The Angel of the Bottomless Pit: Challenging Our Comfortable Worldview, Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The Angel and the Beast

We are now in a position to look at the angel of the bottomless pit. Here is the principal (some say only) verse referring to him:

And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrewis Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. (Rev. 9:11)

The first thing to notice is that in contrast to the fairly detailed descriptions of the demonic locusts in verses 3-10, the “king” gets one solitary verse and no description. Well, that’s not quite true; we are told that he is an angel, and seeing as the Book of Revelation is the Book where angels appear with more frequency than anywhere else in Scripture, we might learn something from that.

Before investigating what the Apocalypse says about angels, it should be noted that if Revelation 9:11 is the only verse about the angel-king of the abyss, it doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose other than to tell us that these locust-scorpions are not natural to our terrestrial plane, because locusts in nature have no king (cf. Prov. 30:27). But we knew that anyway by reading their description. More problematical is the fact that John bothers to name the angel of the bottomless pit. Why does he do that if this is the only verse to speak of him? He doesn’t tell us the names of the mighty angels in chapters 10, 18 and 20. This angel’s names(s) are his, they are not given to him by the press corps of the day. No headline is going to proclaim that “Apollyon was seen marshaling his forces in New York an hour ago.” At least I can’t imagine it. Why then is he named, in both Hebrew and Greek? John identifies the angel of the abyss with two names; Abaddon and Apollyon. Why does he do that? Isn’t Revelation written to the seven Greek-speaking churches in Asia Minor? Why bother with the Hebrew name? Both mean the same thing: “destruction” or “destroyer” (Beale, 502; Thomas, 2.39). The only reason I can think of why John would tell us the Hebrew name is that this angel will terrorize Israel (as well as other parts of the world). In which case his name may have more significance to Jews than to Gentiles. (I am speculating, but at least I’m trying to fit the names into a tribulation scenario).

This is where I would like to bring in another verse for our consideration:

When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. (Rev. 11:7)

I would ask the reader to bear with me for a minute. After the introduction of the angel-king in Revelation 9:11, the Apostle changes subjects to describe the sixth trumpet. Then comes the incident where John is handed a book that he eats in chapter 10. Coming to Revelation 11 then, the measuring of the temple and the sacking of the city are described in the opening two verses. (For those believing John at face value the temple would be the tribulation temple (cf. Matt. 24:15), and the city is Jerusalem, later called “Sodom and Egypt” in verse 8. For those with a penchant for spiritualizing the temple is the Church and the city is the world, e.g. Beale)!

Next in chapter 11 we are told about the Two Witnesses (11:3-6). But then comes mention of “the beast that ascends out of the abyss,” just as though John takes for granted we already know who he’s talking about. Robert Thomas and Tony Garland (whose commentaries are to my mind the best on Revelation) identify this “beast” (therion) as Antichrist. But why does he appear so abruptly? And how do they explain John’s apparent lack of concentration in Revelation 9:11 and 11:7?

But does the “beast of the bottomless pit just appear out of nowhere? Back in chapter 9 we are not told that another “beast” crawled out of the abyss. Surely John would have mentioned him emerging with the locust-scorpions once the lid had been removed in Revelation 9:1-2? Well, I think he did.

If the beast of the abyss and the angel of the abyss are one and the same individual then we have an explanation for the naming of the angel in Revelation 9:11 and the sudden mention of the beast in Revelation 11:7. I fully realize that the commentators maintain a stony silence here, refusing to connect the two verses, but it certainly tidies up some loose ends: the otherwise strange double naming of the angel of the bottomless pit only to never bring him up again; the stylistically awkward introduction of the beast of the bottomless pit when accounting for the demise of the Witnesses; and the failure of John to notice the ascent of the beast when commenting on the emergence of the infernal locusts. Garland (ad loc) writes concerning the angel of Revelation 9:11,

Regarding the phrase of the bottomless pit (τῆς ἀβύσσου [tēs abyssou]), Wallace suggests it emphasizes the source from whence the angel came.

So the Apostle John has said that the king of the locust-scorpions himself comes out of the abyss. This is where another passage may help:

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. (Rev. 17:8)

The beast goes into perdition and perdition is a fancy word for destruction. Biblical names often refer not only to personal characteristics (like Nabal), but to contemporary events (e.g. Peleg; Ichabod), and destinies (think of Abraham or Peter). Apollyon will be a destroyer, but perhaps as “the beast” his name designates him for destruction? Again I surmise. But it is worth considering Paul’s name for the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:3:

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.

The fact that Antichrist is called “son of perdition” (or destruction) does bring the connection with Abaddon/Apollyon one step closer. At any rate, I cannot dismiss from my mind the fact that the angel of the bottomless pit is named twice and then never heard of again. I don’t believe it.

Angels and the Angel of the Abyss

I said I would say something about angels since Apollyon is said to be one. I can do this briefly enough for my purposes. Whenever one sees an angel in the Bible it appears as a man (cherubs etc are “angelic” but not angels per se). Consider these two important verses:

Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. (Rev 21:17)

Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Rev. 22:9)

The first passage reinforces what I have just said about angels looking like men. The second verse seems for all the world to be suggesting that the angel who showed John the New Jerusalem was formerly a prophet. I’m going for Daniel (Dan. 12:13). Hence, the reason why the angel of the bottomless pit was not described in Revelation 9:11 is because we all know what a man looks like.

More to say …

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There are 2 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Paul, I so appreciate your reasoning and am looking forward to the next installment.

Things get thick when it comes to the beast (antichrist, Satan, empire), so I am looking forward to a continued, well-reasoned clarification of this layered subject.

I never heard of the commentaries you referenced, wish I had them a couple of years ago.  I finished a year-long  study through the Book of Revelation in February of this year!  Eager to hear what you have to say.

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

I wrote this as a kind of mental exercise, trying to really hear the text and let the chips fall where they may.  I know that pure non-attachment isn't possible, but I like the experience.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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