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Wilderness and Abyss (Bottomless Pit) Are Symbols of a Prison

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Wilderness and Abyss Are Symbolic of a Prison, or a Time of Restraint of a Power


The thesis of this web page is that the wilderness and abyss (bottomless pit in some versions of the Bible) in symbolic Bible prophecy are symbols of the same thing - a prison or a restraint of a power.  This is based on several ideas presented in Revelation 9:1-12;  Revelation 12:6, 14-16; Revelation 17:3, 8, 9; Revelation 20:1-3, 7; Leviticus 16:7-10, 16-22, 26-27. 

The author noted in studying Revelation 17:3, 8, and 9, that there is evidence that the wilderness and the abyss are symbols of the same thing.  But, wanting better proof that just a couple of verses in the same chapter, he continued to search until he found the additional evidence he needed.  This web page will document the evidence, show that it is very reasonable, and show that it is consistent with the symbols as used in Revelation.  This should be reasonably convincing to anyone willing to look at the evidence available.

One has to be extremely careful of use of a key word or phrase in the bible, because it is often the case that people will take a key word or phrase, find an interpretation of that word or phrase in one verse, decide that they like that interpretation, and then take it throughout the Bible and force the new interpretation of the key word or phrase to fit into every text wherever that key word or phrase is found.  The trouble with this is that it forces the meaning of the other verses to be skewed so that they are "bent out of shape".  They no longer carry the meaning of the words that are intended because of the forced interpretation of one word or phrase in that verse.  Thus, it is best to find out first if the interpretation fits naturally in other verses and explains all verses in harmony with other parts of the Bible without skewing the meaning of any of them.

With these thoughts in mind, please study the evidence below.

Evidence Index

Wilderness and Abyss in Revelation 17 and 20

The author noted in Revelation 17:3, 8, 9, that the wilderness is equivalent to the abyss.  Here is the evidence for this:

  • the beast and the woman appear together in the wilderness
  • the beast and woman are never said to go into the wilderness - they are already there when first seen by John
  • the beast is said to be "is not"
  • it is explained that the beast will ascend out of the abyss - note future tense - so this has not yet happened as of the time from which the angel is speaking (the time frame from which he was speaking was 1963-1978)
  • the beast is never said to have gone into the abyss.  He is therefore already there and is going to leave someday by ascending out of it.  The "is not" state of the beast must mean that it is in the abyss.
  • Conclusion: the beast is already in both the wilderness AND the abyss at the same time, which means they are symbols of the same thing since no distinction is drawn between them.

The author noted in reading Revelation 20:1-3, and 7, that these verses define the abyss to be a prison.  Note that this is different than the Greek definition given for the abyss.  But, as is commonly done in Revelation, this is again a way in which the Bible defines a word or symbol to have an interpretation of its own, independent of the definition for that word.  You can see another example where the Bible does this in Revelation 1:20 in regards to the candlesticks.  We all know what a candlestick is, but Revelation 1:20 tells us that it is a symbol of the seven churches.  Now, if you go back to the Greek definition of candlestick, you probably will come up with a definition similar to what candlestick is defined to be in English.  But such an exercise would be meaningless because the dictionary meaning is NOT what is genuinely important in Revelation, but rather the symbolic meaning is the item of importance.

So, likewise, those who go back to the Greek definitions of wilderness and abyss are missing the point of these symbols entirely.  Revelation IS a book of symbols, and if the reader misses this point, he will entirely miss the deepest understanding of Revelation.  So, when you, the reader, run across the terms wilderness or abyss in Revelation, look for the symbolic interpretation rather than the dictionary definition from a Greek-English dictionary.  You will be glad you did!  But just be aware that there are many theologians who will try to lead you to that Greek-English dictionary, but their attempts are misguided for they don't understand this.  There are theologians who do understand this, however, so don't think all are this way.

Now, since the wilderness and abyss are clearly symbolic of the same thing in Revelation 17, and Revelation 20 defines the abyss to symbolize a prison, then the logical conclusion is that both the wilderness and abyss are symbolic of a prison.  But is this consistent with other prophetic scriptures?  The answer to this question is yes, it is consistent.  But in order to demonstrate that, please first consider Revelation 12.

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Wilderness in Revelation 12

When the author was studying Revelation 12, there were many things he noted, but two of these things are relevant to our discussion here.  These are:

  • The woman was said to flee to the wilderness for 1260 days because she is  pursued by the dragon.  This clearly indicates that she is placed into some sort of restraint by the dragon because she certainly does not wish to go there but must to save her life.  Thus she is trapped there as long as the dragon is a threat to her.  This really is a functional definition of a prison, so it has puzzled the author why anyone would need to go to the Greek-English dictionary to understand the wilderness.
  • The dragon does NOT follow her into the wilderness. 

The second item above very much puzzled the author because it made no sense based on the Greek definition of the word wilderness (which is desert, solitary, wilderness).  Why did he not follow her?  It made no sense because there was no reason for the dragon not to follow her into a desert or solitary wilderness.  So, why would he stop outside of the wilderness?

Some have argued with the author that this is not true.  They claim that the dragon does follow the woman into the wilderness.  But the author checked with sources which give direct translations of the Greek to English, and these sources are consistent with the idea that the woman is away from the dragon by being in the wilderness and the dragon remains outside of the wilderness.  If you would like to check this out for yourself,  here is a link to a web site that has a copy of a direct translation of Greek to English in parsed form:

Click here for New Testament direct translation of Greek to English.

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Wilderness in Leviticus 16

One day, the author was studying Leviticus 16, which explains the day of atonement services.  This service, like most of the Old Testament sanctuary services, is a prophecy acted out by the priests as they carried out day to day services.  However, in the case of the day of atonement services, this occurred only once a year.  The author noted the following order in which things are done on the day of atonement:

  • The priest sacrifices a cow for himself
  • The priest takes some of the blood of the cow into the sanctuary inner compartment (where they went only once a year normally), and carried out the day of atonement services there for himself and his family.

The next set of steps are where the relevant prophecy itself is acted out.  Pay careful attention to the order in which these activities were carried out and their symbolic meaning.

  • 2 kid goats are selected from the herds for a sin offering
  • 1 is selected for sacrifice (this one is then called the sin offering) and the other set aside for the time being until needed later.  Now the prophetic part of the activity started:
  • the one selected for sacrifice was sacrificed and this represented the death of Christ (which occurred in 31 AD) for the sins of all the people
  • the priest went into the sanctuary to make an atonement for all the people in the inner compartment.  This represented the judgment of all Christians that occurs after 1798 but before the end of the world's history (See Daniel 7:22, 26, and Revelation 11:14-19).  So it moves forward in time.
  • After the atonement is made, then the priest comes out of the sanctuary and using both hands held over the head of the remaining live goat, confesses the sins of the people.  This goat is then called the scapegoat and represents Satan
  • This scapegoat is to be taken out to the wilderness by the hand of a fit man and let go.  The goat is to be released only where there were no people so it would possibly die out there from lack of food and water.  Whatever happened, it was to be alone.  The sins were symbolically physically taken away from the people.
  • The remains of the goat sacrificed (the sin offering) is to be burned in a fire at the end of the day.  Though the goat did not die in this fire, the fire itself represent the second death or hell.  This must be so because the fire is the last thing to be done to represent the destruction of sin on the day of atonement, and we know that hell is the last step God will take to finally eradicate sin from this universe once and for all.  Therefore, since this goat represented Jesus, this act symbolizes that Jesus died the second death for us.  Note that the scapegoat is NOT burned in the same fire, probably because burning him there at the same time would suggest that the death of Satan could save someone.  Thus, to avoid that idea, the scapegoat was not brought back to die in the fire.  The focus is upon the sacrifice of Jesus and what it was doing for us.

After studying this over, the author realized that the wilderness the scapegoat was sent to must represent the abyss the dragon is sent to during the millennium as mentioned by Revelation 20.  This clearly indicates that the wilderness and the abyss are the same thing, which is in harmony with what the author realized was true in Revelation 17.

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Does the Interpretation Fit in Revelation 12?

The author then decided to take this to Revelation 12 and see if it readily fit without having to twist the meaning of the verses there.  If it did, then it was better proof that the wilderness and abyss both represent the same thing - a prison or restraint upon a power.  Here is what he found:

When the woman went into the wilderness, she went into a type of prison under this interpretation.  But this is true because during the 1260 years, the true believers in God were forced to hide themselves as much as possible.  They were not free to be open about their beliefs as they understood them.  Hence, they were in a type of prison where they were not free to teach and practice their beliefs openly.  Many even literally hid in wilderness areas to avoid extermination.  But, sometimes the forces under Satan's control found these individuals and extinguished their lives, sometimes quite horrifically.  Those who did these things will pay for it in the day of execution of judgment (hell).  Hence, symbolically, her movements and freedom were restricted in Revelation 12.  So, it fits - naturally.

But, that dragon!  Why does he not follow her into the wilderness?  It is important to understand that the only time the dragon goes into the abyss (prison) is during the millennium, which is yet future to our time (2004).  Thus, it is impossible for the dragon to go into restraint or prison until the millennium begins.  Because the dragon is NOT shown going into the wilderness, this picture is telling us that he did not go into restraint during the 1260 days/years.  So, we can conclude that the dragon remains free to harass anyone through the 1260 days/years and right up until the millennium begins, after which he will be restrained and unable to bother anyone until the millennium is over (see Revelation 20).  Therefore, Revelation 12, by showing that the dragon does NOT go into the wilderness, is telling us through the use of symbols that the devil does NOT go to jail during this time.  He has a "stay out of jail" permit until Jesus comes.

The woman, however, goes into the wilderness, so she goes to prison, or into a time of restraint.  She is trapped by the dragon who is free to harass her as much as he is allowed to by God.  The woman being in prison helps protect and preserve a knowledge of the truth and allows God to give the woman a measure of protection during this difficult time.  It is a form of protective custody, if you will.  This makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

In Revelation 12:14-16, it tells us that the woman flees into the wilderness and the dragon, in an attempt to harm her, spews a flood of water out of his mouth in an attempt to sweep the woman away with the flood.  But, the earth opens it's mouth and swallows the water.  So, if the wilderness is a prison, what does this mean and does it naturally fit?

In this picture drawn by words, we see the dragon outside of the wilderness facing towards the wilderness in which the woman is hiding.  This occurs after the 1260 days/years have begun.  The dragon opens his mouth and a mass of water comes out which creates a huge flood that moves towards the hiding place of the woman in the wilderness.  But a huge hole opens in the ground and the water simply disappears into it.  Consequently, the water never reaches the woman to carry her away.

But remember that these are symbols.  The dragon is the devil, the woman is the true church, the waters are peoples, nations, multitudes, and tongues, while the wilderness is a prison.  Since the other elements are symbolic, it is logical that the earth itself is symbolic as well in this usage.  The earth is a dry place, the opposite of waters in prophecy, so it is logical that this represents a geographic location without much in the way of organized peoples, nations, multitudes, and tongues.  It does not mean totally devoid of people, only that they are not well organized politically and probably not a lot of people either. 

So, what would this mean, the dragon spewing water out of his mouth at the woman in the wilderness, but the earth swallows the water?  The dragon, being the devil, spews water out of his mouth, which are peoples and nations, after the woman who is in the wilderness, or prison, but the earth swallows the water, which probably symbolizes that a geographic location literally absorbs the waters or peoples.  So, logically this means the devil sends peoples and nations after the woman in her prison, but fails to destroy her because these people are diverted to a geographic location that does not have organized nations and is relatively sparsely populated and literally absorbs the large numbers of people.  This causes the devil's plan to fail.

Since this probably occurs near the end of the 1260 days, what event would that correspond to in history?

What country arose towards the end of the 1260 years (or about 1798) in an area that was relatively sparsely populated beforehand and was not organized into nations?  Think: the United States.  This dragon spewing water out towards the wilderness in an attempt to sweep her away, is a prophecy that near the end of the 1260 days, a new land would open up that would provide a refuge from political persecution for the woman and would also absorb many who would otherwise have literally swamped the woman with humanity.  To some extent, this symbolism must be recognized to include much of the remaining new world (western hemisphere) as well which opened up for settlement at that time.

Conversely, consider what would have happened had the waters reached the woman.  The devil's plan would have succeeded.  What would it mean for the waters to have reached the woman?  Consider that during the time that the pilgrims were coming to America (and even later on), there was a population boom going on in Europe, according to historians.  Land was getting difficult to obtain.  This would have made it harder to make a living.  It might eventually have reached such proportions that starvation would have set in - a literal famine.  This would have killed off many of the people of God "hiding" among those around them, and in this way the woman would have possibly been destroyed or greatly injured.

So, what this boils down to is that the wilderness and abyss are both symbolic of a prison, and this interpretation fits perfectly in Leviticus 16, Revelation 12, 17 and 20.  Therefore, the Greek-English dictionary has nothing to tell us about the meaning of the wilderness and abyss in these chapters, for the Bible clearly interprets the meaning of the words by itself.

Now, in Revelation 9:1-11, the abyss is opened and smoke comes out of the abyss, and grasshoppers come out from the smoke upon the earth.  This is symbolic of the Muslim invasions of the Byzantine Empire.  But what this tells us is that a power was let out of the abyss.  Is it logical that a power is under restraint and then freed from that restraint?  Of course.  So, if you use the definition given in Revelation 20 that the abyss is a prison, then it makes perfect sense in Revelation 9 as well for that power was let out of it's restraint for a time. 

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Who is Symbolized by the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16?

Some question the identity of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16.  But again, the sanctuary services were symbols used to teach about the future, so one should look for a symbolic meaning of goats in the Bible because they were part of the service activities on the day of atonement. 

The author's wife grew up on a farm and she has commented upon the observation she made that a goat, when kept with sheep, will boss the sheep around.  The goats tend to be rather headstrong, willful, and to not follow the sheep, but rather to lead the flock or even drive it where it wants the sheep to go.  The sheep tend to be followers.  The Bible clearly makes use of this difference between sheep and goats in it's symbolism.

The Bible teaches that as part of the sanctuary services, the people were to bring animals, usually a sheep, to sacrifice for their sins.  The idea behind this was to help the people understand something of what Jesus was going to do for all the world by giving up his own life for our sins. 

In the Old Testament, there were some examples given in which the people were compared to a flock of animals, and the leaders were compared to shepherds and goats.  The following two verses detail a situation in which the leaders are compared to goats:

  • (Jer 50:8)  Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks.

  • (Jer 51:40)  I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams with he goats.

In Jeremiah 50:8, people are challenged to take the lead in getting out of Babylon.  Those who make this effort to lead the way are compared to "he goats" in front of the flocks.  The flocks were the people who followed.

In Jeremiah 51:40, again the goats are the ones who lead the sheep (rams - male sheep) to the slaughter.  So, the goats here are the leaders and the sheep are the followers.  The goats lead the sheep to be slaughtered.

  • In Ezekiel 34, most of that chapter is given over to a lament by God that the shepherds of his sheep have taken care of themselves and neglected the people under their care.  God compares the people primarily to sheep, but includes a comparison to cattle and once to goats.  The goat reference probably is another way of referring to the leaders who had done evil rather than good to his flock.

  • In Daniel 8, the goat is used as a symbol of Greece (Macedonia) under Alexander the Great.  This probably is a reference to the aggressiveness of the goat.

  • (Zec 10:3)  Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.

  • In Zec 10:3, it is clear that God compares the shepherds to goats, and also compares the flocks of Judah to good horses used in battle. 

In the New Testament, Jesus used similar symbolism.  Here is what he had to say:

  • (Mat 25:32)  And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

  • (Mat 25:33)  And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Clearly he intended that the sheep symbolized the good people while the goats were those who had done evil and were not acceptable.  This may make sense because Christians do have to follow God, something that can be compared to a sheep following the shepherd, whereas a goat tends to be headstrong and go its own way.  God, of course, does not want us to go our own way for that will lead to sin.  When Satan decided to go his own way in heaven, it led to sin.  We all can see the results of that here on earth.

Now, back to the question of who the scapegoat is in Leviticus 16.  From the study of symbolism of goats and sheep just completed, it should be obvious that the 2 goats that are selected should be seen as symbols of two individuals who are headstrong, two who are leaders, one of which is Jesus and the other, being headstrong also, would likely represent somebody who will not follow Jesus, and may even oppose him.  The fact that both goats are chosen together might suggest that symbolically they are competing for the same position - note the position is what is competed for, not the death as such.  Both goats are symbols of leaders.  Satan has challenged God for control of this people in this world (see Job 1-2), so it logically would suggest that this competing goat must represent the one who challenges Christ for his position as owner of this world. 

So, how do we know who this scapegoat is?  We may know because of the time element involved in the acted out prophecy of Leviticus 16 and information present in Revelation 20. 

Leviticus 16 presents the following critical list of events on the day of atonement:

  • the priest selects two goats and sacrifices one of the two goats
  • the priest makes an atonement for the sins of all the people in which he "washes" the mercy seat with the blood of the sacrificed goat
  • the priest then goes out of the sanctuary and confesses the sins of all the people on the head of the scapegoat
  • the scapegoat is taken out to the wilderness to be left there alone

The following are the corresponding events in history:

  • the death of Jesus for our sins (31 AD)
  • the judgment of the righteous after 1798 and before the second coming
  • Jesus, after the judgment is done, makes Satan responsible for the sins he caused the people of God to commit
  • When Jesus comes, Satan is banished to the abyss, or a prison for the next 1,000 years
  • those not taken to heaven with the saints when Jesus comes, are destroyed and remain in the grave for the next 1,000 years

Below is the evidence for this.

The first event of the day of atonement involving the two goats was the sacrifice of one of the two goats.  The death of the animals in the sanctuary service was to represent the death of Jesus for our sins.  This is plainly taught in the Bible.  For evidence of this, see the prophecy of the death of Jesus in Isaiah 53.

The next event was the priest making atonement for our sins.  This involved the priest "washing" the top of the mercy seat with the blood of the goat, which symbolized the washing of the sins of people from their lives and the record of their lives in heaven by the blood of Jesus, which means his death covers our sins if we confess our sins and ask God to clean us of all unrighteousness. 

Consider that the presence of God was visible ABOVE the mercy seat, while the law of God was held INSIDE of the ark beneath the mercy seat.  The blood was spread or "washed" onto the mercy seat between the presence of God and the law below.  This symbolized that the law of God condemns the sinner and God would carry out the sentence of death against the sinner, but the sinner is able to obtain mercy from God through the application of blood to the mercy seat.  This says the blood serves to cover the sins with the righteousness of Jesus and allows the sinner to live.

The bible tells us that just before the end of this world's history, there will be a judgment of those who have chosen to follow God.  This is mentioned several times in Daniel 7, and also in Revelation 11:18.  In this judgment, those who have chosen to serve God will be found worthy of being taken to heaven if they have had their sins covered by the death of Jesus, or as the Bible indicates through another symbol, they have washed their robes in the blood of Jesus.  Since we know that the talking horn spoken of in Daniel 7 lost it's dominion in 1798, we can know that this judgment must occur sometime after 1798 and before the end of the world.

The next event is making Satan responsible for the sins he causes the righteous people to commit.  This is symbolized by the priest confessing the sins over the head of the scapegoat.  This is not to make it possible for Satan to die for someone else's sins, thereby allowing them to escape the punishment for sin, but rather to make Satan responsible for the sins he causes people to commit.  Note again that the only sins he is made responsible for are those who have accepted the application of the blood of Jesus to their lives.  Everyone else will die in hell for their own sins.

The final event with the two goats on the day of atonement is sending the scapegoat into the wilderness.  After the investigative judgment, the next main event is the coming of Jesus, at which time Satan is sent into the abyss.  The wilderness the goat is sent to cannot represent the coming of Jesus, so it must be Satan who is symbolized by the scapegoat when Jesus comes again.  The wicked will be destroyed and will not remain alive during the millennium, so none of the human wicked can be he who the scapegoat represents.   Satan is allowed to live and is forced to remain in the abyss or prison for the duration of the millennium.  Just as the scapegoat was the sole survivor (of the two original goats) and is forced to live alone in the wilderness, Satan will be alone with only his fellow fallen angels for company during the millennium.  The people of God will be in heaven during the millennium, while Satan will be forced to remain on this ruined earth.

Since the scapegoat remains alive and takes the sins away from the camp, who, after the second coming, remains alive on earth?  Satan is the only possible answer.  This world becomes his prison.  With the wicked dead and the saints in heaven, Satan is the only reasonable interpretation for the symbol of the scapegoat.  It cannot represent any other person.

Another reason this can be seen is that in the original day of atonement service, the people who participated as required were allowed to live as part of the nation.  Those who refused were to be cut off and were to have no more part with the nation.  This means they were relegated to the status of those who chose sin as a way of life.  In the future, those who have chosen to have their sins covered by the death of Jesus will be allowed to live with the other people of God in heaven after Jesus comes, whereas those who do not, will be destroyed at the second coming of Jesus.  The people present at the day of atonement services could not be who the scapegoat represented, for the goat took the sins of the people away from the camp, whereas none of the people present could do that.

So, in conclusion, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus represents one of the goats while the other, the scapegoat, represents Satan. 

Hopefully this helps the reader better understand this issue.

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