The Olivet Discourse – Lightning


As mentioned in the previous posting the change in direction and language at this point in the discourse is drastic. Gone are warning signs appeals and now arrive some very graphic and symbolic language. We are introduced to lightning, clouds, the soon, moon and stars, darkness and signs in the heavens. This apocalyptic language used, though, is not unique and the diligent student must discover it’s previous uses and determine the best way to interpret these passages. With that in mind let us continue with the discourse.

Matthew 24:27-28 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. [28] Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.*

Our initial discussion with this passage will deal with the Biblical use of the term lightning as it relates to the Lord’s presence and His coming. Then we will look at the use of the term “coming” and hopefully discover the importance of gathering the correct interpretation before inserting pour preconceptions into the passage.


The use of lightning in Biblical language is quite common. It has a dual reference in the Old Testament. This first use is that it represents the Lord coming swiftly in judgment. The second part pertains to the coming speed of the judgment and sudden and unaware response lightning creates.

Note that lightning cannot be predicted, especially in the setting of the first century. Long before Dopler Radars and satellite images, the presence of lightning was seen as the active presence of God, especially in relation to judgement against mankind. This actual experience of ancient is also used in the literary experiences of ancient man. Below are a few examples of how lightning is used to represent the active judgement of God in the Old Testament

Exodus 20:18-19 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off [19] and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

Job 36:29-30 Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds, the thunderings of his pavilion?[30] Behold, he scatters his lightning about him and covers the roots of the sea…[32] He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark.

Psalm 144:6 Flash forth the lightning and scatter them; send out your arrows and rout them!

Zech. 9:14 Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning…

2 Samuel 22:15 And he sent out arrows and scattered them;lightning, and routed them

These are but a handful of the plethora of passages that use lightning in this manner. In most instances it is a metaphor for judgemnt. It contains a sudden and unexpectedness about it as well as a devastating power. The other part of lightnings value as a metaphor for judgment is lightning visibility. One does not need to even be looking at the skies to see lightning. Lightning may be sudden and unexpected, but it is also obvious! Note the use of the term “east to west” which would signify that this coming would be seen as far as the east from the west. The visibility would be complete.

Luke 17:24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.

In these passage the lightning is related to the suddenness of the “coming” of Christ. This leads ultimately to the question as to what the term “coming” may refer to. It is undoubtedly most popular to automatically assume this is in reference to literal Second Coming of Christ? But with the tie to the judgment metaphor of lightning should this be our understanding of the term?

Let’s first consider, in the way of a review, how it would be best to understand this “coming” of Christ.

  • This coming is in relation to the “end of the age” and the disciples question regaring the destruction of the Temple
  • The “coming” listed here is within the time constraints Jesus placed on the list of events – this generation!
  • The most immediate context is the command NOT to look for Him
  • This lightning strike is related to judgment as the next verse tells us (more on this later).

Matt 24:28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.*

With that in mind let us consider the several different types of “comings” of Jesus in the New Testament.

Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. [28] Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Note how the coming described above would take place while even some standing in His midst would still be alive. We will deal with this verse in quite a bit of detail later, but for now what needs to understood is that whatever the “coming” is that is mentioned it could not be the literal Second Coming

Matthew 26:64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Like the previous verse this “coming” cannot be the physical Second Coming since the High Priest is not still among us. Again this passage too will be discussed in great details including what the presence of the clouds may entail.

John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Some argue this is the rapture or Second coming, but many commentators over the years has argued that this represents jesus “coming” to His own upon their deaths and receiving them to Himself for eternity.

Rev. 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Here Jesus is seen “coming” in temporal judgment to a church that did not live up to spiritual obligation.

Rev. 2:16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

This “coming” is obviously unrelated to the second coming without much exposition needed.

Rev. 3:3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.

Note here a judgment “coming against” a Church. Note how He even uses the popular “thief in the night” reference so often related to Left Behind theology

Rev. 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Here Christ comes in fellowship with the believer and/or His Church.

Note again how often the term “coming” is used in contexts that simply cannot be related to the physical Second Coming. And since the “coming” noted in verse 27 or Matthew 24 is obviously related to judgment, and since the time constraint of His own words dictate a first century fulfillment, we must conclude this coming is one of judgment and is directly related to the coming destruction of the temple and it’s symbol of the end of the age.

Finally as we discuss further verse 28 and the symbolic reference of judgement and destruction in the coming of the birds of the air, let us consider again how the Old testament uses this phrase as well. We will also note how this ties in with the previously mentioned “Covenantal Unfaithfulness.”

Deut 28:15″But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…26And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air

If you recall the same message is proclaimed in Lev 25 as well. This curse of unfaithfulness is also pictured in Jesus’ own words.

Jeremiah also uses the this symbol in reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem as the hands of the Babylonians. This common Old testament reference clearly dictates a judgment coming and also one the Jews would be familiar with since it related directly to the Babylonian captivity.

One final note of consideration is the term “vultures” that is used in some translations. the same word can be translated “eagles” and in many translation that is the preferred term. One interesting note about the possible use of the term “eagles” is that the eagle was the Roman army symbol that emblazoned their shields, breastplates and flags. For one that lived during the time of the siege the visual presence of hundred of flags flying around the city on Roman flags. This would be a very powerful image related to the gathering armies.

And relating the eagles to the aforementioned “lightning” it should be noted that Josephus remarks that the attack of the Roman army was from the east to west as that attack commenced.

No matter the situation the important thing to remember is that these events find their fulfillment within the time constraints given by the Lord in His discourse.


6 Responses to “The Olivet Discourse – Lightning”

  1. Just for fun, lightening is mentioned 7 times in the Apocalypse (or maybe it was thunder…) Anyway, Thunder always follows Liiiiighteniiiiiing!

  2. 2 Yehoshuamyking

    Hey D.L.

    I thought that i was being understanding to dispensationalists point of view of a dual or double fulfillment of parts of Matthew 24… Well now i know why.I too believed and was taught that Matthew 24:29-31 speaks of the second coming of Christ and the postrib rapture… Man Alive! These passages have stumped pastors that have seminaries with their names as the founders…

    If you can,answer these two questions please,but only if the answers will not get ahead of future teachings.If so,i can wait…

    Is Joel chapter 2 already fulfilled? And Will the discovering of truth in scripture,cause the rebellion “falling away”? So many of us have been taught and have believed,not according to scripture?

    • 3 low5point

      The Joel question…yes I believe it was with the destruction of Jerusalem. Remember that in Acts 2 Peter quotes from Joel 2 and states that these things were being fulfilled in their midst…

      As for the rebellion (falling away) … it may be something as simple as the Jewish revolt…that preceded the coming destruction…but that’s for later

      • 4 low5point

        I did want to add that one time while making the case that even Peter referenced the Joel passage as finding fulfillment in the first century I had someone in the class state that Peter must have just been wrong! I guess if you disagree with Hagee, LaHaye on Lindsey you must be wrong even if you’re the Apostle Peter!

  3. 5 Yehoshuamyking

    Ah, so that person must believe that God the Holy Spirit is fallable…Since it is HE who lead the Apostle Peter to preach and write truth… But Hagee and his cohorts are infallable because they preach and write their own truth… Man Alive!

    • 6 low5point

      Scary huh? That’s what happens when ideology at all cost leads one to place the blame on the Scriptures over the preacher man!

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