Now is the judgement of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. (John 12:31, ESV)
A few weeks ago, I dropped my car off to be inspected and, since my wife was away and it was nice out, I walked home. During the 45-minute walk I saw for the first time the richness of details that I had missed on my many drives along this same road, simply by slowing down. And I thought back to my time is Israel when I spent an hour at the spot where Christ delivered his judgement on Satan (the photo above is the stone where he was anointed, at the base of the cross, Golgotha, which is just twenty feet away to the right).
This month I have been reading through John’s gospel in Greek and have found a number of jewels. Being forced to slow down and actively translate the text, I saw things I normally would not have seen.
Until recently, I had not focused much of my study on end-times, mostly because I thought understanding the gospel was more important (hence my decision to read John in Greek).
But in avoiding the topic of judgement and how the evil one is defeated, I was not being true to scripture, which teaches that we are to wear the whole armor of God. And in 2 Peter, we are taught to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.
And then there’s John. John wasn’t shy about teaching about judgement. In fact, he forced me to dig deeper.
When I used to think of judgement, I thought of that day in the future when God comes storming upon the earth and battles evil one last time.
But really, there has already been a judgement. It was at the cross.
The ruler of this world is written ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου in Greek. Some translate ἄρχων as prince, but ruler is more accurate.
According to John 14:30, 16:11 2 Cor 4:4, and Eph. 2:2; 6:12, we see that “the ruler of this world” is, of course, Satan.1
But what are we to make of this judgement and him being cast out?
For Jesus’ talk about judgment on this world and the driving out of the prince of this world (v. 31) is the language of warfare (cf. Heb 2:14–15). He has come into enemy-occupied territory, defeated the ruler who had usurped the region, revealed the true state of bondage that had existed under this false ruler and reclaimed it for its rightful ruler.2
Additionally, in John 16:11, Jesus tells us ruler of this world is judged.
Since Christ has paid for our sins, he has effectively purchased us. We are no longer slaves to sin and under the evil one’s influence, but are slaves to Christ:
Thus, it is precisely the victory of the cross that enables the believer to hate his life in this world and keep it for eternal life (v. 25). Believers can claim the defeat of Satan at the cross, and they can effectually break his spell through union with Christ (which the Lord will speak of in coming chapters) and, by God’s grace, through focusing attention on God and detaching attention from that which is not of God. As one is united to Christ one comes to share in his own life of sacrifice, which includes, as Paul says, the fact that “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6).3
Jesus speaks often of this judgement and we see it tied to his crucifixion throughout the New Testament. In Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27, Jesus speaks of binding the “strong man” and plundering his goods, giving us an indication that Jesus has come to bind Satan. Jesus, in Luke 10:18-19, sees Satan fall like lightning from heaven and gives authority over the enemy. And Jesus, at the cross, renders the evil one powerless in Hebrews 2:14. In Revelation 20:2, we see Jesus binds Satan for a thousand years. This is consistent with what Jesus says in Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27. There, we see Satan is active, but must now operate under Jesus’ authority.4
Revelation tells us that Satan is bound for one thousand years. This is mentioned in Revelation 20:2. The question is whether this number is literal or metaphorical. I’ll be up front, I haven’t spent a large amount of time on this, as I’ve mentioned above, and do not feel I have a full grasp of this yet to claim to know. But there are several clues that do push me to the latter, symbolic, option.
The number 1,000 is used many times in scripture as a metaphorical number. As I began searching (using Logos Bible software), I began to see a pattern.
For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.(Psalm 50:10)
Is this saying God does not own the cattle on hill one thousand and one? Obviously not. The usage of the number is to convey the Lord owns all the cattle on all the hills, not just on a thousand hills. Here are some other examples.
Generally speaking, when large, round numbers are used, they are symbolic of another idea. In this case, a thousand can be seen as either a multitude, or immensity, or fullness of (or countless) quantity.
That said, of everything I am discussing on this topic, I am least sure of this point and must continue to search the scriptures. But so far, the evidence has led me to the metaphorical usage.
Augustine, around 407AD, gave several sermons on the Gospel of John, and in one, he saw Satan as being cast not out of heaven or cast out of earth, but rather, the most likely, cast out of the hearts of believers:
Where is he cast out from? From heaven and earth? From this created universe? No, he is cast out of the hearts of believers. Since the invader has been cast out, let the Redeemer dwell within, because the same one who created was also the one who redeemed. The devil now assaults from without but does not conquer the Redeemer who now has taken possession within the believer. The devil assaults from without by throwing various temptations into the believer, but the person to whom God speaks within, and who has the anointing of the Spirit, does not consent to these temptations. (Augustine, Homily 4 on the First Epistle of John)
We know he is not cast out of the world completely because John later instructs us to guard against the evil one. And Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11 to stand against the Devil’s schemes. But we are instructed how God has equipped us to defend against the evil one, and how God will protect us from him (1 John 5:4).
Believers can claim the defeat of Satan at the cross, and they can effectually break his spell through union with Christ (which the Lord will speak of in coming chapters) and, by God’s grace, through focusing attention on God and detaching attention from that which is not of God. As one is united to Christ one comes to share in his own life of sacrifice, which includes, as Paul says, the fact that “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6). 5
Traditionally, we are told that Satan, fallen angels, and unbelievers are cast into hell. And we read that on judgement day, God separates the goats from the sheep and sends those who are not of his flock into hell, the lake of fire, for eternal punishment.
But recently, a trend has emerged that is trying to erase hell. Hell we are now told, was just a first century slang term for a garbage pile (called Gehenna) outside Jerusalem that was constantly burning. To find if there is truth to this, we can look at period writings.
In a Jewish work called the “Apocalypse of Ezra,” written around 80-100AD, we can read (about the afterlife), “And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgement, and compassion shall pass away and patience shall be withdrawn; but only judgement shall remain… Then the pit of torment shall appear and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Gehenna [hell] shall be disclosed, and opposite is the paradise of delight.”
In another Jewish piece, written in the second century, Enoch 22:10-13, we read, “The sinners are set apart when they die and are buried in the earth and judgement has not been executed upon them in their lifetime, upon this great pain, until the great day of judgement – and to those who curse (there will be) plague and pain forever, and the retribution of their spirits.”
Coming back into the more traditional canon of scripture, in Daniel, we see him reference the Jewish existing belief in an everlasting punishment. Daniel 12:2 states, that those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Is Gehenna, the garbage dump, all Jesus meant when he invoked this word? Let’s see if that makes sense in place of the word Gehenna or Hell in Jesus’ own statements:
Finally, looking at the archeology, it is tough to continue this theory simply because there is no evidence that it was the giant garbage heap. It may have been real, but there is simply no evidence. Regardless of it most likely not existing as a garbage dump, Gehenna literally means “Valley of Hinnom.” So, yes, it was a location. But there has been no archeological evidence to date that it was a dump. The first reference of it being called a dump was David Kimhi in a commentary written in AD1200 in Europe. So this legend didn’t begin in first century Jerusalem, but late Middle Ages Europe.
And if you read Kimhi’s actual words, he isn’t saying it was a garbage dump, he says it was an analogy for the judgement of the wicked, “Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called “Gehenna.”
The best part of this is that we can trust that God has already won. We know from Christ’s death on the cross that Satan has already been defeated, as John has explained to us.
But that doesn’t mean that Satan is powerless. He is still trying to hold prisoner those who are not in Christ, and still trying to snatch those from Christ’s flock.
This is why we must stand and fight. Jesus used battle terms for the fight. We use the shield of faith to protect ourselves from the flaming arrows of the evil one. He gives us the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to allow us to boldly proclaim the gospel.
Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (p. 531). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ↩
Whitacre, R. A. (1999). John (Vol. 4, p. 316). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (p.428). Eerdmans Publishing Co. ↩
Whitacre, R. A. (1999). John (Vol. 4, p. 316). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩
Hi. I'm Scott Sullivan, a slave of Christ and husband to my awesome wife Angie. I'm an artist and writer,
living in the beautiful countryside of Lancaster, Pa.