Tagged: Sheol

Smoke came up out of the shaft – Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: The key to the shaft of the abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

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)

Smoke came up out of the shaft

When Abaddon opens the shaft of the abyss, John records that “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” (v. 2). Some commentators, like Matthew Henry, see the smoke symbolically: “The devils are the powers of darkness; hell is the place of darkness. The devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error. He first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. Rev. 9:1–12).

Others who take this passage figuratively describe the smoke as heresy, or the obscuring of human civility and common decency. While Satan and his demons are behind these dark deeds, they do their work through human agents, who disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (see 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Satan works tirelessly to blind the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:3-4). His kingdom is darkness and his citizens follow him blindly. Like the smoke that ascends from the shaft of the abyss, false teachings obscure the light that reveals our sin and leads us to the truth of God’s Word. There is no doubt that the thick smoke rising up from the pit may accurately depict spiritual darkness.

There are some interpreters, however, who see the smoke as a literal judgment, rising up from the earth due to a volcano or an earthquake. Just as the plagues of Egypt impacted earthly elements – water, earth, vegetation and sky – the judgments of Revelation are God’s ways of using His fallen creation to illustrate the depths of human depravity, the heights of His holiness, and the severity of His wrath.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “Jesus compared hell to a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), an image that ought to make people stop and think before they jest about it. The smoke polluted the air and darkened the sun, which had already been darkened when the fourth trumpet sounded” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 9:1).

One final thought: The imagery of thick, dark smoke is used in several ways in the Old Testament to illustrate God’s dealings with sinful people. Smoke accompanies the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28). It attends God’s judgment of the nations (Isa. 34:10). And it envelopes the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19:18). In each case, smoke is a visible manifestation of God’s power and divine purpose. He destroys wicked cities with fire and sulfur so the wicked can experience it and the righteous can witness it. He judges the nations in such a way that there can be no mistaking He is angry with sinners who rebel against Him and reject His gracious offer of forgiveness. And He delivers the law to His chosen people in such a way that they respond in terror to His holiness.

To the eye of the unbeliever, there may be no distinguishable difference between the smoke of the abyss and the smoke of Mt. Sinai. Smoke is smoke. But to the one who trusts in God’s Word, there is a distinct difference between the two. Satan uses darkness to hide his evil ways. The Lord uses it to reveal His wrath and keep sinful people from seeing Him directly, which would lead to their instant death (Ex. 33:20).

Next: Locusts came to the earth — Revelation 9:1-12

The key to the shaft of the abyss — Revelation 9:1-12

Previously: The fifth trumpet — Revelation 9:1-12

The scripture

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

Authority was given to them (Rev. 6:7-8)

Previously: And Hades was following after him (Rev. 6:7-8)

The scripture

Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).

John records that authority is given to “them” – Death and Hades, although some manuscripts read “him,” probably meaning Death – over a fourth of the earth “to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (v. 8b). Matthew Henry notes, “He gave them power, that is, those instruments of his anger, or those judgments themselves; he who holds the winds in his hand has all public calamities at his command, and they can only go when he sends them and no further than he permits” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 6:3-8). But why a fourth of the earth? “God’s providence restrains both his own wrath and humanity’s violence,” according to the ESV Study Bible. Other commentators argue that the pale horse, being one of the four, simply has his equal share in the judgments to come.

Sword, famine and plague (literally thanatos, or death, but in this context meaning epidemic diseases like bubonic plague) summarize the work of the riders on the red, black and pale horses. Add to this the predatory nature of wild animals in a depopulated environment, and these four elements echo the covenant curses on Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile (Ezek. 14:21), lending support to the preterist view that the Book of Revelation is largely fulfilled in the first century A.D. at the fall of Jerusalem. However, the death of a fourth of the world’s population would be a “great tribulation” such as the world has not yet seen (Matt. 24:21), bolstering the futurist view that the events of Rev. 6-19 have yet to take place. If the futurists are correct, more than 1.6 billion people will perish, according to current population figures.

Matthew Henry makes a number of poignant observations about these four horsemen:

“(1) There is a natural as well as judicial connection between one judgment and another: war is a wasting calamity, and draws scarcity and famine after it; and famine, not allowing men proper sustenance, and forcing them to take that which is unwholesome, often draws the pestilence after it. (2) God’s quiver is full of arrows; he is never at a loss for ways and means to punish a wicked people. (3) In the book of God’s counsels he has prepared judgments for scorners as well as mercy for returning sinners. (4) In the book of the scriptures God has published threatenings against the wicked as well as promises to the righteous; and it is our duty to observe and believe the threatenings as well as the promises” (Rev. 6:3-8).

While the calamities wrought by the four horsemen appear to be either natural or man-made, we will see in the verses to come that God is orchestrating these judgments. The redeemed in heaven know it, and the wicked on earth realize it. But rather than repent, those who oppose God cry out to the rocks and mountains for death rather than to the Rock for salvation.

Four views of the fourth horseman

So what does this fourth seal mean to John’s audience in the first century – and to us today?

The preterist – who sees the events of Revelation primarily fulfilled in the first century – points to the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The reference to the means of death – sword, hunger, death (pestilence) and beasts of the earth – are echoes of Ezek. 14:21, where God sends His “four devastating judgments against Jerusalem – sword, famine, dangerous animals, and plague – in order to wipe out [both] man and animal from it! Even so, there will be survivors …” In Ezekiel, God uses these judgments on Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. But now His instrument of judgment is the Roman army, which kills more than 1 million, destroys the temple, ransacks Jerusalem and scatters the survivors. Josephus describes the events of 70 A.D. in this way: “So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged” (Wars, 5:12:3-4).

Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the church age – tend to see the pale horse as representing the years 248 – 268 A.D., covering the reigns of Decius, Gallus, Aemilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus. Edward Gibbon, who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, writes that from 248 – 296 A.D. “five thousand persons died daily in Rome; and many towns that escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated” (quoted in Revelation: Four Views, p. 114). Some commentators prefer to translate the phrase “a fourth of the earth” in verse 8 as the Latin Vulgate does: “over the four parts of the earth,” referring to the four sections into which the Roman Empire is divided at the time.

Futurists – who interpret nearly all of Revelation as yet unfulfilled – contend that the events described here are global in scope and occur during the seven-year Tribulation. If fulfilled in our generation, the prophecy of one-fourth of the world’s population being killed would amount to more than 1.6 billion people – a great tribulation indeed, greater than the day of Noah, and matching the unprecedented magnitude described by Jesus in Matt. 24:21.

Finally, spiritualists, or idealists – who see Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – understand the pale horse to represent death by various causes throughout the church age. Since one-quarter of the world’s population perishes, it is reasonable to see this played out over centuries rather than as a single catastrophic event. The four severe judgments – the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts – symbolize all universal woes that believers suffer along with unbelievers during the present evil age.

We come now to the end of the four horsemen – conquest, war, famine and death – and hear their thundering hoof beats as they leave the vanquished behind. What’s next? What could there be in the wake of these breathtaking events?  Bodies have been destroyed, but the fifth seal uncovers the souls of martyrs crying out for God’s vengeance.

Next: The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11)

And Hades was following after him (Rev. 6:7-8)

Previously:  A horseman named death (Rev. 6:7-8)

The scripture

Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was iven to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).

And Hades was following after him

In close pursuit of Death is Hades. The two are, in fact, inseparable. Hades is the Greek term meaning “the place of the unseen.” It corresponds to the Hebrew word Sheol, or the abode of the dead, and is the typical term used by the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in the third and second centuries B.C. Put simply, all people die and go to Hades because all pass from the visible world to the invisible one.

Initially, the Greeks envisioned Hades as a place where good and evil people alike exist as shadowy beings after death. (In Greek mythology, Hades also is the god of the underworld.) In time, the Greeks and Romans came to think of Hades as a place of reward and punishment. This matches well with the Jewish concept of the afterlife because the Old Testament term Sheol and the Greek word Hades can signify the physical grave or death. In Gen. 37:35, for example, when Jacob sees that Joseph’s coat is covered in blood and that his young son evidently has died, he tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth and refuses to be comforted. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning,” he says. In Prov. 5:5 and 7:27, Solomon warns his son that a seductive woman’s feet go down to death and her steps head straight for Sheol; in addition, her house is the road to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death. In Job 10:21-22,  Job describes his fate as going into the land of darkness and gloom, never to return … a land of blackness like the deepest darkness, gloomy and chaotic, where even the light is like the darkness. Later, the Jews express the belief that Hades is a place of reward and punishment.

Hades in the New Testament

By the beginning of the New Testament era, Hades has three meanings, according to The Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: (1) death, (2) the place of all the dead, and (3) the place of the wicked dead only. “Context determines which meaning an author intends in a given passage” (p. 297). For example:

  • In Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus speaks of Capernaum descending to Hades because of the people’s unbelief in spite of His convincing miracles. Jesus seems to mean simply that the city will be destroyed, so Hades in this context means death.
  • In Acts 2:27, Hades is the abode of the dead. Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost, quotes Ps. 16:10, in which David declares, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One [Jesus] to see decay.”
  • In Rev. 20:13–14, Hades refers to the place of the dead, because it is emptied of all who are in it at the end of the world. Some would argue that this reference to Hades involves unbelievers only because the righteous dead already have been resurrected and judged at the judgment seat of Christ. In any case, there is a fitting end to Death and Hades. Both are thrown into the lake of fire – Gehenna or Hell – as are those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:14-15).
  • In Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), He uses the word Hades to refer to the place of the wicked dead. There, the rich man is tormented in flames while poor but righteous Lazarus is comforted at Abraham’s side. Some would contend that both Lazarus and the rich man are in Hades, existing in the intermediate state between death and resurrection. According to this view, Hades is divided into two parts separated by a wide chasm: torment, for unbelievers, and Abraham’s bosom / side for believers who, following Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, are taken to heaven, where the souls of New Testament saints are transported instantly at death.

One other note should be made. It’s unfortunate that the King James Version often translates three different Greek words as “hell,” thus creating confusion. The three words are:

  • Hades – the abode of the dead, or the abode of the wicked dead.
  • Gehenna – best translated Hell or the lake of fire. This word is derived from the Hebrew place-name gehinnom meaning Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. It is a place of child sacrifice in Old Testament times (2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) and the Jews later use it as a place to dump refuse, dead animals and executed criminals. Fires burn there continuously to deal with the stench and disease. The Jews transfer this imagery to their concept of a place of eternal punishment. Jesus uses gehenna numerous times to describe the eternal state of the unbeliever (for example Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15).
  • Tartarus – a Greek name for a place of divine punishment lower than Hades. Peter uses the term in 2 Peter 2:4 to describe a place where some angels (demons) are “kept in chains of darkness until judgment.”

Death and Hades riding together

Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind here is that Death and Hades ride closely together. Both are consequences of the Fall. All people die physically and spiritually as a result of sin – “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) – and Hades waits with his gaping mouth to receive the souls of the departed until they are finally resurrected and judged. The writer of Hebrews puts it well: “[I]t is appointed for people to die once – and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It is equally important to know that Death and Hades ultimately are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Christ’s finished work on the cross defeats sin and death, and the wrath He bore in our place removes the curse of eternal separation from God. Yes, death breathes down our necks and finally overtakes us, and Hades remains for now as the abode of unbelievers. But these are temporary beasts already defeated by the blood of the slaughtered Lamb. Christ holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18), and one day both will be cast into hell (Rev. 20:14).

Next: Authority was given to them (Rev. 6:7-8)