Bob's Sermon for Sunday, September 17, 2017

 

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 “Is the devil tied up or not?”

 

Revelation 20:1-3

 

     (Revelation 20:1 NIV) “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. (2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

 

     Revelation 20 is likely the most misconstrued passage in the Bible. The Holy Spirit sent it to encourage believers facing intense persecution. He designed it with signs and symbols that guided Christians but confused authorities, who were hostile to Christ. 

       

     For centuries Revelation worked well as the Lord intended it. As someone said in another context, “God doesn’t make junk.” But—proud, self-serving, greedy, false prophets often trash God’s precious creations. They garble and cloud His messages.

What folks have done to the word “apocalypse” is a good example of their work. God calmed and reassured first century Christians by revealing His total control of evil.  To that end, the Apocalypse or Revelation recaps Jesus’ work while he was on earth. Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection shackled Satan’s power. Revelation tells that Jesus’ second coming will end death’s dominance over mankind. God will bring full justice by punishing the unfaithful, as well as those who have led folks astray. The Lord will banish Satan-the devil-the dragon; never again will he deceive or harm anyone.  

 

     In Greek, the original of Revelation, the first word is “Apocalypse.” “Apocalypse” means the revealing—in the case of Revelation, the unveiling of Jesus Christ—great news for those who believe in him. When my brother Don and I were teens, the folks went on a two week vacation and took our younger brother Gary. With other directives, they sternly warned us not to have friends over while they were gone. The night before their scheduled return, we were listening to 45 RPM records, the house full of friends. As I recall, nothing else untoward was happening—just a bunch of teens gathered in the living room grooving to music.

 

     Just after we heard a key in the door, Don and I had an apocalypse; behold our parents and Gary. Because Don and I had not obeyed, that “revealing-apocalypse” was not happy. It was probably good for Gary; he was the only fair-haired son for a time. Apocalypse simply means “appearing.”  Had we done what the parents instructed, their sudden apocalypse would have been a glad reunion. When Jesus reappears, the faithful will joyfully join him. It will be unhappy and frightening only for those who have rejected him or are not ready.

 

     From this story you see the perverted meaning of “apocalypse.” Even more tragically, unbiblical theories distort Revelation’s message. They have sidetracked believers from trusting God and praising His control of all evil. Here is what I mean: Believers and unbelievers look at life-events and conclude that evil wins all the battles. In an LA Bible study for business and professional people, a prominent, articulate woman asked me a crucial question. She was in daily contact with some of LA’s most powerful people and was considered a community leader. She had lived in two major cities, had traveled widely, and experienced life from many angles; she also knew pain and abuse.

 

     It was no flippant question; her eyes misted with concern. She asked: “Bob, who is more powerful; God or Satan?” From her perspective, the devil kept winning. It is an oft-pondered question, isn’t it? If a loving God is more powerful, why does evil always seem to win? Even if you accomplish much in life, disease and death eventually sneer at your success. As Ecclesiastes says: “Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.”[1]

 

     Younger people might not know the name Louis B. Mayer, but they probably know of MGM studios (Metro-Golden-Mayer) the film company Mayer co-founded. Another wealthy man tried to persuade Louis B. to join him in donating to a charity. "You can't take it with you when you go," said the fellow. "If I can't take it with me," snapped Mayer, "I won't go."[2] When Louis B. Mayer went to the grave sixty years ago, he took nothing with him—and he won’t be back. Few folks living near the junction of LA’s Long Beach and Santa Ana Freeways where Louis B. is buried will achieve riches or fame. 

 

     When they “go” they will take the same amount with them as he did—zilch. Regardless of their faith or fame or the hymns they sing on Sundays, the everyday speech of most people, brings to light their concern that Satan wins too often. Toss in the Saturday night conduct and Monday­-Friday misery of many church goers. Do you wonder how many folks really think that God is winning out there? For many, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die!” appears to be a prevailing philosophy. When people cooperate and give during emergencies like Harvey, Irma and other disasters, it brings some hope.

     

     But those goodwill feelings are usually short-lived, aren’t they? Recall the song, “Feudin’ Fussin’ and a Fightin’”? Bing Crosby and Dorothy Shay popularized it.

 

“Feuding and fussing and a-fighting
Sometimes it gets to be exciting
Don't like them ornery neighbors down by the creek
We'll be plumb out of neighbors next week

 

Grandma, poor old grandma
Why'd they have to shoot poor grandma
She lies 'neath the clover
Someone caught her bending over

Picking up a daisy

 

Feuding and fussing and a-fighting
This is a wrong that needs a righting
Let's get that funeral service over
So then we can start in a-feuding again.”[3]

 

     God wrote Revelation to believers, who doubted that they would win. They saw loved ones arrested and beheaded for confessing Jesus. Some of their fellow-believers gave in to greed, worry, and immoral passions. Encouragement was acutely necessary.

They also needed reminders of God’s power and Satan’s temporary command. To boost them, God’s Spirit gave the Apostle John visions and sign messages in Revelation. As we saw last week, the letter was in codes believers knew, but the authorities did not.  

 

     Imagine Revelation as word pictures and even sounds that reminded believers: God absolutely controls all evil powers.[4] Most signs and visions are symbols.

Even many scholars unfortunately forget that the signs are not the reality, but serve to point folks and warn them of truth. How did Christians know what those signs and symbols meant? Many symbols came from the Old Testament, which Christians knew well. The Greek scholars Westcott and Hort found 278 of Revelation’s 404 verses had OT citations.[5] In Chapter 20, many symbols also come from Jesus’ words and from the Apostles’ teachings.

 

     In any part of the New Testament, we cannot disconnect it from other Scriptures. “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.”

 

     This passage is difficult, but it helps to keep other parts of the Bible in mind. Many believers say this has to do with what they call the “tribulation,” “rapture,” and “1000 year reign of Christ on earth.” The fact that these people take some of Revelation’s signs   literally and others figuratively leads to confusion. It baffles me that instead of trying to fit Revelation 20 into more clear-cut passages, many begin with its symbolism and try to fit the plain scriptures into it.[6] It compares to building a theory of history around the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

   

     This section of Revelation deals with our topic—How powerful is Satan? Is God in full control of human events? An angel from heaven seizes the devil, binds him, and seals him in for “a thousand years.” Who is this “angel” from heaven, who binds Satan? Can it be Jesus? Many say “No, Jesus is superior to angels.” Of course he is; that is not the point. If Jesus the Son of God who took on human form and flesh, why could he not appear in “angel” form, especially in a highly symbolic vision? God appeared to Abraham in angelic form.[7]

 

     We must never forget that Revelation was written in coded language. In addition, you possibly recall that in both Hebrew and Greek, angel means messenger and is often translated as messenger. Malachi 3:1 (NIV) in the Old Testament is good example.[8] “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” This messenger-angel was John the Baptist. The Book of Mark opens identifying John as the one preparing the Messiah’s way.

 

     Let’s continue reading Malachi 3:1.“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.” After the first angel-messenger comes to prepare the way, the long expected messenger, the Lord, arrives bringing a new covenant. This is clearly Jesus, the Messiah. He, too, is called a messenger-angel. The Septuagint (Greek version of the OT, which many NT writers used), uses “angel” here.  

 

     For Satan’s “binding” by Jesus, consider Matthew 12. Some folks brought a demon-possessed, blind and mute man to Jesus. He healed the man so he could, “talk and see.” The healing astonished people and they wondered if Jesus might the long awaited Messiah-king. Jesus’ critics scoffed charging: Jesus drove out demons, “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” In reply Jesus said: (28) “’But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (29) Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.’”

 

     The words translated “ties up” in Matthew 12 and “bound” in Revelation 20 are from the same Greek verb. Jesus clearly stated that he cast out demons because he bound-tied up Satan. In Luke 11:20, he declared how easily he could do it: “By the finger of God.” But doesn’t verse 3 say that Satan was thrown into the abyss—into hell?

 

     First, we shall answer this question; then we shall look a fact few people know about the term “bind.” We have already seen how vital it is to use other parts of the Bible to interpret Revelation’s signs.

 

     At times “abyss” might refer to hell, but not always. The English word “abysmal” meaning “deep or wretched” comes from abyss. Some too quickly draw conclusions about the word abyss. Revelation uses the term abyss about six times and it appears once in Luke. Abyss is a Greek term; is it in the LXX? If so, how is it used? The Septuagint was translated circa 150 years before Christ and was widely used in Jesus’ day.[9] How the Septuagint used the term abyss should give us indications of how first century Christians understood it. Norma bought me a copy of the Septuagint; now I can check the references for myself.

  

     The Septuagint scholars used “abyss” to translate a Hebrew term that means dark place or remote place. As you know, not all remote-deep spots are evil: “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. (7) For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills . . .”[10] Lots of Iowans, Californians, Oregonians, Texans, etc. would love to have a deep gushing spring.

 

     The footnote below lists other scriptures I found in the LXX that refer to the Abyss. On the basis of my research, I think we can conclude only this from Revelation 20: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection illustrate his domination of Satan. Jesus has the devil “in a hole,” so to speak, and his days are limited.

   

     The theories of a literal earthly 1000 year reign of Jesus have little scriptural basis. To found and promote a whole end time theory on symbolic language is risky. Note what Pau; wrote to the Corinthian church: “Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. (10) Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, (11) in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”[11]

 

     Paul told the Corinthians: If you do things, Jesus’ way, Satan will not get the better of you. If you know Satan’s methods and recall that Jesus our Lord overpowered him, you need not ever be under his control or fear him. If we refuse to forgive someone, we are not doing things Jesus’ way. Jesus’ way is superior and he is far greater. As the Apostle John wrote: 1 John 4:4 (NRSV) “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

 

     You should know one other curiosity about the word bound. In 1 Corinthians 7: 27, Paul used a form of the word for bind-bound for “being married.”  Reading Revelation’s signs requires extra caution doesn’t it? And the number 1000? Why should we take it literally when all else in Revelation is symbolic? Virtually all of Revelation’s numbers are symbols, too. It seems more sensible to me to multiply 10x10x10 = 1000 as representing all history under God’s control.

 

     How easily we forget Hebrews 2:14, 15: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— (15) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” NIV.

 

     Years ago I read about a little boy who was constantly confronted by a bully. The bully was bigger, tougher and fought dirty. The boy had no options except to run whenever the bully showed. One day the bully jumped out in front of the little guy expecting to frighten him. The boy stood his ground. This baffled the bully. He asked, “Aren’t you scared?  Why aren’t you running as you always do?” “If you look behind you, you will see my 6’5’’, 250 lb. newly adopted big brother,” said the boy.”[12]

 

     In Christ that new big brother is always with us. He has already taken care of death.

 

     Next Sunday I pray that we can talk about the first and second deaths and how they relate to Jesus’ rule. The subject is vital. 

 


[1] Ecclesiastes 5: 15 NIV

[2] Louis B. Mayer, (1885-1957), The Home of Peace Cemetery, where he is buried is near that junction. I think "Ben Hur" was one of his famous films.

[3] Songwriters: AL DUBIN, BURTON LANE © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

For non-commercial use only. Data from: LyricFind

[4] We noted last week how the sounds of certain repeated words declaring Satan’s fall were designed to console. In chapter 12, repetition of the term pronounced “eblatha” meaning “Satan, the great evil power is out of here” would have been a welcome sound to beleaguered Christians.   

[5] The Apocalypse of John, H.B. Swete, p – cxl.

[6] E.G. John 5: 28, 29

[7] See Genesis 17

[8] The Hebrew term is pronounced malak.

[9] Greek speaking Jews in Alexandria, Egypt translated the Septuagint. It is often referred to as the “Seventy” (LXX)

[10] Deuteronomy 8:7 See also Job 38:16, Psalm 33:7, 78:15, 106:9, 107:26, Proverbs 3:20, 8:24. This list is not necessarily complete.

[11] 2 Corinthians 2: 9-11 NIV

[12] I am deeply grateful to our friend and brother in the Lord, John, who is about this size and stood up with his arms folded (muscles rippling), at my request, to help me make this point to young and old alike. I admit to taking a few liberties with the story as I first read it.  

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

 

 

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