My previous two posts were my two-part answer to a reader’s question: “Are Hades and Hell the same place?” Now, another reader has asked a follow-up question to those posts. The question is: “Will Tartarus ever be emptied of the fallen angels who are imprisoned there?”
We get the noun “Tartarus” from the Greek verb tartaroo. That verb is used in 2 Peter 2:4 in reference to a certain group of fallen angels that God has cast down and delivered into chains of darkness. Most translations (K.J.V., N.K.J.V., N.I.V., N.A.S.V., E.S.V., etc.) use the generic term “hell” in that verse. However, if your Bible (regardless of what translation it is) provides center-column notes or bottom-of-the-page commentary notes for 2 Peter 2:4, those will always specify that the “hell” in question is literally “Tartarus.” As a matter of fact, a few translations (the Holman Christian Standard, Young’s Literal Translation, Wuest’s Expanded Translation) just go ahead and use “Tartarus” in the verse instead of “hell.”
So, what is this strange place called Tartarus? It’s a place created exclusively for the incarceration of certain fallen angels. The place has absolutely no bearing on human beings. As I pointed out in the post Are Hades and Hell the Same Place (post #1), the New Testament also uses the terms “the deep” or “the abyss” (Luke 8:31, Romans 10:7) and “the bottomless pit” (Revelation chapters 9.11.17, and 20) in reference to Tartarus. For example, in Luke 8:31 a group of demons (fallen angels) beg Jesus not to command them to go out into “the abyss” (N.K.J.V.). Undoubtedly, every fallen angel is terrified of Tartarus.
As for the angels who are currently imprisoned in the place, the Bible provides only one explanation for who they could be. They are the “sons of God” (note how the same term is used in reference to angels in Job 1:6 and 2:1) whose sin is recorded in Genesis 6:1-4. Their sin was that they married earthly women and produced offspring.
The questions raised by this sin boggle the mind. How can a fallen angel and a human woman have sex? And how can that sex produce a child? Perhaps the most logical explanation is that the fallen angels did their marrying and their procreating by demon possessing the bodies of earthly males. That would account for the male reproductive seed that is required to produce a child.
Whatever the exact details of the event were, one thing is for certain: God was sorely displeased with the whole mess. It’s certainly no coincidence that Genesis 6:5-7, the three verses that follow the story, find God determining to destroy the whole earth by way of a flood. But wait a minute, you can’t kill a fallen angel. Humans can drown, and half-human/half-fallen-angel offspring can as well, but angels are immortal. How, then, could God punish them for their sins? The answer is, Tartarus (the deep, the abyss, the bottomless pit).
Jude verse 6 says of those angels:
And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; (N.K.J.V.)
You see, if we undermine the story of Genesis 6:1-4 by saying that the “sons of God” described there are something other than fallen angels, we are left to wonder why some fallen angels are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness while all the others are free to roam the earth and demon-possess people. Therefore, Genesis 6:1-4 must refer to fallen angels, fallen angels who blurred the lines between angels and humans and paid a steep price for it. Basically, these angels fell twice.
But the question is, “Will they ever be released from Tartarus?” The answer to that is, yes. When will this happen? It will occur sometime in the first half of the seven-year tribulation period that is prophesied to come upon this earth. The proof text is Revelation 9:1-3, which says:
Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke rose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. (N.K.J.V.)
The “star fallen from heaven to the earth” is none other than Satan. Don’t miss the fact that the “star” is referred to as “him.” The bottomless pit is Tartarus, the entrance to which is clearly located somewhere on planet earth. How else could the smoke that rises up out of the place temporarily block out the sun? God gives Satan the key that opens the lid to the place, and Satan wastes no time using it to free his old buddies.
Someone might say, “But the passage says that locusts come up from the pit, not fallen angels.” Yes, it does, but in the same way that Satan is called a star, there is symbolism here. These locusts surely don’t look like any locusts we’ve ever seen! They have hair like a woman and teeth like a lion (9:8). When they fly (angels have wings, remember?), the sound of their wings sounds like a large throng of horses and chariots thundering the ground (9:9). And these angels also have tails, tails that sting like scorpions (9:10).
Oh, and here’s something else about these angels: they have a king (a head angel) over them. This fallen angel is referred to as “the angel of the bottomless pit” and his name is Abaddon in the Hebrew and Apollyon in the Greek (9:11). Both names mean “Destroyer.” He must be exceedingly mighty, perhaps only outdone by Satan himself and the arch angel Michael. Evidently, this Destroyer was the leader of those “sons of God” who caused all that trouble in the pre-flood days.
For five long months (9:5,10) in the first half of the tribulation period, Destroyer and these other fallen angels will torment the lost people of the earth (9:4). The torment they inflict will be so bad that in those days men will long to die but be unable to do so (9:6). In God’s plan, Destroyer and his group won’t be allowed to literally kill anyone.
To get back to our original question, though, the release of these angels will empty Tartarus (at least for a few years). But all that will change at the end of the tribulation period when Christ returns for His Second Coming (Revelation 19:1-21). At that time, Satan himself will be locked up in Tartarus, and he will remain incarcerated there for the duration of Christ’s thousand-year reign upon the earth. In addition to Satan being imprisoned there, all the other fallen angels will be as well. Isaiah 24:21-22 speaks of this by saying:
In that day the Lord will punish the fallen angels in the heavens and the proud rulers of the nations on earth. They will be rounded up and put in prison until they are tried and condemned. Then the Lord Almighty will mount his throne on Mount Zion. He will rule gloriously in Jerusalem, in the sight of all the leaders of his people. There will be such glory that the brightness of the sun and moon will seem to fade away. (New Living Translation)
And would you believe that Satan and all the other fallen angels know all about this coming day when they will be imprisoned? Not only do they know about it, they dread it. In Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-30, the Bible gives us the story of how a large group of demons who were living inside the bodies of two men asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” What “time” did they have in mind? We find the answer in Luke’s account of the story, where the demons later on implore Jesus not to cast them into “the abyss” (Luke 8:31, N.K.J.V.). This leaves no doubt that the “time” those fallen angels feared was the time when they, along with Satan, will be imprisoned in Tartarus for the 1,000 years of Christ’s millennial reign.
Now, in closing, let me finish all this up by explaining what will happen to Satan and the other fallen angels following Christ’s thousand-year reign. According to Revelation 20:7-9, Satan and the other angels will be released from Tartarus, and God will permit Satan to mount one last spiritual offensive upon the earth. Satan and his angels will go out into every corner of the earth and deceive millions of people into aligning with them in an assault upon Jesus in Jerusalem. Who will all these people be? They will be the offspring of the saved people who lived through the tribulation period and went into Christ’s millennial reign in their earthly bodies. By the time those 1,000 years are finished, those offspring will total in the millions, and, tragically, they will chose the side of Satan in his final battle against God.
And how will that battle end? Revelation 20:10 says that God the Father will send fire down from heaven, and that fire will devour all of Satan’s followers. So much for the coup attempt. It is then that Gehenna (the eternal lake of fire) will come into full play (see my previous post). Gehenna is where Satan and all the other fallen angels will spend eternity.
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus explains that Gehenna was created to be a place for the devil and the other angels. What a shame it is, then, that so many billions of people who lived and died over the course of history will end up spending eternity in there as well. A rebel is a rebel, I suppose, and in God’s program for eternity all rebels, whether they be angels or humans, will share the same place. That’s why my advice to anyone is: Stop playing the role of the rebel and give yourself over fully to Jesus Christ. He, of course, is the one who died for your sins so that you wouldn’t have to spend eternity with Satan and his crowd.