“Was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition…”
This phrase gives people a great deal of difficulty, and so we will spend a bit of time on it. I intend to show that this idea of “was, and is not, and coming out of the bottomless pit” is a title referring to the Antichrist, having been miraculously healed or resurrected from the dead.
The last phrase in this verse; “…the beast that was, and is not, and yet is…” is another way to say the same thing, that is he lives, he dies, he seems to rise again, and he will ultimately go to destruction or perdition. It’s sort of a chronology of his entire career on earth, and it functions as a title on several occasions in the book of Revelation.
Before I begin to explain the details of this, we need to refresh our memories to the significance that the Bible puts on the seeming resurrection of the Antichrist from the dead.
Let’s review Revelation 13, which is primarily about the Antichrist, to make sure we understand this preliminary idea. The relatively short chapter of Revelation 13 mentions the Antichrist’s fatal wound that was healed three times. The first instance is in verse 3:
“And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon, which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:3–4)
This passage seems to imply that the world’s worship of the beast is directly connected to his deadly wound being healed. It says that they “wondered after him saying “Who can make war with him?” This is the exact same word “wondered” used in our current verse. It is also in the exact same context (i.e. wonder from the earth dwellers, associated with worship, and the Antichrist’s apparent resurrection from the dead).
This is one of the first descriptions of the Antichrist given in Revelation 13, right after the symbolic imagery of verses 1 and 2. The first thing that we are told about the beast is that he has a deadly wound that is healed. The Bible, as we will see, considers this event very important.
By the second reference of this event in verse 12, the idea of a healed deadly wound has become a title, or an identifying description, of the beast. Here, it distinguishes the first beast from the second by adding the clarification: “whose deadly wound was healed.”
“And he [false prophet] exerciseth all the power of the first beast [Antichrist] before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12)
In the third reference in Revelation 13:14, we see that the healed deadly wound is used again as a title or distinguishing characteristic of the Antichrist beast. Here it says:
“And [the false prophet] deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.” (Revelation 13:14)
So, we see again this idea of a resurrection being used as a type of title to distinguish which beast is in view. Therefore, this phrase “was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit” is basically just another way of saying the same thing. It is an identifier as to which beast we are talking about, the one that was (lived), is not (died), and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit (come back from the dead).
Arthur Pink, an early English Bible scholar who wrote extensively on the Antichrist, agrees, saying the following:
“A further reference to the resurrection of the Antichrist, his coming forth from the Bottomless Pit, is found in Rev. 17:8…. It is to be noted that the earth-dwellers wonder when they behold the Beast that was (alive), and is not (now alive), and yet is (raised again). The world will then be presented with the spectacle of a man raised from the dead.”
Pink, as well as many other people, associate the phrase “coming out of the bottomless pit” in Revelation 17:8 with the apparent resurrection of the Antichrist in Revelation 13. We will see explicit biblical proof of this interpretation in just a moment.
The Bible uses the word, “abyss,” which is here translated as “bottomless pit,” in many different ways: It is a prison for spirits in Mark 5, and it is almost synonymous with the abode of the dead. “Abyss” is also the same word the apostle Paul uses to describe where Jesus went during at least part of the three days in which He was dead before He resurrected.
“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, ‘Say not in thine heart, “Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, “Who shall descend into the deep? [Abyss] that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.” (Romans 10:6–7)
So this same word for “bottomless pit” or “abyss” is also the place out of which Christ came when He resurrected.
We find more detail on this event in Acts 2:27–32 where Peter starts off by quoting from the Old Testament:
“Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [hades], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch, David – that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [hades], neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” Act 2:27–32
Now, this is interesting because the word “hades” here was mentioned by Peter as the place where Jesus’ soul went when He died, when Paul says that it was the abyss. But we can see that contextually, they are both talking about the place where Jesus’ soul went during His death.
My point is not to do an exhaustive study on this subject but only to show that Jesus went to the abyss at some point during His death. He may have also gone to other locations in hades such as paradise and even “tatarus.” There are more references to this event which I will leave for you to study further: Ephesians 4:8–10, 1 Peter 3:18–20, 2 Peter 2:4–5, Matthew 12:38–45, and Luke 23:43.
My only point is that coming up from the “abyss” can be shown from Scripture to mean resurrection from the dead .
So, these phrases are used like a title referring to the Antichrist’s apparent resurrection from the dead, as if it is a chronology of his career and a title all at the same time. He is the beast that lives, dies, resurrects, and ultimately meets his doom in perdition or the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20.
I would suggest that the following phrases are all referring to not only the same person, the Antichrist, but the same identifying event in that person’s life—his apparent resurrection.
Back in Revelation 17:8, the angel is about to explain some very interesting details to John about the seven-headed beast that John saw, but this entire verse is basically preliminary. It is simply the restating of the characteristics of the beast of Revelation 13to clarify that the beast he saw is the same one he saw in a previous vision.
Before we get to new information about the beast, there is one more aspect of this verse that must be covered. There are many interpretations that, even while understanding that phrases like “the beast that was and is not and yet is” are referring to the Antichrist’s resurrection, will say that the tense of some of the words in these verses require the Antichrist to have lived before the time of John. They will say that since John wrote in the late first century, the past tense of the word “was” in the first part of the phrase (i.e., “the beast that was”) means the beast that will come to live in the future as Antichrist and must have lived sometime before the time of John.
Common candidates for the Antichrist proposed in this scenario are Hitler, Judas, or even Nimrod. Again traditional views are saying the beast that is “yet to come” must have been dead already when John was writing. This view can lead to any number of wrong conclusions about the identity of the Antichrist.
The traditional interpreters fail to see that John consistently uses these phrases like “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is” as a title for the beast of his visions—visions in which he sees all the way to the end of knowable time in some cases. Yet he never ceases to refer to everything he sees as having happened in the past. Even the New Jerusalem’s descent in Revelation 21, which is almost universally considered to be a future event, must have already occurred in the first century, if this is the correct way to view the text because John said, “And I John saw [past tense] the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down” (verse 2).
More to this specific point about phrases like “was and is not and yet is,” if you applied it consistently to the other titles that refer to the Antichrist’s resurrection, the theory that the beast must have already existed like Judas or Nimrod would quickly break down.
So, if we applied this first century tense idea to these other passages, we must also conclude that the Antichrist not only has lived and died by the time of John, but that his wound had to have already been healed in the first century as well, because John also refers to it in the past tense.
This would, of course, not be agreed upon by those making this claim. They would not say this pre-John character has risen from the dead yet; they would only say that he would have already died before John’s time.
The answer here is to realize that phrases like “the beast that was, and is not, and yet is,” “the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live,” or “the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed” have the same function as a way to refer to the Antichrist. They can even be used to refer to the defining event of his life and also the entire end times course of events. The tense used is the exact tense you would expect from someone who was trying to refer back to an event he saw in a vision consisting of future events. In theology it is called the “prophetic perfect tense.”
It is also notable that the words in the phrase are in the exact order one would expect to see if this were true. For instance, “coming out of the abyss” would seem to be the first thing mentioned in this phrase if it were, in fact, referring to where he initially comes from; but instead we see it being consistently placed precisely after he was “not” or after he dies, exactly where we would expect to see a reference to his resurrection.
I will show what I believe to be proof of this idea.
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (Revelation 17:11)
This verse is where we will find confirmation of the view that the beast’s coming out of the bottomless pit in verse 8 is a reference to the Antichrist’s resurrection.
Notice first the similarity to this phrase in verse 11 and the one we looked at earlier in Revelation 17:8:
“The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition.” (Revelation 17:8)
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (Revelation 17:11)
The difference here is found in the middle of these two verses (the part about the resurrection.) In 17:8 the resurrection is described as “ascending out of the bottomless pit.” In verse 11, the part that says “even he is the eighth and is of the seven” is not only is being used to convey the same thing (that is the resurrection portion of his chronology) but as we will see, it is also giving us more information about this king.
The phrase “even he is the eighth, and is of the seven” is saying that though there are only seven kings, there will be eight reigns. That is, one of these kings will rule twice. The resurrection of Antichrist explains how there can be eight reigns and only seven kings. This is almost universally considered to be speaking of a resurrection of one of the dead seven kings to rule twice. In other words, he will be the eighth king while never ceasing to be the one of the seven kings.
This provides great credibility to the earlier interpretation that this phrase is a technical title of the beast in Revelation 13 and the “bottomless pit” in verse 8 is a reference to the beast’s resurrection. Just as the phrase “even he is the eighth, and is of the seven” is a reference to the resurrection. All of it is packaged in an identical word structure, so we can be confident of our interpretation that this is a title of the Antichrist referring to his most identifiable trait, his apparent resurrection.