The Spirit World: Chapter Eleven (The Abyss)

This entry is part 13 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

The Abyss

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

While the preparation has been laid for the full procession of the unrighteous of humanity through the realms of the afterlife, there still remain several spiritual abodes which are noted in scripture.  These abodes are of a somewhat different essence than those described thus far.  The first of these additional abodes to be observed is that of the Abyss.

Abyss” is a Greek term occurring nine times in the New Testament.  The NIV transliterates it as “Abyss” from the Greek abyssos (pronounced “ab’-us-os”) while the KJV uses “bottomless pit” seven times and “the deep” in Luke and Romans.

Abyssos is derived from two Greek terms.  The first syllable, and the first term is Greek a, pronounced “alpha” [as in “alphabet” -alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet] when spoken alone, or “ah” when prefixed to another term.  The prefix, “a” applies a negative addition to a term it is added to.  Thus, a Greek term with an “a” as a prefix would be stating that there was an absence of what follows. 

The second term is Greek buthos, which means “depth” and is commonly attributed to the sea, but can also mean anything of great depth.

Thus the meaning of the combined terms is “without depth” or “bottomless,” as the KJV translates it.

The Texts

As there are only nine usages of Abyss in the New Testament, each can easily be listed.

Luke 8:30-31 (NIV)
30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
     “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

Romans 10:6-7 (NIV)
6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

Revelation 9:1-2 (NIV)
 1The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.

Revelation 9:11 (NIV)
11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

Revelation 11:7 (NIV)
 7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.

Revelation 17:8 (NIV)
8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

Revelation 20:1-3 (NIV) 
1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.


The first deduction observable in texts concerning the Abyss is that its direction is always downward from the earth.  It is never upward.  Concerning the Beast of Revelation, Revelation 17 notes that he, “will come up out of the Abyss,” and Revelation 11 states the beast is he, “that comes up from the Abyss.”  In both cases, the Beast is noted as coming to earth from the Abyss, noting a downward direction from the perspective of the surface of the earth. 

The second deduction concerning the Abyss is that it is associated with evil beings while never being associated with righteous beings.  In Luke 8, the demons calling themselves “Legion” encountered Christ concerning their control over a man.  Their simple plea to Jesus was that, “they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.”

In Revelation 20, Satan is noted to be also confined in the Abyss for one thousand years, just as the beast is in Revelation 11 and 17.

The next deduction concerning the Abyss can be observed in the same texts.  That deduction is that the Abyss is temporary in nature.  While Satan and the Antichrist are demonstrated to be sent there, they are also demonstrated to leave that place.  Revelation 11 and 17 note the Antichrist’s release from the Abyss.  Revelation 20 notes that Satan will be released from the Abyss after his one thousand year sentence is completed.  Thus, the Abyss is a temporary place.  It is, in effect, a place of a certain sentence which, once carried out, is able to be departed from. 

The last deduction concerning the Abyss is the one which sets it apart from Abaddon.  The Abyss, unlike Abaddon, is associated with angelic beings rather than humans.  Legion, a group of demons, Satan himself and the Antichrist are demonstrated to have been either confined to the Abyss for a season, or at least being threatened with such confinement in the case of Legion. 

In Revelation 9, “locusts” are seen by the Apostle John to swarm out of the Abyss. 

Revelation 9:1-11 (NIV)
1 The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. 3 And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them. 7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.

Clearly, these are no ordinary locusts.  According to John’s testimony, the majority of the book of Revelation is a vision which is shown to John.  John simply records what he “sees” in this vision, as he is instructed.

Revelation 1:9-11 (NIV)
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

John does as he is told, to “write what you see and send it to the seven churches.”  Clearly, Revelation 9 indicates “what John sees.”  He sees what appear to be locusts.  However, the descriptions of the locusts are not that of any known creature.  They come out of the very smoky Abyss.  They had tails with scorpion-like stings which caused pain for five months.  They looked like horses, with crowns on their heads, human faces, women’s hair, lions’ teen and breastplates of iron.  These creatures, being released from the Abyss, were also governed by an unlikely king:  “they had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon.”  As noted, “Abaddon” literally means “destruction.”  This Angel, named “destruction,” is the ruler over the locust horde which torments humanity.

Clearly Revelation 9 is John’s visual description of a demonic army.  He does not refer to literal locusts, but demons, as their characteristics are not that of any earthly being or animal.

Understanding that the Abyss is a place for demonic beings grants it a very different categorization than that of Abaddon.  Strangely, the name of the king was Abaddon, however, which further helps to conclude the nature of the Abyss. 

The Abyss, is an Abaddon-like containment for demonic beings.  It is a temporary place, obviously a place of burning, as fire arises from it, and is a place for unrighteous angels only.  What is problematic about the Abyss, is that while Abaddon is the place of the unrighteous dead, the Abyss is a place of demonic spirits, which cannot die.  Thus, the Abyss cannot be a containment for dead demons, but rather must be a containment for demons who have in some way deserved such a sentence.  Two scriptural clues indicate that this is precisely the way to look at the Abyss: as a “demon jail” of sorts.

The first clue is found in Luke 8, observed earlier.  The demonic horde in Legion continually plead with Jesus not to send them into the Abyss.  Clearly, Jesus could have done so if he had chosen to.  Yet, Jesus does not do so in the text.  Instead, he sends the demons into a herd of pigs.  Apparently Jesus does not consider their action of having possessed the man in such great numbers a sufficient reason to cast them into the Abyss.  Yet, it is clear that he may have done so.  As such, the demons felt threatened that they may be sent to the Abyss.

The second text of note concerning the jail-like features of the Abyss concerns Satan himself.  Revelation 20 notes that Satan is sent to the Abyss for a one thousand year sentence.  Verse 4 of that same chapter indicate that this one thousand year sentence correlates to Jesus’ Kingdom reign upon the earth during that same one thousand year period.  Thus, Satan is locked up for that period, and is not allowed to influence the earth during Christ’s reign.

In conclusion, the Abyss is a temporary holding place for demons who have committed certain acts deemed punishable by God.  Because the “king” of the Abyss is named Abaddon, some see the Abyss as another unrighteous compartment within Sheol/Hades, or perhaps a compartment within Abaddon itself.  Biblical inferences support this possibility, but do not necessarily demand such.  If the Abyss is part of Abaddon, the texts which teach the Abyss specifically are the only texts which would infer demonic admission into Hades.  For this reason, the author is not convinced that the Abyss resides within Abaddon, but tends to think this region is a separate Abaddon-like place altogether, uniquely for the holding of demonic spirits.

All of this noted, there are two difficulties concerned with the Abyss in general.  The first difficulty is that of Antichrist being detained in the Abyss.

In Revelation 11 and 17 the Antichrist is noted to rise from the Abyss.  While the circumstances of his death, sentencing to the Abyss, and resurrection are beyond the scope of this study, the author’s book, “The Return of The King” explains the full context of his advent to these regions.

The difficulty of Antichrist’s entry into the Abyss stems from the fact that he is referred to as a man in scripture.  2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to him as “the man of lawlessness.”  If he is a man, it does not make sense that he would be confined to the Abyss.  It rather seems more in line with scriptural principles that he would have been confined to Abaddon upon his death. 

Many biblical students, including the author, understand Antichrist to be a creature of both human and demonic natures, or a half-man and half-angelic unholy creature, being the offspring of Satan himself with a human host in an attempt to counterfeit the incarnation of Christ with his own virgin born son.  While the details of this position also go beyond the scope of this study, it demonstrates why Antichrist would be sent to the Abyss: because he is demonic.

Many others who do not subscribe to the “seed of Satan” characteristic of Antichrist still overwhelmingly adhere to his demonic nature, by some other surely not less strange set of unspecified circumstances.  Thus, by most theological positions, Antichrist is demonic in nature, and is thus a candidate for the Abyss.

The second problematic text concerning the Abyss is found in Romans 10, which has not yet been dealt with in this chapter.  This chapter notes,

Romans 10:6-7 (NIV) 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).

It may appear that Romans 10 is indicating that Christ himself also entered the Abyss upon his crucifixion.  Paul does use the term abyssos, which is translated “the deep” in the NIV to hopefully avoid such misunderstandings.  This position would not take into account I Peter 3 & 4 nor Ephesians 4 which were observed earlier in this work.  These texts depict Christ doing two things that simply cannot be true of the abyss.

First, concerning his preaching of the gospel there.  1 Peter 4 indicates an acceptance of the gospel message from some of the constituents in this “prison.”  However, there are none in the Abyss by any other Biblical text who could receive such preaching, as all present would be demonic spirits.  Thus, 1 Peter cannot be speaking of the Abyss, but of Hades, as this prison.

Secondly, Ephesians notes that Jesus brings “captives in his train” from this location.  Since every scriptural text indicates the Abyss as a place for angelic beings, those captives in this view would be understood to be demonic, which makes no sense theologically.  Surely Jesus did not rise with demonic captives in his train.

In order to understand Romans 10:6-7, it must be noted once again that abyssos is a combination of two words, the second of which is literally “depth” and is frequently used to refer to the sea.  Putting “a” in front of it makes a “depthless” sea if using that understanding.

Secondly, it must be noted that Paul is quoting an Old Testament text in Romans 10:6-7.  In particular, he quotes Deuteronomy 30:12-13.  The full sentiment of Deut 30:12-13 is shown here:

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NIV)
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Paul’s readers, knowing this quote from Deuteronomy, would have had no trouble understanding what he meant by abyssos here since what he quotes specifically states, “who will cross the sea.”  Thus, abyssos, in Romans 10 refers to the alternative usage of the term: a bottomless sea.  Clearly Paul is adding the a to byssos to denote the depth of the sea which he is speaking of.

Paul does note “to bring Christ up from the dead,” here, but his point is the same as that of Deuteronomy 30:  “the word is very near you.”  The Old Testament text notes that God’s commands are not “up in Heaven” nor “beyond the sea” that one has to search for it.  Paul is noting in Romans that those who follow the commands of Christ do not have to find Christ in such locations, either.

To that end, Romans 10 speaks of something other than the spiritual location known as “the Abyss.”  He represents the literal usage of abyssos (the depthless) using the same compiled term which is also used concerning the spiritual abode of demonic angels.

In conclusion, the Abyss is a demonic jail of sorts.  Sentences are served in this location for particular acts which God has deemed punishable by such confinement.  The Abyss is therefore not permanent, and should not be considered synonymous with Hell.  It is rather a unique realm which pre-dates the utilization of Hell.

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Chapter Ten (Gehenna)The Spirit World: Ch. 12 (The Great River Euphrates) >>

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