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.
Satan will be released – Revelation 20:7-8
Previously: The rest of the dead – Revelation 20:5-6
Rev. 20:7 – When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. (HCSB)
Satan will be released
Verses 7-8 read, “When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea.”
Satan’s release from the abyss (Greek phulakes or prison) appears related to the well-known prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39. While there are similarities between these passages, there also are differences. The question has been raised as to whether the battle in Rev. 20:7-8 is the same battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38–39, where Gog and Magog also are mentioned (Ezek. 38:2).
These appear to be two different battles, however, for in the war of Ezekiel 38–39 the armies come primarily from the north and involve only a few nations of the earth, while the battle in Revelation 20 involves all nations. These two events are related, however, inasmuch as Israel is the focal point in both conflicts.
Why is Satan imprisoned for a time and then released? Why not cast him into hell before the 1,000 years? Joseph A. Seiss writes, “God uses even the wickedest of beings, and overrules the worst depravity, to his own good and gracious ends. He allows Satan liberty, and denies him liberty, and gives him liberty again, not because the Devil or the Devil’s malice is necessary to him, but to show his power to bring good out of evil, to make even the worst of creatures praise him, and to turn their very wickedness to the furtherance of the purposes they would fain defeat” (The Apocalypse, p. 476).
The beast from the sea — Revelation 13:1-10
Previously: Rejoice, O heavens — Revelation 12:12
Rev. 13:1 – And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had 10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2The beast I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like a bear’s, and his mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. 3One of his heads appeared to be fatally wounded, but his fatal wound was healed. The whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. 4They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”
5A mouth was given to him to speak boasts and blasphemies. He was also given authority to act for 42 months. 6He began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme His name and His dwelling – those who dwell in heaven. 7And he was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. He was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. 8All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. 9If anyone has an ear, he should listen: 10If anyone is destined for captivity, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. Here is the endurance and the faith of the saints. (HCSB)
We are introduced to the first of two beasts in this passage: the beast from the sea. In verses 11-18 we will meet the beast from the earth. The dragon empowers both beasts; this is explicitly stated of the first beast and implied with respect to the second. The first beast is described in similar terms as the dragon, with 10 horns and seven heads, although unlike the dragon the beast wears his crowns on his horns and displays blasphemous names on his heads. He is likened to a leopard, a bear and a lion – ferocious and terrifying animals. The dragon gives him his power, his throne, and great authority to act for 42 months. He also grants the beast a mouth to speak haughty and blasphemous words.
The beast miraculously recovers from an apparently fatal head wound, causing the “whole earth” to worship him, perhaps out of fear rather than love, for they declare, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?” The dragon empowers (and the Lord permits) the beast to wage war successfully against the saints and to gain authority over all people. Those faithful to Christ suffer persecution and death, while unbelievers – “everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered” – survive only by worshiping the beast.
Who is this beast? Are we to take his description literally? Why does the dragon empower the beast rather than rule the earth himself? What is the apparently fatal head wound the beast receives? And how does he recover? When do these terrible 42 months take place? Finally, do verses 8-10 teach hard determinism, or even fatalism?
Rejoice, O heavens — Revelation 12:12
Previously: They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb — Rev. 12:11
Rev. 12:12 – Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
Rejoice, O heavens … woe to the earth and the sea
As a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and the victory won by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the saints’ testimony, the voice in heaven declares, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time” (v. 11).
There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents, being transported by faith out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light (Luke 15:7). There is rejoicing on earth when Jesus casts out demons; when He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem; and when He rises from the dead, being declared the Son of God with power and defeating the Devil and his works. And there is rejoicing in “the heavens” – the sky, the stellar heavens, the unseen spiritual realm – when Satan is banished and his span of influence is severely restricted. The angels, the redeemed – even creation itself – exults in this epic event with everlasting benefits. There is rejoicing everywhere the glory of God dispels the darkness of Satan.
But in this passage there also is woe, because Satan has not yet been banished to the abyss for a time, or to hell for eternity. For a short time, Satan and his demons are confined to earth, and knowing his time is short, he rules his fleeting kingdom with great fury. It’s interesting to look ahead one verse, where the dragon sees that he has been thrown to earth. It’s as if he cannot believe his lot. Once an anointed cherub, once a mighty, beautiful, intelligent servant of God, with the universe at his disposal, he now finds himself confined to the “earth and the sea,” and he is not happy about it.
The beast will conquer and kill them — Rev. 11:7-10
Previously: My two witnesses — Rev. 11:3-6
Rev. 11:7 – When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. 8Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which is called, prophetically, Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9And representatives from the people, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb. 10Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who live on the earth. (HCSB)
The beast will conquer them and kill them
But the witnesses’ time is limited. John notes that when they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them (v. 7). The two witnesses – these two lampstands and olive trees – do not speak the word of the Lord or perform miracles indefinitely. The Lord ordains a time for them to speak and a time to suffer.
It is always this way with God’s witnesses. They are sent for a time, and until that time is fulfilled, no one can shut their mouths or do them harm. Noah preaches for 120 years and God protects him from the wicked, who no doubt mock and threaten him. Elijah prophesies against Ahab and Jezebel, and they cannot silence him until they are dead and the Lord calls His prophet into heaven. Stephen preaches a profound message of judgment and hope, and not even the ambitious young Pharisee Saul can close his mouth until the last word is spoken.