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As far as I'm aware, the term "sons of thunder" (Boagernes -- which may be Aramaic or Greek in etymology; I don't know for sure) was given to James and John when they, along with Jesus, were treated rather rudely in a certain city and wanted Jesus to basically destroy it. That tells me that they were maybe a *bit* hot-tempered!
The word thunder is almost always used in the Old Testament as a metaphor for the "Voice or Activity of God." Jesus chose these men to speak for himself and for his Father in Heaven. In John's gospel and three epistle letters we certainly hear the Voice of God. The courage and conviction of men like James and Stephen who laid down their lives for their faith, so inspired all the disciples that the message of the gospel - "Repent, Believe in Jesus, and Live" - thundered across the entire Roman Empire. Oh where is that thunder in the evangelical church today?
I don't question Jesus' knowledge of James and John, or the fact that the title "Sons of Thunder" was an apt description of their behavior in cases such as when they asked Jesus if they could call fire down from heaven upon the Samaritan village that refused to receive Jesus and the apostles. However, one other suggested explanation for this title that I have seen (although I can't cite the historical basis for it) claimed that James' and John's hot tempers had been inherited from their father Zebedee, who supposedly reacted with explosive anger and shouting when Jesus called James and John, and they immediately abandoned everything they were doing in connection with their occupation as fishermen (in which Zebedee also participated) in order to respond to Jesus' call (although Matthew 4:21-22 and Mark 1:19-20 do not record such a reaction on the part of Zebedee).
"Son" in Scripture can signify merely one having the nature of something, whether literal or figurative (e.g. "Son of man," "sons of thunder," "sons of disobedience," cf. Mark 3:7; Eph. 2:1). It was probably descriptive of their dispositions. Go to and see Mark 10:37 and Luke 9:54. When Jesus called them, James and John, "the sons of thunder," he most possibly means that they had fiery zeal and energy.
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