In a previous article discussed the identity of Revelation’s great red dragon. There we concluded that the dragon had a duel identity first, as a metaphor for the prince of this world - sin and death - and, second, the embodiment of sin and death in the world civil power as the enemy of God and his people (viz., Egypt, Assyria, Babylon) or, more specifically for purposes of Revelation – Imperial Rome. In this article we want to discuss the identity of the angel who bound the dragon and shut it up in the bottomless pit.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
Not the Lord Christ
A common error in interpreting this passage has it that the angel is Christ. This is the basic assumption of Postmillennialism. Consider the following comments from Gentry:
In Revelation 20:1-3 John portrays the negative implications of Christ’s triumph over Satan, when “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan (v. 2)” is spiritually bound (Gk. deo). This binding restricts him from successfully accomplishing his evil design in history. The angel from heaven who binds him evidently is Christ himself. (1) Christ appears under angelic imagery elsewhere in Revelation (cf. Rev. 10:1 with 1:13-15). (2) The struggle of the ages is ultimately between Satan and Christ (Gen. 3:15; Matt. 4:1-11; John 12:31-32; Acts 26:15-18), making it most appropriate for Christ to bind Satan. (3) Matthew 12:28-29 informs us of Christ’s binding of Satan during his ministry and in relation to the struggle between Christ’s and Satan’s kingdoms: “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up [Gk. deo, same word as in Rev. 20:2] the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matt. 12:28-29; see preceding context for reference to Satan’s kingdom).
Gentry’s arguments that Christ is depicted by the angel lack meaningful analysis. There is nothing about the present imagery that is uniquely applicable to Christ and cannot with equal validity be applied to any number of other historical personages. That Christ may appear elsewhere under angelic imagery does not prove that he so appears here. Numerous other figures appear under angelic imagery. For instance, in chapter nine, the Roman Emperor, Nero, is figured as an angel given possession of the key to the bottomless pit to loose its armies, and the Roman legions themselves are described as four angels bound at the River Euphrates. (Rev. 9: 1, 11, 14) If these “angels” are earthly figures connected with the world civil power, why is the angel in Rev. 20:1-3 divine? According to Gentry, the dragon is Satan, hence the angel that binds him must be Christ. However, that the dragon is a demonic being is itself very doubtful. Revelation is a book of symbols. The passage veils spiritual and historical realities in the garb of symbolic imagery. Reference to the dragon as the “devil and Satan” is no more literal than reference to its being bound with a chain and cast alive into the bottomless pit. Thus, to place a literal construction upon the image is to violate the first rule of interpretation and confound our understanding. The better view is that the dragon is the world civil power poised as the adversary of Christ and his church, not a demonic being. Since any number of earthly figures might bind and loose the power of earthly kingdoms there is no basis upon which to conclude that Christ is the angel who binds the power here.
II Peter 2:4 Probable Source
According to Postmillennialists, the imagery of Revelation 20:1-3 is adapted from Matt. 12:28, 29 and speaks to the whole gospel dispensation, beginning with Christ’s earthly ministry and concluding just before the purported end of time. Although there is a superficial similarity between the texts, careful analysis will show that the points of contact are so few that they cannot justify the conclusion that the one is the source of the other’s imagery or that there is an identity of subject matter between them. Jesus’ parable in Matthew does not mention casting down, the bottomless pit, chains, a thousand years, etc. Other than the image of binding the strong man, there is no further correspondence at all between the texts. With so little similarity between them, upon what are we to base the conclusion that Matthew is the source of Revelation’s imagery or that texts speak to the same spiritual and historical events? Shouldn’t something more substantial be required upon which to base this conclusion? Because the similarity between the texts is so insubstantial, the better view is that the imagery of binding the dragon in the bottomless pit is derived, not from Matt. 12:28, 29, but from II Pet. 2:4 and various Old Testament sources:
“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Gk. Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” II Pet. 2:4
Comparison of this passage with Rev. 20:1-3 shows the following points of contact:
Angels are not subject to fleshly lusts and therefore are not tempted with sin. Hence, the “angels” mentioned by Peter should not be construed as heavenly beings, but the righteous “sons of God” (children of Seth) who apostatized before the flood by marrying the unbelieving daughters of men. (Gen. 6:1-4) For their sin, these men perished in the flood and were confined to Tartarus under chains of darkness. Questions regarding the identity of these angels aside, an impartial analysis will own II Pet. 2:4 as the probable source of the John’s imagery before Matt. 12:28, 29. There are no fewer than five points of contact between the imagery of Revelation twenty and II Peter two – more than twice the number of Matthew twelve. Moreover, there is a correspondence in the basic imagery of Revelation twenty and II Peter two that is missing from Jesus’ parable in Matthew. Matt. 12:28, 29 speaks merely to the binding of the strong man and is silent about him being cast down and shut up in the bottomless pit. But, Revelation’s imagery contemplates more than the mere restriction of the dragon’s power postulated by Postmillennialism and Matthew 12:28, 29; it contemplates his imprisonment and internment in hades Tartarus or the bottomless pit for a specific time. The disparity between the imagery of Revelation and Jesus’ parable in Matthew militates against assigning the latter as either the source or substance of the former.
Being cast down to the bottomless pit is not unique to II Peter 2:4 and the “sons of God” or Rev. 20:1-3 and the dragon (Rome). The same figure is encountered numerous times in the Old Testament prophets. According to the usus loquendi of the prophets, casting down to the Bottomless Pit is a figure of personal or national defeat and debasement so complete as to all but equal death. Concerning the fall of Egypt, Ezekiel provides the following description: "Son of man, wail for the multitude of Egypt, and cast them down, even her and the daughters of the famous nations, unto the nether parts of the earth, with them that go down to the pit." (Ezek. 32:18) It also occurs in reference to Tyre: “They shall bring thee down to the pit, and thou shalt die the deaths of them that are slain in the midst of the seas.” (Ezek. 28:8) Concerning Assyria Ezekiel said, "I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit." (Ezek. 31:16) Nations described by Ezekiel as being cast down to the Pit also include Elam, Meshec, Tubal, Edom, and Zidon. (Ezek. 32:22, 24, 26, 29, 30; cf. Isa. 14:9-23) Isaiah uses similar imagery to describe the fall of Assyria. (Isa. 30:27-33) The point of Revelation’s imagery is that, as the “sons of God” who perished in the flood were confined to Tartarus, and as various world civil powers had gone down to the pit in defeat, so the dragon suffered defeat in its war against the woman and the Christ child. (Rev. 12:16, 17) This near mortal wound (Rev. 13: 3, 14) caused the dragon to go down to the pit in defeat where it was symbolically confined for a time, only to be loosed for a little season to make a final assault upon God’s people (Rev. 11:7; 17:8) before dawn of the Messianic age and the new heavens and earth.
The Angel as Emperor of Rome and King of the Locust Army
As already noted, the angel in Rev. 20:1-3 is not the only angel in Revelation possessing the key to the bottomless pit. In chapter nine, another angel is similarly depicted.
“And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was gien power, as the scorpions of the earth have power…And they [had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless it, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.” Rev. 9:1-3, 11
In chapter seven, the four winds are restrained to blow upon the land (Palestine) until the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads. (Rev. 7: 1-3) Once all who would obey the gospel had done so, the winds of war would be loosed to sweep across Palestine, destroying Biblical Israel forever. The imagery of chapter nine depicts the invading armies of Rome in the form of a locust army from the bottomless pit (the “abomination of desolation”), which denudes the land, subjecting it to sword and famine. The king over the army is the angel of the bottomless pit, the emperor Nero. The bottomless pit answers to the sea in Revelation; both serve as descriptive terms for heathendom. The sea is a geographic description and refers to the Great Sea, a symbol of the Gentile nations of the Mediterranean. (Isa. 11:10-12) This was the land occupied by Gomer, Magog, Tubal, and the other sons of Japheth after the flood. (Gen. 10:2-5) It is set in contradistinction to the earth or land, the place of God’s people. The bottomless pit (Tartarus) is a spiritual description based upon heathendom’s association with sin and death. In proof that the angel of the bottomless pit is the Roman emperor we note that the angel is described as a “star” (Rev. 9:1); stars are among the ruling orbs and are a common figure for ruling powers. (Cf. Isa. 14:12-14; 34:4; Matt. 24:29) The angel possesses the key to the bottomless pit; keys are figures in token of governmental authority. (Cf. Isa. 22:22) The angel is called the “king” of the locust army (Rev. 9:11). Among the forces marshaled by the angel are the “four angels” bound at the river Euphrates (Rev. 9:14), a figure commonly interpreted as the four legions utilized by Titus in the siege of Jerusalem. If the four angels are Roman legions employed by Titus in the Jewish war, it naturally follows that the angel who is king over them is the Roman emperor. But if the angel in Rev. 9:1 looses, in Rev. 20:1 another angel binds. If the angel with the key to the bottomless pit in Rev. 9:1 is the Roman emperor, Nero, does it not follow that the angel who binds in Rev. 20:1 is yet another emperor? Indeed, we believe it does.
II Thessalonians and “He who Letteth”
There is a general correspondence between II Thessalonians two and Revelation twenty such that we believe that the latter is a symbolic representation of the essential facts underlying the former. Rather than reproduce the whole section, we give a brief synopsis of the relevant points: The Thessalonians were looking for the second coming of the Lord and the gathering of the church into the kingdom of the Messiah. However, Paul warns that that day was not immediately at hand; first there was to be a falling away, a renunciation of Christ and return to Judaism by many believing Jews and the full and final rejection of Christ by national Israel. This final rejection would come in the form of a persecution instigated by Jewish intrigue, conducted by the authority of Nero Caesar, the “man of sin” and “son of perdition.” Although this “mystery of iniquity” was already at work and the Jews were actively seeking to procure official censure of the church that they might destroy it, they were unable as yet to accomplish their objective: The ruling emperor was unsympathetic with Jewish calumnies against the church and acted to protect it by the religio licita. This is the meaning of Paul’s language to the effect that “only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, who the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy by the brightness of his coming.” (II Thess. 2:7, 8) To “let” is to hinder. “He who letteth” was Claudius Caesar. Claudius was unsympathetic to the Jews and actually banished them for their continuous rioting against Christians. (Acts 18:2; Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Claudius, XXV, iv) However, Claudius would be “taken out of the way” – Nero would take him off by poison, ascend the throne, and be revealed as the man of sin with “all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” (II Thess. 2:10) Nevertheless, Christ would destroy both Nero and the Jews at his coming: Nero would commit suicide and the Jewish nation and temple, which stood in denial of Christ’s Divine Sonship, would be forever destroyed.
The points of contact between Rev. 20:1-10 and the historical setting underlying II Thess. 2:1-12 include the following:
The reader will observe that the emperors Tiberius, Caius (Caligula), and Claudius occupy the place in the above chart that answers to the angel of Rev. 20:1. This is because it is not strictly necessary to construe the angel as a single individual; as head of the empire, the throne of the emperor had a life and continuity of its own that existed independent of any particular occupant, and itself may be understood by the angel. During the reigns of Tiberius, Caius, and Claudius, the Jews were under imperial displeasure, Tiberius and Claudius both banishing them from Rome or Italy, and Caius threatening to destroy the nation if they did not allow his image to be set in the Jerusalem temple and worshipped as a god. Because of these emperors’ animosity toward the Jews, after the collapse of the persecution that arose over Stephen, the Jews were unable to obtain imperial assistance in their war against the Lamb. Hence, these emperors, but Claudius in particular (for it was during his reign that II Thessalonians was written), “bound the dragon,” not allowing its powers to be enlisted against the church. However, upon the ascent of Nero, the Jews found imperial favor and gained access to the throne: Nero’s wife, Poppaea Sabina, was a Jewish proselyte who obtained favors from Nero on behalf of the Jewish nation on several occasions. At the instance of the Jews, and to divert suspicion that he had ordered the burning of Rome, Nero thus became the first emperor to persecute the church, loosing the dragon from the bottomless pit. (Rev. 20:7-9)
The angels of the bottomless pit were the Roman emperors, specifically Nero (Rev. 9:1) and Claudius. Nero loosed the locust army to begin the invasion of Palestine and destroy Jerusalem; Claudius restrained Roman officials from persecuting the church at Jewish instance. (Rev. 20:1-3) As long as Claudius was upon the throne the dragon was bound. However, the mortal wound to the beast’s head suffered in the defeat of the persecution that arose over Stephen would heal. Nero would come to power, the Jews would find imperial favor, and enlist the emperor in the war against the Lamb. Nevertheless, the battle belonged the Lord: Nero and the Jews would go down in defeat and the church enter into its blessed rest in the eternal kingdom of the Son.
What do YOU think ?
Brilliant! Destroys every furturist explanation I have ever read. Ties fulfillment to historical facts that may be objectively verified. Wonderful!
This article is very interesting and the author is to be commended for making an effort to tie the symbols to the historical people and events they represent. However, in our opinion, it is not "brilliant" nor does it tie some of the symbols to the correct historical people and facts, etc. The article also has some serious exegetical problems. For example Rev. 9 states that the "star" that "was given the key to the abyss" first "fell from heaven unto the land" then was "given the key to the abyss." In other words he came from someplace represented by the symbol "heaven" to the "land." In this case "heaven" is the source of the Roman Imperial power; Rome,Italy and the land is the land of Judaea. In Revelation the "land" equates to the "abyss" not the "sea." In Revelation John refers to Judaea as "the land" until it comes under the judgment of Yahweh then it is referred to as the "abyss" the place of God's judgment(Psalm 36:6). There is no biblical or historical evidence that Nero ever went from Rome to Judaea so Nero is not the "star" that fell "from heaven to the land." However, there are other persons connected to Nero that fits this prophecy in Rev. 9 as well as Rev. 17 and 20 perfectly. Before we identify that person, let us ponder a rethorical question: Who gave the "star" the "key to the abyss?" The author of the above article correctly identifies the source of the key as the "Roman Imperial power" and he correctly identifies Nero as the ruler at the time that John wrote Revelation (cf. Rev. 17:10, Nero is the "king that now is"). This then requires that the "giver of the key to the abyss" is Nero. The question is who did he give it to? That person is Vespasian. After the failure of Cestius, Nero sent Vespasian to the land of Judaea to take over the Roman occupation forces in Judaea and to put down the Jewish rebellion. Thus, Vespasian (the "star") "fell(traveled)from heaven(Rome)to the land(of Judaea and there he)was given the key to the abyss (land of Judaea)." As a result of the above, Vespasian was then in possesion of the "key" (The power to conduct the war) and in control of the "locust" army; so in perfect fulfillment of the passage he then used that key to open the war (v.2) in the "abyss" (the place of judgment)and Judaea began to come under the vengeance ("wrath") of God in fulfillment of Romans 13:4. Continuing with these exegetical problems: In Rev. 9:11 it states that "they (the locust army, etc.) had a king over them" and specifically identifies the "king" as "the angel (messenger of destruction not a hevenly being)of the abyss" and provides his identity in two languages: "Hebrew..Abaddon" and "Greek..Apollyon." In English Abaddon and Apollyon both translate to destroyer. This destroyer of the land of Judaea (the abyss)is futher identified in Rev. 17:8 as "the beast...that was (in Judaea), but is not yet" (the king of the Roman Empire)who is "about to ascend out of the abyss" (as king of the Roman Empire). About a year after Neros death "by the sword" (Rev. 13:10), Vespian "ascended out of the abyss" (the land of Judaea, Rev. 17:8) where the Roman Army had "anointed him king of the Roman Empire" (Josephus). As king he sent Titus back to Judaea to be general over the Roman army. Thus here Vespasian's son Titus is identified as the "angel (messenger) of the "abyss" who has the "key" to the abyss in Revelation 20:1. For additional information on this subject see our article on "Revelation 17" on this web site.
The idea that Vespasian is represented by the star fallen from "heaven" unto "earth" seems defective in that it overly presses the imagery, trying to put the "star" physically in Judea. I find hard to swallow the idea that the star's "fall" from heaven to earth is symbolic of Vespasian's "travelling" from Rome to Judea. Indeed, may I say without offense that I find it ridiculous? Moreover, the star is clearly said to be king over the locust army (Rev. 9:11), which cannot be said in any sense of Vespasian until the last five months of the war. Furthermore, how can it be said that the abyss answers to Judea in Revelation? I would like to see this proposition demonstrated rather than merely asserted. I think it is entirely more probable that the abyss answers to the sea and heathendom than the abyss. I find the article more persuasive than the comments!
It's very simple. The angels in the bottomless pit are the angels that were bound there before the flood for fornication with women. They had body and spirit. Their offspring were destroyed in the flood(great men of renown). Noah was found to be perfect as mentioned in Genesis. Not perfect as without sin but perfect in that he was fully human. After the flood, fallen angels could no longer lie with a woman. Enoch states that these bound angels would stay there for 70 generations from Enoch which just happens to take you to Jesus's generation. The beast out of the abyss is abaddon being released along with his locusts(bound angels). There is so much more to add to that, but I will stop there.
When john saw satan fall to earth with his angles he told where he would fall on earth.The trumpets are the sign. All the events that happen are caused by reason of the smoke and fire from the pit at the river euphrates. Did you ever notice the overlay of the trumpets is like the dragon and a third of the stars he draged with him to earth.7 trumpets 3 woes+army of millions. So when we see these signs we know the pit is opened and the time of sorrrows has arrived. LOOK AT THE 1991 GULF WAR! Everything happened in a five month period and they also had women helicopter operaters with helfire missiles. Then there is silence in heaven for a space and when the war started again,which is now, we are approuching the middle of revalations quickly.
Date: 19 Mar 2010
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