“They have over them a King, the angel of the abyss. In Hebrew his name is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon” Revelation 9:11 NWT
Who is the angel of the Abyss? Over the decades the Watchtower organization has offered two conflicting interpretations. Charles Taze Russell identified this angel as Satan while Joseph F. Rutherford claimed the angel to be Jesus. Modern Jehovah’s witnesses continue to be taught the latter.
This article will explore Chapter 22 of the Watchtower publication “Revelation Its Grand Climax at Hand!” (Hereafter RC) wherein Rutherford’s interpretation is explained more fully, after which Revelation 9:11 will be exegeted following the historical-grammatical method in order explore who the angel of the Abyss might be.
Overall it will be argued that the Watchtower interpretation of Abaddon has been arrived at through a faulty methodology based upon 1) theological bias and 2) community needs.
Official Watchtower Position
“As angel of the Abyss” and “Destroyer”, Jesus had truly released a plaguing woe on Christendom” (Revelation, 1988, p. 148)
“When Jesus was on earth as a man, he was a Hebrew, and now in his capacity as Jehovah’s royal Executioner he is called by the Hebrew name Abad’don, which means Destruction. (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; 12:23; 14:19) In the Greek in which the inspired Christian Scriptures were written his similar title is Apollyon, which means Destroyer.” (WT, 1961, pp. 719)
In order to arrive at their peculiar interpretation, the modern-day Watchtower follows the revised chronology of J.F. Rutherford. He proposed that the Kingdom of God was birthed in the heavens in 1914 and that Jesus inspected and rejected Christendom in 1918 choosing instead the Watchtower as his earthly organization and true Church in 1919.
A question rarely asked is why did Rutherford advocate these new prophetic dates? In a nutshell he had no choice! Not only had his predecessor’s prophetic speculations failed but also following Russell’s death in 1916 the Watchtower organization faced extinction. To rescue the organization Rutherford sought new ways to explain these disappointments. One way was by reading the historical situation of the Watchtower back into scripture as if the organization were living out the prophetic word, hence the great emphasis on the dates above. The book of revelation with its complex symbolism became a favorite for allegorical reading resulting in the interpretation that Jesus is Abaddon (Revelation 9:11).
Revelation Chapter 9
A simple honest reading of Revelation chapter 9 will not lead you to believe that God has rejected Christendom and elected the Watchtower! Yet the Watchtower RC commentary does exactly that – it convinces its members that the prophetic word is fulfilled in and through their own religious movement. Revelation 9:2-3 reads:
“He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.“ (ESV).
RC explains these pericope as follows:
“The small band of Jesus’ brothers spent a short time in such an “abyss” of relative inactivity…(1918-1919). But when Jehovah poured his spirit upon his repentant servants in 1919, they swarmed forth to meet the challenge of the work that lay ahead… The release of the locusts, the John class, was actually a defeat for Christendom’s clergy… (Revelation, 1988, pp. 143-144).
Herein the locust plague is identified as the “John class” an elite group comprising 144,000 selected from earth to reign with Jesus in heaven. Their job, according to the publication, is to torment “the religious leaders of Christendom…for as long as they live…the modern day locusts keep stinging God’s enemies” (pp. 144-145)
This commentary carefully links scripture with the message and work of the Watchtower organization. For example Revelation 9:10 reads “They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.“ The anonymous author of RC asks, “What could this mean”? The answer; “As they go about their kingdom work, Jehovah’s witnesses leave behind them publications – books, magazines, brochures, timely tracts. These contain authoritative statements…and have a scorpionlike sting. (pp. 146-147).
Consequently page after page tells of the magnificent story of Jehovah’s witnesses victory over Christendom. To those on the outside these arbitrary interpretations are all but laughable, yet for the 8 million witnesses enamored by this propaganda we dare not laugh but rather stand in horror at the scale of deception.
Who is Abaddon / Apollyon?
This brings us to our key pericope Revelation 9:11:
“They [locust] have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon”
Abaddon of Revelation 9 clearly identified, “as picturing Jesus Christ, the Son of Jehovah God” (Then is finsihed the Mystery of God, 1969, p. 232) 
“The Revelation 9:1-12 also speaks of a plague of locusts, sent forth by Jehovah under a “king, the angel of the abyss,” who is none other than Jesus Christ. His names Abaddon (Hebrew) and Apollyon (Greek) mean “destruction” and “Destroyer.” These locusts picture the anointed remnant of Christians who, now in the Lord’s Day go forth to devastate Christendom’s pastures by completely exposing false religion and proclaiming Jehovah’s vengeance upon it”. (Watchtower May 1 1992, p. 13) 
However is this the correct interpretation? Is Jesus Abaddon/Apollyon the destroyer? Interestingly C.T. Russell thought not. His posthumous work “The Finished Mystery” links Revelation chapter 9 to “ineffective reformation woes” viz. Methodism (pp. 155-159). Despite these strange allegorical interpretations Russell identifies Abaddon as Satan (p. 159):
[And] they [had a] HAVE THEIR king [over them].— The same king as exercises general rulership over all the ecclesiastical affairs of this prevent evil world.
[Which is] the angel of the [bottomless pit] ABYSS.-“The prince of the power of the air.”— Eph. 2:2.
Whose name In the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon.— And he is “a bad one,” sure enough.— 2 Cor. 4:4.
But in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon — That is, Destroyer. But In plain English his name is Satan, the Devil. As a means for preventing people from seeing the Truth, Methodism has been as efficient as any of the five systems previously described, or any that follow. All have been sadly misled and deceived by our great and wily Adversary; “Taken captive by him at his will”— 2 Tim. 2:26.
What though does the Bible say? To answer let us explore the imagery and context of Revelation 9 in order be better comprehend v. 11.
Revelation 9:1 “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.” (ESV)
The Finished Mystery identifies the star as John Wesley (p. 155) such an identification forces interpretation to focus around Methodism. To avoid digression we will leave Russell’s interpretation for another time and concentrate on the modern Jehovah’s Witness understanding as stated in RC.
“The holder of the key of the abyss is later described as hurling Satan into the abyss…both verses must refer to the same individual…logically the star [angel of abyss] must symbolize Jehovah’s appointed King…Jesus Christ” (p. 143).
As has been noted modern Watchtower theology interprets the angel of the abyss as Jesus. Such an interpretation is not unexpected for in Watchtower theology Jesus is identified as the highest-ranking angel Michael, the first creation of Jehovah. However, scripture does not identify Jesus as an angel, rather Jesus is declared to be the Son of God (Mark 3:11; Matthew 14:33; John 11:27) which means Jesus is the “very imprint of God” (Hebrews 1:3) sharing the same nature as God (Philippians 2:6). Despite the scriptural evidence to suggest Jesus is God is blasphemy to a Jehovah Witness (cf. John 19:7). However the conclusion of the early Church and all believers since is that Jesus is God incarnate (John 1:1; 14). Both the scriptural and historical evidence underscores the fact that Jesus cannot be an angel and therefore cannot be the angel of the abyss.
Nevertheless the pronoun, “he” (αὐτός) used to describe the star intimates a real person. Moreover this star falls from heaven to earth most likely describing an angelic being. But what of the word “fallen”? “If understood as falling from a higher position then we could assume the star is a fallen angel, maybe even Satan (vv. 2, 11; cf. 1:20; Job. 38:7; Luke 10:18). On the other hand fallen may simply describe his condition, that is coming from heaven to earth, if so then the star may represent a unfallen angel – an envoy carrying out the commission of God (Constable, 2012, p. 90). Either way contemporary pagan’s “held stars to be divinities” and “Jews likewise held stars to be angels” (Keener, 2014, pp. 746-747).
Revelation 9:2-3 “He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.” (ESV)
Here the angel opens the shaft of the bottomless pit. “Some ancient writers assumed the abyss or bottomless pit had a real geographical location with angels assigned over the site (1 Enoch). Jewish traditions spoke of evil angels imprisoned in dungeons waiting their time to come and wreak havoc” (Keener, 2014, p. 747). This is the imagery that John draws upon something his audience would easily comprehend. There is then a negative connotation with the smoke and locust of the abyss (cf. vv. 17, 18; 18:9; 19:3).
We have already noted that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the “abyss” is symbolic of a period of inactivity for the “anointed class” (144,000) followed in 1919 by hyper-activity as witnesses “swarmed forth” to defeat Christendom (p. 143). However in context vv. 2-3 cannot be linked to any earthly organization. Such a jump is exegetically impossible. Yet the Watchtower assumes this because of reading itself back into the pericope – a form or reader-response criticism – whereby community needs adversely affect interpretation.
Employing an inductive method of interpretation and comparing similar pericope the most we can say of vv. 2-3 is that John is drawing upon OT apocalyptic imagery to convey to his audience the theme of destruction. “The Old Testament attests the destructive power of locusts (cf. Deut. 28:38; 2 Chron. 7:13; Joel 2:25). They often swarmed in apparently limitless numbers (cf. Ps. 105:34; Nah. 3:15). Joel likened what would come on the earth in the day of the Lord to a locust invasion (Joel 1—2). The locust is a symbol of destruction throughout the Old Testament (cf. 1 Kings 8:37; Ps. 78:46)” (Constable, 2012, p. 90).
Revelation 9:4-10 “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them. In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails.” (ESV)
Again the authors of RC take each symbol as prophetic of their own religious movement. Hence the “grass and earth” are interpreted as general unbelievers whereas those who have no “seal of God” are viewed as all in Christendom who claim to be sealed (p. 144). The five-month life span of a locust is applied to individual annointed witnesses “for as long as they live…modern day locusts [Jehovah’s witnesses] keep stinging God’s enemies”. As such the scorpion sting and torment morphs into “utterances” made by annointed witnesses against Christendom (p. 144-145).
The transmutation of these locust into other creatures (vv. 7-9) is interpreted by the Watchtower as illustrating the “loyal group of revived Christians in 1919”. The crowns of gold represent “a royal appearance…and their heavenly crowns…reserved in heaven” (p. 146). Iron breastplates become “unbreakable righteousness” – Men’s faces become “the quality of love” – long hair “pictures subjection to their King” and teeth are said to represent “lions teeth…to tear meat” picturing the John class from 1919 “able to take in solid spiritual food” – the noise of wings and chariots become “hard hitting messages” which make a “lot of noise” and finally the sting involves watchtower literature distribution alongside its unique proclamation concerning the birth of God’s Kingdom in 1914 (p.146-148).
As these ideas and themes are drawn together, the authors conclude that this locust band of Jehovah’s anointed witnesses aided by members of the Great Crowd have as their King and leader the angel of the Abyss, viz. Jesus who has “released a plague on Christendom” and who as the destroyer will administer their final end (p. 148).
You don’t have to be an expert to deduce that the Watchtower method of interpretation is nothing less than eisegesis; reading an alien meaning back into the original pericope. How then are we to understand these pericope? Firstly the images and language are borrowed from the prophet Joel (Joel 1:6; 2:4-5) Joel likened an invading army to a locust plague (Joel 1:4; 2:11, 20, 25) terminating in a final war (3:9-17). Following the theme of an invading army the scorpion warriors become “composite monsters derived from nightmarish traditions of the Far East evoking horror at the impending judgment” (Keener, 2010, p. 747). Just as locusts are destructive with their “teeth” the invading army would devastate an agrarian society. John’s contemporary audience would easily comprehend this imagery including the phrase “hair like women” which most likely referred to barbarian hoards – men with uncut hair such as the Parthians. Overall each feature can be understood as communicating a terrible invasion commissioned by God (9:1). Nevertheless this invasion is couched in phrases that convey spiritual realities lay behind the physical (Keener, 2012, p. 747). For those scholars who understand these verses to be a vision of future judgments these verses may literally refer to demons that assume some characteristic of the locust army (constable 2012, p. 90). Others view this symbolism as being fulfilled through the Church age by way of “natural calamites and analogous spiritual calamities afflicting the wicked leading up to the second coming – as such the vision depicts the self defeating and tormenting wickedness in the human soul” (Poythress, 2000, p. 122-123). Both may well be true nevertheless the fact remains that what John describes is a vicious, evil, malevolent army ascending from the abyss to wreak havoc on earth.
Who then is Abaddon the angel of the abyss? In fairness the pericope does not say. For this reason all conclusions are subjective. Historically speaking Abaddon/Apollyon may be an ironic allusion to Emperor Nero or Domitian – both of whom saw themselves as imitators of the Greek god Apollo” (Poythress, 2000, p. 124). Nevertheless most commentators believe the angel of the abyss – Abaddon – is the Devil, ruler of the demons (cf. Matthew 12:24) and the fallen star from heaven.
Another line of reasoning follows the word Abussos translated as Abyss and bottomless pit (“the deep” KJV). In Luke 8:31 the demon hoard known as “legion” implored Jesus not to send them to the Abyss. According to Jewish literature the Abyss is the deepest part of Hades (Sibylline Oracles 1.101-3, 4.186, 5.178; 1 Enoch 67:4, 7). This suggests that Hades (the holding place of the unsaved dead) has within it a place of imprisonment for demons, i.e. the Abyss (cf. Tartarus 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). If correct then the locust hoard must represent demons – and who rules the demons? – Satan.
Yet whomever Abaddon represents this angel of the abyss is defiantly not Jesus Christ!
Since the days of J. F. Rutherford the Watchtower has consistently taught that the locust army of Revelation chapter 9 is fulfilled in their movement. The John Class (144,000) claim that they are the locust army and that their leader and King is none other than the angel of the abyss: Abaddon (Apollyon). This interpretation is the result of a sequence of interlocking doctrines.
- Jesus is an angel
- Jesus took Kingdom power in 1914
- Jesus rejected Christendom in 1918
- Jesus chose the Watchtower in 1919
These four concepts now feed into Rutherford’s interpretation of the movement’s history between 1914-1919 and the book of Revelation chapter 9.
- Jesus holds the key to the shaft of the abyss
- Jesus unlocked the shaft in 1919
- From an “abyss” of inactivity Jehovah’s witnesses arose like a locust plague
- These locust “sting” Christendom with their message and literature distribution
- The angel with the key to the shaft is the same angel who rules over the abyss.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are the locust and follow Jesus, so Abaddon must be Jesus
Interestingly the Watchtower publication Insight on the scriptures Vol.1 under the heading Abaddon connections the angel of Revelation 9:1 and 20:1 noting that each hold a key to the abyss and each carry out God’s bidding. Furthermore this angel is presumed to be the same angel as Revelation 9:11. To back up this argument they invoke a short excerpt from the Interpreters Bible by George Arthur Buttrick, which states:
“Abaddon, however, is an angel not of Satan but of God, performing his work of destruction at God’s bidding.”
However Buttrick is not saying Jesus is the angel of the abyss, all he is saying is that the angel in question is probably not Satan, but rather an angel carrying out God’s command. Notice how surreptitiously a link between scholar and Watchtower is made in order to appear authoritative while simultaneously downgrading the nature of Jesus.
The Watchtower organization interprets Revelation 9:11 through its own sitz-im-leben – life setting. In other words when circumstances permitted, Russell, Rutherford and subsequent Watchtower presidents imbued the history of their own organization back into the sacred text jumping through theological hoops to arrive at meaning that fits their theology and self understanding. Additionally Watchtower interpretation is essentially Gnostic, for it offers potential followers “special knowledge” that only they possess.
Employing the grammatical-historical method, it has been shown that the locust army of Revelation chapter 9 are not intent on good but are sent forth to harm the unsaved of earth. This could include both present and future woes for mankind representing both human evil and demonic activity. Similarly the angel who holds the key to the shaft of the abyss could be both a fallen or unfallen angel. Similarly Abaddon could represent Nero, Domitian, or an angel performing Gods will or Satan. To be honest all are in some sense true.
When we understand what the locust army represents it is utterly shocking that the Watchtower aligns itself with this malevolent army, an army that is clearly evil, even demonic in origin. Yet the Watchtower seems to enjoy playing the role of transmuted scorpion, stinging and hurting those who don’t believe their “truth”.
Even more tragic and alarming is the teaching that Jesus is Abaddon the destroyer. Fundamentally Jesus is not an angel thus he cannot be linked with any created being including Abaddon. Granted Jesus will return in Judgment at the eschaton however he will do so as Almighty God!
Finally if Abaddon is Satan – as many scholars propose – then shockingly the Watchtower has aligned itself and identified itself as agents of Satan! Let me repeat, if Abaddon is Satan, and the locust army corporately represent all of Jehovah’s Witnesses then they are all followers of Satan! Indeed Bible commentator Matthew Henry identified Abaddon as the Antichrist! Likewise John Bunyan in his book Pilgrims Progress made clear that Apollyon was the Devil.
If that’s true, and you currently adhere to the teachings of the Watchtower, then surely its time to move out of the darkness into the glorious light of Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior? Do you want to be set free?
Mat 11:27-30 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV)
Every blessing is Yeshua our LORD Jesus
 Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (1988) “Revelation its Grand Climax at Hand!” Brooklyn New York
 Watchtower Magazine (December 1 1961) “United Against Nations in the Valley of Decision” pp. 717-720. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Brooklyn New York
 Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (1969) “Then is Finished the Mystery of God” Brooklyn New York
 Watchtower Magazine (May 1 1992) “Keep Close in Mind the Day of Jehovah” pp. 8-13 Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Brooklyn New York
 Russell, C. T. (1917) published posthumously “The Finished Mystery” Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Brooklyn New York
 a reference to a definite person or persons spoken or written about (Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible Societies.
 Keener, C. S. (2014) The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament. 2nd Edition IVP Academic
 Rev 9:11. Indepth annalyis: ἔχουσιν ἐπʼ αὐτῶν βασιλέα κτλ. In Prov. 24:6 (30:27) we read: ἀβασίλευτόν ἐστιν ἡ ἀκρίς. If the Apocalyptist remembered this statement, he found an exception to it in the locusts of the Abyss, which are in other respects quite abnormal; but for his comparative independence of the LXX. we might have supposed him to have been influenced by Amos 7:1 ἰδοὺ ἐπιγονὴ ἀκρίδων ἐρχομένη ἑωθινή, καὶ ἰδοὺ βροῦχος εἷς Γὼγ (אֶחָד גּוֹג for M.T. אַחַר גִּזֵּי) ὁ βασιλεύς. For their king the locusts of the Abyss have the Angel who presides over it (v. 1), i.e. they obey his orders and do his work. The Seer knows the name of this angel; it is in Hebrew (Ἐβραϊστί, as in Jo. 5:2, 19:13, 19:17, 19:20, 20:16, Apoc. 16:16) Abaddon, and in the Greek ἐν τῇ Ἑλληνικῇ, sc. γλώσσῃ=Ἑλληνιστί; for the latter see Jo. 19:20, Acts 21:37), Ἀπολλύων, Destroyer; Vg., Exterminans; the rendering in Syr.gw. rests upon the false reading Ἀπολύων (app. crit.). Abaddon, אֲבַדּוֹן, a word used almost exclusively in the Wisdom literature (Job 26:6, 28:22, 31:12, Ps. 88:11, Prov. 15:11, 27:20) is represented in the LXX. (exc. Job 31:12) by ἀπώλεια, meaning either destruction generally (Job 26:6, Esth. 8:6) or destruction in Sheol. (Emek hammelek, f. 15. 3 “infimus gehennae locus est Abaddon, unde nemo emergit”). Here Destruction in the deeper sense is personified, and ἀπολλύων is therefore preferred to ἀπώλεια (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10 τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ); the allusion to Ἀπολλών, suggested by some commentators, seems far-fetched, but it is not in this book impossible. The personification of Abaddon is known to the Talmud; see Shabb. f. 55 a, where six destroying Angels are mentioned, over whom preside מָוֶת and אֲבַדּוֹן; ib. f. 89. 1 אֲבַדּוֹן וּמָוֶת אָמְרוּ. It is unnecessary to enquire whether by Abaddon, the Destroyer, the Seer means Death or Satan; perhaps he does not consciously identify the personality, which belongs to the scenery of the vision. The apocalypse of St. John. 1906 (H. B. Swete, Ed.) (2d. ed.). Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (112–118). New York: The Macmillan Company.
 Poythress, V. S. (2000) The Returning King – A guide to the book of Revelation. P&R Publishing New Jersey.