The word ‘lightning’ appears quite a few times across both the Old and New Testaments. So you may be wondering: what does lightning in the Bible mean / symbolize when it comes to God? Let’s explore!
The Everyday Meaning of Lightning
First, let’s look at the everyday meaning / symbolism of lightning, just for context.
What do you instinctively feel when you think of lightning? What comes to mind?
For myself, lightning evokes fear, awe, and a sudden powerful strike, among other things!
Lightning can hit out of nowhere during fierce thunderstorms. It is incredibly powerful, too. An average lightning strike is super-charged with enough electricity to kill most living things instantly.
At the same time, lightning is awe-inspiring to look at. Majestic thunderstorms are among the most heart-racing phenomena to behold, filled with roaring sounds and colors!
What does lightning in the Bible mean?
Lightning symbolizes several different things in the Bible. It can signify God’s mighty presence – in a literal and / or poetic sense – that causes all people to tremble in reverence (Exodus 19:16-19; Psalm 77:18). It also means God’s wrathful judgment against His enemies (Psalm 144:6; Psalm 18:14). Satan also fell “like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), showing God’s swift decree against him. Lightning will also be a sudden sign of Jesus’ second coming, seen by all (Matthew 24:27).
I won’t go over every single instance of lightning in the Bible here. However, I’ll share a few verses to explore each of the above literal / symbolic meanings.
Who is the Holy Spirit? Read our answer here!
1. Lightning as God’s Presence
In Exodus 19:11, we see God’s desire to be seen by Moses and all His people – not simply an elect few. He also chose to reveal His immediate power and might in an obvious way, without ambiguity.
… and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.Exodus 19:11
So how did God reveal Himself to everyone? With incredible thunder and lightning, fire and smoke, and a very loud trumpet blast.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.Exodus 19:16
What an entrance! Here, God doesn’t announce Himself in a small ‘prompting’ or still voice. No. Instead, to ensure no one would miss it, the Lord showed His epic presence with lightning strikes and other awe-inspiring displays.
This was more than enough to make all the people tremble in reverence to God’s unrivalled power, including Moses.
In short, literal lightning in the Bible is one way in which God announces His majestic presence for all to see.
Lightning as poetic expressions of God’s presence and power.
In addition to literal events, lightning is also used in the Bible to poetically symbolize God’s swift power, mighty presence, and sovereign will over all His creation.
He unleashes His lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth.Job 37:3
His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.Psalm 97:4
When He thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from His storehouses.Jeremiah 10:13
In short, via the symbolism of lightning, the Bible reminds us to have a rightful respect and awe for God’s absolute power over all His creation.
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2. Lightning as God’s righteous wrath against His enemies
God is perfect love and goodness; our heavenly Father who gives us the treasures of His mercy and grace.
However, at the same time, we must also remember that God is the righteous judge of all things (Psalm 7:11; Psalm 50:6). He is the supreme ruler over everything!
Thus, there are indeed Biblical moments where God uses lightning – literal and / or symbolic – as a sign of His wrath. In these instances, lightning is often described as weapons that God uses against His enemies.
Out of the brightness of His presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot His arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning He routed them.2 Samuel 22:13-15
Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy; shoot Your arrows and rout them.Psalm 144:6
And you, son of man, prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says about the Ammonites and their insults: “‘A sword, a sword, drawn for the slaughter, polished to consume and to flash like lightning!Ezekiel 21:28
In short, lightning in the Bible not only means God’s presence, but can also reflect His firm judgment against those who willfully rebel against His kingdom.
3. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)
In Luke 10:17, the disciples returning from their mission expressed their utter joy and shock to Jesus. They told the Son of God how they witnessed even powerful demons flee at the mention of his holy name.
To this, Jesus simply replies “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
There are various explanations as to why Jesus used this exact phrasing.
However, in this context, lightning is used to convey God’s swift, powerful, and visible judgment against Satan’s rebellion in heaven. In addition, Jesus – in declaring his witnessing of Satan’s fall – is also revealing his divine pre-existence outside of his time on earth.
In short, lightning in the Bible often means God’s judgment – most famously of all, His decree against Lucifer.
What did Jesus mean when he said “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”? (Matthew 9:37). Find out here!
4. Lightning in the Bible as a sign of Jesus’ second coming
Jesus will return again not as a gentle shepherd. Instead, the Son of God will be revealed in all his heavenly glory, ready to judge all according to his Father’s will.
Like lightning, this event will also hit without warning. It will strike with God’s swift power for the whole world to see. Jesus’ second coming will not be ambiguous.
For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.Matthew 24:27
In short, we see how God uses the quality of lightning to indicate the suddenness of Jesus’ impending return. Of course, there will be warning signs, like how forming thunderstorms can be observed. However, it will still happen at an unexpected moment, just as lightning strikes out of nowhere.
This reminds us to always stand firm in our faith. For “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36) knows when and how Jesus will come.
But one thing is for certain. It will happen as quick as lightning, seen by everyone – as God says it will!