What is the Abyss? The Abyss (or Bottomless Pit) is a holding cell for evil spirits. When the angel opens the pit, demons, and smoke emerge. The Beast also ascends out of the pit, and the angel chains Satan there during Christ’s thousand-year reign (Revelation 9:1-3; 12:7; 20:3).
During Jesus’ time on earth, He confronted a demon-possessed man. This man had a legion (a legion typically contained six thousand soldiers) of demons possessing him, and they didn’t want Jesus to send them to a place called the abyss.
“Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. And they begged Him not to command them to go out into the abyss” (Luke 8:30-31).
Matthew describes the same event and reveals more of the conversation:
“Have You come here to torment us before the time” (Matthew 8:29)?
The Abyss is a Prison, a Holding Place, for Demons and Fallen Angels
These demons knew their eternal destiny but objected that it wasn’t their time!
There are separate groups of fallen angels. God allows some to roam free and even continue their malice within God’s boundaries. But when they go beyond those limits, they get chained in the abyss until they’re released to fulfill their part in God’s plan (Revelation 9:1-11) before eventually spending eternity in the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41).
The Apostle Peter uses a word from Greek mythology that refers to the underworld to describe this same abyss. He calls this spirit prison by its Greek name ‘Tartarus’:
“God did not spare the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness to be kept for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
Many English versions translate the Greek word Tartarus as ‘hell,’ but that’s misleading. Hell is the ‘lake of fire,’ and they’re both a place for the wicked, but Tartarus is a temporary holding place while the lake of fire is their eternal destination.
So, Who Were These Angels Who Sinned?
In context, in the next verse (2 Peter 2:5), Peter’s thinking of the time of Noah and Noah’s flood. The angels at that time committed a distinct sin: They had relations with human females (Genesis 6:1-4).
Jude, Jesus’ half-brother, gives us more information about these angels:
“Likewise, the angels (of Noah’s time) who did not keep to their first domain (heaven), but forsook their dwelling (heaven), He has kept in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).
In the book of Revelation, the Greek word translated as ‘abyss’ in other Bible passages is rendered ‘bottomless pit.’ Bottomless means that it wasn’t measurable. It does have a bottom.
“The star (angel) fallen from heaven … was given the key to the bottomless pit. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke ascended from the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace. The sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the pit. And out of the smoke locusts (demons) came upon the earth” (Revelation 9:1-3).
Evil Angels During the Tribulation
During the tribulation, as part of God’s wrath that pours out during the Great Tribulation, God allows a lead demon to release the evil angels chained for millennia in the abyss. Is the smoke a portent of judgment or from long-contained wickedness? Or, from a caustic element kept sealed for ages, now reacting to a new environment? We see that God uses demons to advance His plan.
“They had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek his name is Apollyon (both names mean ‘destroyer’)” (Revelation 9:1-3, 11).
Angels and demons hold ranks, and this is a high-ranking fallen angel. This is not Satan, who won’t be chained in this pit until after the tribulation.
“When they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit will wage war against them and overcome them and kill them” (Revelation 11:7, see also 17:8).
There is a connection between the demons in the abyss and the future world ruler of the tribulation time (the Antichrist, the Beast).
Satan is Chained in the abyss at the End of the Tribulation and before the Millennium
We’re not told, but his angels are likely chained there with him for one thousand years:
“An angel … having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand … seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be set free for a little while” (20:1-3).
• Demons don’t want to go to the abyss.
• The abyss is a prison, a temporary holding place, for demons and fallen angels.
• Tartarus, a term borrowed from Greek mythology for the underworld, is another name for the abyss.
• Angels who left their proper domain are chained there.
• Revelation calls the abyss the bottomless pit.
• God allows the fallen angel to release the occupants during the tribulation years.
• The Antichrist ascends from the abyss.
• The angel chains Satan in the abyss for Jesus’ thousand-year reign before God releases him to lead a final futile rebellion.