What are the Three Woes?

What are the three woes, judgements, tribulation, end-times

What are the three woes during the Tribulation?

“Then I watched, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the other trumpet blasts of the three angels, who are yet to sound! (Revelation 8:13).


Jesus revealed the trumpet judgments in the eighth chapter of Revelation. The events and judgments in Revelation occur in chronological order as listed below: 

  • Jesus sent letters to His Churches during this current age (the Church Age).
  • Between chapters three and four, the Church Age ended when Jesus raptured the Church. 
  • Chapters four and five explain why only Jesus qualified to open the seals on God’s judgments. 
  • In chapter six, the seven seals’ judgments are opened, and one-fourth of the earth’s population has died (two billion people?). The seal judgments brought the time in the seven-year tribulation up to the mid-point. One thousand two hundred sixty days have passed, and 1260 days of great tribulation remain before Jesus returns, ends the tribulation, and begins His thousand-year reign.
  • The interludes in chapter seven tell us who the overcomer is in the tribulation. 
  • The seventh seal opened at the end of chapter six, which contained the seven trumpet judgments that occur during the second half of the tribulation. One-third of the remaining population will die (another two billion?).
  • When the first trumpet blows, a dramatic pause lasts—in heaven!–for half an hour!
  • An angel announced that the remaining three trumpets will carry special woe for earth dwellers!

Note: This article explains that John calls the last three trumpet judgments woes. We detailed the first four trumpet judgments in a separate post.

The Four Judgments in the Tribulation
Seven SealsRev. 61st half of the tribulation
Seven TrumpetsRev. 8-92nd half of the tribulation
Seven Thunders (Hidden)Rev. 10After the Trumpets
Seven BowlsRev. 16Before the 2nd Coming

The Three Woes 

The first four trumpet judgments focused on God’s creation. But the last three target humanity. 

Its Outcry

The word “woe” translates from the Greek onomatopoetic word ouai, which imitates the wail of the people. In English, it would be like someone saying owie; it’s the cry of an injured child. 

Its Comparisons

In Jeremiah 30:5-7 the prophet Jeremiah compared it to:

  • To hearing cries of panic and terror with no peace in sight.
  • To a strong man grabbing their stomach in pain like a woman in childbirth.
  • To people whose faces have turned deathly pale.
  • To no comparable time—ever! There has never been any time like it.

It’s a time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble. Jesus will rescue him–but not yet!

The Fifth Trumpet (the First Woe) (9:1-12)

The Locusts

Their Liberator

The star falling from the sky was a being who received the key to the abyss. When he opened it, smoke bellowed out. Is smoke a portent of judgment or an outpouring from long-contained wickedness? Or, from a caustic element kept sealed for ages, now reacting to fresh air?

After the smoke cleared, ‘Locusts’ (but these aren’t actual locusts) came out of the smoke. Real locusts were the eighth plague in Egypt, and they also pointed to The Day of the Lord (Joel 2:1-11). 

Their Power

These ‘locusts’ were given power like ‘scorpions.’ They could harm people with their notoriously painful stings. Imagine suffering the pain of their stings for five months–when you aren’t allowed to die!

Their Target

This plague discriminates and only affects those without the seal of God on their forehead. Natural locusts would attack the vegetation, but these won’t; they target people. Unsealed humanity has met their doom; wild locusts can lay fields bare in no time! What will these lay bare? 

Their Description

John has already described the locusts from one perspective (9:1-5). But he finds them so compelling that he described them from another (9:7-12). Three verses define their bottom half and three their top:

  • Like horses prepared for battle. 
  • Like crowns of gold on their heads (ability to win battles).
  • Like the faces of men (demonic creatures). 
  • Like the hair of women (that’s shameful on a man). 
  • Like the teeth of lions. 
  • Like breastplates of iron (on the front and back, invincibility). 
  • Like the sound of chariots with horses running to battle (terrorizing!). 
  • Like scorpions with stings in their tails (tortuous pain). 

Then John added two more details:

  • Their power (in their tails) was to hurt men for five months. 
  • Their king was the angel of the bottomless pit. 

Their Duration

They torture people for five long months, and even when this first woe passes, we’re reminded that two woes are impending (Rev 9:12). These judgments are not simultaneous but immediately follow each other. However, the effects of the previous plagues may linger.

The Sixth Trumpet (the Second Woe) (9:13-19)

The Army

The Army’s Death Toll

Because one-four of humanity had died when the fourth seal opened, and one-third die when this sixth trumpet blew, half the earth’s population has now passed.

The Army’s Numbers

John doesn’t tell us if the two hundred million riders are human or demonic, but either is possible. John anticipates our obvious question, “Maybe you misheard the number of riders,” so he clarifies, vowing, 

“The army of horsemen numbered two hundred million. I heard their number” (9:16).

John insists he was neither exaggerating nor mishearing. He heard and recorded it!

Table: Comparing the First Two Woes

The First WoeThe Second Woe
Released FromThe AbyssThe Euphrates River
Demonic twistYesYes
Their numberLike locustsTwo hundred million riders
AffectsOne-third of humanityOne-third of humanity
Doesn’t AffectVegetation or God’s sealedUnspecified
The VictimsTortured but couldn’t dieThe victims will die
The BreastplatesIronAre fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow
The ShapeThe horses were like locustsThe heads of the horses were like lions
Their PowerThey had tails like scorpions and stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men for five months.The power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails are like serpents, with heads by which they inflict injury.

Note: The vision didn’t tell us whom this army battled. But since they approached the Promised Land near the end of the tribulation, they’re likely attacking The Beast and his forces in the Promised Land. So possibly, it’s the battle of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38 & 39). Since Ezekiel also wrote his book in chronological order, that battle is this battle. Since in Ezekiel 40 and following, his vision describes the Millennial Temple, and Ezekiel’s battle occurs before the Jews build the Millennial Temple, the timing fits.

The Army’s War Machine

The main war machine in John’s time was the horse. So, what he describes as a “horse” plays the same role, which includes tanks, rocket launchers, and other mobile war machines.

The fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow are the colors of the munitions fired by tanks, rocket launchers, bazookas, etc., exploding on a modern battlefield. The tails may be from the smoke of rocket fire.

The Earthdwellers Respond 

John turned his attention to the survivors. He’s shocked, but they still don’t repent, just as Pharaoh didn’t repent while suffering through the ten plagues. Their lack of repentance shows their confirmed condition and hard hearts. And why God didn’t wait any longer to bring these judgments (2 Peter 3:9). 

They would never repent. They reject God’s world of grace, love, and righteousness while embracing the world and its evil. God won’t tolerate their rebellion!

“The second woe is past. Listen, the third woe is coming quickly.”

The Seventh Trumpet Blown, the Third Woe (11:15-19)

The double Bar: The Notation Ending a Musical Composition

The Announcement

Once again, loud voices in heaven announce:

“The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”

The Announcers

Jesus’ return is so close that only the coda remains in this symphony. When John emphasized the voices in His visions, he said they were loud or many. For emphasis here, he said they were both. 

The twenty-four elders, who appeared in chapter four, worshiped God. They referred to Psalm 2, which poetically predicted that God would mock the nations when they raged. The elders praised God:

  • For beginning His reign
  • For rewarding His servants
  • For destroying those who destroy the earth

The Foundation

Then the heavenly temple opened and displayed the ark, which recalled God’s faithfulness to His covenants, while the grand finale was queued:

“And there came lightning, noises, thundering, an earthquake, and great hail.”

The Timing

At this point, God wants His servants to know… 

“There will be no more delay!”

The seventh trumpet revealed the final seven bowls of God’s wrath. They’ll be poured out, one on top of the other, to finalize the judgment on earth dwellers before Jesus return.

We invite you to find salvation through Jesus Christ. Please watch the Great News video for more about Jesus and his love for you.