Thunder and Lightning
Revelation 4:5 says,
5 And from the throne proceeds flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;
What John saw was similar to what the Israelites saw when God descended upon Mount Sinai many years earlier. Thunder and lightning were seen as God spoke to the nation and gave them the law. Exodus 19:16, 18 says,
16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled…. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire… and the whole mountain quaked violently.
All of this awesome display of power was unsettling to the Israelites, and they withdrew in fear. Exodus 20:18-21 says,
18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
So the people refused to draw near or to hear God directly, preferring that Moses should be the one to hear, and then to tell them what God said in a second-hand manner. This decision of the people still holds true today, as most believers today still think of God as one to be feared, rather than to be loved. Love draws; fear repels.
Fear is also the source of denominationalism, for organizational structure is usually based on the people’s desire to hear God second-hand from the leaders. They trust the leaders to convey the word of God to them accurately, and are afraid to hear God for themselves. Unfortunately, many church denominations have actively taught the people to be afraid of hearing God for themselves, lest they hear something that goes against the church creeds. They reinforce this fear by persecuting or excommunicating those who may hear differently.
Fear and Love
Moses was not afraid to hear the voice of God, though he confessed in Deut. 9:19, “I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure with which the Lord was wrathful against you in order to destroy you.” Heb. 12:21 comments on this, saying,
21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.”
The difference, however, was that Moses was afraid of what might happen to the people, but He was not afraid of God Himself. Moses was willing to go up into the fire on the mount, and so he urged the people to draw near and to hear the voice of God as well.
Likewise, John shows no sign of being afraid of the lightning and thunder surrounding the throne of God. John and Moses understood that God is love. 1 John 4:16 says,
16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
In other words, he who knows the love of God “abides in God, and God abides in him.” This unity and oneness with God is only possible when one is not afraid of God. Their “fear” is reverence, admiration, and respect, as opposed to being fearful and afraid. This lack of fear gives them confidence when they approach the throne of grace, for 1 John 4:17 says,
17 By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
The Israelites’ fear of hearing God revealed their fear of hearing what He had to say. He came to give His law, which is the revelation of who He is, His character, His nature. The Commandments were also His promises of what our nature will be when we are one with Him. However, the people’s fear made them resistant to the will of God, putting them at enmity with His nature. So their carnal nature (“old man”) feared the law and resisted it as if it were the enemy. And indeed, the law is the enemy of the old man of flesh, for he disagrees with the law continually.
In any disagreement, the lesser fears the greater, because the lesser knows that it cannot win, nor can the will of the lesser prevail over the more powerful will. This is the underlying motive of men’s fear of the divine law. Those who fear the law are yet carnal, for their fear is motivated by the old fleshly man that ought to be crucified with Christ (Rom. 7:22-25).
In John 12:20-22 certain Greeks came to Philip, asking to speak with Jesus. Jesus then spoke to these Greeks about the hour that had come for Him to be glorified. John 12:28, 29 says,
28 “Father, glorify Thy name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
We see here how thunder signifies the voice of God. In that particular occasion, the glorification of the Father’s name would begin with the cross and culminate in the salvation of all men, for Jesus explained in verse 32,
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth [on the cross], will draw all men to Myself.
This is the voice of love, which draws all men to Him. What a contrast between this scene and that which took place at Mount Sinai! Yet this is the difference between the two mountains and the two covenants. Heb. 12:22 says of the believers in Christ, “But you have come to Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” This is not Mount Zion in Jerusalem, but Mount Hermon (Deut. 4:48), where Jesus was transfigured.
Hebrews 12:26 continues,
26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
The divine purpose in shaking heaven and earth is to cast down all that is not of His Kingdom, so that all that remains is that which cannot be shaken, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). The fact that God is a consuming fire does not change from the first mount to the last. Instead, the true nature of this God of love is better understood through the New Covenant.
The Ten Commandments bring fear to the old man, for it knows that it is incapable of perfect obedience and fears the consequences. But when read as the Ten Promises of God, where God holds Himself responsible to change the hearts of men, we respond to His love and are thus changed into His image by beholding Him (2 Cor. 3:18).
The fire is not meant to destroy men, but to destroy their evil works that do not align with His own nature. In other words, God brings judgment in order to bring all men to perfection, as expressed in the standard of God’s law. Once we understand this “thunder,” we lose all fear of drawing near to this “fire.” Like Moses—and John, too—we can come up higher (Exodus 20:21; Rev. 4:1), drawing near to God’s throne without fear, in spite of the thunder and the lightning.
If thunder signifies the voice of God, lightning signifies the Sons of God. Lightning is a bolt of fire emanating from the throne of God. It is a piece of God’s character expressed in a flash of fire. Lightning is the source of thunder, and hence, the voice of God is heard in the Sons of God.
The Hebrew word for lightning is barak. It is pictured in Psalm 77:17, 18 as God’s arrows being shot from a great bow:
17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Thy arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Thy thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
Arrows are also pictured in Psalm 127 as “children.” Psalm 127:3-5 says,
3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…
If arrows are like children, then God’s arrows (“lightning”) represent the Sons of God, who speak with the voice of God (“thunder”).
The fact that thunder and lightning were seen coming from the throne, both by the Israelites in Moses’ day as well as by John, reveals something about the purpose of God in shaking the earth. The nature of God, revealed in His law, prophesy of the Sons of God, whose voice will shake the earth by the power of God.
Their voice is not merely a shout, but a message of Sonship. Their example is for the rest of the earth to follow. And when their voice has sufficiently shaken the earth at the end of the present age, all that will remain standing is that which conforms to the standard of the perfect will of God in His Kingdom.
This is the goal of the cross. Was Jesus lifted up on the cross? Yes, for we know this from the biblical record. Will He then draw all men to Himself? Yes, for that is the promise of Christ through the New Covenant that has been revealed progressively since the beginning of time.