Three Woes

An eagle "flying in mid-heaven" announces the last three trumpets, the "three woes" – Revelation 8:13

Eagle - Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash
The first four trumpets have sounded. Next, an “
eagle flying in mid-heaven” announces the final three but calls them “woes.” Unlike the first four, the plagues unleashed by the last three trumpets afflict the “inhabitants of the earth” themselves, whereas the first four damaged the infrastructure on which human society depends – agriculture, commerce, freshwater supplies, and light - [Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash].

There are three “woes” because they correspond to the final three trumpet blasts. But the first four trumpet plagues have prepared the reader for this new revelation by identifying the three areas impacted by each of the first four trumpet blasts.

Thus, the first trumpet “burned up” a third of the earth, trees, and “green grass.” The second polluted a third of the sea, killed a third of the sea’s creatures and destroyed a third of the world’s ships. The third trumpet harmed a third of the rivers and the “fountains of the waters,” and embittered” a third of the “waters,” making them undrinkable. Finally, the fourth trumpet “struck” the sun, and darkened a third part of the moon and stars.
  • (Revelation 8:13) – “And I saw, and I heard one eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet, of the three angels who are about to sound.”
The literary effect of announcing “three woes” highlights the intensification of events that takes place during the next three trumpet blasts. The first four were only preliminary.

Mid-heaven” is a verbal link to two later (and related) passages. First, the “angel flying in mid-heaven” that pronounced the “everlasting gospel” to the inhabitants of the earth” prior to the pronouncement of Babylon’s fall. Second, the “birds in mid-heaven” that were summoned by an angel to the “supper of God,” the aftermath of the final battle between the one “riding the white horse” and the “beast” and its allies - (Revelation 14:6-11, 19:17-21).

The target of these next “plagues” is identified explicitly - The “inhabitants of the earth.” Throughout Revelation, this group represents unrepentant humanity that is set in its opposition to the “Lamb,” the men and women who refuse to repent and take the “mark of the beast” - (e.g., Revelation 3:106:1011:10, 13:8-12).

The first four trumpets came in quick succession, and in each case, with only a brief description. Each time, nothing was said concerning the end of the trumpet and its “plague.” In contrast, each “woe” is described in detail, and the first two both end with a concluding statement that warns about the next “woe”:
  • The first Woe is past: behold, there come yet two Woes hereafter” – (9:1-12).
  • The second Woe is past: behold, the third Woe is coming quickly” – (9:13-11:14).
While the first “woe” warns that the next one is coming “hereafter,” the next one concludes on a more ominous note – The third “woe” is coming “quickly,” right on the heels of the deaths of the “two witnesses.”
The second “woe” provides the most detailed description. Based on the literary structure, in addition to the unleashing of the hostile horde “from beyond the Euphrates,” the “second woe” includes the “little scroll,” the “measuring of the sanctuary,” and the ministry of the “two witnesses.”

The longer description of the “second woe” does not mean that it lasts longer than the other six trumpets. It does focus the reader’s attention, for this is, arguably, the most pivotal of the seven trumpets.

The final “woe” description is much shorter, not because it is less important, but because it culminates in the final judgment. Once it is complete, the kingdoms of the earth are overthrown, the righteous are rewarded, and the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” are condemned. Those who were “destroying the earth” are themselves “destroyed.”

The final “woe” brings the “seven trumpets” to their conclusion, which is punctuated by “flashes of lightning and voices and claps of thunder and an earthquake, and great hail,” the same phenomena seen and heard at the end of the “seven seals.”




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