One of the most impressive features of Biblical prophecy is its certainty. While human forecasts and projections abound in ifs, buts, and maybes, the face-saving language of conditionality, God’s prophecies are couched in terms of steadfast certainty.
Scripture speaks of many “musts” in relation to the first coming of Christ. The “must” of His betrayal (Acts 1:16); of His rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection (Matt 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 24:7; Acts 17:3); of His “lifting up” at Calvary (John 3:14; 12:34); and of His exaltation to the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33), all remind us that there was nothing haphazard about the life of the Lord Jesus.
There are many “musts” in relation to the second coming of the Lord Jesus. There is the “must” of the Tribulation (Matt 24:6; Mark 13:7; Luke 21:9), the “must” of the resurrection (1Cor 15:53) and of the judgment seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10). Gloriously, there is the “must” of Christ’s reign (1Cor 15:25). Revelation does not describe the things which could or which might be, but the things which “must” come to pass (1:1), “which must be hereafter” (Rev 4:1), “the things which must shortly be done” (Rev 22:6). History cannot defy divine direction.
With the establishment of the millennial kingdom, almost all of the musts of prophecy will have been implemented. Believers will have been raised, the Tribulation will have passed, and Christ will be reigning. But one more “must” remains. Satan who has been imprisoned “must be loosed a little season” (Rev 20:3).
The necessity of this event may well seem difficult to understand. Humanity will have enjoyed a 1000-year period of peace and prosperity because Satan is bound, his baneful influence and corrupting blandishments removed from the world. Unchanged in character, when released, he will exert himself to bring an end to the order that has been imposed on earth, and to the happiness of its citizens. Again he “shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth … to gather them together to battle” (Rev 20:8), fomenting a final and futile rebellion against God and His Christ. History will come to a close with a torrent of judgment.
Why it is essential that Satan be released? The history of God’s dealings with mankind does provide us with one answer, at least, to this question. The Bible does not present history as a homogeneous whole. Rather, we learn that God has divided time into a series of periods called “ages” (often translated as world, e.g., 1Cor 10:11; Eph 2:7; Col 1:26; 1Tim 1:17; Heb 1:2; 9:26) or “generations” (Acts 14:15-16 [translated “times”]; Eph 3:4-5; Col 1:26). These periods are each marked by a particular “dispensation” or form of administration (1Cor 9:17; Eph 1:10-12; 3:2-7; Col 1:25-26), and we frequently speak of them as the dispensations. Each dispensation is marked by a new revelation from God and a new responsibility that derives from that revelation. Throughout history, from Eden onwards, God has repeatedly tested mankind. The Millennium, the seventh and final dispensation, is no exception.
It is important to understand the way in which God tests mankind. Sometimes we test things to determine their character. We wait in apprehension for the results of school examinations or medical tests because we do not know what the result will be. We are testing to determine, but we also test to demonstrate character. Imagine an engineer whose design is being tested. We would not expect to find him perspiring and pacing the floor. He knows what his design can withstand. The testing is not to determine its character, but to demonstrate it. Thus it is with divine testing. God is never surprised by the results. Rather, He tests humanity to demonstrate, again and again, the failure of unregenerate man to worship and obey God.
Humanity’s first failure set the pattern for all that would follow. The deception of the serpent, the feeling that God was a domineering tyrant Who did not have humanity’s best interests at heart, and the willful choice to disobey the Word of God have been repeated down through the centuries. And as mankind has repeated its failure, it has also repeatedly sought to excuse it. In Eden, Adam and Eve both sought to pass the blame; Adam to Eve, and Eve to the serpent. Their descendants have continually sought to locate the blame somewhere, anywhere other than where it really lies – in the heart of man.
In our day, men and women continue to deny that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. As they seek to account for the ills of society, sociologists and psychologists insist that we are not depraved, but deprived. The problems of mankind are of failed nurturing rather than of a fallen nature. Individuals will excuse their failure to believe by complaining that God has never shown Himself, that the evidence of His existence is insufficient to compel their belief.
The release of Satan will demonstrate that these excuses are mere empty pretenses. For 1000 years, men and women will have enjoyed a perfect environment, a fruitful creation, a well-ordered society, and the perfect rule of the King of kings. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Hab 2:14) and His existence and goodness alike will be undeniably manifest. But even in these surroundings, and with these blessings, unregenerate man will fail.
As we have seen, only those who are saved will enter the Millennial kingdom. Children born during that period will still be born with a sinful nature and will need to trust Christ for themselves. Punishment for sin will be immediate (Jer 31:30) and severe (Isa 65:20). Because of this, God’s enemies will give feigned obedience (Psa 66:3 NASB) to Him. These individuals will be Satan’s willing dupes. They will gather behind him for one last rebellion, one final effort to “break [God’s] bands asunder” (Psa 2:3). Their number will be “as the sand of the sea” (Rev 20:8). The focus of their fury is the city of Jerusalem, the seat of the Messiah’s government. The fury of their rebellion will be matched by its futility. “Fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20:8-10).
Throughout history, humanity has been seduced time and again by the myth of human perfectibility and the chimera of historical progress. The “must” of Satan’s release will demonstrate beyond denial the fact that humanity’s only hope is found in the unmerited, unearned, and undeserved grace of God.