In Revelation, when the seals are opened, a third of everything will be destroyed. What is the significance of one third?

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In each of the trumpet judgments which result in death, a third of the population receiving the judgment perishes. A third of the trees is burned up here, a third of the earth is burned up (Rev. Rev. 8:7), a third of the sea becomes blood (Rev. Rev. 8:8+), a third of the sea creatures and ships are destroyed (Rev. Rev. 8:9+), a third of the rivers is polluted (Rev. Rev. 8:10-11+), a third of the sunlight, moonlight, and starlight is affected (Rev. Rev. 8:12+), and a third of mankind is killed (Rev. Rev. 9:15+, Rev. 9:18+).

This third means a great part, but not a major part. We must not take the phrase “the third part” literally: the emphasis here is to show that in wrath, God remembers mercy, and that while He humbles all He does not completely destroy.

We have a similar text in Zachariah, “And it shall come to pass in all the land,” says the Lord, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one–third shall be left in it” (Zechariah 13:8). Zechariah here gives a prediction of conditions in terms of how events would have taken place had Israel been obedient to God’s ways. A large number, though not all, would have accepted the Savior. His death would have been followed by times of great trouble, a time of casting away those unwilling to accept Him, and a time of cleansing (v. 9) to those who were His followers. The percentage that is given here (two thirds cut off and one third left) should not be taken literally, though it is clear then as later that most would reject God’s free gift of salvation for the Bible tells us that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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