Is Satan bound? Or is he the ruler of this world?

W. Robert Godfrey & 2 others
3 Min Read

THOMAS: Satan has been bound in the sense that under the old covenant, the gospel was more or less confined to the Jews. There were occasional proselytes, but they were occasional.

In the ministry of Christ and the seventy, when they came back from their mission, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). An aspect of Satan’s control over the world was affected by the ministry of Christ, His death and resurrection, and the day of Pentecost, which suggests that now the gospel is to be preached in all the world.

That being said, Satan is still referred to as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). He still has power. He does not have as much power as he did under the old covenant, but he is still to be reckoned with: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis said something along the lines that you can make too much of the devil, but you can also make too little of him. He hasn’t yet been cast into the bottomless pit that the book of Revelation speaks of in Revelation 20. So, he is very much to be reckoned with, even in the new covenant.

GODFREY: I certainly agree, but we have to be very clear: Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords now. I think Lewis is exactly right: we can’t make too much or too little of Satan. On the “too much” side, sometimes we talk about Satan almost as if he were a minor god. He is a finite creature, which means he can’t be everywhere at once. He can’t be the Holy Spirit, so he has minions who serve him.

Sometimes we talk as if there is the Holy God and then there is the evil god, Satan. Satan is not God. He’s a finite creature. He’s limited by his finitude as well as by God’s sovereignty. He is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but he is chump change compared to the sovereign God. He has been defeated, and he will be destroyed. Our calling is not to let him destroy us before he is destroyed.

FERGUSON: We all try to answer questions by saying the same thing in different ways, and there are two things I’ve found helpful in this context.

The first is what Bob has alluded to in Matthew 28:18–20. Jesus is saying in Matthew 28:18–20 that as the second man and the last Adam, He has won back the dominion on earth that Adam lost. Adam lost his dominion. He fell to the tempter. Christ has overcome the tempter so that He now says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” We might instinctively think, “He’s the Son of God—of course all authority in heaven and on earth is His.” But Jesus is speaking in a particular context, saying that the dominion Satan won in the garden of Eden has been overthrown, and that authority is now His.

The second is to pick up what Derek said: the limiting context of the expression regarding the binding of Satan is that he would no longer deceive the nations. It isn’t just a general statement, “Satan is bound,” but that Satan is bound in this particular respect: until the resurrection of Christ, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of the last days, Satan was deceiving all the nations except the one nation God was undeceiving in His mercy. On the day of Pentecost, the crowd that gathered was analogous to the crowd that gathered to build the Tower of Babel in an attempt to pull God down. God judged the nations at Babel and committed them to the deception of Satan. But from the day of Pentecost onwards, the nations are being undeceived by the preaching of the gospel. That is symbolized by the gatherings of the people at Pentecost and has now been experienced for two thousand years.

This is just another way of saying that we always need to look at the context in which phrases are used. We don’t just see a phrase and then make up ourselves what it means. In specific ways, the Scriptures help us to see these statements within a particular grid and context. So, when the Scriptures say that Satan is the god of this age, we realize that those who are not Christians are living in this age. However, the end of the ages has dawned on believers, and the preaching of the gospel continues to invade this age to bring people into the new age, which will continue until the Lord comes. And then, whatever your eschatology, comes the end.

This is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s, Sinclair Ferguson’s, and Derek Thomas’ answers given during our 2023 National Conference and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.