Visions and Dreams

Christians tend to think of supernatural phenomenon as being part of the Old Testament experience but not a significant part of life in the New Testament Church Age. However we have Old Testament prophecy, New Testament accounts and Historical evidence to show that Visions and Dreams are a vital part of the Christian faith and experience.

Old Testament Prophecy of New Testament Visions and Dreams

On the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel to explain the New Testament outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That quote, from Joel 2:28-32, specifically refers to the place of visions and dreams as practical expressions of the Holy Spirit’s presence in people’s lives.

Since the New Testament age was to be charged with the presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit, there was going to be abundant evidence of visions and dreams as a result. Peter’s quotation from Joel makes clear reference to these phenomena.

“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, says 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” Acts 2:16,17.

Joel’s prophecy is consistent with what God had previously said about speaking to His people through visions and dreams.

“And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” Numbers 12:6

The prophetic capacity brought into the church by the Holy Spirit (“your sons and daughters will prophesy” Acts 2:17) should automatically include visions and dreams, as Joel and Peter declared.

The Early Church Experienced Visions

The New Testament gives us historical record of many visions experienced by the apostles and others at that time. Joel’s prophecy was evidently fulfilled, not only with the visions and dreams which we have recorded, but with many others. We see that the early Christians were not hesitant to accept and respond to prophetic insight given to them in visions and dreams.

God spoke to Ananias in a vision and told him to go and pray for Saul of Tarsus, after Saul’s conversion – Acts 9:10.  God told Ananias that Saul had already had a vision of him visiting and praying for him – Acts 9:12.

Cornelius had a vision that led him to call for Peter – Acts 10:3, and Peter had a vision preparing him to minister to Cornelius – Acts 10:11.

Paul’s well-known ‘Macedonian Call’ came through a vision which he saw in the night – Acts 16:9. Paul later saw the Lord in a vision, comforting him – Acts 18:9. Paul had earlier had a vision in a trance in the temple in Jerusalem – Acts 22:17,18. Paul then saw the Lord speaking to him about going to Rome – Acts 23:11.

Along with those visions were times of supernatural prophetic perception and also angelic visitations. Paul perceived that his sea voyage would end in disaster – Acts 27:10, and an angel reassured him of their safety Acts 27:23,24.

Visions in Church History

Following the New Testament record we have many accounts of people who were given visions, dreams, prophetic insights, angelic visitations and the like.

It is recorded that Alexander the Great saw a vision of a Jewish High Priest affirming his victory on God’s behalf, and so he did not attack or destroy Jerusalem when he reached that part of the world. Constantine claimed that he had seen a vision of a cross and was told to conquer in that sign.

The Quakers trace themselves back to George Fox who claimed to have seen visions and who prescribed such experiences for his followers. The Armenian ancestors of Demos Shakarian, founder of the Full Gospel Business Men International (FGBMFI) were warned to leave Armenia and go to America, by someone in the village with a prophetic gift.

Multitudes of others have seen angels, had visions, dreamed dreams and  sensed things that proved to be powerful in guiding, protecting or blessing them.

Dreams and Visions Today

It seems from my observation that the experience of dreams and visions is not evenly distributed among Christians. This is consistent with 1Corinthians 12:11, which says that the Holy Spirit distributes the Gifts or Manifestations of the Holy Spirit as He pleases.

“But that one and the selfsame Spirit works all these, dividing to every man severally as he will.” 1Corinthians 12:11

I have been with people who have seen angels in the meetings. I have interviewed people who have described elaborate visions and dreams which they have received. I have personally seen glimpses of things which have proven to be relevant and valid insights into situations I was working with.

However, the visions and dreams are not badges of spirituality. They are encouragements and promptings from the Holy Spirit. We must be faithful in our response to them. It is perfectly possible to neglect, ignore or reject the input, even that which has come by seemingly supernatural means.

Paul declared to King Agrippa that Paul had not been disobedient to the vision which he saw from heaven. And way back in the Old Testament the people were warned to believe the prophetic input, in order to get the benefit from it.

“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” Acts26:19

” .. Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the LORD your God, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall you prosper.” 2Chronicles 20:20

Mature sons of God will be readily led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14) and will properly discern what God is saying, even by visions, dreams, angelic visits and prophetic insights. God just may decide to give a vision, send an angel or show His power to YOU, and it would be perfectly legitimate.

Giralamo Savonarola Impacts Florence and is Martyred

This is the day that … Giralamo Savonarola was born to a noble family in Florence, Italy, in 1452.

At the age of 21, he left home secretly to join a Dominican monastery.

He was thirty when he preached his first sermons in St Marcos, Florence, resulting in ridicule and shame. “The disappointed thousands went away murmuring at the incompetence” of the preacher (Savonarola, by Rev. W. Rule, 1855, page 22).

For the next six years he retreated from the pulpit to master the art of preaching … and to study the Scriptures. His zeal was noted and he was recalled to Florence.

When he stood again in St Marcos, it was like a newborn John the Baptist, thundering out the Word of the Lord and calling sinners to repentance. “Tears ran profusely, mourners beat upon their breasts, crying to God for mercy; the church echoed and re-echoed with their sobs” (Prophets in Evangelism¸ by F. Barlow, page 159).

And among those whose sins he lashed was the infamous Medici – Lorenzo the Magnificent, Prince of Florence! Humanist notions had been promoted under Lorenzo. And even the Pope “who, though claiming to be head of the Church, was living openly in sin” came in for a powerful rebuke from this Italian ‘prophet’ (Yarns on Christian Pioneers, by E. Hayes, page 15).

Pope Alexander VI – one of the Borgia family – was denounced as “a heretic and an infidel”. Bear in mind that Savonarola was himself a Roman Catholic. But corruption and sin were rampant … and Savonarola attacked both clergy and civic leaders.

In 1493 Savonarola was given charge, as the first vicar-general, to reform the Dominican order in Tuscany, which he had proposed.

His great bonfire in the city plaza – 7 February, 1497 – saw the destruction of “lewd books, obscene pictures, carnival costumes, playing cards, dice, false hair, books on astrology and witchcraft – indeed anything that reeked of sinful living”.

The Venetian Ambassador offered him 20,000 gold ducats for his pile of ‘vanities’ heaped so high in a tiered pyramid. But Savonarola burned the lot!

The death of Lorenzo, and the invasion of France (destruction of the city averted by Savonarola’s face-to-face encounter with the French king), led to this remarkable preacher being the uncrowned ruler of Florence.

The republic of Florence was to be a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and His Gospel the law: the most stringent enactments were made for the repression of vice and frivolity. Gambling was prohibited and the vanities of dress were restrained by sumptuary laws.

It became a stronghold of puritanism … though not in doctrine!

By 1490 the tide of popular opinion was turning against him. Pope Alexander VI ex-communicated him (13 May, 1497). He was accused of heresy. He ignored the orders and continued in public office, but the next year the Medici were returned to power and Savonarola was ordered to stop preaching.

He was brought to trial for falsely claiming to have seen visions, and uttered prophecies, for religious error, and for sedition. Under torture he made avowals which he afterwards withdrew. He was declared guilty and the sentence was confirmed by Rome. On May 23, 1498, this extraordinary man and two Dominican disciples were hanged and burned.

A biographer records an interesting incident as Savonarola was led through the crowd to the place of his martyrdom. Some “broke through the police lines and slashed at his bare legs and feet with their knives and daggers …” But a poor old woman offered him a crust of bread. “Take and eat, Blessed Father Girolamo,” she said. He smiled, “Thank you, my daughter, but I need no food now. I have so little way to go. In a moment I will be in the mansions on high having sup with my Lord and Saviour” (A Crown of Fire, by P. van Paassen, page 313).

So it was, on 23 May, 1498, at the age of 46, he was hung and burned in the Plaza. During these final hours, the Catholic Bishop had said: “I declare thee separated from the church militant and triumphant.” To which Savonarola replied: “From the church militant, yes; but from the church triumphant, no; that is not yours to do!”

Luther spoke of Savonarola as “a pioneer of the Reformation” and another writer adds that this Dominican priest “seems to have believed in justification by faith” (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 608).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

George Fox Stirred By God

This is the day that … George Fox was born, in 1624.

Converted at the age of 19 – through the reading of the Scriptures – George Fox took off on an itinerant preaching ministry.

His spiritual journey involved two revelation experiences; one on his conversion where, he recounts, “I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Later he felt led to climb a great mountain, Pendle Hill in Northern England. There he experienced a vision of “a great people to be gathered.”

He became an itinerant preacher and came upon some independent congregations which received him. He formed those groups into the Publishers of Truth, later renamed as the Religious Society of Friends, nicknamed the ‘Quakers’ by their enemies.

Fox’s own experiences of inspiration led to a strong focus on spontaneous inspired moments for his followers.

In 1649 he was gaoled for interrupting a preacher (“Dost thou call this place a church? Or callest thou this mixed multitude (the congregation) a church?) – and so dead was the state church of his day that his question might not have been without some justification.

Again, in 1650 he was gaoled for alleged blasphemy.

“He was beaten with dog whips, knocked down with fists and stones, brutally struck with pike staves, threatened by mobs, imprisoned eight times in filthy prisons and dungeons … yet he went straight forward with his mission.”

Fox preached an evangelical message, although his over-reaction against ritualism caused him to do away with the ordinances (as did the Salvation Army).

George Fox died at the age of 67.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.