There are many instances where the time-honored King James translation uses the word “hell.” There is only one instance, however, where “hell” involves the Greek word tartaroo. That one instance is 2 Peter 2:4, which reads in the K.J.V.:
God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.
In this verse, “cast…down to hell” translates the Greek verb tartaroo. It is from the noun version of tartaroo that we get the word Tartarus. Okay, but why am I mentioning all this? I’m doing it because the Bible teaches that Jesus visited Tartarus sometime after His death. In previous posts, I’ve said a lot about how His soul went to Hades after His death. Now let me say some things about Him also visiting Tartarus.
For starters, you need to understand that Tartarus goes by two other names in the Bible. First, it is called “the bottomless pit.” This term occurs seven times in the K.J.V. (Revelation 9:1; 9:2; 9:11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1; and 20:3). In these verses, the original Greek uses the word abussos, from which we get our English word “abyss.” Second, in two places (Luke 8:31 and Romans 10:7) the K.J.V. translates abussos as “the deep.” And so we see that Tartarus, the bottomless pit, and the deep all refer to the same place.
Now, here’s the all-important thing about Tartarus: It is a place exclusively for the imprisonment of fallen angels. At no time does Tartarus ever hold the souls of any human beings. By the way, the K.J.V. refers to fallen angels as “demons,” “devils,” “unclean spirits,” or “spirits.” And mark it down, fallen angels know of Tartarus and fear the place (Luke 8:31).
But here’s a good question to ask: What angels have been cast down to Tartarus? Satan and the other now unholy angels continue to have access to this earth, don’t they? I mean, the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts are filled with instances of demon possession. Furthermore, Ephesians 6:12 says that we humans are always wrestling against fallen angels. And then there are those passage that tell us Satan is walking to and fro upon the earth (Job 1:7; 2:2; 1 Peter 5:8). So, what’s this business about angels being cast down to Tartarus?
The answer is: The imprisoned angels are the “sons of God” who are mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4. That passage gives us the story of a certain group of fallen angels called “the sons of God.” In the Old Testament, this term refers to angels (Job 1:6; Job 2:1). These particular fallen angels married human wives, had sexual relations with those wives, and produced children by those wives. It has been wrongly taught that these children became giants, but actually the passage says they became “the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” (Think about it, there were giants such as Goliath on the earth long after the great flood.) It has also been wrongly taught that other interpretations, ones not involving fallen angels, might also fit the passage. However, if the Genesis 6:1-4 passage doesn’t involve fallen angels there is nowhere in the Bible that explains how some fallen angels ended up in Tartarus while others still get to roam the earth freely.
On the subject of those fallen angels producing children through those earthly women, the Bible doesn’t specify how a sexual union between a fallen angel and a human woman could take place. Neither does it elaborate on how such a sexual union could produce a child. Perhaps the best way to understand the passage is to think of these fallen angels as demon-possessing the bodies of human men. This would give them the male “seed” to impregnate a woman.
Jude verse 6 is a verse that also speaks of these “sons of God.” In the K.J.V., Jude 6 says they “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.” The New American Standard translation gives a more literal rendering of the verse’s original Greek. It says they “did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode.” For this sin God judged those angels once more by casting them down to Tartarus and delivering them into chains under darkness. So, we might say that this group of angels “fell” twice.
Okay, now it’s time to bring Jesus into all this. The passage is Romans 10:6-7. These verses read:
But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
The word translated here in the New King James Version as “the abyss” is abussos. And so what we have here is a passage that associates Jesus with Tartarus. This really helps us as we try to understand another passage, 1 Peter 3:18-20, which says:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Now, the correct interpretation of these verses depends upon the correct answering of two questions. First, “Where did Jesus do this preaching?” Second, “Who were these spirits in prison to whom He preached?”
One possible interpretation is that the place was Hades and the spirits in prison were the souls in Hades. As we’ve learned in this series, Christ’s soul did go to Hades at the moment of His physical death (Acts 2:27). Is Hades then the prison he went to and were the spirits He preached to the souls in Hades?
The answer is, no, on both accounts. First, the interpretation doesn’t explain the Romans 10:6-7 passage, which associates Jesus with Tartarus. Second, even though the souls in the torment section of Hades could accurately be described as being in “prison” the same certainly can’t be said of the souls in the bliss section. Third, it is very awkward to describe human souls as “spirits.”
A second possible interpretation is that the prison was Gehenna and the spirits were fallen angels in Gehenna. This interpretation is easily dismissed. First, the Bible at no time puts Jesus in Gehenna. Second, at the time of Christ’s death Gehenna had no occupants to listen to preaching. Even now, Gehenna has no occupants.
A third possible interpretation is that these “spirits” in prison were actually the souls in the torment section of Hades, and Jesus had done His preaching to these people while they were alive on earth in the days of Noah. Under this interpretation, Jesus would have preached to them through Noah as Noah spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit. But this interpretation also has problems. First, it doesn’t account for Romans 10:7 using the specific Greek word abussos (Tartarus, the deep, the bottomless pit) in reference to Jesus. Second, the whole line of interpretation just doesn’t fit the way the passage reads. Again, it’s very awkward to refer to people as “spirits.” The idea of Jesus doing His preaching through Noah also seems pretty strained.
A fourth interpretation seems to be the one that best covers all aspects of the situation. For this one, the prison Jesus went to was Tartarus. This accounts perfectly for Romans 10:6-7. The “spirits” He preached to were the “sons of God” imprisoned in Tartarus. This fits perfectly with the fact that the most common New Testament use of the word “spirits” is for angels (Matthew 8:16; 12:45; Luke 10:20; 11:26).
So, putting the entire line of thought together, at Christ’s death His spirit went to God the Father (Luke 23:46; Ecclesiastes 3:21; 12:7; James 2:26), His body went to the grave, and His soul went to Hades (Acts 2:27). Then, at some point after that, Jesus, in soul, went to Tartarus. He went there for the purpose of preaching to “the sons of God” imprisoned there.
Of course, someone might ask, “But what purpose could Jesus have had for wanting to preach to a group of twice-fallen angels?” Well, this preaching was not the preaching of the gospel. It was, instead, Christ’s proclamation of victory over those fallen angels. It was preaching along the lines of what is described in Colossians 2:15, which says:
Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
All right, now let me finish up this post and this series by sharing with you a few more facts about this place called Tartarus (the bottomless pit, the deep, the abyss):
Fact #1: The “sons of God” will one day be temporarily freed from Tartarus. Revelation 9:1-12 describes certain days that will occur in the coming tribulation period. The passage says that during these days Tartarus (the bottomless pit) will be opened. This will free the fallen angels (called “locusts” in the passage) that are imprisoned in there. These angels will then go out and torment people of the earth for five months.
Fact #2: I mentioned in my previous post that Satan will be chained up in Tartarus for the thousand years of Christ’s millennial reign upon this earth (Revelation 20:1-6). But now let me add to that by saying that Satan will have the company of all the other fallen angels in Tartarus for those thousand years. In Matthew 8:28-29 and Luke 8:26-31, a group of demons wonder if Jesus has come to torment them before “the time” (the coming time of their incarceration in Tartarus), and they beg Him not to cast them into Tartarus right then and there. The Old Testament also teaches that all the fallen angels will spend the years of Christ’s millennial reign imprisoned with Satan. The passage is Isaiah 24:21-22.
Fact #3: The Bible does finish out the thought on what will happen to all the fallen angels, including the “sons of God,” after their imprisonment with Satan in Tartarus during the one thousand years of Christ’s reign. At the end of that reign, Satan and all the other fallen angels will be released from Tartarus, engage in one final revolt against God (Revelation 20:7-10), and then all be cast into Gehenna (the lake of fire). There they will spend all eternity (Matthew 25:41).
Fact #4: Just as Hades has gates and keys to the gates (Matthew 16:18; Revelation 1:18 where “hell” translates Hades), Tartarus has a key to it. The proof text is Revelation 9:1. Some Greek scholars say that Revelation 9:1 conveys the idea of a shaft which leads down to Tartarus. This shaft isn’t Tartarus, but it does serve as the only way in and out of Tartarus.
Fact #5: Like Hades, Tartarus is located somewhere in the heart of planet earth. Revelation 9:1-3 makes this clear. It is believed that Tartarus is even lower down in the heart of the earth than Hades. Of course, it should be noted that the eternal prison for Satan and the other fallen angels, as well as all of history’s lost humans, will be Gehenna, and the Bible does not indicate that Gehenna is located in the heart of the earth.