Instead of attempting to locate in contemporary (or future) times every movement, every action, and every symbol we encounter in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation to John, we would be wise to let the imagery create a vision of God in our minds. Bible readers miss an encounter with the Almighty in Revelation because they spend too much time trying to figure it out and not enough time appreciating it and experiencing it.
Last weekend, our area had a lot of rain. My boys and I stood in the garage and stared at the thick, dark clouds. We listened to gentle rumblings of thunder. We counted the seconds until the flashes of lightening. The thunder storms brought a lot of rainfall, but in terms of percussion, they were mild. There were no claps of thunder that shook the house. The lightening flashes were several miles away.
Still, my younger son put his little hands over his ears and ran inside. There was no real danger, but his three-year-old mind (and heart) intuited the power of nature and he was appropriately frightened. He would only stay outside if I was holding him. He could sense the vastness and the power of God. Do we become so sophisticated that we lose a sense of the majesty and the glory that God possesses? Do scientists of various sorts know so much, they are no longer awed by God? Are people in their countless ways of succumbing to busyness not have time to be filled with wonder at God’s might?
John wrote down the seven messages for the seven churches (chapters 2-3) given to him by the awesome presence of the resurrected Jesus (described in Revelation 1:12-20). His heart was overwhelmed because Jesus came in all his glory. Poor John could barely stand and this was just the beginning. He next heard a voice “speaking to [him] like a trumpet” (4:1). That mighty voice blasted, and John was summoned in a vision up to Heaven. Once there, he was taken into the throne room of God.
Hundreds of pages could be devoted to each of the sites John beheld in that throne room. I will touch on just one of those images. “Coming from the throne,” John writes “are flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder” (Revelation 4:5). It brings to mind the prophet Moses wielding the power of God against Pharaoh: “Moses stretched out his staff toward Heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail and fire down on the earth” (Exodus 9:23). Also, the words of Isaiah are remembered: “You will be visited by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with a whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire” (Isaiah 29:6).
To try to interpret such a picture as this thundering God into some theological system is an effort in futility. I appreciate the work of theologians, even the dispensationalists who think they have Revelation figured out. I appreciate how seriously they take scripture and the practice of the Christian faith. But though I appreciate theology and myself study theology a bit, I read of the thunder that roars from the throne and I am reminded that no one has Revelation figured out. It’s not a secret; it is God revealed and the thundering God is too much for us.
But, we want our God to be that awesome and God is. We want the God we worship to have authority over all things and God does. It is appropriate to fear God; at the same time we rejoice in the love of God. His love is such that He sent his only son to die for us. The Risen Christ picked John up when he had fallen in a puddle of fear (Revelation 1:17). John was terrified, but his Lord and put a hand on him and said, “Do not be afraid.” Our terrifying God says that to us – “Do not be afraid.” God is the thunderstorm, but God is also the daddy holding each one of us in his arms so we don’t have to fear the storm.
In Revelation then, we see that God is to be feared. At the same time, God is to be trusted because God’s love is real. So, don’t take God too lightly. But don’t live in dread of God either. Live in confidence that all who are in Christ are adopted as children of God. We will all one day be summoned to that incredible and terrifying place, the throne room, but once we are there we will be filled with joy as we are filled with God’s love.