What are “Eternal Chains in Darkness”?

The Missouri Baptist Convention has published a new resource called The Last Apologist: A Commentary on Jude for Defenders of the Christian Faith. The 275-page book is available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in print from the MBC. But we also want to make each of the 16 chapters available online. This post features the last portion of Chapter 8: Kept with Eternal Chains: When Angels Desert.

Previously: Principles of Biblical Interpretation


and He has kept, with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment of the great day, angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling. (Jude 6)

Whoever these particularly nasty angels are, God is keeping them under wraps until the day they are cast into the lake of fire. The word “kept” in Jude 6 is from the same root word Jude uses in verse 1 to describe believers, who are “kept” by Jesus Christ. Some translations render it “reserved” rather than “kept.” In a parallel passage, Peter writes that these fallen angels are “delivered … to be kept in chains” (2 Peter 2:4 – emphasis added).

The questions, then, are where these demons are imprisoned, and how. Certainly, if they are spiritual beings, physical chains cannot hold them. The Greek actually describes them as being confined, without hope of escape. While Jude does not name this place (or state) of confinement, Peter, in the parallel passage just referenced, calls it Tartarus.

Many translations render this word, found only in 2 Peter 2:4, as “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.

Pits of darkness

Peter reminds us that while Satan’s ultimate destiny is hell, currently he is free, roaming the earth like a lion, looking for anyone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8). In a similar fashion, many of his demons are free – tempting, tormenting, and even possessing individuals. At the same time, some angels are incarcerated and experience conscious torment as they await the Day of Judgment.

Note first of all in 2 Peter 2:4 that God has cast some angels into Tartarus, committing them to “pits of darkness” or, as some translations render it, “chains of darkness.” This Jewish apocalyptic phrase refers to a place of mental anguish and terror in the underworld.

Second, these angels are confined until the Day of Judgment. The word “confined” is in the present passive participle tense, meaning these demons are continually kept or reserved for judgment. No “soul sleep” for angels or humans, and no annihilation.

We should note there may be other places of captivity for demons. For example, in Luke 8:31, demons possessing the man called Legion beg Jesus not to banish them to the “abyss,” an unfathomable pit mentioned nine times in the New Testament. In Revelation 9, 11, 17, and 20, we see that an angel called Destroyer rules over the abyss; that it is a fiery place kept under lock and key; that the beast is released from the abyss to foment great wickedness on the earth; and that Satan is temporarily imprisoned there at some point in the future.

Finally, in Rev. 9:14, an angel is commanded to release four demons confined at the Euphrates River.

A dark recess of hell?

We might ask: Is Tartarus an especially dark recess of hell? Or is it a separate, temporary abode until the final judgment of Satan and his demons?

If Tartarus is a compartment of hell, then why are demons kept there until the Day of Judgment, only to be returned? Why are some demons released from imprisonment in the abyss and at the Euphrates River, while those in Tartarus are offered no parole? Finally, if there is no escape from Tartarus, how does this place of temporary confinement differ from the lake of fire?

While we may ponder these issues, it’s always good to stick with what the Bible clearly teaches. First, Christ has defeated Satan, sin, and death for us; there is no redemption for the angels who rebelled. Second, Christ judges angels as well as people. And third, we may rest assured that Satan and all demons have a place prepared for them – the lake of fire – where they are cast one day and tormented forever.

If some especially vile fallen angels are kept in a temporary place called Tartarus and never allowed to carry out their evil intentions, so much the better for us.

What is the angels’ “proper dwelling”?

The angels who sinned “did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling” (v. 6b). We should note an important progression here. First, the angels surrendered their own position. The Greek word is oiketerion. It means a dwelling place and, in this context, heaven. While heaven is the home of angels, it’s also the temporary abode of believers until Christ returns and creates new heavens and a new earth. But redeemed mankind’s permanent dwelling is on the new earth (Rev. 21:1-3). So, the angels who sinned surrendered their heavenly home. They were done with it forever. The verb is aorist in tense, thus referring to a once-for-all act.

Having abandoned the presence of Almighty God in the throne room of heaven, the angels then deserted their proper dwelling. The KJV renders it as their own “habitation.” Another way to translate it is “first estate.” The Greek is archen, which signifies “beginning” and leads to a secondary meaning of sovereignty, dominion, majesty, or as being in the first place of power. The Jews regarded angels as having dominion over earthly creatures; and angels sometimes are spoken of in the New Testament as archai, or principalities (see Rom. 8:38 KJV, NASB; Eph. 1:21 KJV). This term properly designates their dignity, which they forsook.

This certain class of angels, for reasons we are not given, sloughed off the perfection, holiness, faithfulness, and purity with which they were created because, like the evil one, they wanted to call the shots. They surrendered their privileged place around the throne of heaven and, rather than serve as agents of God in the affairs of men and women, chose to intervene directly. In so doing, they deserted the dignity ascribed to their higher being. No longer content with the grandeur assigned them under the Son of God, they aspired to take His place. In seeking to climb higher, they fell; in pursuing the upper echelons of heavenly power, they lost all influence; and in grasping at divine sovereignty, they condemned themselves to a fiery prison.

Kenneth Wuest comments, “This was apostasy with a vengeance. [The angels] had, so to speak, burnt their bridges behind them, and had descended to a new sphere, the earth, and into a foreign relationship, that with the human race, foreign, because the latter belongs to a different category of created intelligences than they.”

Whether one holds the view that these fallen angels engaged in sexual intercourse with human beings, or violated the boundaries of authority they were given under the Son of God, or committed the first acts of demon possession, we may conclude that these particular evil spirits are kept secure in God’s maximum security prison until the day their sentence is pronounced and they are cast into the lake of fire.

Next: The Lord Rebuke You: Michael and the Devil