a-pol'-i-on (Apolluon; 'abhaddon, "destroyer"): Present participle of the verb apolluo, "to destroy."
A proper name, original with the author of the Apocalypse and used by him once (Re 9:11) as a translation of the Hebrew word "Abaddon" (see ABADDON) to designate an angel or prince of the lower world.
II. Old Testament Background.
1. Fundamental Meaning:
The term Abaddon ("destruction") appears solely in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament and in the following narrow range of instances: Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Ps 88:11; Pr 15:11. In all these passages save one (Job 31:12) the word is combined either with Sheol, "death," or "the grave," in such a way as to indicate a purely eschatological term based upon the advanced idea of moral distinctions in the realm of the dead. In the one exceptional passage (Es 8:6 is incorrectly referred to--the word here is different, namely, 'abhedhan) where the combination does not occur, the emphasis upon the moral element in the "destruction" mentioned is so definite as practically to preclude the possibility of interpreting the term in any general sense (as Charles, HDB, article "Abaddon"; per con., Briggs, ICC, "Psalms" in the place cited.; BDB, sub loc.). The meaning of the word, therefore, is: the place or condition of utter ruin reserved for the wicked in the realm of the dead.
One other feature of Old Testament usage is worthy of consideration as throwing light upon Re 9:11. Abaddon and the accompanying terms "Death" and Sheol are personified (as in Job 28:22) and represented as living beings who speak and act (compare Re 6:8).
III. New Testament Usage.
1. The Starting-Point:
The starting-point of the Apocalyptist's use of "Apollyon" is to be found in the fundamental meaning of "Abaddon" as moral destruction in the underworld, together with the occasional personification of kindred terms in the Old Testament. The imagery was in general terms familiar while the New Testament writer felt perfectly free to vary the usage to suit his own particular purposes.
2. Apollyon not Satan but Part of an Ideal Description:
(1) Since Apollyon is a personification he is not to be identified with Satan (compare Re 9:1 where Satan seems to be clearly indicated) or with any other being to whom historical existence and definite characteristics are ascribed. He is the central figure in an ideal picture of evil forces represented as originating in the world of lost spirits and allowed to operate destructively in human life. They are pictured as locusts, but on an enlarged scale and with the addition of many features inconsistent with the strict application of the figure (see Re 9:7-10). The intention is, by the multiplication of images which the author does not attempt to harmonize, to convey the impression of great power and far-reaching destructiveness. (2) This interpretation finds additional support in the writer's significant departure from the familiar usage. In the Old Testament the place of destruction is personified--in Re 9:11, personal forces issue from the Abyss, of which the presiding genius is Destruction in person. The seer's picture is equally independent of the tradition represented by the Talmud (Shab f. 55) where Abaddon is personified as jointly with Death president over six destroying angels. These modifications are evidently due to the exigencies of the pictorial form. It is clearly impossible to portray forces proceeding from the place of ruin in the charge of the place itself.
3. Apollyon Necessary to the Picture:
The importance of the conception of Apollyon to the completeness of the picture should not be overlooked. It is intended to represent these forces as having a certain principle of internal unity and as possessors of the power of effective leadership.
4. General Significance of the Description:
As to the specific significance of the vision of the locusts as a whole it is not easy to reach a conclusion. Professor Swete suggests (Commentary on Apocalypse in the place cited.) that "the locusts of the abyss may be the memories of the past brought home at times of divine visitation; they hurt by recalling forgotten sins." It seems to us more probable that it represents an actual historical movement, past or to come, demoniacal in origin and character, human in the mode of its operation and the sphere of its influence, used by God for a scourge upon mankind and kept in restraint by His grace and power.
Louis Matthew Sweet