Over and over in the scriptures we see instances where a single verse sheds extra light on all the other verses that share a word or phrase. I like to call these scriptural Easter eggs because they are a delight to find and often hidden in plain sight. We just have to notice the language to see them sitting right there, and then wonder why we’d never seen it before.
Have you ever wondered what the chains of hell are that are mentioned in the scriptures? Lets see what the scriptures teach us about these chains and about how to make sure they don’t bind us down.
Lets start off with a few questions and we’ll see what answers we can find.
That’s a simple list to start with.
Lets open up Scripture Notes and do a search for:
You can use the search filter to not include the Old Testament verses if you want to save some time. The only references there are to physical chains on people in bondage, or about jewelry.
Some of the New Testament verses are also not related to this. After doing the search, remove all the New Testament verses except 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6. Then also remove 2 Nephi 13:19 which is a reference to the same Old Testament verse in Isaiah about physical bondage.
Now click “Create CN” to make a collection note with the remaining 20 verses.
Give it a name like “What is meant by the chains of Hell?” and tag it “Chains” and “Hell” to keep it more generic.
Now press ctrl/cmd-F to do a find on the page and type “chains” to get all the instances highlighted.
Lets start reading down through the verses.
The first two references in the New Testament both mention the notion that angels can sin and get cast down to hell in chains of darkness.
For me, this was a quick tangent. I immediately wanted to see other verses that mention chains of darkness. Since our current find on the page was for all instances of “chains” I just pressed ctrl-F to switch to find “darkness” on the page. Scrolling down there were a couple more instances.
In D&C 38:5 and Moses 7:57, it talks about the wicked being reserved in chains of darkness until the day of judgment.
Are the chains of hell the same thing or something different from chains of darkness? They may be the exact same thing, but it appears from the study below that chains of hell can be temporary for those that repent, but the references to chains of darkness are post-mortality and permanent.
Going back to the verses in the New Testament and the idea that angels can sin, reminds me of the fall of Lucifer.
At this point, because I like to save clusters of ideas in collection notes, I pause and make a new collection note. I title it “Angels can Sin”. The easiest way to do it is open up a new search pane and type “Lucifer.” It yields 3 verses. Make a collection note from these 3 and then drag the 2 New Testament verses in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 into the collection. Tag it “Angels” and “Lucifer” and save it for later reference. I also searched for:
Angel* and fallen
Of these 5 results I add 2 Nephi 2:17 and 3 Nephi 9:2 which both talk about fallen angels.
My collection note:
Sometimes we think of angels as solely messengers from God, but angels who sin against God can fall and the devil claims them as his own angels. There is no guarantee in eternity of permanent status in heaven. Opportunities exist for sin even in heaven. Those that choose to rebel against God stop their eternal progress and joy and are cast out to descend instead of ascend. Even a God can fall as the scriptures state God would cease to be God if he were to sin. Where there is reward, there is always risk.
Now lets examine the other verses again. Do a find (ctrl-F) for “chains” again.
2 Nephi 1:13 introduces the idea that we are in a deep sleep called the “sleep of hell,” something all parents experience with newborns and teenagers. :) This is Lehi speaking to his sons. He tells them that these chains bind down the children of men that they are carried away captive to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. This sounds a lot like the chains of darkness above that the fallen angels are bound with, but there’s some extra information here. Lehi informs us we can shake these chains off and wake up from this sleep of hell. We’ll want to remember this.
I will start to construct my master collection note from the tidbits I glean from these scriptures. I’ll put them all together in a bullet point list below if you want to copy/paste it to your own collection note, or just make your own. I’m just showing how I construct my own collection notes.
The best thing to do after creating a collection note is to type a summary of your thoughts so you take the time to assimilate the knowledge and put it into a paragraph or two. It helps to cement what you have learned. Journaling or in essence preparing a talk, are great ways to look objectively at information and receive revelation on it.
In 2 Nephi 1:23, Lehi continues and tells his sons to put on the armor of righteousness. Putting on armor is one way to help force yourself to wake up. He tells his sons to “shake off the chains by which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.” We are all in this sleep of hell and need to take actions to wake up. Those who do wake up can come out of obscurity and remove their chains.
Jacob then teaches us in 2 Nephi 9:45 that sin keeps us in chains and we need to come unto Christ for deliverance.
Then Nephi tells us the extent to which God goes to wake us up. He will cause the kingdom of the devil to shake and those which belong to it must be stirred up unto repentance (2 Nephi 28:19). God is a loving father who doesn’t let his children sleep in all day. He’s going to rouse them and get them to working so they can have productive and fulfilled lives. He’s going to shake Babylon and give his children a chance to repent. If they don’t, Satan will grasp them in his awful chains with his lies that lull them back to sleep (2 Nephi 28:22). This is the sleep of hell.
In Alma 5, there are 3 verses that Alma says Christ changes the hearts of people by giving them a mighty change which aroused them out of their slumber. What, he asks in verse 10, is the cause of these people being loosed? Faith on the words of eternal life which the prophets teach will change people and help awaken them. This is step 1 in the process. We have to wake up and it’s done by obtaining a mighty change of heart which wakes us up.
Now we get to a very important verse. This is the one that puts the chains into context.
Alma 12 is a great sermon by Alma when he and Amulek were teaching the wicked people in Ammonihah.
We first see that a plan of the devil was to have the lawyers like Zeerom stir the people up and set them against these prophets to revile them and cast them out. Once cast out, they couldn’t work to wake up more people. The devil inspires this action to bring the people into subjection and encircle them about with his chains (verse 6).
What’s interesting is that Alma now proceeds to give a short sermon on the greater and lesser portions of the word. Then in verse 11, Alma plainly tells us:
“11. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.”
It would appear that Alma is telling us the chains of hell are placed on people who are satisfied with the lesser portion of the word because they harden their hearts to the greater things. They won’t seek for the greater portion because they don’t think they can receive those things, so they devolve and lose what they have. It’s sort of like wanting to build a house and putting up a frame and then being satisfied with the frame. There’s nothing continuing to be built and the house will eventually lose all integrity and fall apart because there’s no structure being put on to protect it.
Joseph Smith taught:
“As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved, and while our hearts are filled with evil, and we are studying evil, there is no room in our hearts for good, or studying good. Is not God good? Then you be good; if He is faithful, then you be faithful. Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, and seek for every good thing.
“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (History of the Church, 4:588; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Apr. 10, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff.)
What is the lesser portion of the word? It’s everything we can read and listen to in the scriptures and General Conference. It’s everything that doesn’t require revelation to learn about. It is all GOOD, and necessary for us to lay our foundation on, but there is something greater available to us that protects the foundation and makes it rock solid so we have the faith of Alma and Amulek to go into a dangerous city, proclaim the gospel, and trust in God that we are fulfilling his will and not worry about our fate.
What is the greater portion of the word? It’s the experiences that the scriptures tell us are available if we don’t block them by our unbelief. These are the mysteries of God. It’s seeing visions, having dreams, having personal encounters with angels, and eventually the Lord Jesus Christ, just as others have had. The scriptures aren’t just a historical record and set of wise teachings, but a roadmap on how to experience the same things others have.
When we are satisfied with the lesser portion, we are spiritually asleep. The devil does everything in his power to get us to not believe we can have those experiences and bind us down in the chains of hell. Thus the scriptural injunction to “awake and arise.” Wake up, get serious about spiritual growth, and follow the formulas available in the scriptures to bring these things into our lives and cast off the unbelief and doubt that bind us down.
This isn’t to say that good people living by the lesser portion of the word they have are going to hell. I believe what Alma is saying is that once a person gains a testimony, Satan tries to keep them asleep, lulling them with words of security and unbelief like, “you don’t need those experiences. You’ve been baptized and read your scriptures. Those experiences are for prophets anyway, so there’s no need to get your hopes up about that stuff.” A person bound down under the weight of these lies is under bondage from the chains of hell and at risk of losing their knowledge. Obviously a person just starting out must climb to the point where they have a testimony and they are in a growth pattern. Growing is good. It’s necessary. Cutting off growth because you think you’ve arrived at a plateau is bad and causes the degeneration Joseph talks about above. Effort is required to make continued growth. This is the key to full conversion and obtaining the mysteries and Alma is about to explain it in these next verses.
Alma 13:30 is specific to the people of the wicked city of Ammonihah and says they need to repent and not bring God’s wrath down upon them that they may not be bound down by the chains of hell and suffer the second death. These people were wicked people who were ripe for destruction. They had embraced the doctrine of Nehor, twisted the meaning of the scriptures, and were clearly bound down by the chains of hell which caused them to lose even their basic testimonies to the point where they committed murder of the believers. Our lesson here is actually in the 2 verses prior to verse 30. There we read of 3 things we might say is needed to acquire a testimony, and from that stage (“and thus”) 12 steps to getting into the presence of God. I have put these into a list below if you want to copy/paste it into your collection note. I suggest adding verses 28-29 to your collection note and mark the verse text in different colors to help the points stand out.
When I mark a verse like this I don’t worry about any color scheme I have developed because I know when I look at this list I’m just trying to help myself see all the different principles being mentioned.
In Alma 26:14, we have the next step. Show gratitude and praise to God for loosing us from the chains of hell. Alma 36:18, Alma recounts his own story of being in the chains of hell and how he was loosed from them. Who better to teach this doctrine than someone who experienced it first hand and was incredibly grateful to the Lord for removing his chains?
Now we switch to the Doctrine & Covenants.
The first reference is to D&C 38:5 where the Lord tells us he has kept the residue of the wicked in chains of darkness until judgment day. This is one of the references mentioned at the beginning as well as the last reference in the study from Moses 7:57.
D&C 123:7-8 comes to us from Liberty jail where Joseph wrote we have an imperative duty to expose the lies and false traditions which have brought the world under an enormous yoke of bondage which is described as the “chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell.” False traditions are a recurring theme in the Book of Mormon. It was the major reason for the wars and bloodshed between the Nephites and Lamanites, and it’s totally relevant to the political situation in many countries of the world today. People believe a lie which stirs them up and then they seek social justice, taking it into their own hands, instead of forgiving and relying on God’s eternal justice. Since God’s justice is hidden from this temporal sphere, they don’t trust in God and they want someone else to suffer. It’s a form of the suffering of the damned. Without God they live in darkness, and they take pleasure in revenge.
And finally, from D&C 138 (verses 18 & 23), where President Joseph F. Smith shared his vision of the spirit world, we learn that deliverance from the chains of hell can still happen in the spirit world when those bound by them bow the knee and acknowledge Jesus Christ as their redeemer and deliverer. This is without doubt, the most merciful doctrine. Individuals will have to suffer for their sins, but the pain can be temporary if they will repent and have not committed the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost.
Below are my references you can add to your own collection note if you want. I think it is abundantly apparent that it is time to get out of Babylon and move toward Zion in our personal lives. We each have an invitation from the Lord to cast off these chains of hell that bind us down and experience the mighty change of heart, and the mysteries of God. It’s an invitation that only waits for us to take the steps necessary to experience these things. Growth comes by effort and effort is always rewarded.
Alma says to shake off the chains of hell, we need to do the following (items from the above list could be added here as well like putting on the armor of God every day, and eliminating false traditions.)
I’d also like to thank Mike Stroud for his Book of Mormon podcast and pointing out this idea of the chains of hell which caused me to study this more in depth. You can listen to his Alma 12 commentary here:
(Featured Image by Romolo Tavani @123rf.com)