A Rebellion in Heaven
Does the Bible indicate there was, at one time in the past, a rebellion among angels in heaven?
Though there is no detailed historical record of such an event, there are key pieces of evidence that surely indicate there was some sort of revolt against God among the angels, and that such resulted in very serious consequences for the offenders.
The Testimony of Eliphaz
The hints of an unrest are very ancient. Eliphaz was a friend of Job. When he learned of the patriarch’s hardships, he, along with two companions, came to “comfort” their distressed acquaintance. Eliphaz’s argument was simply this. Men do not suffer for innocence; since Job is afflicted mightily, he must be guilty of some heinous sin.
In the repertoire of arguments designed to buttress his accusation, Eliphaz appeals to an apparent case of angelic transgression. Of the Lord he says: “Behold, he puts no trust in his servants; and he charges his angels with foolishness” (4:18; cf. 15:15).
His point was this: “If God has dealt with sinful angels, he certainly will not let you pass, Job!” Of course Eliphaz was not a prophet; in fact, he said many foolish and erroneous things. At the very least, however, his statement appears to reflect a very early belief that there had been trouble with “foolish angels” who had betrayed divine “trust” at some point in the past.
New Testament Evidence
More to the point are some critical texts from the New Testament. Let us give brief consideration to several of these.
“For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. . . " (2 Peter 2:4). From this text several important points can be gleaned.
First, angels were subject to some form of divine law, for they “sinned,” and sin, by definition, is a transgression of law (1 John 3:4; Romans 4:15).
Second, some angels exercised their God-given, discretionary powers and chose to disobey sacred law.
Third, as a result, and against their will, they were “cast” out of heaven and committed to “pits of darkness” (thus separated from him who is light, and in whom no darkness dwells).
Fourth, their place of confinement is designated as “hell” in the English translation. The Greek is tartarosas, an aorist participle, thus literally, “having been cast into tartarus.”
To the Greek mind this was a doleful, dark place where the wicked dead suffer punishment (see Thayer, 615). Peter obviously has borrowed the term for the import it conveys. The apostle was not endorsing any mythical ideas associated with the word, but was using popular Greek imagery by which his readers clearly could see his point regarding punishment.
The idea that this angelic rebellion involved the sexual union of angels with ancient women (Genesis 6:1-4) has no substantial merit, and there is much evidence against it. (Elsewhere see our article, Who Were The Nephilim. which addresses this matter.) Compare also Jude 6 (see below) where the nature of the angelic sin seems to be specified in the parallel passage.
Fifth, these rebels are awaiting the final “judgment” at which point they will be cast into “hell” (gehenna) along with stubborn humans who have not surrendered themselves to serve the Lord (Matthew 25:41, 46).
There is another passage — this time in Jude’s epistle — that parallels the reference in Peter’s second letter. The Lord’s brother writes: “And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (v. 6).
While this text also is brief, it does contain some supplementary information not expressed by Peter. The term “principality” derives from arche, which, in this case, points to an official sphere of activity; an office or place of rule (cf. Danker, 138). Apparently there were echelons of authority among the angelic ranks (cf. “archangel,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9).
It appears fairly obvious that some angels were offended at their divinely assigned station, sought a higher one, hence revolted against the appointment and the place of their station. And so, since their “casting down” (as indicated by Peter), these sinful angels have been restrained in a state of punishment that continues to this day and, in fact, will be everlasting.
There is a text in one of Paul’s epistles that may fit into this study. The apostle forbids a novice (i.e., a new convert) being appointed as an elder, the reason being, “lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6). While there is some disagreement as to the meaning of the phrase “condemnation of the devil,” the most likely sense is “the condemnation incurred by the devil” (Knight, 164; Mounce, 182).
This would suggest, then, that Satan himself once “fell into a state of condemnation” as a result of his pride. Likely, he was the leader of the rebel group; the phrase “the devil and his angels” lends itself to this view (Matthew 25:41).
A Lesson Learned
The question may occur, “Is there any real, or potential, angelic rebellion in heaven at the present time?” There appears not to be, if one reflects upon the Savior’s statement in the “model prayer,” as provided in the Sermon on the Mount.
The disciples were taught to pray: “Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth” (Matthew 6:10). This statement has as its fundamental premise the fact that the Father’s will is implemented perfectly in heaven. Thus what once was, no longer is.
This would seem to raise a very intriguing question. What happened that was so decisive, so dramatic that it forever has quelled any subsequent rebellion among the angelic hosts?
First, as noted already, the horrible and eternal punishment set forth in Peter and Jude’s comments on this affair should strike a note of terror in the heart of any rational being.
The Bible student should not lose sight of this fact. The purpose of introducing this heavenly mutiny, and its dire consequences, is to demonstrate that if God did not spare the greater (angels), he will not spare the lesser (his human subjects, namely, in these contexts, Christians). This flies directly into the face of Calvinism with its corrupt dogma that no child of God can ever be lost, no matter how defiant he becomes.
Second, a most sobering fact is the apparent reality that there is no plan of redemption for fallen angels. As the writer of the book of Hebrews states: “For verily not to angels does he give help, but he gives help to the seed of Abraham” (2:16).
When Jesus subordinated himself, he did not assume the nature of an angel with a view to saving fallen angels; rather, he became a human, for the purpose of redeeming human beings. The clear implication is that angels have no Redeemer! Once lost, they are hopelessly, eternally lost.
By way of contrast, human beings may be in a “safe” state (as infants), reach a stage of moral/religious culpability, sin, and enter the “lost” state. But thanks to the grace of God, they have the liberty of action to submit to Heaven’s saving plan, and, in obedience to Christ (Hebrews 5:9), receive redemption.
How very tragic that there are legions of blighted souls who, apparently, could not care less! Someday they will realize their wretched condition.
May we take great care — and learn the lessons of “rebellion in heaven.”
- Danker, F.W., et al. (2000), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
- Knight, George III (1992), The Pastoral Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
- Mounce, William D. (2000), Word Biblical Commentary – Pastoral Epistles (Nashville: Thomas Nelson).
- Thayer, J.H. (1958 ed.), A Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark).