“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“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!” (Rev. 8:13).
Just as the first four seals were set off from the last three (by the device of having the first four as the four horsemen), so also the seven trumpets are divided into four followed by three. The first four appear to be warning judgments, with the last three, each one called a woe, being the culmination or fulfillment of that judgment.
Given the context of judgment falling upon the city of Jerusalem, it is best to take the first woe as the internal strife among the Jewish rebels, the second as the besieging of the city by the Romans, and the third as the fiery overthrow of the city.
But before the woes come, the woes are announced beforehand, which is the point of this text. The King James and New King James tell us that the messenger was an angel. But there is some variation in the manuscripts—the ESV and the NASB state that an eagle is the one making the announcement. Interestingly, the Vulgate has aquila at this place—an eagle.
If we take it as an angel, we see that the last three trumpets are grim enough to require their own introduction. If the messenger is an eagle, we should remember that eagles are carrion birds, and in the toppling of Jerusalem, a million Jews were going to die. This is a common image in the Old Testament (Dt. 28:49; Jer. 4:13; Lam 4:19; Hos. 8:1; Hab. 1:8; Matt. 24:28). The image here is the swiftness of the eagle, but the reference from Habakkuk shows that the eagles fly fast in their hunger. “They shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.” And the covenant judgment of being devoured by the birds of the air is also common (Dt. 28:26; Prov. 30:17; Rev. 19:17-18).
In either case, the messenger is telling the inhabitants of the land to brace themselves.