Why does Satan get released?

A couple of weeks back we were looking at Revelation 19-20.  In that part of John’s vision he sees Christ reigning for 1000 years with his saints and Satan bound and imprisoned so he cannot deceive. However, we are also told that

“Afterward he (Satan) must be released for a little while.”[1]

John tells us that when the 1000 years are up:

“7 When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

10 Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”[2]

This presents us with an interesting and challenging question.  Why is Satan’s imprisonment temporary in the vision?  Why is he released?

I think the clue is in what happens.  Satan goes and deceives again. Now isn’t this incredible. Here are these nations and they have had all the benefit of seeing Christ’s reign at work. They’ve had every opportunity to hear the Gospel. They’ve seen the way that God’s people love one another and their good deeds.  They’ve been able to read God’s Word for themselves.  They are not ignorant of God’s goodness seen in this beautiful creation. Yet, when Satan turns up again, what do they do? They fall into line with him.

Yet, that isn’t that surprising, is it? We see it throughout Scripture. Adam and Eve are fully aware of God’s goodness and greatness, they have been given status and provision but they choose to listen to Satan’s lie. The people of Israel are given the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. They are told to choose “between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.”[3] They chose death, they chose to reject God, they chose exile.

We see it at work just in normal life. Isn’t it amazing how people can readily fall for fake news and conspiracy theories? Isn’t it horrifying how people faced with an obvious choice between right and wrong can choose to hurt and to harm?  Isn’t it shocking that people will throw away everything they have for a reckless gamble.  People will gamble their money, houses even marriages and families to pursue selfishness.

Revelation 20 brings that point forcibly home. It’s the same point Paul makes in Romans 1

“But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.[i] 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”[4]

The point Paul makes there, and the same point we see in Revelation 20 is that we are without excuse. It is our responsibility to respond obediently to God’s clearly revealed truth.

[1] Revelation 20:3

[2] Revelation 20:7-10.

[3] Deuteronomy 30:15.

[4] Romans 1:18-22