In 1996, I met a graduate student named Elham Taheri. She studied microbiology at the University of Oklahoma. She explained that she had grown up in Iran in a Muslim home. She had never heard of Jesus but had a recurring dream about a man in a white robe on the seashore, calling to her. She grew up wanting to know more about this man. She came to the United States for college and was invited to attend a dorm Bible study. She thought it would be a good idea to spend time with American students in their context. When she was greeted at the door, she peered into the dorm and saw a large poster on the wall, picturing Jesus in a white robe, standing on the seashore—just like she had seen for her years in her dreams. Elham cried out, “Tell me about him! Tell me about that man!” The students invited her in, opened their Bibles, and talked about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Elham placed her faith in Christ in that dorm room. And she sat on the steps of the Baptist Student Union at University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and told me that story, with tears streaming down her face. I filed away this experience in my mind.
In 2012, I met two Baptist pastors in Punjab, India, who told me Jesus appeared to them in a vision when they—at separate times and as Sikhs—were on their way to commit suicide. Apparently, suicide by train has become a tragic, widespread practice among men in India. In both cases, the men immediately found someone who shared the gospel with them and they placed their faith in Jesus.
Tom Doyle, in his book, Dreams and Visions (Thomas Nelson, 2012) tells multiple, geographically-diverse stories about Muslim-background believers who had dreams or visions of Jesus which prepared them to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.
J. D. Greear, in his book, Gospel (B&H, 2011), tells two stories in which he claims to have interpreted dreams for Muslims who then heard and accepted the message of the gospel.
Nabeel Qureshi, a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, describes receiving both a vision and a dream in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (Zondervan, 2014).
In a 2013 Christianity Today article titled “The Golden Fish,” Eric Metaxas writes, “In 1988 I had a dream in which God spoke to me in what I have come to call ‘the secret vocabulary of my heart.’ The next morning, all was new and newness.” Metaxas connected the dream to his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ.
None of these accounts, in isolation, convinces me that God speaks today in visions and dreams. But the cumulative case is compelling. Even if one does not affirm that God speaks today in visions and dreams, recall that the Bible is full of these accounts.
- God spoke to Jacob in a dream (Gen 28:10-22).
- God spoke to Joseph through dreams (Genesis 37).
- God spoke to Pharaoh (Genesis 41) through dreams, which Joseph interpreted.
- One of the three Hebrew words which is translated into English as prophet is hozeh (“seer”), because some people had a hazon (“a vision”), such as: Isaiah (1:1), Amos (Amos 7:12), Asaph (2 Chron 29:30), Gad (2 Sam 24:11), Heman (1 Chron 25:5), Iddo (2 Chron 9:29), and Jeduthun (2 Chron 35:15).
- Daniel was an interpreter of dreams (Daniel 2, 4), and God spoke to him through visions and dreams (Daniel 7-8).
- The birth of the Messiah was announced to Joseph by an angel (Matt 1:20).
- The magi were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod (Matt 2:12).
- Jesus appeared to Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
- Later, God directed Paul’s ministry through a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16:9).
- God spoke to Peter through a vision of animals lowered on a sheet (Acts 10:9-23).
These are only some examples. The Bible is full of visions and dreams.
- the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. Every word of the Bible is fully inspired by God.
- the Bible is the primary means by which God instructs people (see Psalm 119). Thus, those who want to hear from God should read, study, listen to, and meditate on the content of the Bible.
- the need to judge any supposed vision or dream against the truths already revealed in the Bible. If God speaks outside the Bible, then He will always speak in accordance with the Bible.
- the necessity for people to hear the message of the gospel in order to be saved. As Paul asked, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Rom 10:14b).
Even so, it seems possible that God might speak to people today through visions and dreams. This possibility causes me to bow in awe of a creator who condescends to communicate with His creation—sinners like us. In the contemporary accounts I cited, the common factor is that God was seeking to save the lost. God loves and desires to save sinners (1 Tim 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9). Could God speak to some people today through visions and dreams, before they hear the message of the gospel, in order to make them more receptive to the message of the gospel?
(Art Credit: William Blake, Jacob’s Ladder, 1805)