Three Woes

An eagle flying in mid-heaven announces the last three trumpets, the three woes unleashed against the inhabitants of the earth – Revelation 8:13. 

Eagle - Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash
The first four trumpets have sounded. Now, an “
eagle flying in mid-heaven” announces the final three and 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].

The three “woes” correspond to the final three trumpet blasts. But the first four trumpet plagues have prepared the reader for this new information by identifying the three areas impacted by 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 blowing of the fourth trumpet “struck” the sun and darkened a third part of the moon and stars, darkening the sky.
  • (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.”

THREE WOES ANNOUNCED

The literary effect of announcing “three woes” highlights the intensification of events that will now take place during the final three trumpet blasts. The first four trumpets were only preliminary.

Mid-heaven” is a verbal link to two later (and related) passages. First, the “angel flying in mid-heaven” pronounces the “everlasting gospel” to the inhabitants of the earth” prior to the pronouncement of Babylon’s fall. Second, the “birds in mid-heaven” that are 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 three “plagues” is identified explicitly - The “inhabitants of the earth.” Throughout the book of Revelation, this group represents unrepentant humanity set in opposition to the “Lamb,” the men and women who refuse to repent, and who willingly take the “mark of the beast” - (e.g., Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 11:10, 13:8-12).

LITERARY STRUCTURE

The first four trumpets came in quick succession, and in each case, with only a brief description. And each time, nothing was said concerning the end of the trumpet and its “plague,” or concerning the next trumpet plague. In contrast, each “woe” is described in detail, and the first two both end with warnings 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 second one concludes on a more ominous note – The third “woe” is coming “quickly,” and 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. What it does do is focus the reader’s attention, for this is, arguably, the most pivotal of the seven trumpets.

The description of the final “woe” 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 and replaced by God’s kingdom, the righteous are rewarded, and the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth” are condemned. Those who are “destroying the earth” are themselves “destroyed.”

The final “woe” brings the series of “seven trumpets” to its 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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