In your last article on the binding of Satan, you mentioned that the “bottomless pit” (Rev 20:2–3) is to be taken symbolically. Does this mean that there is no such place as the “bottomless pit”? Would this also mean that hell is symbolic, and that there is really no such place?

No, when I say that the “bottomless pit” is symbolic, I do not mean to say that there is no such place. In Luke 8:31, we read that when the Lord confronted the demoniac man, the demons in him “besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.” The word rendered ‘deep’ is the [Greek] word abussos from which we get the English word ‘abyss.’ This is the same word used in Revelation 20:1 and 3, and elsewhere in Revelation, namely, Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8. The Lukan account shows that the demons themselves are aware that they would one day be confined in the bottomless pit. That is, they know that such a place exists. My point in saying that it is symbolic is to show that we must not think of it as a physical hole with material chains and material keys. If we think of it as a literal hole with a material chain and seal, and we believe that Satan and his cohorts are thus bounded, it would be difficult to conceive of how they could still be engaged in spiritual battle against the saints today (cf. Eph 6:10–20). But if we take the hole, the casting and the binding symbolically, we know that it is not impossible that they could still have a limited amount of freedom.

Let me illustrate what I mean with another passage, namely 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.” Now, there were some early church fathers who were influenced by some Jewish pseudepigraphic writings (such as 1 Enoch), who claim that the angels referred to in this verse were demons who had sexual relations with women and so produced the nephilims (giants). This fantastic interpretation have been adopted by many Dispensationalists, some of whom recognising that spirit beings cannot possibly have carnal relations with human beings, have resorted to saying that the demons must have indwelt some men in order to have the relations and to produce the giant offspring. I find such interpretations irrational, groundless and offensive. But the Dispensationalists will generally have to hold to this interpretation in order to be consistent to their literalism.

The general Reformed view from the time of the Reformation, however, is that Jude 6 refers to the original fall of Satan and the reprobate angels who fell with him. In so interpreting, it must also be asserted that Jude does not mean to say that the fallen angels are tightly incarcerated somewhere and can no longer have any influence on men whatsoever. Thus Calvin says that Jude “simply intended to teach us how miserable their condition is, since the time they apostatised and lost their dignity. For wherever they go, they drag with them their own chains, and remain involved in darkness. Their extreme punishment is in the meantime deferred unto the great day comes” (Commentary in loc., cf. Comm. on 2 Peter 2:4). Thomas Manton likewise asserts that the chains are “spiritual chains, suitable to the spiritual nature of angels.” These are for example: “Guilt of conscience, which binds them over to judgment… Their obstinacy in sinning [in that] they are fallen so as they cannot rise again.… God’s power and providence, by which the angelic strength is bridled and overmastered, so as they cannot do what they would.…” (see his commentary on Jude, p. 202).

Our approach to Revelation 20:2–3 is similar. Satan’s final and extreme punishment is reserved for the future. But his power and influenced is greatly clipped. The “bottomless pit” and the place referred to in Jude 6 are the same place. They both refer to hell, just like ‘Gehenna’ (Mt 5:22, 29, etc.), ‘Hades’ (Mt 11:23, 16:18; Rev 6:8, etc.), “lake of fire” (Rev 19:20; 20:10, etc.) all refer to hell and not to so many different places of torment. Since the fall of Satan and his cohorts, their sentence was fixed. They were figuratively already confined in the pit of Jude 6. Since the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the chains were tightened. When the Lord Jesus Christ returns as a triumphant Judge and King, the chains will actually be permanently and eternally secured, never to be loosed again.

The sanctified lives of Christians point to the fact that this world is not their permanent home. They are pilgrims heading to their eternal rest in Christ. Similarly the description of Satan being bounded in the bottomless pit points to the fact that that is his sure eternal destination.