Why is everything 1/3 in Revelation?

It comes up with the four angels, and the dragon:

8:7 The first [angel's trumpet] sounded, ... and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. 8 The second angel sounded, ... and a third of the sea became blood, 9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed. 10 The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. 11 The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. 12 The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.

9:15 And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind. 18 A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths.

12:4 And [the dragon's] tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.

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    This question might better belong in the Biblical Hermeneutics site – curiousdannii Dec 6 '13 at 10:13
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  • According to whom? Is this a truth question? – Andrew Apr 21 '16 at 12:25

As with any part of Revelation there are primarily four main theories. Coincidentally most of them take the 1/3 literally regardless of the view as represented a significant judgment but minority (only 1/3) implicated result on the things in this world that otherwise sustain life. Here are the main views very briefly and overly simplified as pertaining one example:

The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. (NIV Revelation 8:7)


When barbarians attacked Rome in ~AD 410, there was burning or destroying everything in their path. Approximately 1/3 of the Roman Empire was ravaged.


Similar to historicist but everything sandwiched around the sacking of Israel by Rome. Therefore destruction of actual vegetation in the land around Jerusalem. Let's assume around 1/3.


The most literal of all views with everything in the future, probably a literal 1/3 of the earth destroyed by nuclear bombs or something like it in whatever kind of bombs that might exists in the unknown future.


Basically the obvious symbolism that can be imagined. For example 'whatever' kind of destruction which at any time damages the earth such as what we see on the news. Maybe 1/3 is actually greater then what is actual but symbolism does not need to literally match the figure employed.

Note: I am a rare bird these days as I have unexpectedly switched from Symbolic to the Historicist view, which is really not that popular anymore. I started out in my teens as a futurist, moved to Symbolic, almost became a Preterist just before resting in my current view, Historicist. This is how I have became familiar with them over the last 25 years.

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    A question for Mike, do you have any references to read on "a significant judgment but minority (only 1/3) implicated result on the things in this world that otherwise sustain life." ? I share this opinion but would like further reading on the topi. – user27405 Apr 21 '16 at 11:33
  • I know this one's a bit old, but do you have any references for the statement mentioned above @Mike? – Zenon Oct 24 '17 at 22:47

Ellis Skolfield takes a historicist position, but interprets some of these numbers not as fractions, but as sequences. Thus "a third" does not always mean 33.3% of a thing, it just means the third in a series.

Also, he interprets things like grass, trees, and the like as symbols. Thus trees refers to churches and green grass to sound teaching. One quote from his study guide:

the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” (Shortly after the Cross, the church in the Middle East falls into false doctrine).

See his free download page here: http://ellisskolfield.com/index.php/skolfield-bible-prophecy-study

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It must first be noted that the Revelation is divided into 3 parts;

Revelation 1:19 KJV

Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

The first part is the things which the Lord Jesus had already shown him, the second is the things that were and the third part is the things which will be.

where the one third part comes in has mainly to do with the things that were, which in the main cover the Angelic rebellion in Heaven and the ejection of Satan and the rebellious Angels from Heaven.

The Scripture tells us that a third part of the Angels in Heaven revolted with Lucifer.

Rev 12:3 and 4 KJV

3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.

4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

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  • There is no "were" in that passage. :) Therefore there is nothing in Revelation that has to do with the past. – Steve Jan 22 '16 at 3:34
  • @Steve nothing in Revelation to do with the past? except: >Revelation 1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; seen is past tense. – BYE Jan 23 '16 at 0:33
  • The things seen were in the first chapter :) "Which THOU has seen" means the things in the first chapter which JOHN has seen. – Steve Jan 23 '16 at 1:51

1/3 is not the whole, not the greater, but the lesser, and shows that God in His mercy does not destroy the greater, but the lesser, desiring to bring all to repentance. And, throughout the entire Bible, the number three references unity, therefore when 1/3 is referenced, unity is broken.

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