A correspondant posed this question:
There were demons active during the time of the apostles:
Mark 16:17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
Jesus went back to heaven and he said they would cast out devils after that. And we find this happening in the early church.
Acts 5:16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Acts 8:7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
Now I assume the common thinking is that the unclean spirits ceased at the time prophecy ceased and that the devil was at that time bound. But Satan is not bound until Revelation 20. A whole lot happens, that most of us would think hasn’t happened YET, before Satan is bound in Revelation 20. All that happens in Revelation 1-19 has to happen before Satan is bound and the thousand years begin. So has demon possession ceased, has prophecy ceased, and is the devil bound yet? If so, has everything in Revelation 1-19 already happened? And at what point was the devil bound?
This question is from a preterist who believes that all prophecy is fulfilled, even the Second Coming and the Resurrection. The question is therefore designed to show that much of what Christians take to be regarding the end of the world happens before Rev 20 where the Devil is bound following the cessation of prophets and demons. In the querist’s view, the literalists are inconsistent in their thinking because the events in Revelation are chronological and Revelation would place the coming of Christ (Rev 19:14) before the cessation of miracles (Rev 20:3). The problem with this thinking is that Revelation is not strictly chronological.
My view of Revelation is that chapters 8-22 are a prophecy of Christ exercising the power of the seventh seal, the power over the course of human history. However, the prophecy of Christ exercising this power in chapters 8-22 is not a single history, but contains three parallel prophetic histories. That is, God gives a preview of His plan for the Jews (Rev 8-14), the parallel plan for the Nations/Gentiles (Rev 15-19), and the parallel plan for the elect/church (Rev 20-22) that all cover the same time from the cross till the end of the world. The Jew and Gentile sections end with the coming of Christ (Rev 14:15-20, Rev 19:11-21). The section on the church has the coming of Christ near the beginning of its history, and the rest of the section about the church (Rev 21-22) is devoted to its future glory.
The material in the three different sections (Rev 8-14, 15-19, and 20-22) is generally chronological in each section, but you cannot start with chapter 1 and go chronologically through 19. Chapter 4 is the throne room in heaven before the coronation of Christ and the events in chapter 4 happened before the letters to the seven churches were written. Chapter 5 is the coronation of Christ, and it also happened before the letters in Rev 1-3. Chapters 6 and 7 show Jesus exercising six of the powers of the seven seals that give Him all power in heaven and on earth. These six powers are exercised concurrently throughout history from the coronation till the second coming and are topical rather than chronological. Chapters 8-22 show Christ exercising the last seal, His power over the course of human history (God’s plan, His eternal purpose in Christ). The parallel histories themselves select certain significant events to describe, and even the narrative in the parallel histories are sometimes not strictly chronological.
The last section (Rev 20-22) is the parallel history of the church, and Chapter 20 does appear to be chronological, but it covers 2000 years in a few verses. Chapter 20 begins by introducing our adversary, the Devil, and shows him defeated and imprisoned at the beginning of the Millennium (1-3). Verse 4 shows some saints enthroned in heaven while some other saints are still dead. These risen saints on the thrones are the ones that participated with Christ in His resurrection, that is, the first resurrection. We can deduce that the reign of these saints is during the present age in heaven, because there are souls of dead saints present with those that are reigning. I interpret verse 4 like this:
John sees these groups of people in heaven:
1) And I saw thrones, and THEY sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them:
2) and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands.
John saw souls of people that were still dead and he saw those reigning on thrones. Then he says, “and THEY lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Rev 20:4)
The two “theys” tie the ones sitting on the thrones with those that lived and reigned. THEY sat on thrones and THEY lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The bodies of souls there in heaven were still dead, but those people sitting on the thrones were living and reigning.
These saints in heaven are ruling and reigning while most of the saints are still dead. Since there are saints that are still dead, Christ has not returned to earth, and the general resurrection has not taken place, just as the text says (“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.”). This temporary reign ends before Jesus returns, for He does not appear until after Satan’s little season (Rev 20:3), and the time that Satan begins the battle of Gog and Magog (Rev 20:8–Gog and Magog is the same as Armageddon, Rev 19:19, 16:14-16). Fire comes down from heaven (Rev 20:9) when Jesus returns and fire devours the adversary (Heb 10:27, II Pet 3:7, II Th 1:7-9), but by the time this event transpires, the thousand years are expired (Rev 20:7). The temporary reign of the saints in heaven appears to have been by proxy through the agents of Christ on earth. The reign was during the heyday of the church from 345-1345. At the end of that time the Devil was released. That time was the time of the horrible, horrible Black Plague that killed perhaps 30% of Europe. It was also one of the worst global economic disasters in the history of the world, for the Italian banks also failed at this time and plunged the world into depression. This time also ushered in a hundred years of almost constant warfare in Europe. We also find at this time the resurgance of witches and practice of the black arts. It was also a time of degeneration into wicked lewdness for many. Luther’s reformation was in response to the degeneracy of the time, but in spite of what Luther accomplished, the prince of darkness has been hard at work since that day to prepare the world for his Antichrist.
So, with that backgound laid, let’s look at the querist’s specific questions. They were, “So has demon possession ceased, has prophecy ceased, and is the devil bound yet? If so, has everything in Revelation 1-19 already happened? And at what point was the devil bound?”
Demon possession had to cease at some point. “I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.” (Zech 13:2). This happened some time after the second century, for even some of the apostles (Jude and John) lived until that time, and the prophets lived presumably longer, maybe even till the beginning of the 3rd century (AD 200). Whenever the prophets ceased, the evil spirits would have to be evicted as well.
God tends to keep a level playing field for good and evil. Whenever evil abounds, His prophets tend to be active. Whenever righteousness prevails, his prophecy tends to be scarce. Since we find very little mention of witches or witchcraft until after 1345, the presumption is that they ceased during this time. There seems to have very little of the occult in the West during this thousand years. Now as far as I Cor 13:8 and Zech 13:2, if the prophets and unclean spirits passed out of the land for one day, it would satisfy the prophecy. The requirement is for the prophets to pass out of the land, but the prophets and evil spirits are NOT prohibited from returning. In fact, we know they do return, for two prophets minister to Israel (Rev 11:8) during the 3 1/2 years (Rev 11:3, 13:5) of the reign of the Beast (Antichrist/Man of Sin), and three evil spirits accompany the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet (Rev 16:15). The demons return at the end of the world (Rev 16:15, Rev 9:20).
In my view, at the present time Satan already has already served his time of being bound for 1000 years and has now been released for his “little season”. To specifically answer the querist’s question regarding the fulfillment of everything in Rev 1-19, “No, everything in Rev 1-19 has not happened because those chapters contain parallel histories that include the coming of Christ and the end of the world.” Even in Rev 20 we are not to the part where God returns (Rev 20:9-10) with Jesus (I Thes 4:14). We are only to Rev 20:8 where the Devil is deceiving the nations. In this prophetic history that is parallel to the prophetic histories of Israel and the nations, the return of Christ (v9) follows the time of Satan’s little season (v3). The fulfillment of Rev 20 saw the devil bound in AD 345, released in AD 1345, and he now is deceiving the nations. The process of fulfillment will continue until the appearance of the Antichrist during the last 3.5 years of this age is terminated by the coming of Christ. There is no contradiction in the literalist position, and the fantastic gyrations required by the preterist position once again are seen to be unnecessary and wrong.