Revelation 20:1-3 speaks of the binding and loosing (or releasing) of Satan. We read,
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he took hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
Many struggle to interpret this passage, especially because of the "thousand years" period it contains. Premillennialists believe Christ will physically return to earth to initiate a literal thousand year reign by the saints. Historic postmillennialists teach that there will be a literal thousand year "golden period" prior to Christ's return where the church will have relatively little opposition from Satan. However, interpreting clearly what it means for Satan to be bound then loosed leads to a proper understanding of the thousand years.
One passage helps us immensely in clarifying what is meant in this text. For the same pair of Greek words (δέω and λύω) used in Revelation 20 for the concept of binding and loosing, respectively, are used by the Lord to describe church discipline in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 18:18, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Jesus taught us that church authorities can prohibit or permit certain types of behavior.
In other words, on the one hand the elders of the church can hold unrepentant church members to account by "binding" them and not allowing them certain privileges of their membership. For instance, a man in an adulterous relationship could be forbidden to participate in the Lord's Supper while the church holds him accountable and seeks his repentance. Then on the other hand, if this man were to later repent and show appropriate fruits of repentance, the elders could at the proper time forgive him and "loose" him from the consequences of his sin by allowing him to return to the Lord's Table. So to "bind" someone is to prevent them from exercising a right they would normally have, and to "loose" a person is to permit them to exercise their natural behavior.
Correspondingly, in declaring that Satan is bound during this time frame, John means that he is prohibited from his natural, or normal, behavior. What is the evil one's normal behavior?
Before Christ, this whole world lay in great darkness. In their idolatrous worship, the nations of the earth appeared to belong to Satan who had deceived them. Yet now, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, the devil's vast power over the nations has been broken. Jesus said in Matthew 12:28-29, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” Jesus came to bind that "strong man" who is Satan. As John says so straightforwardly in his first epistle, "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
Satan's definitive binding means that we are to have confidence now that he is restricted, for he cannot stop the gospel from achieving what God desires. Paul spoke before King Agrippa about the gospel ministry that the Lord had sent him to do. He described it by saying that the Lord sent him to the Gentiles in order “to open their eyes so that they might turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they might receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18). As the gospel goes forward, Satan is progressively bound as well as his influence is decreased and his lies exposed.
Thus, if the thousand years represent the time that Satan is bound from prohibiting completely the spread of the gospel, that means this time period is symbolic of the age between Christ's first resurrection (see Rev. 20:5) and the final resurrection (see again Rev. 20:5). Now, right before Christ returns Satan will be released for a short time and, like a cornered animal, will engage in a final display of his fury against God's people (Rev. 20:3). Yet the Lord will come to finally and ultimately cast Satan into the lake of fire at the consummation of His kingdom (Rev. 20:10).
Sadly, too often the Book of Revelation is misused to cause the church to fear. Satan loves teaching that causes people to believe the lie that he is in control. The church must remember that following His resurrection Jesus claimed all authority in heaven and earth belonged to Him, then sent the church to disciple the nations (Matt. 28:18-20). In confidence, the church must advance Christ's kingdom knowing her great enemy is bound and, even when loosed for a little while at the end, his doom is right around the corner!