Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with men forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4, N.K.J.V.)
Students of the Bible have long debated the identity of the “sons of God” that are mentioned in this passage. Three possible interpretations have been proposed. Allow me to name all three and then elaborate on the one I believe is the correct one.
Possible Interpretation #1: The “sons of God” could have been the males from the godly line of Seth, Adam’s son. That line is named in Genesis 5:6-32, the verses that lead immediately into Genesis 6:1-4. Seth was Adam and Eve’s son who took the place of the murdered Abel as the couple’s “good” (saved, believing, godly) son, with Cain continuing to play the role of the “bad” (lost, unbelieving, ungodly) son. Therefore, it is possible that Genesis 6:1-4 simply describes some of the godly, male descendants of Seth marrying women from the ungodly line of Cain. Such marriages between believers and unbelievers would have created what the New Testament describes as “unequal yokes” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
While this interpretation does make some sense, there are at least two serious problems with it. First, the Old Testament uses the specific term “sons of God” to refer to angels rather than men (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:1-7). Second, Seth’s line of male descendants weren’t so godly. Remember that in those days only one of Seth’s descendants, Noah, found grace in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8-9). Consequently, Noah and his immediate family were the only ones who were spared death by way of the great flood. All the rest of Seth’s descendants perished in the flood along with all of Cain’s descendants.
Possible Interpretation #2: The “sons of God” could have been earthly rulers who wanted to build harems of wives for themselves in direct contradiction to God’s one-wife-per-husband plan for marriage. Under this interpretation, these rulers/kings forced themselves upon the beautiful women of the day and claimed them as their own. Of course, the problem with this whole notion is the question of why the Bible would use the term “sons of God” to describe earthly rulers who were very much ungodly.
Possible Interpretation #3: The “sons of God” could have been fallen angels who married beautiful earthly women, had sexual relations with them, and produced offspring through them. This interpretation is certainly the most fascinating of the three, but there are a couple of potential problems with it as well. First, in Matthew 22:30 Jesus says, “In the resurrection, individuals will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” Many believe that quote rules out any type of marriage for any type of angel. Second, excluding Genesis 6:1-4, the Bible provides us with no other evidence that any angel could ever engage in any type of sex, let alone sex that produces offspring.
So, which interpretation is correct? After years of studying this whole debate, I have reached the conclusion that the third interpretation is the correct one. Yes, I believe those “sons of God” were fallen angels who married earthly women, had sex with them, and produced offspring through them. As for how they did that, well, let’s talk about that.
When Jesus said that “angels of God in heaven” do not marry, that doesn’t automatically rule out what fallen angels, who are referred to as the devil’s angels in Matthew 25:41, might do upon the earth. The fact is that fallen angels do a lot of things that unfallen angels don’t do. Therefore, that quote from Jesus shouldn’t be taken to mean that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 can’t be fallen angels.
The greater potential problem with the interpretation is the question of how angels, either fallen or unfallen, could have reproductive seed. Even though it’s true that angels do have the incredible ability to look just like humans (Genesis 18:1-22; 19:1-29; Acts 1:1-11; Hebrews 13:2), it doesn’t follow that an angel taking on the appearance of a human male would be endowed with reproductive seed. No, it seems more likely that any case of a fallen angel impregnating an earthly woman would have to be a case of demonic possession wherein the fallen angel enters into the body of a human male and uses that male’s reproductive organs to not only engage in sex but also to produce offspring. (Admittedly, a possible pushback to this idea might be that the New Testament describes multiple cases of demon possession, and yet there is no mention of any of those demons using any of those male bodies to have sex and produce children.)
Actually, though, it is the New Testament itself that provides the conclusive evidence that the “sons of God” from Genesis 6:1-4 really were fallen angels. The proof texts are Jude verses 6-7, 1 Peter 3:19-20, and 2 Peter 2:4. Those passages speak of a certain group of angels “who did not keep their proper domain” but instead “left their own abode” (Jude 6, N.K.J.V.). These angels God has “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6, N.K.J.V.). They are “spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:19-20, N.K.J.V.). God “did not spare” these angels “who sinned” (2 Peter 2:4, N.K.J.V.). Instead, He “cast them down to hell” (the Greek word Tartarus, the bottomless pit, the abyss, the deep) and “delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4, N.K.J.V.)
It’s here that I’ll remind you that the Bible does not teach that Satan and the other rebellious angels were chained up in some hellish prison when they fell from heaven. To the contrary, they are now free to roam the earth (Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:10-12; 1 Peter 5:8; etc.). This explains why Jesus had to cast so many demons (fallen angels) out of people during His time on earth. But what do we do then with those angels whom the Bible says are chained up in the darkness of Tartarus (the bottomless pit, the abyss, the deep) awaiting their final judgment? The only possible passage that sheds any light on that situation is Genesis 6:1-4. You see, those angels must have been the “sons of God” from that story. They once had access to the earth just like their fellow fallen angels, used that access to commit the atrocity described in the passage, and were punished by God by being imprisoned in Tartarus. To add even greater strength to this interpretation, 1 Peter 3:19-20 even says these “spirits” (angels) were disobedient “in the days of Noah.”
Furthermore, after Jude verse 6 says these angels “did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode” (N.K.J.V.), the very next verse, Jude verse 7, says the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the cities around them, “in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (N.K.J.V.). Jude’s point is that verse 6’s angels and verse 7’s citizens of the named cities all committed “sexual immorality” by going after “strange flesh.” Whereas the citizens’ pursuit of “strange flesh” involved the sexual sin of homosexuality (Genesis 19:1-29), the angels’ pursuit of it involved the sexual sin of fallen angels having sex with human women. Jude’s comparison of these two events just can’t be understood to mean anything else.
But now let’s ask the question, “Do “the sons of God” ever get out of their Tartarus imprisonment and get to roam the earth again? Yes, they do. Revelation 9:1-12 describes a time in the coming tribulation period when a group of fallen angels (demons), symbolized as locusts, will be unleashed from Tartarus (the bottomless pit, the abyss, the deep). These fallen angels have a king over them who is called “the angel of the bottomless pit” (9:11). That angel must be the leader of the group, and the group must be “the sons of God” from Genesis 6:1-4. Once freed from their imprisonment in Tartarus, these fallen angels will spread over all the earth and torment the world’s inhabitants for five months (9:4-5). They won’t be allowed to kill anyone, but the physical pain they will inflict will be akin to that caused by the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a person (9:5). This pain will be so intense that the afflicted will desire to die (9:6). In an ironic twist, though, death will flee from them.
Continuing on now with the prophetic storyline, at the close of the tribulation period, when Jesus returns to walk the earth again and establish His 1,000 year reign upon it, these “sons of God” will be imprisoned again in Tartarus (the bottomless pit, the abyss, the deep). This time, however, they will be joined by Satan himself as well as all the other fallen angels. There in that pit every last fallen angel will spend the 1,000 years of Christ’s earthly reign. This imprisoning is spoken of in Revelation 20:1-3 as well as Isaiah 24:21-22. In Isaiah 24:21, the term “the host of exalted ones” refers to fallen angels just as the term “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” refers to them in Ephesians 6:12.
By the way, it is worth mentioning that Satan and all the other fallen angels know that their thousand years of imprisonment in Tartarus (the bottomless pit, the abyss, the deep) is coming one day. This explains why a group of demons (fallen angels) once asked Jesus, “Have You come to torment us before the time?” and begged Him not to cast them into the abyss (the deep) (Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-30). The “time” they had in mind was the time of their Tartarus imprisonment during the thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign.
The good news is that in the final end, when all the pages of God’s prophetic calendar have been turned, the “sons of God” from Genesis 6:1-4 will spend eternity in another hellish place, the eternal lake of fire that goes by the Greek name Gehenna. As Jesus says in Matthew 25:41, this “everlasting fire” has been prepared for the devil and his angels. And the Bible is clear about how they will get there. At the conclusion of the thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign, Satan and all the other fallen angels will be released from Tartarus and allowed to once again walk the earth (Revelation 20:7). True to form, they will mount one final rebellion against Jesus (Revelation 20:8). But that rebellion will be quickly squashed (Revelation 20:9), and every fallen angel will then be eternally banished to Gehenna (the lake of fire) where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
So there you have it. Gehenna, the eternal lake of fire, will be the final stop on the long, long journey for the “sons of God.” They started out in heaven, rebelled there by aligning themselves with Satan, fell to the earth with him, rebelled again on earth by entering into human males and marrying human women, were imprisoned in Tartarus for thousands of years for that deed (that’s where they are right now), will get released from Tartarus for a time during the tribulation period, will be imprisoned in Tartarus again for the 1,000 years of Christ’s earthly reign, will be released from Tartarus yet again for a brief time following Christ’s earthly reign, will join Satan in yet another rebellion, and will ultimately and eternally wind up sentenced with him as well as all their fellow fallen angels in Gehenna (the lake of fire). That’s what you call a long, sordid road of history, isn’t it? We might think of “the sons of God” as being the worst of Satan’s worst, the most rebellious of the rebel angels, but in the end their rebellion will only land them eternally in a place of fiery torment. For the record, that’s the same place where all true rebels will spend eternity, whether they be rebel angels or rebel people who foolishly refused to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and thereby get saved.