In Revelation 8:13 John sees an eagle flying above the earth who announces these woes. It is possible to translate the Greek word ἀετός as either eagle or vulture. This sounds odd to Americans who associate eagles with freedom and strength but vultures with death.
In several cases in the Hebrew Bible and eagle/vulture is a symbol of an enemy. In Deuteronomy 28:49 the enemies of Israel will swoop down in them like eagles to carry them into exile (Jer 4:13, 48:4; Lam 4:19). In Hosea 8:1 a vulture is over the house of the Lord, suggesting the impending judgment on Israel. In Luke 17:37 Jesus clearly means vultures, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Some suggest Jesus is referring to the eagle imagery carried by a Roman legion, meaning something like, “where there are dead bodies, the Roman army is close by.” Zeus used an eagle as a messenger. The Ptolemaic tetradrachm (285-246 B.C.) pictures the Eagle of Zeus standing on a thunderbolt. Although Roman legions used an eagle and lightning bolt as a standard, it seems unlikely Revelation 8:13 is an allusion to the Roman military.
An eagle is also a symbol of strength and swiftness in the Hebrew Bible and Apocalyptic literature. Eagles are heavenly messengers in a number of apocalyptic texts. In 2 Baruch, Baruch writes letters to the exiles and sends them by means of eagles.
4 Ezra 11.7–9 And I looked, and behold, the eagle rose upon his talons, and uttered a cry to his wings, saying, 8 “Do not all watch at the same time; let each sleep in his own place, and watch in his turn; 9 but let the heads be reserved for the last.”
2 Baruch 77.19–20 And I wrote two letters. One I sent by means of an eagle to the nine and a half tribes, and the other I sent by means of three men to those who were in Babylon. 20 And I called an eagle and said to him these words:
4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) 7:15-16 And as they were going out with the dead man and weeping, they passed by the eagle. 16 And the eagle cried in a loud voice, saying, “I say to you, Jeremiah, chosen one of God, go! Gather the people and come here that they may hear a letter which I have brought you from Baruch and Abimelech.”
On the other hand, this reference to an eagle in the air could be a reference to an angel. In 3 Enoch 26:3, the supreme angel Metatron is described as “His face is like the face of angels, and his body is like the body of eagles.”
The eagle is in “mid-heaven” a word occurring several times in Revelation (8:13; 14:6; 19:17). In each case an angel stands in the sky (in the sun) along with the birds of heaven.
This eagle cries out in a great voice, “Woe!” All the world hears this pronouncement of woe. Those that hear it are the inhabitants of the earth, the ones under God’s judgement. Woe (οὐαὶ) was used by the prophets to announce impending doom, such as Isaiah when he said, “woe is me!” The Hebrew (הוֹי, אוֹי, ‘oy) calls attention to what was being said, something like “hey” (Aune 2:524). Isaiah knew he was doomed since he was “a man of unclean lips” in the presence of God.
By calling these last three trumpets “woes” we are being told that they end is near, judgement is coming. If fourth trumpet had a hint of demonic activity, the fifth and sixth will be entirely demonic.
While the first and second woe are identified as the fifth and sixth trumpets the identity of the third woe is a matter of debate. Some take it as the seventh trumpet, although the seventh trumpet is a scene of praise in heaven connected to the return of Christ. Others take it as the fall of Satan in chapter 12, since in 12:12 a great voice says, “woe to you, o earth and sea, for the devil has come down….” Finally, it is possible the third woe is simply the last set of judgments in Revelation 16.