Rev. 9:1 – The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment [them] for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7The appearance of the locusts was like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were something like gold crowns; their faces were like men’s faces; 8they had hair like women’s hair; their teeth were like lions’ teeth; 9they had chests like iron breastplates; the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses rushing into battle; 10and they had tails with stingers, like scorpions, so that with their tails they had the power to harm people for five months. 11They had as their king the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. 12The first woe has passed. There are still two more woes to come after this. (HCSB)
The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him
This falling star is given the key to the shaft of the abyss. The word “abyss” appears 10 times in scripture (HCSB), seven of these times in Revelation. A survey of these passages helps us understand that the abyss is not hell but a place of temporary confinement:
- Ps. 140:10 – David implores God concerning wicked and violent men who pursue him: “Let them be thrown into the fire, into the abyss, never again to rise.” This, no doubt, is a reference to the abode of the dead and is similar to the Hebrew Sheol.
- Luke 8:31 – The demons cast out of the man called Legion beg Jesus “not to banish them to the abyss.” This appears to be a place of confinement for demons but not hell (Gehenna), which is their ultimate destiny.
- Rom. 10:7 – Paul quotes Moses to make the point that Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes, and that salvation is by faith. Citing Deut. 30:13, he writes, “‘Who will go down into the abyss?’ that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.” But in Deut. 30:13, Moses says, “Who will cross the sea, get it [the message of life] for us, and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?” How do we reconcile Moses’ use of “sea” with Paul’s use of “abyss?” Just as Moses is making the point that God’s message of life is near to the people – “in your mouth and in your heart” (v. 14) – Paul is asserting that salvation has come to us through the resurrection of Christ. Paul’s use of “abyss” is similar to David’s in Ps. 140:10 to mean the abode of the dead, which Jesus evidently visited between His death and resurrection.
- Rev. 9:1, 2, 11 – The term “abyss” is employed here to mean a place where demonic “locusts” are confined and over which Abaddon rules. More about these locusts later.
- Rev. 11:7 – One called “the beast that comes up out of the abyss” makes war with two witnesses and slays them. This could be a reference to the Antichrist, who some commentators say rises from the dead, and therefore comes up out of the abode of the dead, or it could be a demon who comes out of confinement in the abyss to kill God’s servants.
- Rev. 17:8 – The same beast of Rev. 11:7 is described as coming up from the “abyss” and ultimately headed for “destruction.”
- One other note: Peter writes that “God didn’t spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). The Greek word translated Tartarus describes a subterranean place of confinement lower than Hades. It is a place where demons are confined. Possibly, Tartarus and the abyss are the same place, or at least related.
So, when we come upon the word “abyss,” it’s wise to consider the context. In some places, the word is used to describe the abode of the dead – similar to the Hebrew Sheol or the Greek Hades – and in other places, particularly in Revelation, it is used to depict a place, perhaps deep in the heart of the earth, where some demons and Satan are temporarily confined.
Abaddon is given the key to the shaft of the abyss. We are not told who gives him the key, but likely it is the Lord or a holy angel acting on the Lord’s behalf. If the abyss is a place of confinement for demons, it is the Lord who has banished them there and the Lord who must acquiesce to their temporary release. The “key” in scripture symbolizes authority. In Rev. 1:17-18 Jesus declares, “I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Since Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, it is quite likely He now holds the key to the abyss as well and grants the release of demons to bring judgment upon those who trample His blood beneath their feet.
Without apparent hesitation, Abaddon opens the shaft of the abyss. He chooses to unleash evil upon the earth in perfect harmony with God’s permission. What the king of the abyss intends for evil, the King of the universe plans for good – the judgment of the wicked and the glory of God’s holiness. It is like this throughout scripture. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery; years later, after he becomes second in command in Egypt and rescues his father and his brothers from starvation, he tells them, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result – the survival of many people” (Gen. 50:20). And the apostle Paul, tormented by a “messenger of Satan,” is prevented by that same messenger from sinning by exalting himself (2 Cor. 12:7). In fact, Paul discovers that God’s grace is sufficient for him, and he writes, “I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
Next: Smoke came up out of the shaft — Revelation 9:1-12