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The place of visions in the Christian faith

A lot of theories around the subject of visions and their place in the faith, have been thrown around the church. The Bible deals extensively with this subject. Visions are often used interchangeably with dreams because only a thin line divides them.


Visions, simply put, are “waking dreams.” We see this in the story of Balaam as recorded in Numbers: 24:4, “He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open…”

In other words, visions are dreams that you experience while you’re not sleeping. Divine communication through visions was quite prevalent in the Old Testament, but we see less and less of this in the New Testament. Why is this? Because scripture says God is now speaking to us primarily through his written word. Hebrews 1:1-2, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son…”

The Merriam Webster dictionary offers three definitions of a vision: (1) the ability to see [sight or eyesight], (2) something that you imagine [a picture that you see in your mind] and (3) something that you see or dream, especially as part of a religious or supernatural experience.

In this installment I want to focus particularly on the third definition. Visions are part and parcel of the Christian faith. This is confirmed by scripture. Acts 2:16-17, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…”

This is one of the most common ways God uses to convey His will. Visions are often clear supernatural appearances that are distinct from dreams in that you don’t have to be asleep to see them. Visions may involve natural or supernatural settings, and the individual experiencing this may either be an observer or a participant.

Have you ever thought of the fact that the prophet Ezekiel witnessed the events of the valley of dry bones in broad daylight while he was in a busy, noise market place in Ezekiel 37?

Just like prophecy, visions are essential in circumstances where there is no direct, specific scripture from which we can draw guidance but on the whole, there should be general scriptures that can be used to support a vision.
In the New Testament, we see a raft of visions. These include the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9), Stephen’s vision of God’s throne (Acts 7:55), the Roman centurion’s encounter with an angel and Peter’s vision of unclean animals (Acts 10). The Apostle John had the entire book of Revelation revealed to him through visions.

Paul, who wrote nearly a third of the entire New Testament, also experienced multiple visions in the course of his ministry. Visions play essential roles in the Christian faith. These include, but are not limited to, the following: to convey what will happen in the near or distant future (prophecy), to teach spiritual truths, to strengthen a believer during a trial, to reveal events that would otherwise be unknown, to inform someone or a group to do God’s specific will under certain circumstances, to encourage and provide hope, to confirm a blessing or promise, to reveal God’s plan for man.

If someone tells you of a vision that does not tally with one of the above, then you may as well toss it into the trash can. No vision can override the word of God. So if you believe God has given you a vision, then let the word confirm it. If it contradicts the word, it may as well not be a divine vision. A hallucination, perhaps!

God still uses visions and dreams extensively particularly in areas where there is little or no gospel message through lack of access to the Bible. If God desires to communicate his message to a person, he can use whatever means He finds necessary — a missionary, an angel, a vision, or a dream.

Because there is no limit to what God can do, He also has the ability to give visions in areas where the gospel message is already readily available.


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