Revelation By Dreams and Visions

In the June issue of there appeared an article under the title “Revelation” written by the Rev. Herman Hanko. As was stated at the time, it was the first of two articles treating the general subject of the revelation of God through means of dreams and visions. If, therefore, one wishes to receive full benefit from this article, it would be well for him to go back and peruse once more the article of Rev. Hanko. 

There is, perhaps, no one of us who is not familiar with the reality of that which is called a dream. Dreaming is a rather strange phenomenon of thought and imagination which often takes place within the hours of our sleep. In our dreams we are apt to find a very great variety of thoughts and images passing before our minds, often in rather strange and confusing relation to each other. Occasionally, however, we may have a dream that corresponds so closely to everyday experience that it almost seems to have been real. In either case our dreams appear to have little significance for us other than perhaps to point out certain aspects of life which weigh heavily upon our minds. 

There was a day, however, when at least certain dreams were used for a much higher purpose than this. It was in the old dispensation of sacred history. In that day God often used the phenomenon of dreams to make known the counsel of His will to His people. Such dreams took on a more profound and significant pattern than any which we ever experience. Often, to be sure, on the surface these dreams appeared to be as unreal and strange as any,—for example, the dreams of Joseph, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar; yet, underlying them there was a unity and significance of very great and beautiful proportions. Those dreams were designed with a purpose, to reveal the will of God. That purpose they served in a very fitting way. 

Striking among the revelatory dreams of the old dispensation were those that appeared to men that were evidently unbelievers and enemies of the Church. This is especially true in light of the point established by the article of Rev. Hanko, “that revelation is only for the elect.” This would seem to be contradicted by the revelatory dreams that appeared to Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Midianite prior to the attack of Gideon. Surely it would seem that such are instances of God’s revelation being made known to men who were not chosen and elect of God. 

Concerning this there are especially two points of which, we should take note. 1) These dreams, although they were made known through the agency of unbelieving men, were nevertheless made known through them to children of God, that is, to Joseph, Daniel, and Gideon respectively, and furthermore were recorded in Holy Writ for the benefit of the church of all ages. 2) These dreams, although they had a direct meaning which was understood by the world, also had a deeper significance in regard to the “church. So Pharaoh may have been pleased to discover a way in which a crisis within his kingdom could be prevented, and the Midianite might have trembled in his foreknowledge of the outcome of the impending battle; but, in reality they saw only the more temporal and superficial aspect of the revelation. To the children of God much more was revealed. Joseph undoubtedly understood that the hand of the Lord was working in Canaan and in Egypt, intending the evil of famine to work for the good of the promised seed. Gideon saw that God was working to the salvation of His people before a wicked enemy. 

Therefore, we may well conclude that such dreams had ultimate significance only for the Church. Special revelation is always and only through Jesus Christ the Word, and His Spirit. It is the Word of God concerning His promise and His people in Christ Jesus. Such truth can be grasped only by the regenerated heart; for “except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” Wicked people may seem to grasp certain superficial aspects of the truth, but only’ the elect people of God, as they are touched by the Spirit of truth, can hear and know with a knowledge that touches the heart. 

Especially beautiful in this respect are the dreams that were given directly to the people of God. Outstanding along them are those in which God Himself appeared in the dream to speak to His covenant people. We are reminded of the beautiful dream that appeared to Jacob on the road to Padanaram. There as he slept with stones for pillows, he saw in a dream a stairway built up to heaven with angels oi God ascending and descending, while the Lord God stood above it. There in a dream, he heard the voice of God repeating to him the glorious promises which had been given to his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, before him. One can hardly imagine the consolation received by a lonely traveler on hearing such words of truth. Another beautiful instance of dream was that which was had by Solomon in Gibeon. In I Kings 3we find this dream recorded as an intimate spiritual conversation between Solomon and his God. In it Solomon not only heard the Word of God directed to him concerning the way in which he was to be blessed in his position as king of Israel, but he also took a very active part in the proceedings himself. He spoke giving accurate evaluation of his own spiritual attitude toward the office, consciously and with responsibility. In instances such as that we find the revelatory dream in its most beautiful form. The Lord spoke directly to the recipient of the dream and in turn the recipient consciously received the Word of God and made reply to the Lord. In this form the dream approaches the vision in significance. 

We should note at this point that it is not always possible to maintain a clear and absolute distinction between dreams and visions. There are different degrees of revelation in each, and, although at times they may seem very clearly distinct, at other times the difference between them is so little that they seem very much the same. So, we may clearly see a difference between the dreams of Joseph in his youth and the visions that appeared to John on Patmos, but it is not nearly so easy to find a distinction between the dream of Solomon at Gibeon and the visions of Peter at Joppa. We find in the prophecy of Daniel that the two are practically identified. We read in the first two verses of chapter seven, “In the first year of Belshazzar, king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters. Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night . . .” 

Nonetheless we may generally note this rather evident distinction between the vision and the dream. The dream took place while the recipient was in the state of sleep. God revealed His will to such a person by controlling the thoughts and images of the mind which constituted the dream. In the vision, on the other hand, the recipient was fully awake and conscious. The revelation took place by God opening the eyes and the ears of the person to behold spiritual realities. This makes of the vision a higher type of revelation than the dream. John prefixed his record of the visions which he received on the Island of Patmos by saying: “I was in the Spirit.” It was as though the individual was for a time released from the limitations of his human body and allowed to see spiritual realities and to hear spiritual words which ordinarily the human eye cannot perceive and the human ear cannot discern. That which was seen and heard in vision was not merely subjective and imaginary, something within his own mind; rather, for a time he was given a spiritual perception which transcended the earthly and could behold that which is spiritual and heavenly. 

In the visions of Scripture those that beheld them were conscious at the time of the fact that they were receiving revelation from God. Such was almost necessarily so because of the very nature of visions. A person receiving a vision was allowed to behold spiritual realities, the distinctiveness of which he could hardly be unaware. It was almost as if the division between heaven and earth was momentarily bridged and the favored person was allowed to see that which ordinarily the human eye can never distinguish. Before such glorious revelations the saints were struck with the consciousness of their own unworthiness so as to cry out as did Isaiah, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Hence, the recipient of a vision was at all times fully conscious and mentally alert. While the dreamer was often a passive observer of that which he saw and heard, the visionary person felt himself present and often took part in the proceedings or asked questions concerning them. Such were brought through the vision into very intimate contact with God and His Word. 

The most outstanding fact about the vision, however, is to be found in the depth of the truths that it was used to reveal. A brief perusal of Scripture might surprise some as to the frequency with which visions were used. It was by vision that God appeared to Abraham and revealed to him many of the truths concerning the promise. God spoke to Moses through the vision and revealed to him the law. It is not unlikely that the history recorded by him in Genesis was also revealed to him in this way. Isaiah and Ezekiel received the words of their prophecies through visions, to say nothing of the other prophets. A study of Paul’s writings seems to imply that he was instructed through visions during the years that he was in Arabia. John, of course, received the contents of the book of Revelation through Visions. Besides this, who can tell what other portions of Scripture were not received directly from God through the means of visions? Sufficient we know to judge that some of the most profound, the most doctrinal, the most heavily weighed, the most significant portions of Scripture were revealed through this medium of revelation. It would lead us to conclude that the vision was the most exacting means of revelation through which God revealed the truths concerning Himself, the promise, His people and Jesus Christ His Son. By it He spoke to His prophets and holy men of old that His Word might be given to His people. 

We should, perhaps, not conclude an article on this subject without making at least brief reference to the prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter on Pentecost, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out 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.” The question is sure to be raised: what has happened to the phenomena of dreams and visions? Why are they now silent?—But rather, should not the question be asked, “Are they silent?” We know, of course, that God no longer speaks to His people directly through dreams and visions. Revelation in that sense is silent. But the prophecy of Joel still stands also in reference to us, “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” We should remember that the essence of both dreams and visions was always to be found in the fact that God was making known to His people the truth concerning His Christ. We may not wake in the morning to say that God spoke to us while we slept. We may not be caught up in a trance to look directly into heaven beholding heavenly truths. Yet the fact remains that God speaks to His people also now. He pours forth the spirit of prophecy that the truth of Jesus Christ may be seen and understood, even more clearly than it was by the prophets of old. To rephrase the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “The man that is, born again surely sees the kingdom of heaven.” 

B. Woudenberg.