The prophecies of Revelation can seem complex and even surreal. But here are three practical things we need to know now about the three woes.
The Day of the Lord is the theme of much of Bible prophecy, representing the time when God will step in to end the oppression, corruption, sin and evil of human misrule. The Day of the Lord will be a time of punishment, terrible plagues and the darkest times in human history. But it also will signal the dawn of a new day—the age when God will rule and bring peace and prosperity to this troubled planet.
The events of the Day of the Lord described in Revelation come after the Great Tribulation and the heavenly signs. These events include seven trumpet plagues. Seven angels in turn blow their trumpets, and terrible plagues come on earth because humanity has rejected God and His wonderful laws that He made for our good.
Humanity will be on the verge of destroying itself—and will be so far away from God that most people will not repent or obey. Some will repent—a great multitude will come out of the Great Tribulation and will repent (Revelation 7:9-17). But most people won’t, and it seems the only way God can get their attention is to send plagues, like He did with Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus.
The three woes
The last three trumpet plagues are known as the three woes. Why?
In Revelation 8:13, after the first four trumpet plagues, the apostle John heard an angel warning, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
That’s where we get the name “the three woes.” The Louw & Nida Greek Lexicon describes “woe” as “a state of intense hardship or distress—disaster or horror.” Or as the New Living Translation phrases it: “Terror, terror, terror.” So it could also be called the three terrors or disastrous events.
The first woe
Revelation 9:3 compares this plague to something like locusts with the stinging power of scorpions! Revelation 9:4 says: “They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”
So the first woe is torment for five months on those who don’t have the seal of God (verse 5). A seal is a sign of ownership. God seals those who are His: those who have repented, who strive to obey Him, who have the Holy Spirit.
We must not quench the Holy Spirit. We must not accept the mark of the beast—a sign that we are willing to compromise. If we are willing to compromise with God’s laws in order to succeed or survive, we will be marked with that terrible mark, whatever it might be, whether a literal visible mark, an implanted microchip or just the spiritual evidence of compromise.What do we need to know now about this first woe? We must have the seal of God.
We must not quench the Holy Spirit. We must not accept the mark of the beast—a sign that we are willing to compromise. If we are willing to compromise with God’s laws in order to succeed or survive, we will be marked with that terrible mark, whatever it might be, whether a literal visible mark, an implanted microchip or just the spiritual evidence of compromise.
So this first woe is some terrible torment that is very painful but does not kill people. The second woe (which is announced by the sixth trumpet) is much different.
The second woe
The second woe involves a 200-million-man army and a third of mankind being killed in terrible world war (Revelation 9:15-16). It seems that the armies of the beast power from Europe will face off against a vast army from Asia.
So, with a third of mankind killed, you would think people would be ready and willing to repent. But Revelation 9:21 says: “And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries [or drugs] or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” “Sorceries” is from the Greek word pharmakeia, which “means the occult, sorcery, witchcraft, illicit pharmaceuticals, trance, magical incantation with drugs” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament, 1992).
In spite of this terrible world war, with billions of people killed, the rest of the people still will not repent.
What is the message for us? We must not go along with the sex and drugs mentality of this world. We must always be receptive to God’s correction.
We must always repent of our sins and draw close to God.
The third woe and the good news
The third woe involves the seven last plagues (Revelation 16). It also includes those who are left of earth’s armies who are deceived into fighting against Jesus Christ as He returns! But this seventh trumpet ends with Christ easily winning that battle and setting foot on the Mount of Olives. Revelation 11:15 describes what happens during the time the seventh angel sounds his trumpet:
“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’”
After all the woes and terrors, Jesus Christ will return to end all woes and terrors and wars. He will save humanity from self-destruction. Then He and the resurrected saints will help and heal and comfort and teach all people. People will desperately need the help Christ’s faithful followers will give!
What do we need to know now about the third woe? We need to be preparing now to help and teach and serve the people who survive these three woes.
The best of times
The Day of the Lord, pictured in the Feast of Trumpets, truly starts out as the worst of all times. But after Jesus Christ’s return, it will transform into the best of times! All the woes will be forgotten as Jesus Christ will set up the Kingdom of God!
The saints—those who repented and had the seal of God’s Holy Spirit and who prepared in this lifetime to help Christ in the future—will be resurrected and changed! People everywhere will finally be ready to repent and learn the way of peace!
May God speed that day! Let’s fervently pray, “Thy kingdom come!”