A look into Tartarus

This is the fifth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.

If Sheol or Hades is the temporary abode of deceased people, is there a transitory place of punishment for some demons?

It seems the answer is yes, in a place the New Testament refers to as Tartarus.

Tartarus is mentioned only once, in 2 Peter 2:4. Many translations render it “hell,” including the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible, while others, like the English Standard Version and the New International Version, provide footnotes linking the English word “hell” to the Greek name Tartarus.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible simply transliterates the Greek word in this passage, which reads: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment …”

A footnote in the HCSB reads: “Tartarus is a Greek name for a subterranean place of divine punishment lower than Hades.”

In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (20:2), Tartarus is used as a place where fallen angels are punished, an interpretation Peter affirms.

So, Tartarus seems to be a place separate from Sheol, the Hebrew term for the abode of the dead; Hades, roughly the Greek equivalent of Sheol; and Gehenna, the lake of fire created for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) where wicked people also spend eternity (Rev. 20:15).

Ancient Greeks regarded Tartarus as a place where rebellious gods and other wicked ones are punished. Peter refers to Tartarus as the abode of certain fallen angels.
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The book of life – Revelation 20:12b

Previously: Books were opened – Revelation 20:12b

The scripture

Rev. 20:12b – Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. (HCSB)

The book of life

In Revelation, the “book of life” refers to a divine record of all believers – those who live eternally with God in the new heavens and the new earth. This book is mentioned several times:

  • In Rev. 3:5, Jesus promises the faithful in Sardis that He will never erase their names from the book of life – a comfort to those familiar with the common practice of erasing the name of a condemned criminal from the citizenship registry.
  • In Rev. 13:8, we are reminded that unbelievers’ names have never been written in the book of life.
  • In Rev. 17:8, we are told that those who live on the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel when they see the beast whose fatal wound is healed.
  • In Rev. 20:12, 15, we see resurrected unbelievers stand before the great white throne as books are opened in judgment, including the book of life; they are cast into the lake of fire because their names are not written in the book of life.
  • And in Rev. 21:27, we see that only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life enter the New Jerusalem.

Additionally, in Luke 10:20, Jesus’ followers are assured that their names are written in heaven. In Phil. 4:3, Paul writes about his coworkers whose names are in the book of life. And in Heb. 12:23, the author tells of the “assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven.”
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Save us from the fire

Gehenna and the afterlife

Save us from the fireThis is the fourth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.

The ultimate destiny of the wicked is the same habitation created for Satan and his demons – a place in English we call “hell,” and a place Jesus and the New Testament writers describe variously as Gehenna, “outer darkness,” “eternal fire,” “eternal punishment,” “lake of fire,” and “the second death.”

While Sheol and Hades generally depict the temporary abode of the dead, Gehenna and its associated terms describe the place of everlasting future punishment for those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).

The term Gehenna is derived from the Valley of Hinnom. Located southwest of Jerusalem, this steep, rocky valley is the scene of human sacrifices to pagan deities (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6) and is declared the “Valley of Slaughter” by Jeremiah (Jer. 7:31-34).

The picture of a place where fires are never quenched and worms never stop feasting on corpses became to the Jewish mind an appropriate representation of the ultimate fate of idol worshipers.
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Books were opened – Revelation 20:12b

Previously: I also saw the dead – Rev. 20:12a

The scripture

Rev. 20:12b – and books were opened … (HCSB)

Books were opened

As unbelievers stand before the great white throne – alone, without a defense, and with no escape – John notes that “books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books” (v. 12). What are these books, and how many are there? What is different about the book of life that it should be named, while the others are mentioned as a group without distinction?

It seems clear that God keeps a record of our lives and holds us accountable for how we manage the time, talents, relationships, and other gifts He has entrusted to us. He knows our thoughts, which form the action plans for good and evil deeds (see, for example, Matt. 5:27-28). He hears our words, which reveal the true nature of our hearts and for which we must give an account (Matt. 12:33-37).

In various places, the Bible depicts God’s record of our lives as contained in heavenly books. No person escapes the Creator’s interest or avoids a day of reckoning with Him.  “Myriads of human beings have lived and died of whom the world knows nothing; but the lives they lived, the deeds they wrought, the thoughts and tempers they indulged, still stand written where the memory of them cannot perish. Not a human being has ever breathed earth’s atmosphere whose career is not traced at full length in the books of eternity” (Seiss, p. 479).
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Beings

Hades and the afterlife

BeingsThis is the third in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.

Hades is a Greek god whose name means “The Unseen.” He is depicted as lord of the underworld, the abode of the dead. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus and the New Testament writers borrow from this familiar term to describe the realm of departed spirits.

What’s more, they cut through the mythology to present an accurate picture of the afterlife.

The word Hades appears 10 times in the New Testament, forming a linguistic bridge that takes us from the Old Testament view of life beyond the grave (in Sheol) to the New Testament position.

In coming to a biblically faithful understanding of Hades, it’s important to state what the word does not mean.
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