I was surprised recently when the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the words “the bottomless pit”–surprised because I had not been thinking of anything remotely connected to this phrase. Why had he brought it to my mind? I knew this description was used in the book of Revelation, so I opened my Bible and concordance and began looking into the matter. This is what I found.
Caution: In case any who read this are easily disturbed by the particulars of God’s judgment upon the unrighteous, be advised that the following does deal with this topic, as does Scripture itself. Nevertheless, I have tried not to dwell unnecessarily on details that are disturbing, only mention them as needed to show the seriousness of the topic at hand.
Checking the origins of the Greek word translated as bottomless pit, I found connotations of limitless extent, which is not surprising for something translated as bottomless. I also found references to baseness or depravity, thus justifying the pit portion of the translation. But there were also associations with profundity or deepness, with darkness, and with mystery. I was intrigued, but also somewhat uneasy, maybe even a little scared. I sensed that I was about to learn something from my Teacher (John 14:26) that might be unpleasant. Nevertheless, I also felt that he wanted me to proceed with my investigation into this term, so I asked for his guidance and help and then delved into the matter.
First, here are a couple of places in Revelation where this term is used (there are others):
“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” (Rev. 9:1 KJV).
“They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon (Rev. 9:11 RSV). (Both mean destroyer.)
The fact that two disparate languages designate a name that means destroyer to this mysterious ruler of the locusts of this pit serves to emphasize the nature and character both of this being and the place called the bottomless pit. Immediately a scripture verse came to my mind, John 8:44, where Jesus describes the devil as a murderer. A murderer is a destroyer; he destroys life. This is just the opposite of Jesus, of whom Scripture says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:4 NIV).
On the one side, then, there is God and life and light. On the other is deep darkness and death and the devil, the destroyer. “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed” (Lk. 16:26 NIV).
Chasm, abyss, bottomless pit–all can be used to describe accurately this place mentioned in Scripture. But bottomless pit carries with it implications beyond the other two, implications of a sense of spiritual darkness and depravity of extreme nature and profoundness; at least that was my experience while in this impromptu school session with the Holy Spirit. And it was this aspect of the bottomless pit that thereafter pervaded the lesson.
The pit is dark because God is not there, and as the passage quoted earlier from John shows, God is he who gives light to men. Even the most wicked unbeliever in this world still enjoys light because God furnishes it richly to all in this world to enjoy, righteous and unrighteous alike.
“For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Mt. 5:34 WEB).
But God is not in the pit and no sun from God is given to furnish light, only light from the horrifying fire that burns all who dwell in this terrifying place.
“The fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before!” (Is. 47:14 RSV).
Fire and darkness envelope all who are in this pit. But the darkness goes beyond that with which we are familiar, that which we see, in its varying degrees, with our physical eyes. It is not just physical darkness but spiritual–the deepest darkness of all. Jesus himself warned of this danger:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt. 6:23 NIV).
Those who dwell in this bottomless pit are they who reject the only true light available to human beings, that of Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world:
“Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life'” (Jn. 8:12 WEB).
But those in the pit did not follow Jesus, did not walk in his light in this world, therefore they are condemned to be in the darkness in another world, a world bereft of light. Many, no doubt, trusted in themselves to be their own light. That is the teaching of the New Age and many false religions. Tragically, those in the darkness of the pit find out too late that there is no light within self, only darkness.
“When I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness” (Prov. 30:26 NIV).
They never made the discovery in their earthly life that Paul speaks of concerning self and the lack of light within:
“For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing” (Rom. 7:18 WEB).
This statement by the apostle Paul is far deeper and more significant than perhaps many realize. For it is the quintessential realization and discovery that every human being needs to come to if he or she is to avoid the bottomless pit. For we know from Scripture that the only way to be saved is to surrender the keeping of our soul to Jesus Christ. But who is going to give up his or her soul to Jesus as its safe keeper if that person does not think he or she needs a savior or safe keeper? Until the awareness is attained that no good thing dwells within us, there is no hope for salvation.
That is the major part of the terror of the bottomless pit. That one is left to one’s self for all eternity. No one cares about you, no one can rescue you, so the only possibility left is to draw on one’s own inner resources. The only problem is that when you look inside, you find that there are none; there is nothing there. You see only emptiness and blackness beyond imagining. You are empty–empty of life, because Jesus is life and he is not there; empty of hope because he is the only hope; empty of everything. Nothing exists but an empty shell that somehow must exist for all eternity in the unending blackness of the human heart or soul without Christ. This is a pit that has no end, a bottomless pit of darkness and emptiness.
For those who choose to reject his light. God separates them from that light, just as he did at the beginning.
“God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:4 NIV).
“Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt. 25:30 WEB).
This, in itself, is enough to make the sober soul tremble, that it is possible to cut one’s self off from God and his light for ever. But there is yet a worse aspect of this fate: the fact that this separation can deepen and increase, the longer one is in this state of being. That is another meaning of the word bottomless. The pit is dark and abysmal in a double meaning, both literal as in place and spiritual as in being. But that it is also bottomless is truly terrifying, to know that there not only is no end to the agony of being apart from God but that this agony can increase without limit. When one sinks away from God, there is no bottom to stop the fall. It is truly a bottomless pit.
An analogy to the whole process of continuing to sink farther down into the darkness and away from the life and light of God in Jesus can be seen by comparing it to the natural decay of radioactive elements into increasingly less active and more inert elements. This process begins with, say, uranium, which is naturally full of energetic particles that continually are emitted. But with each such emission, some of the life of that element is lost and it slowly is transformed into a lower element, which, in turn, continues the process until, at last, it becomes lead.
So too, the human soul that has natural life given to it from the Father may live many years on this earth without the slightest acknowledgement given by it to the Source of that life. It simply goes about living its life unconcerned about the daily loss of “particles” from its source of life; that is, never paying attention to the fact that each day sees the loss from the store of limited days assigned to it by its Creator.
“In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:16 WEB).
Many are the souls that go about in this life unaware or unconcerned about the limited number of days or particles assigned to them by God for this life of light and joy. These complacent ones simply live for this earth and this day, giving no thought for that coming last day of life on earth, when the last particle of life is emitted and the energetic higher element turns into dead lead. They never avail themselves of the one way to gather into themselves eternal life beyond the natural life that fades and dies: life in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Therefore, they are assigned to the bottomless pit, where there is no life, certainly no life from within one’s self. Only Jesus has this divine power. “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man (Jn. 5:26,27 NIV).
Since there is no life outside of Jesus, and they chose not to avail themselves of union with him through faith and baptism, they are therefore condemned to be outside of him who is life–forever.
“Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15 WEB).
Outside the light of heaven is the darkness of the pit. That is frightening. That that darkness and separation increases the longer one is there is terrifying. For once the final judgment has been passed, time is no more (Rev. 10:6 KJV).
Time is that which makes change possible, for that is how we recognize that something has changed: that it is not the same as it was a moment ago or some time in the past. But if there is no time, then nothing changes. Those in the darkness of the bottomless pit never experience any change. They are trapped forever in the darkness and fire, with no possibility of any change; there is no bottom; they therefore continue to slip farther and farther away, with no limit to how far they can be from God. That is the terror of the bottomless pit.
But while the lost sink ever deeper into the fathomless depths of the bottomless pit, the saved in heaven go from one unending glory to another. It works both ways.
“They go from strength to strength. Everyone of them appears before God in Zion” (Ps. 84:7 WEB).
For these blessed ones, time also does not exist; they also have entered into eternity. But unlike those in the pit, this truth is to their welfare, not their further harm. For they now live fully in the presence of him who is beyond time and, in fact, created it. Because they are in him who is not held by time, neither are they. They are free in the freedom of God who is timeless.
God is gracious. He has given all human beings the way to escape the terror of the bottomless pit. That one way is Jesus.
He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (Jn. 10:10 NIV).
Those who reject this life will experience its lack, in the bottomless pit.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Ths. 1:9 NIV).
But those who humble themselves and accept life in him who is life, Jesus–for them “Jesus . . . delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Ths. 1:10 WEB).
Praise Jesus, who saves us from the bottomless pit.