What Do the Seven Thunders Say in Revelation 10:3-4?

The Mighty Angel stands in his place and speaks.  The speech is described as the roar of a lion, and he is answered by the “seven thunders.” This description is significant for several reasons. It is the only place in Revelation where an angelic messenger speaks, but the words are not recorded.  Why is the shout described in this way, and not recorded?

First, thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech. In the Hebrew Bible, the voice of God is often described in terms of thunderous noise (2 Sam 22:14/Psalm 18:3; Job 37:2-5). It is possible thunderous speech is related to the description of the Lord as the “lion of Judah” (Amos 1:2, 3:8). Occasionally angels have voices like thunder, such as 3 Baruch 11:4, and in The Odyssey, Zeus speaks like thunder.

3 Baruch 11:4 And while we were waiting, there was a noise from the highest heaven like triple thunder. And I Baruch said, “Lord, what is this noise?” And he said to me, “Michael is descending to accept the prayers of men.”

So he spoke in prayer, and Zeus the counsellor heard him. Straightway he thundered from gleaming Olympus, from on high from out the clouds; and goodly Odysseus was glad. (The Odyssey, 20.100-104).

Why are there “seven thunders?” Psalm 29:3-9 has a seven fold description of the voice of God as thunder (although the word “voice” is not repeated seven times.)  There is a rabbinic tradition that the voice of God was heard as seen thunders on Mt. Sinai (Exod. Rab. 28:6).

As John prepared to write the content of the words spoken by the thunders, a “voice from heaven” prevents him. John is told to “seal up the vision” and not write it down. The source of the voice is not identified and it is common in Revelation for John to hear an unidentified voice from heaven. Given the background texts where a divine voice sounds like thunder, perhaps this is the voice of God prohibiting John from writing what the thunders said.

apocalyptic-thunderstorm

The way the command is given is odd: he is told to seal up the vision (which would imply keeping it a secret), but also not to write anything down.  If he had not written the words, what is the point of also sealing the scroll?  There is a tradition in Jewish apocalyptic of a person being given revelation but forbidden to share it. David Aune suggested this ensures that prophet alone knows the information, making him “wiser” than his readers.  It was a mark of authenticity to hold back a little revelation from the readers, if you gave it all then perhaps there were skeptics.

So what did the seven thunders say? Obviously we cannot know since it is still a secret, but John may have been given another series of judgments like the seals, trumpets, and bowls. He was told not to record this series for some reason. Caird suggested the reason John is told not to record the content of the visions is that God “cancelled” the judgments out of his grace and mercy (Revelation, 126-127). This would mean there were four sets of seven judgments, one set was set aside, perhaps an allusion to the four sets of curses in Leviticus 26:14-46.

7 thoughts on “What Do the Seven Thunders Say in Revelation 10:3-4?

  1. Honestly, I chose to reply to this blog post because the title intrigued me and I had already written a reply to the Mighty Angel post. I have a feeling I am going to struggle to expand the ideas I have about this topic but we are going to go for it anyways. Thunder is a very powerful noise that can carry weight in most spiritual societies. For the Jews, it is used to describe things such as God’s voice. Even Greek cultures used this metaphor as an actual happenstance. Zeus’s voice was literal thunder at times as you referenced in The Odyssey above. Seven thunders is a very reasonable number since most things happen in groups of seven in Revelation (Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls). Whether there is a significant reason for this seven or not, it falls in line with most other numbered things in Revelation. It also makes sense as to why the voice from heaven told John not to write down what they said. Leaving mystery, I could only assume, gives authority to the prophet. If the prophet knows something that he/she cannot say to the audience then clearly there is an extended authority/responsibility that is not granted to the reader. Trying to figure out what it was that was said is nonsense. If we were supposed to know then it would not have been hidden. This stuff always makes me shake my head. When someone tries to figure out something in the Scriptures that is supposed to be unknown it clearly will not be anything that they come up with. It is hidden and will remain that way. While there are many ways it can be interpreted the true meaning will never be revealed. It an exercise of trust in the Lord. We need to trust him enough to know that we are not supposed to have that information. Proverbs 3:5

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  2. The ESVB footnotes makes a point on how Chris’s church must live by faith and let God’s mysteries be reveal. Also, it mentions an interlude moment between the 6th and 7th trumpet. I thought it was interesting on the blog that thunder could be a metaphor for divine speech, such as for an example In Exodus 19:16 there was lightning and thundering that shook the place up causing a cloud to be on the mountain. Naturally, thunder is caused by lightning, this happens when lightening travels from the cloud to the ground creating a hole in the air, the light disappear, the wave sound creates the thunder. I wonder, how much nature gives a demonstration of just a small glimpse of God himself? These are just some mysteries of God that none can open it or reveal but him himself at the appreciate time and season.

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  3. This voice of the seven thunders is a very interesting and puzzling encounter that John has in Revelation 10. As I read this post, I was reminded of the reality that “thunder is a stock metaphor for divine speech” (P. Long). There are various Biblical examples of God’s voice being one of might, and comparable to the sound of thunder. We even use this description of people today. This made me think of a chapel service I was at a few weeks ago; there was a speaker with a very, very (I cannot emphasize “very” enough) deep voice–so deep that it caused the subwoofers to shake. That speaker’s voice would be one that I called “thunderous.” This could be the description of the voice that John had encountered.
    I think that part of why John was told to seal up the vision, words of the thunders, and the scroll was for a very practical reason that we may never know. However, I think there may be a more symbolic message that is given here. Perhaps God wanted to keep everyone from knowing the whole expanse of what would happen in the end times.
    There are a few options: perhaps God did not want the full expanse of the end times to be written; maybe it was something for only John to know; contrarily, maybe the vision was of a cancelled judgement (Caird). The reasoning for all of this truly cannot be known for sure. However, if I had to pinpoint a likely option, I would go back to my original idea: the symbolic reasoning that God does not want everyone to know the great mystery (because it would not be a mystery anymore) of the end times. The commentary in the ESVSB stated it very well: “Christ’s church must live by faith amid the unrevealed mysteries of God’s purposes” (ESVSB 2477).

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  4. It is possible that God instructed John to not record the content of the visions because, as mentioned, He chose to not implement them because of His divine power and mercy. We see numerous examples in the Bible where God, having been angry, chose instead to hold back His wraith and not destroy someone or something. Examples such as Joshua 7:26, where, after raising a pile of stones at the valley of Achor, God turned away His anger from His people. Or Exodus 32:11-14, where after hearing the sincere plea of Moses for His people, God again turned away His anger. Coming back to this specific instance here in Revelation, it very well could have once again been the case where God told John to not document this because there was no need after the Lord chose to hold back His awesome power. Additionally, the “voice from Heaven” that instructed John about what to do was indeed most likely God’s, even though it does not specifically say so here. For God to have actually revealed Himself directly to John might have been too awesome and powerful for a mere human being to have handled. Indeed, going back again to the Old Testament, we can recall how Moses, after having merely spoken with the Lord, experienced the supernatural even of having his face become “radiant” or glowing from simply speaking to God, and we are told this was so powerful of a sight the other Israelites experienced great fear because of this (Exodus 29-35).

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  5. The passage of Revelation 10:3-4 is another passage in the New Testament book of Revelation in which metaphors are present. These metaphors are profound and important, but it is important to note that these metaphors are not easy and simple to interpret and garner a high level understanding of the message from the metaphors. First and foremost, this blog post mentions the connection between thunderous noise and divine speech. Obviously, this passage incorporates thunderous noises. However, this is a unique metaphor because the thunderous noise may indicate divine speech is coming up in the immediate future, but the verse does not label or indicate the words of the divine speech. Rather, this thunderous noise and the divine speech involved with this specific thunder becomes enclosed in a seal.

    Something that is interesting to me that is mentioned in this blog post is that the reasoning for seven thunders goes back to Mt. Sinai. This is something that I never connected to or understood, and this makes for an interesting and informative point to remember for myself and possibly others as well.

    After reading this passage in Revelation 10, as well as this blog post, it is absolutely intriguing and important for me and other students of the Bible to know what was said in this divine speech. Unfortunately, as this blog post clearly mentions, this speech or information is still a secret. Caird, as well as the blog post, mentions that John may have received speech that involved judgements from God. Though this thought is well-founded and very possible, it is unable to be certified or determined by a student of the Bible I believe. The book of Revelation obviously leads to countless interpretation opportunities, and this aspect of this passage is also open to interpretation and prediction. According to Day (1979), these seven thunders in this passage in Revelation 10:3-4 indicates that these verses “constitute another example of apocalyptic’s ultimate indebtedness to Canaanite mythology” (p. 10). This quote from Day (1979) highlights the fact that the apocalyptic nature of Revelation and how these verses connect back to the time and land of the Canaanites.

    Day, J. (1979). Echoes of Baal’s seven thunders and lightnings in Psalm 29 and Habakkuk 3:9 and the identity of the Seraphim in Isaiah 6. Vetus Testamentum, 29(2), 143–151.

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