by Al Maxey

Issue #511 ------- November 15, 2011
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation,
Arise, ye wretched of the earth,
For justice thunders condemnation;
A better world's in birth.

Eugene Pottier {1816-1887}

Mystery of the Seven Thunders
A Reflective Study of Revelation 10:3-4

The New Covenant book of Revelation is a fascinating document that has both comforted and confused Christians for over 1900 years. I love teaching it, and have presented in-depth classes on it in every congregation I have served with in 36 years of preaching. I have also developed a PowerPoint presentation of the entire book, as well as outlines and articles on various passages, all of which are available on a special CD (Click Here for details on how to order a copy). If you check my Textual Index you will also see that I have dealt with the Revelation in a number of Reflections articles (all of which are also on the CD). However, there is still much within this marvelous inspired work that defies all efforts at human comprehension. Some parts of our Lord's revelation to man are simply divinely designed to remain within the realm of the mysterious and incomprehensible; in other words, some things are not for us to know! Even the apostle Paul, as he spoke of "visions and revelations of the Lord" (2 Cor. 12:1), stated that when he was caught up into the third heaven, or Paradise, he "heard inexpressible things, things that a man is not permitted to tell" (vs. 4). Wouldn't you just love to know what those things are?! We know that there were things even the angels of heaven "longed to look into" (1 Pet. 1:12), but which were kept from them. Jesus even had to tell his beloved disciples prior to His ascension, as they queried Him on various kingdom matters, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority" (Acts 1:7). Nevertheless, the fact that God retains the right to keep some things entirely to Himself has never deterred men from seeking to grasp the nature of these mysteries. Indeed, we are drawn to them with an almost obsessive (and often frustrated) fascination.

One such passage in the Revelation that has puzzled men for centuries is Rev. 10:3-4, in which we find the mystery of the seven thunders. In a brief chapter of only eleven verses, in which the focus is on a mighty angel with a little scroll, which scroll John is commanded to take and eat, we read the following words: "When he (the mighty angel) shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.'" Wouldn't you love to know what the message of these seven thunders was? And why weren't we told? And if John wasn't going to tell us, why did he even mention them? Why throw this "teaser" out there to tantalize us? You know that men will seize upon this passage and speculate about it endlessly. "The fact that John was ordered not to write, but to seal and to leave unwritten what these thunders uttered, has not deterred some commentators from expressing their opinions" anyway [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation, p. 314].

Some biblical scholars have taken the charge to "seal up" the voice of the seven thunders very seriously, and they refuse to even speculate as to the possible meaning. If God wanted this sealed, then who are we to speak out? "It is useless to speculate on the nature of that which is purposely concealed from us" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 274]. Homer Hailey, in his Introduction and Commentary to the book of Revelation, wrote, "We shall never know what the message or words were. ... The message cannot be known to man" [p. 243-244]. Even the prophet Daniel was told not to reveal all the revelation that was given to him: "But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time" (Daniel 12:4; cf. vs. 9; 8:26). There are some things God has chosen not to share with His creation, and we must concede that this is His sovereign right. "When it is asked why it was given to John to know what he is ordered not to write and to make known, the answer is that this, too, is not for us to know" [Lenski, p. 314]. But again, this doesn't stop us from wondering or speculating, and sometimes the speculations can border on the bizarre. The renowned NT Greek scholar Dr. Marvin R. Vincent observed, "As usual, interpretation has run wild as to the seven thunders!" [Vincent's Word Studies, e-Sword].

A few, for example, believe they are a reference to "the seven great Crusades," which were religious/military expeditions during the 11th to 13th centuries to free various sites in the Holy Land from Muslim tyranny (although, in reality, there were eight major crusades, and an additional two children's crusades). Almost no one takes this interpretation very seriously. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) suggested that the seven thunders are "seven solemn and terrible ways of discovering the mind of God" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword], although he didn't specify what those ways might be. Some believe these thunders are representative of the horrible atrocities that will descend upon the people of God because of their faith. "Here, we believe, the thunders tell of the wrathful response, the angry mutterings, of God's enemies against His Truth. And, thus regarded, they tell of the opposition the Word arouses in the world of the wicked," who are "filled with rage when any real invasion of their realm is made by the messengers of the Word" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 283]. "And it was fitting that these voices should not be written, for the purpose of this book was to console and strengthen the Church, not to distress and alarm it" [ibid]. It has also been proposed that perhaps "the seven thunders were intended for John's own illumination, and were thus not essential to the main vision" that was to be passed along to God's people [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 497]. It was kind of a personal addendum to the Lord's Revelation, and therefore only for John's ears and for John's personal education and/or edification.

It is believed by a number of biblical scholars that the seven thunders represent the ragings of the Roman Empire against the early church. In support of this view, it is pointed out that the city of Rome "sat upon seven hills" from which sounded forth the "thunderings" of its wicked will upon its neighbors (as well as upon its own citizens). Rev. 17:9 speaks of the "seven mountains on which the great harlot sits" (which most believe is a reference to Rome, and, by extension, the seductive allure of the world). Dr. Charles Ellicott wonders, "Were they more terrible judgments still? Did the sealing of them signify the shortening of the days of judgment, as Christ had said?" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 582]. The statement of Jesus he had in mind here is found in Matt. 24:22 -- "If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened." Perhaps the seven thunders were yet another series of seven judgments against the world, but for the sake of the elect the Lord decided not to prolong the final judgment of His creation. Thus, the sealing up of the thunders represented His mercy in bringing about the deliverance of His redeemed ones, rather than seeing them have to endure yet more warnings and punishments against the world. This view is given some weight in that the next recorded statement of this mighty angel is, "There will be no more delay!" (Rev. 10:6). Thus, no more warnings (thunders) from the Throne for mankind, and we know that powerful thundering in Revelation finds its source from the Throne of God (Rev. 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). It was a warning that God was about to act: the sound of an impending storm. At some point in God's dealings with mankind He will say, "Enough! No more warnings! Seal them up! There will be no more delay; the end has come!" This is the interpretation that, in my view, makes the most sense. Some also see a connection here with Psalm 29 in which "the God of glory thunders" (vs. 3) seven distinct times, each of which are characterized in this psalm of David as "the voice of the Lord."

There are a number of other theories that have gained popularity over the centuries, especially among those who believe the book of Revelation is a foretelling of the history of the church throughout the coming ages. In other words, they see in the various symbols of this inspired writing the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation, and various other events connected with Christendom and its interaction with various world forces (both political and religious). Many scholars, for example, see the "great harlot" of Revelation as the Catholic Church (sitting upon the seven hills of Rome), and thus the seven thunders "would appropriately denote the bulls of excommunication uttered at Rome, for the name most frequently given to the decrees of the papacy, when condemnatory, was that of 'papal thunders'" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. Thus, according to Dr. Barnes (1798-1870), this symbol in Revelation refers "to Rome, the seven-hilled city, and to the thunders of excommunication, anathema, and wrath that were uttered from that city against the Reformers" [ibid]. Thus, these were the "thunderings" of religious rage uttered against those who were leading the Reformation. "If we were now to attempt to devise a symbol which would be appropriate to express what actually occurred in the Reformation, we could not think of one which would be better suited to that purpose than to speak of seven thunders bellowing forth from the seven-hilled city" [ibid]. So, why were these thunders to be sealed up and not written down by John? "In these papal anathemas there was nothing that was worthy of record" ... Thus, this charge to John "should be regarded as an injunction not to regard the decrees and decisions of the papacy as containing any intimation of the divine will, or as of authority in the church" [ibid]. "The seven thunders are the anathemas of papal Rome. They may not be uttered, because they are the roarings of man and not the sayings of God" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 276]. Some have narrowed the focus somewhat and declare the thunders to be "the papal bull fulminated against Martin Luther from the seven-hilled city" [Dr. Vincent, e-Sword].

Still other biblical and church history scholars are convinced that the seven thunders represent "the ministers of the Gospel in the times of the Reformation, who were 'Boanergeses' -- 'sons of thunder'" [Dr. John Gill (1690-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible, e-Sword]. "Boanerges" was the name Jesus gave to James and John when He called the Twelve (Mark 3:17). Some have characterized the great reformers similarly. The fact that their "thunder" (their voice calling for reform) was "sealed up" represents the fact that the Roman Catholic Church sought to silence them (and to some degree rather successfully) by any means possible. Another view is that the seven thunders represent "the seven kingdoms which have received the Reformation, and established it by law within their several dominions, whereby the doctrine and worship of the reformers are become the established religion there" [ibid]. Those regions receptive to the work of these reformers are listed by Dr. Gill as being: "1. The German provinces, making one republic. 2. The Swiss cantons. 3. Sweden. 4. Denmark, with Norway. 5. England and Ireland. 6. Scotland. 7. The united provinces of the Netherlands." "John is bid to seal up these things, and not write them, which shows that the progress of the Reformation was to be stopped from doing fully what the first reformers were prompted to by the supreme powers which encouraged them, and that by the opposition of other temporal princes; it not being the will of God that the glorious state of the church should arise from these thunders, and be built on their laws and establishments; and suggests that this is not the time in which, nor these the ways and means by which, the mystery of God will be finished" [ibid].

It should be rather obvious from this admittedly brief exposition that the mystery of the seven thunders in the book of Revelation is just that -- a mystery. For whatever reason, God chose not to reveal to us the nature of these seven thunders. It is certainly interesting to speculate on their nature, but in the final analysis they must forever remain in the realm of the unknown. Perhaps the following best summarizes the truth of this: "As the visible portion of an iceberg is only a small part of the iceberg, most of which is hidden from man's sight, so God's disclosures reveal only part of His total being and purposes" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 497]. Although there is much that we don't know, and never will, we can thank God for what He has revealed unto us, for therein lies the hope of life everlasting in His glorious presence!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, It has been some time since I commented on one of your Reflections. They have all been good, but Issue #510 on "Progressive Christianity" is your BEST!! You are spot on, brother! You hit it out of the park!! What a great discovery grace is! I have come to realize that there are several great religions in the world: great in that they teach some beautiful truths that are in harmony with the teachings of Jesus; great in that they influence millions of followers. But Christianity is unique among them all. All world religions lack the one thing Christianity alone has: Grace. The great religions teach that God loves you for what you do: obey the religious laws and God will love you. Only in Jesus do we find that God loves us for who we are -- His own unique creation -- not for what we do. What's more, only Jesus acted in history to do what needed to be done to create a way back to our Creator. So, keep rolling, my friend! You are making a huge difference!!

From an Elder in Texas:

Brother Al, I totally agree with your markers in your last article, and would simply add one more! Progressive Christians believe in the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who alone provides the power to transform the heart of a Christian into a Christ-like disciple (Rom. 8; 2 Cor. 3:18; etc.). Our tribe has grossly neglected the power of God's Spirit in favor of personal ascetic grit. How sad.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Brother Al, Your article hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the congregation I attend is anything but "progressive." At this point in my life, both health concerns and finances prohibit me making any drastic changes, but it is becoming harder and harder to even attend the "services" here, where one is forced to listen to the same nonsense each week. Only a few people here, who actually dare to think outside the traditional box, as well as the few moments of love expressed before the so-called "service," keep me going.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Brother Al, Thank you for this Reflections on "Progressive Christianity." Your article could not have been better timed for this "old soldier of the cross" (I'm in my 80's, and for most of my years in ministry I was a "progressive" and on the front lines). I have a request -- may I "plagiarize" some of your thoughts in my efforts to reach out to those who have been victimized spiritually by the legalists? You have a marvelous way of making points so powerfully clear!! What an amazing gift from the Father you have!! May I simply borrow a bit of your gift in my work with others?

From a Minister in South Carolina:

Brother Al, Just dropping by your Facebook page to say "Hey," and to tell you that a few of our folks here have subscribed to your weekly Reflections. They are learning a lot because of you! Thank you for allowing the Spirit to write through you!!!!

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Bro. Al, "Progressive Christianity" is an excellent article. It speaks of true gospel and true grace! The world would be a much different place if all churches and all Christians would take this to heart and move in this direction! I am sharing your Reflections article with my friends and family.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

AMEN, Pastor Al. Amen and Amen again!! "Progressive Christianity" was a wonderful article. Thank you for allowing God to speak through you. This might be a good article to share with the Ministerial Alliance here. It would encourage them in their work with the churches of Alamogordo and Otero County. As you know, heartfelt and unconditional love will cross all denominational lines in our community, and it would make a huge difference to those around us who are hurting! Thanks again, brother.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I read the comment regarding the hymn "Amazing Grace" by one of your readers in your last Reflections and had to chuckle!! The song book we used here had changed the words of this hymn to say, "How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first OBEYED" (rather than "believed"). That reworded sentence is an oxymoron, isn't it?! It would be like saying, "How precious is that free gift, the hour I earned it." Keep up the good work, brother.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I once told someone I was "progressive." Then I saw a parody on YouTube about the Progressive Church, and I was horrified. I wondered at the time if I had used the term so ignorantly that I had completely misrepresented myself. Thank you, Al, for the clarification of this term you provided in your Reflections.

From a Reader in Maryland:

Brother Al, Thanks for that great Reflections on progressive Christians. We truly have found a church that is progressive here in Maryland. What is great about it is that all five markers that you listed are here. Their mission statement is, "Giving our community something to believe in: God, themselves, and each other." My husband and I are glad to be "progressive." Praise the Lord! Our congregation's web site is:

From a Minister in Kansas:

Brother Al, That was a GREAT article ("Progressive Christianity"). I really appreciate your grace-oriented, non-sectarian approach to everything. It seems many of our smaller churches are "progressing" in the wrong direction. This one that I am at is certainly making no real progress. I get so discouraged, but try to keep encouraging them forward. Please remember my family and me in your prayers.

From an Elder in Florida:

Dear Brother Al, I was preaching at a very small congregation in Oregon in the mid-70's when, in response to the Lord's invitation during the morning assembly, a lady (in her 70's) came forward saying she wanted to become a Christian. She had heard the Word, believed the Word, repented of her sins, and confessed Christ as her Lord and Savior, but she then asked if it would be okay if she came back for the evening assembly in order to be baptized (because of her age and condition, she was wearing some special undergarments at the time that would prove a hindrance to her). I said there was no problem. She came back that evening and I gladly baptized her. It even allowed some time to invite several people to come and witness the event, because she had been attending there for years. It was a grand and glorious evening! Another time my grandson came forward on a Sunday morning to "become a Christian," but he also wanted to wait until the evening assembly, because he wanted all of his brothers, sisters, parents, and both sets of grandparents to be there to witness his immersion. I know we can all come up with similar situations, but I firmly believe that in both of the above situations there was no doubt as to the salvation of these two between the time they "came forward" and the time they were baptized.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I have to admit that I disagree with your articles often. That having been said, I am always challenged by them and forced to rethink my positions. Thank you for the amount of thoughtful research and study that you obviously put into these well-thought-out writings. The Bible compares our learning from one another as "iron sharpening iron" (Prov. 27:17). I suppose that takes a little heat and friction, doesn't it?! I appreciate being sharpened by your thoughts and analysis of the Scriptures. Keep it up!

From a Minister in Maine:

Brother Al, "Progressive Christianity" was a truly great article! Isn't it amazing how words are tossed about so glibly without much conscious thought of what the words actually mean, and with even less thought as to what might be accomplished by using them! As I kept reading the word "progressive" in your article, I could not help but think that perhaps "faithful" would have been a better word, until I began to remember how many times I have seen and heard that word tossed about and misused. Ahhh, was not the ancient writer right on target with his observation in Eccl. 12:11-12? -- "The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails -- given by one Shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them. Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body." Keep on keeping on, my brother! You have my gratitude.

From a Reader in Washington:

Brother Al, There seem to be those people who read your opening quote (the one by C. S. Lewis) as though it were authored by you ... AGAIN!! I have also observed that many of these same people have not bothered to read the Reflections article that follows, or even to try and understand it. Otherwise, if they had, some of their determinations wouldn't have been made! Just sayin'. I pray your Veterans Day was a good one! Soldier on, brother!!

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