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5-29 Chains Of Darkness

2 Peter 2: 4: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment...”

Jude 6: “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day”.

Popular Interpretation

This is taken as proof that angels sinned in Eden and still await punishment.


1. We have shown in section 2-1 that Angels in the sense of super-human beings cannot sin. The Bible cannot contradict itself.

2. If literal angels are referred to here, then they are not going round making people sin, seeing that they are kept safely chained up. They are “under darkness”, i.e. not openly on the earth nor in heaven.

3. The context of Jude 5 implies that Jude 6 is a reference to a well known fact, “I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this”. There is no record in any other part of the Bible about angels sinning in Eden; how then could these Christians be reminded of these things? All the other examples which Jude mentions are taken from Old Testament examples which were well known, and v. 6 is no exception.

4. There is no indication that these things happened in Eden. There is no mention of the angels starting to cause trouble after they sinned - the implication in v. 6 is that they were immediately chained up under darkness. At the creation “all the sons of God (the angels) shouted for joy” (Job 38: 7) and they saw “everything...was very good” (Gen. 1:31); there was no evil whatever.

5. We have seen in section 2-1 that “angels” can refer to men.

6. These “angels” are to be judged at “the great day” of the second coming. The punishment of the unworthy at that day will be total destruction (Matt. 25: 41); yet we know that angels cannot die or be destroyed (Lk. 20: 35-36). An angel walked with Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3: 27-28). We read of the angel that appeared to Manoah, “when the flame went up toward heaven from off the altar, that the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar” ( Jud. 13:20). God “maketh his angels spirits: his ministers a flaming fire” (Ps. 104: 4). Therefore these “angels” who are to be condemned must be human ones, because fire cannot destroy angels.

7. Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah also (“even as”) “are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (i.e. total destruction after judgment - Matt. 25:41). This implies that the angels that sinned were made a public example (as was Sodom) of what would happen to those who disobey God. However, there is no Biblical record of angels sinning in Eden - so how are these “angels” of v. 6 “set forth for an example”? There is no indication that even Adam and Eve saw the punishment of anyone. Remember that sin entered the world “by one man” - Adam (Rom. 5:12) - not by an angel sinning.

8. Notice that the words “devil” and “satan” do not occur in these passages.

9. 2 Peter 2: 9-11 interprets the reserving of the angels unto judgment as, “The Lord knoweth reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished...them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government...speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels...bring not railing accusations”. This is saying that the counterparts of the sinful angels are the unjust men who follow their human lusts. That these men are not angels is shown by the fact that they speak evil of people, whereas angels do not. Peter does not say “the good angels do not”, just, “angels”, all of whom are good beings.

10. “Chains of darkness” represent death in Proverbs 5:22-23 (“cords” in v. 22 is rendered “chains” in the Septuagint). Thus the angels are now dead. They are “reserved” unto the day of judgment. “Reserved” does not mean (in the Greek) “”kept prisoner”, it implies rather that God has made a note of these people, and will give them their judgment accordingly, at the second coming of Christ.

11. 2 Peter 2:1 sets the context for v. 4, “But there were false prophets also among the people (of Israel, in the wilderness, cp. Jude v. 5), even as there shall be false teachers among you”. Thus the angels that sinned appear to refer to false teachers amongst Israel in the wilderness. That God “spared not” the sinful ‘angels’ connects with how God “spared not” the sinful Israelites in the wilderness (Ps. 78:50). Indeed, the idea of God not sparing is often associated with His attitude to apostate Israel: Dt. 29:20; Jer. 13:14; 21:7; Ez. 7:4,9; 8:18; 9:10. The angels “reserved unto judgment” matches how the Jewish world was “reserved unto judgment” in AD70 (2 Pet. 3:7).

12. The immediate context is in 2 Peter 2:3 - the Judaizers were about to be suddenly punished (in the holocaust of A.D. 70) - “whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not”. Peter then reasons that as God immediately punished the angels that sinned, so the judgment and damnation of the Judaizers would not be long delayed.

If the angels were super-human beings who still have the liberty to go about tempting us to sin, and have had such liberty since the garden of Eden 6,000 years ago, then their day of judgment has lingered, it has been a long time coming, and therefore Peter’s use of the angels that sinned as an example of God quickly punishing sin in v. 4 does not apply. Jude was writing against a background of belief that sinful Angels were roaming the world and inciting people to sin. He surely is attempting to debunk this idea by stressing that "the Angels who kept not their first estate"- whoever we understand them to be- are safely locked up in chains, unable to influence anyone on earth today.

Suggested Explanations

1. We have noted that this incident is probably concerning human “angels” at some point in the history of Israel, probably on the wilderness journey, and that it would be well known and documented in Jewish history (i.e. the Old Testament Scriptures). It also involved a great public punishment of the wrongdoers which set them “forth as an example”. The rebellion of the 250 princes of Israel in the wilderness led by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, as recorded in Numbers 16, seems to fit quite well.

2. “Angel” can mean “minister”, “messenger” (as John’s disciples were messengers or ministers to him , Lk. 7:24). Numbers 16: 9 describes the rebels as “ministers” of the congregation. The Septuagint (the Old Testament in Greek) uses the word aggelos for “ministers”, which is the same Greek word translated “Angel” in 2 Peter 2: 4. They left their first, or original, “principality” (Jude 6, A.V. margin); the rebels were princes, but wanted to be priests as well (Num. 16:2 & 10). Because of this, the ground opened and swallowed them (Num. 16:31-33), as a dramatic example to everyone of the fate of those who rebel against the Word of God. It was especially dramatic in that it is emphasized that this was the first time that such a thing had happened (Num. 16:30). Thus they are now dead, “in everlasting chains under darkness”, in the heart of the earth, to be resurrected and judged at “the judgment of the great day”. Jude v. 8 implies that “likewise” , i.e. like the angels that sinned, the Judaizers “speak evil of dignities”, e.g. Jesus and Paul. The rebels spoke evil of Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:11-14).

“Cast them down to hell” (2 Pet. 2:4). “Hell” in this verse is “tartaroo” in the Greek and is used only once in the New Testament. It was used in pagan Greek mythology to describe a subterraneous place of darkness for the dead. “...chains of darkness” (same verse) is rendered “pits of darkness” in the R.V. The word “serius” (pits) indicates an underground granary or prison, which corresponds with Korah, Dathan and Abiram’s destruction when they “went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them; and they perished” (Num. 16:33).

3. That they were destroyed and were not left alive is shown by a comment on this incident in Psalm 73. Here Asaph describes how “my steps had well nigh slipped” (v. 2) because the wicked seemed to be prospering so much. Then, “I went into the sanctuary (tabernacle) of God; then understood I their end” (v. 17). This was because the brass censers of the 250 rebels were melted down after their death and beaten into plates with which the altar was covered - another example of the angels that sinned being publicly “set forth as an example” (Jude v. 7). Asaph would have seen these and reflected on the fate of the wicked men. Thus he reflects upon the rebels, the angels that sinned, “surely thou didst set them in slippery places: Thou castedst them down (by the earth swallowing them) into destruction” (v. 18) - therefore they are not alive, but in the same way as Sodom was destroyed with eternal fire, i.e. totally, so, too, were these “angels” (Jude vs. 6-7).

4. The language of being cast down to the underworld and the darkness of the grave all features in the record of Egypt’s judgment in Ez. 31:16-18. Yet Egypt was not literally cast down from Heaven. The allusion to Egypt is to show how the apostate Jews in the wilderness were treated as if they were actually Egyptians- because in their hearts they turned back to Egypt.

5. We must understand the immediate context in which Peter uses the idea of God having judged 'angels' [whoever they refer to]. He reasons that if God didn't spare 'angels' who sinned in the past but judged them; and if God punished sinners by a flood but saved Noah; and if God overthrew the wicked in Sodom but saved Lot... then we can be assured that God knows how to rescue the Godly and to judge the wicked in a future day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:4-9). The example of angels being judged must be seen as a warning and a comfort to us in our day. The implication would surely be that just as the flood and the destruction of Sodom were well known Biblical examples of Divine judgment, so must the judgment of the 'angels' be. And therefore the interpretation which associates them with Korah and his rebellion in the wilderness would seem to be most appropriate. And note that there is no Biblical record of rebellious Heavenly angels being judged and thrown down to earth.