“The Third Part”
“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.”
In the second half of Revelation 8, we are going to find many statements about fire coming from above and all kinds of things being burnt up. Many theologians interpret them to mean that the final tribulation will be characterized by a devastating nuclear holocaust.
Such a conclusion, implying that the Lord will return at a time when the world is in great turmoil, is at odds with what the Bible declares elsewhere.
In I Thessalonians 5:3, God says, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
People would hardly be saying “peace and safety” if a major nuclear war was in progress. This does not mean that there might not be a limited nuclear exchange or two at some point. But the language of the Bible precludes a worldwide nuclear holocaust.
Business as Usual
The Lord Jesus Himself says in Luke 17:26-30: “And as it was in the days of Noe [Noah], so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
In other words, it will be business as usual for the people in the world when Christ returns. That’s why He will surprise the unsaved like a thief in the night.
As we study these horrible sounding verses, therefore, we must remember that God is using parabolic language to describe spiritual destruction, not physical catastrophes.
The Third Part
From this verse through Chapter 9, we will see the phrase “the third part” over and over again – eleven times, to be exact. We cannot begin to understand these passages unless we first find out what that fraction represents.
Thankfully, God gives us His definition in the Bible.
Speaking of His salvation program, God promises in Zechariah 13:8,9: “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.”
God clearly uses “the third part” in that context to represent all those whom He had chosen to save.
Remember, again, that God is speaking allegorically; this is a symbolic figure. It does not imply in any way that of all the people that have ever lived, one-third will receive salvation.
Romans 11:5 states that only “a remnant” – just a small surviving group – will be saved according to the election of grace.
God uses this analogy of one-third for His elect also in II Samuel 8. We read in verse 2 there: “And he [David] smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.”
Here, David is a type of Christ, and the Moabites represent the human race. Note that the one-third David spared were allowed to live not because they were any better than the twothirds that were put to death. It underscores that we are all sinners saved by grace.
And even as the third part became David’s servants, we believers are the bondservants of Christ.
While the third part in Zechariah 13 and II Samuel 8 represents the eternal church that comprises God’s elect, let me hasten to point out that in the context of Revelation 8 and 9, it refers to the corporate church, the visible representation of the kingdom of God.
This is similar to the way the Bible uses the name Israel: sometimes it denotes the Israel of God, the invisible church made up of believers throughout the ages; while some other times it refers to the nation of Israel, which before the cross had been the corporate representation of the kingdom of God.
Hail and Fire
Hail and fire, as well as blood, are pictures of God’s judgment. They were among the plagues that came upon Egypt before the Exodus, and God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by raining upon them brimstone and fire out of heaven.
We also read about hail in Isaiah 28:2, “Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet.”
Historically, the mighty and strong one that God had was Assyria, which God later used to overrun the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Spiritually, though, that warning is for the endtime church. Already, more and more congregations are so drunken with pride as to wantonly ignore the commands of God and arbitrarily change the gospel of the Bible.
Trees and Green Grass
We read in Isaiah 60:13, “The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together, to beautify the place of my sanctuary; and I will make the place of my feet glorious.”
In that verse, God used various trees to signify that believers would come from various nations to glorify Him. Significantly, whereas this verse declares that one-third of all trees and all green grass will be burnt up, just ten verses later, in Revelation 9:4, we read, “It was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.”
By this seeming contradiction, God underscores that He is using “the third part” in these passages to typify the institutional church upon which He is bringing judgment in the final tribulation period. The trees and the grass of the earth that are not to be harmed represent true believers – those who have the seal of God on their foreheads.