What is the significance of “one third” in Revelation 8,9?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Revelation 8

And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;

And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.

10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.

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!

Revelation 9

15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.

One Third

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

The 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.

Other References

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 (verse 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” (Matthew 22:14).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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