The Seven Thunders, An Interpretive Suggestion

    And He cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when He had cried out, the seven thunders spoke their voices (Revelation 10:3).

In Revelation 10 John sees Jesus come down to him from heaven with a little book in His hand. Jesus cries out with a great voice, and seven thunders are heard. John hears messages in these seven thunders, and starts to write them down, as he has the seven seals and the seven trumpets, but he is told not to. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, `Seal up the things that the seven thunders have spoken, and do not write them.’”

Commentators have run in three directions in interpreting this event. Some have remarked that this event shows us that we are not being told everything. God reserves some information for Himself and His prophet alone. This rebukes our pride, our desire to know everything. Now, while this is a worthy pious thought, it seems to have nothing to do with the context of the event or the purpose of the book as a whole, which after all is a “revelation.”

A second interpretation is like unto it: The seven thunders are a special message for John alone, not for us. God has special things to say to each of us. Again, this is true enough, but how does it fit into what is going on in Revelation 10? Moreover, all of Revelation is addressed to the churches (1:1, 4), so why would there be a special, secret word to John in it?

Commentators who take one of these two approaches never have any explanation for this. There seems to be no reason for God to interrupt the flow of events to show us, at this particular point, that we don’t know everything, or to give a special, private word to John.

The third approach is far more satisfactory. It holds that the content of the seven thunders is same as that of the Little Book. The reason for holding this interpretation is that right after John is told to seal up the message of the thunders, he is told to eat the Little Book and to begin speaking again. Moreover, the same voice from heaven that told him to seal up the message of the thunders tells him to take the Book (10:8). As He gives the Book to John, Jesus tells him to eat it.

Previously John has been a spectator. He has recorded the messages he has been shown and that he has heard. Now he is to be a participant. He must eat the book, and then prophesy himself. This contrast explains why the seven thunders are not written down as such. John must absorb and internalize them, and then prophesy them himself.

What happens next in Revelation shows us what this means. John is told that he will prophesy, and then we are shown the two witnesses prophesying in Jerusalem in Revelation 11. After eating the Book, John is told the measure the Temple and (Bronze) Altar. This is not the physical Temple and Altar in Jerusalem, but refers to the true Temple and Altar of the Church. These are sealed and safeguarded before the judgments begin (compare 7:3ff.). Thus, it would seem that there is an identification between John and the two witnesses. The message is sweet but becomes bitter (10:10); the two prophets proclaim the good news, but eventually are slain. We notice also that Revelation 11:1-13, the measuring of the Temple & Altar and the work of the two witnesses, is the only section that John did not “see” or “hear.” It is not introduced by “and I saw” or “and I heard.” John’s participation seems more direct.

This leads to the suggestion that the Little Book consists only of the message proclaimed in 11:3-7. It is not the New Testament, nor is it the whole Book of Revelation. It is what the two prophets, signified by John himself, proclaim.

While this might seem the simplest explanation of the Little Book, and has been advocated by some, there is a problem: According to 10:11, the Little Book causes John to prophesy concerning many people and nations and tongues and kings. Revelation 11:1-13 only concerns Jerusalem. Accordingly, the Little Book must extend beyond this section, but how far? Also, we notice that after Revelation 11, we go back to the phrases “and I saw” and “and I heard,” which thus must also be included as part of John’s prophesying.

I think it is correct to link John with the two witnesses of Revelation 11, though, as we have done. This is enough to show things that John himself, and thus the witness of the Firstfruits Church, will prophesy the contents of the Little Book.

I should like to suggest that we may be able to uncover the seven thunders, and that this will help us to know the specific boundaries of the Little Book within Revelation. We notice in 10:3 that Jesus cries with at “great voice,” which is like the roar of a lion, and which is answered in seven thunders. I suggest that the thunders are identified as “great voice” utterances in the passages that follow.

There are, however, more than seven “great voice” utterances from specific heavenly voices. If there were only seven, I could feel more secure in this interpretive suggestion. As it is, it must remain tentative.

Here are my conclusions as to where the Seven Thunders are found:

First Thunder – 11:12, “And they heard a great voice from heaven saying to them, `Come up here!’” The great voice calls the dead bodies of the two witnesses, the martyrs of the Firstfruits Church, to heaven. This comes right at the end of the Sixth Trumpet.

Second Thunder – 12:10, “And I heard a great voice in heaven, saying, `Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have come . . . .” The great voice announces the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom. This is part of the Seventh Trumpet. At the beginning of the Seventh Trumpet, John heard “great voices” in heaven saying the same thing. This would be one “thunder” in two parts. Between these two parts the earthly ministry of Jesus is discussed.

Third Thunder – 14:7-18. There are actually four “great voices” in this section, but they are arranged as one. Seven messengers appear as follows:

A. Great Voice Angel (v. 6): the eternal gospel

B. Angel (v. 8): Babylon is fallen

A’. Great Voice Angel (v. 9): wrath upon the Beast

C. The Son of Man (v. 14): reaps the wheat

A”. Great Voice Angel (v. 15): calls for the harvest

B’. Angel (v. 17): reaps the grapes

A’”.Great Voice Angel: (v. 18): calls for grape harvest

This “thunder” ends the trumpet sequence with the harvest of the Firstfruits Church.

Fourth thunder – 16:1 & 17: Great voices begin and end the series of libation-bowls, bringing the destruction of the Old Creation order.

Fifth thunder – 18:2, “And [another angel] cried out with a great voice, saying, `Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great!’” This “thunder” announces the fall of Jerusalem.

Sixth thunder – 19:17, “And I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a great voice, saying to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come. Assemble for the great supper of God.’” This thunder announces the destruction of the Beast and his army.

Seventh thunder – 21:3, “And I heard a great voice from the Throne, saying, `Behold! The tabernacle of God is among men.” This is the sabbatical and final thunder.

Now, if I am correct, at least this far we have come in the contents of the Little Book. I suggest that the Little Book continues to 22:7, “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” John refers to himself in the next verse, indicating the close of a section, and the last time he himself has acted was when he ate the Little Book. This phrase, of course, might refer just as well to all of Revelation. Verse 10, however, goes on to say, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book.” Since John was told to seal up the seven thunders, but was given the open Little Book to eat, and since they are almost certainly equivalent, I believe the Little Book is specifically what is spoken of here.

Two further observations: The voice of God is like a trumpet and like thunder. It seems to me that the seven thunders, which begin within the trumpet sequence, serve to extend the trumpets to the end of Revelation. Just as the seals open the book which contains everything that follows, including the Little Book, so the trumpets announce everything that follows, including the libation-bowls, the millennium, and the New Jerusalem. Also, since the first two thunders correspond to the sixth and seventh trumpets, there remain five. Thus, the seven trumpets are extended to twelve by means of the five remaining thunders.

My second observation is based on the association of the sequences of seven in Revelation with the events of creation week in Genesis 1, and the other re-creation sequences in the Bible that consist of seven sections. Notice, for instance, that in both the trumpets and the libation-bowls, the fourth judgment affects the sun, a clear fourth-day association. I believe that the seven trumpets, as I have set them out, show some correlations to that same pattern.

These correlations are very “vague,” but vague correlations are as important as precise ones, just as vague language is just as important as precise language. (Compare “The sun rose at six this morning,” with “The horizon of the earth dropped to reveal the first crescent of the sun at 6:01:23 a.m., as seen from Niceville, Florida, 2428 Martin Drive.” Both are valid ways of speaking. Both are true, in terms of their universe of discourse.)

Bear in mind that the seven days of Genesis 1 are thematically chiastic. Possibly then:

– The seventh thunder, which announces God’s sabbath dwelling among men, is sabbatical.

– The second thunder, which announces the coming of the Kingdom, corresponds to the establishment of the firmament, the people of God, between heaven and earth. That God’s people are this firmament is clearly taught in the various 7-fold re-creation sequences in Exodus.

– The sixth thunder, which announces the destruction of the Beast and the false prophet, corresponds to the sixth day, on which beasts and men were created.

– The first thunder calls the saints to heaven. While this does not have any clear association with the first day of creation, we can see it as a chiastic balance to the seventh thunder, which shows God coming down to man.

– The third thunder, which harvests grain and grape, corresponds to the third day, when grain and fruit were created.

– The fourth thunder might have an association with the fourth day, in that the libation-bowls are poured from heaven, and the heavenly rulers were set up on the fourth day. At the center of this sequence, the fourth libation-bowl causes the sun (day four) to burn men.

– This leaves the fifth thunder. Those who have read our other studies on the heptamerous sequences in the Bible (in Biblical Horizons 46-50) know that this is the slot that has the most vagueness and seeming diversity. It is usually associated with swarms (the fifth day) and the cloud of incense over the altar (signifying God’s holy cloud-swarm). Babylon is a counterfeit Church, thus a counterfeit holy swarm. Moreover, Revelation 18, which is introduced by this thunder, delineates a whole list of people who traded with Babylon and the wares they sold her (which are the accoutrements of the Temple worship). Thus, there is a false “swarm” here. Additionally, the thunder says that Babylon is the habitation of every evil bird (day five), and speaks most about sea-traders (fishes) who traffic with Jerusalem.

Summary

I have suggested that while the seven thunders are sealed as such, their content is found in the Little Book. I think we can be pretty confident of this assertion, and it is not a new one.

I have suggested that the Little Book runs from Revelation 11:1 to 22:7. This is not a new idea, though it is only one of many suggested possibilities. I am fairly confident of it.

I have suggested that we can find seven thunders in the Little Book by looking at the “great voice” pronouncements from heaven. I am less confident of this assertion, but it seems right to me.

I have identified what I think these seven thunders are. I am about as confident of these identifications as I am that they are to be identified at all. In other words, if we can find the seven thunders, then I am pretty sure of what they are. What makes me feel fairly confident of this is their vague association with the seven days of creation, especially since the seven days of creation underlie many of the other sequences of seven in the book of Revelation.

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons