This visible, electric discharge between rain clouds or between a rain cloud and the earth is seen in the form of a brilliant arc—sometimes several miles long. The discharge creates a sound wave that is heard as thunder. Some strokes may even move from ground to cloud, particularly from mountain peaks and from tall objects such as radio towers. Lightning flashes from a cloud to the earth may be less than 3,000 feet in length, while flashes from one cloud to another have been recorded more than 20 miles long. Only one lightning flash in a hundred ever strikes the earth.

However, contrary to the belief that lightning never strikes the same spot twice, it has been known to strike one object or person many times during an intense electrical storm. During one storm, the Empire State Building was struck 15 times within 15 minutes. Sometimes a stroke of lightning consists of as many as 42 discharges that strike the same spot in such quick succession that they appear to be a single flash. It all happens in less than a fourth of a second!

Lightning is one of nature’s most violent acts. Each year, it destroys hundreds of millions of dollars of property, mostly from forest and home fires. Lightning also causes well over 100 fatalities each year, which adds up to more casualties than from any other natural disaster. Brescia, Italy, is a place where one of the worst lightning tragedies occurred. In 1769, a flash hit the state arsenal, exploding more than 100 tons of gunpowder and killing 3,000 people.

Animals seem to be more susceptible to death by lightning than humans. In many cases, a flash has killed only one man in a crowd, while other flashes have killed all the animals in a large group. As examples, 340 sheep were killed in France in 1890 from a single flash in an open field.

The rarest and least understood form of lightning is “ball lightning,” a slow-moving globe of fire that varies in diameter, usually between two and 20 inches. Occurring during heavy thunderstorms, it is usually seen traveling horizontally a few feet from the ground. One of the most remarkable examples appeared in Milan. It floated so slowly down the middle of a street that a crowd of boys were able to walk beside it for half a mile before it struck an obstacle and exploded harmlessly.

More electricity is produced from lightning strikes each day than all the man-made generators can produce in a year, but science has never found a practical way to harness this power.

In Matthew 24:27, Jesus says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (NKJV) Yet in spite of this some still believe His return will be a secret.