Sons of Thunder
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of torches.
Fire was going back and forth among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning.
And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lighting.
James and John were called “sons of thunder.” As a matter of fact, it was Jesus himself who bestowed the nickname upon them. For the longest time, I thought this meant that they were likeable hotheads, zealous for the Lord, but given to unfortunate outbursts of anger. After all, was it not James and John who, in a fit of righteous indignation, asked permission to call down fire from heaven against the inhospitable Samaritans?
But is it really likely that our Lord would commend them for being hotheads by giving them a nickname in honor of their short tempers? I think not. But if not, what did he have in mind when he dubbed them Sons of Thunder?
Our text from Ezekiel may supply the answer. In his vision of the glory of God, Ezekiel saw “living creatures.” These were angels of God, apparently of a very high order, closely associated with the throne of God itself. If we know nothing else about them, we know that they lived close to him. One almost wants to say dangerously close. Yet, to judge from the text, even these, just like the rest of the angels, have a dual ministry: one to God and one to men on earth. For they too, in their own special way, were sent out, like flashes of lightning, to minister to the heirs of salvation, to Ezekiel first, and ever after to those who read his words about them.
But what exactly are we supposed to learn from their strange appearance and behavior?
Perhaps it is that we too are meant to live so close to the divine glory–so close to the heavenly fire–that we become lightning. Perhaps we too are meant to watch for the fire that “goes back and forth among us.” And perhaps, when it does, we too are meant to run back and forth, “in appearance like a flash of lightning.”
Now when lightning flashes, what follows? Thunder! And just here, I suspect, is what Jesus saw in James and John, what he liked, and what he honored by giving them a new name. For these men, by God’s grace, were often touched by the heavenly Fire. And when they were touched, they went forth like a flash of lightning to speak and do as the Fire had directed. And when they spoke, there was a clap of thunder. Yes, some heard it and only covered their ears. But others, like Ezekiel, heard it and fell on their faces before the glory of God. And he who sent them forth–he who dwells in the midst of the Fire–was pleased.
Could there be a greater privilege, a higher calling, or a richer pleasure than all this? So then, let us make it our ambition to become sons of thunder. Let us daily draw near to the Fire (for now, in Christ, it is not only safe, but sanctifying). Morning by morning, let us come to him whose face is as the Sun, shining in its strength. If he is so pleased, he will cause his fire to go back and forth within us, and send us forth as lightning.
And when we speak it will be–in the ears of some poor deaf sinner–a clap of thunder that awakens him to heaven itself.
Father, do not leave me a stranger to the heavenly Fire. Please, come. Make me a living creature; make me like Ezekiel, James, and John; make me like the Master himself. Make me a son of thunder. In Jesus Name, Amen.