Three-Fold Woe Announced (series: Lessons on Revelation)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth.

Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth.

Commentary on the Book of Revelation

By: Tom Lowe Date: 4-27-2016

Lesson: III.C.6: Three-Fold Woe Announced (8:13)

Revelation 8:13 (KJV)

13 And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!


Here we have one of the pauses in the narrative which the Revelation uses so effectively. Three fearful woes are to come upon the earth when the remaining three angels sound the last blasts on the trumpets; but for the moment there is a pause; a pause that provides a transition from the fourth trumpet blasts that caused havoc on nature to the three coming blasts that would let loose the Heavenly forces to attack people on the earth.


13 And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!

“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven.” Notice: John says, “I beheld . . . I heard.” Both the eye and ear are engaged, signifying the careful attention and interest of the beloved disciple in the events which passed before him. The angel is flying through mid heaven . . . the firmament, and from there the whole world can hear his three-fold cry, and he can scan the entire earth, from its center to the most remote boundary of the universe. The triple cry of “Woe! woe! woe!,” announces the most horrible judgments ever announced . . . Judgments that are far beyond the imagination of man. The suffering caused by evil powers is answered by the coming of suffering upon those evil powers themselves.

“Saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!” A “woe” in Biblical tradition is a prophetic pronouncement of the coming judgment of God, a form also used by Jesus in the Gospels (Isaiah 3:9, 11; Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 24:6, 9; Matthew 11:21; 18:7; 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29; Matthew 11:21; 18:7; 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29; Luke 6:24-26). The fifth trumpet is the first woe (see 9:12); the sixth trumpet is the second woe (see 11:14); the third woe is not specified, but see 12:12. The “woes” are to fall especially upon those who have their settled place of abode on the earth. Those who refuse to hear the solemn warnings from Heaven and in spite of all the announcements of judgment cling but to this earth as their home and their dwelling place, as if they would abide here forever. Such people are alive today.

The term “inhabiters of the earth” is used twice before, in chapters 3:10 and 6:10, referring to the peoples upon whom the Tribulation will come, and having to do with the Philadelphia believers and the souls under the altar. The souls under the altar were comforted by being assured that the inhabiters of earth would be judged when their brethren had been killed (during the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation).

This is a distinct and discernible class of people, spoken of in the term “dwellers on or inhabiters of” the earth. It will be against this perverse, unbelieving class that these terrible woes of God will be directed . . . first against the Jews, second against the inhabitants of the Roman earth and empire, and last, it will reach to every square inch of the universe and will have to do with every person who inhabits the earth. This will be the final, the omega, of God’s giant judgments of fury.

The vast majority of Bible scholars say that the picture we have in this verse is not to be taken literally but the symbolism behind it is that God uses nature to send His messages to men. Their interpretation of verse 13 is that John sees an “eagle” (the symbol of judgment; the insignia of Rome), swooping down on Israel’s enemies (Jeremiah 48:40-42),—not an angel as the King James Version has it. (The Greek word translated here

as “eagle,” has a more accurate label—vulture—which is better because of its association with impending doom.) The eagle inspires both dread (for the unrepentant) and home (for God’s people). In the midst of judging a sinful world, God will strengthen his people through the trials to come. He will mount them up on eagle’s wings and sustain them with the winds of His Spirit (Exodus 19:4; Isaiah 40:31). The strangeness of an eagle speaking in this manner may have caused the substitution of “angel” (KJV), an incorrect reading even though in 14:6-7 it is an angel who utters a similar warning. It is quite possible that the Greek could mean “one solitary eagle.” Most manuscripts, and especially the oldest ones, have “eagle” here instead of “angel,” but either one would certainly get people’s attention! Could this be the eagle-like living creature that John saw worshipping before the throne? (Revelation 4:7-8). Will God send it on this special mission? We cannot say for sure but it is a possibility. The expression “midst of heaven” means the zenith of the sky, that part where the sun is at midday. Here we have a dramatic and eerie picture of an empty sky and a solitary eagle, the king of birds, descending fatally from on high, winging its way across its zenith, forewarning of the doom to come. Ample warning has been given again. So terrifying are the last three trumpet judgments that they have the added classification of “woe judgments.” Once more, it is announced that the judgments are intended for those who have settled down on the earth (a characterization of the ungodly). Man can never claim he has not been sufficiently warned of coming judgment.

Habakkuk used the image of an eagle to symbolize swiftness and destruction (see Habakkuk 1:8). The picture is of a strong, powerful bird, here called an eagle (also a carrion bird), flying over all the earth, warning of the terrors yet to come. The eagle was used as a pennant of the Roman army. In a sense it was the symbol of Roman power. While the first four trumpet judgments were horrible the eagle is saying that worse was yet to come: Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels. There is one “woe” for each remaining trumpet blast. The word “woe” is a Greek interjection meaning “alas for.” The word is not an announcement of judgment but portrays the miserable condition of those who have rejected the Gospel (see also Matthew 23:13-33; Luke 11:42-52). John uses three woes in 18:10-19 to refer to the various plagues and disasters of the final judgment. Many Jewish scholars of John’s day refer to the “woes” of the Messiah. These were sufferings experienced by humanity in general before the kingdom could be established (see Daniel 12:1; also Revelation 12:1-6).

While both believers and unbelievers experience the terrors described in 8:7-12, the “inhabitants of the earth” means much more than “people who live on the earth,” for that is where all living people reside. Instead, it refers to a kind of people; those who live for the earth and the things of the earth. These are just the opposite of people who have their citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:18-21). John described this worldly sort well in his first epistle (1 John 2:15-17), and later in this prophecy he again makes it clear that “earth-dwellers” are not born again (Revelation 13:8). They are the ones who will meet spiritual harm through the next three trumpet judgments. God has guaranteed believers protection from spiritual harm (7:2-3; 9:4). The parallel wording of 8:13 and 3:10 may be meant to contrast the fortunes of God’s friends and enemies as judgment visits the planet.

Where do we stand today in regard to God’s timetable? Honestly, I don’t know. There are many who say they do know, yet the Bible states that nobody knows the date or the time of Jesus’ returning. But there is something that I know for sure. If the current lesser judgments do not take effect, the church and the world must expect greater; and when God comes to punish the world, the inhabitants shall tremble before him. Let sinners take a warning to flee from the wrath to come; let believers learn to value and to be thankful for their privileges; and let them patiently continue in well doing.

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