The Scriptures declare that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth to judge and to make war (Rev. 19:11-21). He will defeat the forces of the Beast and the False Prophet and will establish His kingdom upon this earth for a thousand years. During this time, the Devil, who is also called Satan, will be chained and bound in the bottomless pit, “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:1-3).
When the thousand years are finished, then Revelation 20:3 goes on to say that “he must be released for a little while.” The word “must” carries the idea of that which is “necessary, needful, right or proper,” especially in order to fulfill or complete a purpose or to reach a proper end. For instance, it is used in Matthew 16:21, where “Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (see also Matt. 26:54 and Luke 24:46). It was God’s “determined purpose” that Christ die on the cross for the sins of the world and be raised again the third day (Acts 2:23).
In a similar manner, Satan “must” be released for a little while, in order to fulfill the purpose of God. The question is why? What was God’s reason for releasing him, especially after the glorious reign of Christ on earth? While we do not claim to know the mind and heart of God, we will look at three possible explanations.
Sin Nature Unchanged
One possible reason for Satan’s release might be to prove that the sinful nature of both Satan and man remains unchanged.
The following passage describes what will happen following Satan’s release.
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Rev. 20:7-9)
Though bound for a thousand years, when Satan is released, he will go right back to what he has been doing since the garden of Eden: deceiving man and opposing God and His saints. Satan’s sinful nature will not change at all. While we might not be surprised at this, neither should be we surprised at the response of man to Satan’s deception.
For a thousand years the inhabitants of the earth will experience what was never seen before: a perfect government; a time when God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10); a time of peace, rest, and goodness for all the earth. Yet, at the end of this period, Satan will be able to deceive the nations and gather together an innumerable army to surround and attack God’s people and God’s city. How? How is he able, so easily, to sway men’s hearts and minds? The answer lies in the nature of man’s heart. As Jeremiah described it,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)
From the time that sin first entered the world in the garden of Eden (Rom. 5:12), to this present day, and on through the Millennial Kingdom period, man’s sinful nature remains unchanged. Because of this, Satan can still deceive and influence unsaved men to do his bidding, even after they have experienced the perfect justice and rule of the King of kings and Lord or lords.
Earlier in the book of Revelation, we see that the outpouring of God’s powerful, righteous judgments will have no effect upon man’s sinful heart. We read in Revelation 9 of the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments. When the fifth trumpet sounds, a terrible torment will be inflicted upon men for five months. When the sixth trumpet sounds, a third of mankind will be killed. Yet, we read,
“But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Rev. 9:20-21)
Following the trumpet judgments, the seven bowls of the wrath of God will be poured out upon the earth, which are far worse than the trumpet judgments. Yet those who survive these judgments, “blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds” (Rev. 16:11).
While God’s judgments will have no effect upon man’s sinful heart, neither will God’s righteous rule during the Millennial Kingdom.
There is only one thing that can change the heart of a sinner: faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We are, by nature, sinners (Eph. 2:1-3), and thus we fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We cannot attain to God’s required standard of perfect righteousness, therefore God cannot accept us. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), but God, who is rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4), “demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). By His glorious grace, God has provided us the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). All who hear the Word of God and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior are saved, through faith (Eph. 2:8-9); they become “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26) and are, by the Holy Spirit, “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27). We are made the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21). What a tremendous change that occurs in our hearts because of Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Cor. 5:17)
Vanity of Opposing God
As we think back to God’s reasons for loosing Satan, we see another purpose; a purpose that was prophesied in the 2nd Psalm, verses 1-2.
“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed.”
This prophecy was partially fulfilled when Satan led the rulers of Israel and the Roman leaders to crucify the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:25-28). Their purposes in seeking to destroy Him were in vain, for they were actually used of God to accomplish His purpose.
This prophecy will also be seen when the ten kings of the earth align with the Beast at the close of the tribulation period to make war with the Lamb. It will all be in vain, for the Lamb will overcome them (Rev. 17:12-14).
This prophecy will be seen one last time when Satan is released for a little while. In vain they will surround God’s city and God’s saints, for fire will come down from God out of heaven and devour them.
Righteousness of God’s Judgment
Finally, in demonstrating that both Satan’s and man’s sinful natures remain unchanged, God also shows the perfect justice and righteousness of His final judgments upon them both. These judgments are described in Revelation, chapter 20.