Revelation 9:20-21 | Don’t Forget the Woe

John was told at the end of chapter eight of Revelation there were three more trumpets to be blown. In fact, three times he calls them woes —“woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets the three angels are about to blow” (8:12). The word “woe” in the Greek is “ouai” and is more than just an expression of a feeling. Woe is a judgment as we read in the Book of Revelation (chapters 8. 9, 11, and 12). It means “alas” or almost like “oh no!” When the word woe is used, it is quite possibly signifying impending doom, condemnation and/or the wrath of God so it is never used to only emphasize something in the sentence in which it is used. The context is always king when this word is used. The fact that the word is used three times in a row means that these woes are very important.

The purpose of the trumpet series which began in chapter eight is to warn the world of its impending doom if humans don’t repent. The trumpets picture partial not total devastation (“by these three plagues a third of mankind was killed”). While these visions of the three woes are strange, collectively they picture the terrible things God allows on earth in order to bring men and women to repentance.

Sadly, John records at the end of the chapter (9:20-21) these warnings do not have the desired effect of bringing repentance:

            “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did
not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons
and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot
see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries
or their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

We have seen in our own day how terrible disasters don’t always have the desired effect of bringing people to repentance. After the attacks on 9/11, churches and synagogues were filled with people who were praying and seeking after God. In an article entitled ‘Church Attendance Back to Normal’ published on September 11, 2002, the author opens by saying, “the emotional pain and search for answers after Sept. 11 had many flocking to religious services like never before. But, like many of the initial post-attack phenomenon, church attendance has since returned to normal.” The article goes on to describe how many churches were filled to capacity the Sunday after the attacks, but sadly, it didn’t last. Before long, people returned to their normal existence and seeking God was pushed to the back burner.

That is what John is picturing here. Although God warns the world through many disasters pictured in this chapter, the desired effect is that those who remain are not warned and go on living their sinful lifestyles. They worship the work of their own hands, demons, and idols in every form. They refused to repent. Rarely do disasters have the desired effect of bringing people to repentance. Still, the trumpet series teaches that God uses them to warn the world. They are part of the Gospel. Jesus used the word woe more than any of the prophets of old (Matthew 23:13, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29). The fact that God allows disasters and torment to call people to repent is without contradiction.

We are so used to defining the Gospel as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” we often forget that God uses whatever means he can to call people to repent. The Gospel certainly is a call to receive the gift of the goodness of God. But for those who refuse to repent and believe, he continues to send warnings in the hope that many will see and repent. Let’s not forget to leave out the ‘woe’ in the Gospel.

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