Guidance Through Visions
The Lord also leads his people through visions, but these are very rare, happening not more than a few times in any particular person's life.
They aren't restricted to those in the ministry. Neither Cornelius nor Ananias (Acts 9:9–12) were apostles. Ananias was a disciple, and Cornelius was a Roman centurion when they had their visions. But their visions, like those of Peter and Paul and the rest of the apostles, affected not just their lives, but the course of the body of Christ.
Cornelius's vision was what we might call a spiritual vision. This is where a person sees and hears in the spirit world, but his physical senses aren't suspended. In Cornelius's case, it was an angel coming into his room.
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o'clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius." He stared at him in terror and said, "What is it, Lord?" He answered, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside." When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1–8)
Paul experienced this kind of vision while he and Timothy were traveling through Troas. The Spirit had forbidden them to go to Bithynia. Paul's vision showed them why.
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (Acts 16:9–10)
The second type of vision is a trance. The person's physical senses are suspended in some way during the manifestation. This happened to Peter when he had gone up to pray on Simon's roof.
About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by the four corners. (Acts 10:9–10)
The Greek word for trance is ekstases, which is defined as a state of being in which consciousness is wholly or partially suspended. This happened to Daniel at least twice. His accounts offer a little more description about what happened in his trances.
As [an angel] was speaking to me, I fell into a trance, face to the ground: then he touched me and set me on my feet. (Daniel 8:18)
So I was left alone to see this great vision. My strength left me, and my complexion grew deathly pale, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words: and when I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a trance, face to the ground. (Daniel 10:8–9)
From Daniel's testimony, we see that falling into a trance is similar to the accounts of people falling out under the power of the Spirit, which has ample scriptural support.
And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:9, KJV)
the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:13b, 14)
Now a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4)
When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14)
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. (Revelation 1:17-18a)
The highest type of vision is an open vision where the person can't tell whether he is still in his body or not. This happened to Paul. Well, we believe that it happened to Paul. He says that he knew a man in Christ that this happened to, and most theologians believe he was writing about himself.
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. (2 Corinthians 12:2–4)
Certain aspects of Revelation shows that at least part or some of the visions revealed to John fit in this class.
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! (Revelation 4:1–2)
Like the authoritative voice of the Spirit, a distinctive quality of these visions is how they fit into the larger purposes that God has for the church and the world. Many contemporary preachers claim to have visions, especially those in the so-called prophetic movement, but they lack this quality, which should give us pause. Many are nothing more than trumped up fallacies intended to invigorate the minister's own ministry rather than benefit the kingdom of God or the Lord's church. While Christians are charged to walk by faith, it's not unbelief to look upon these claims of spectacular (and outlandish) visions with a skeptical eye. As with the account of Peter and Cornelius, one can wait to see just what kind of fruit it bears before we whole-heartedly embrace it.
Photo Credit: "Michelangelo, paolina, martirio di san pietro 01" by Michelangelo Buonarroti - Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.