not the case. However, you cannot say the same thing in reference to the salvation of literally all living people on the earth at a future point in time.
To combine an unbound, unbridled Satan on the earth with the total gospel victory of the postmillennial eschatology seems silly. It seems contrived. It seems wishful. That’s what I thought. But as I look at it more and more now, I see it as the total demoralization and humiliation of Christ’s enemies, namely, Satan. Imagine eschatology being like a football game. It’s always nice to win, but if you barely beat a team, or even if you soundly beat a team that is missing its best player, it’s different. A win is a win and that’s all that matters, but you get more glory when you beat the other team when even they are at their best. So imagine what gives God more glory. Is it barely beating a handicapped Satan, or is it the King of the Universe utterly obliterating Satan, even when Satan is at the top of his game? It’s something to think about