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.
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.
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
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)