Gifts Series – [Dreams – Visions – Prophecies]

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Note: As an introduction to this study, I recommend that you read the following article first:  Awareness of the Times.

 

Introduction

There are Christians who see how God worked in someone’s life in the Bible – whether it be OT or NT – and they believe that God should work the same way in their lives. They see the way God revealed Himself through dreams, visions, prophecies and angels, and they think, “I want to experience those same things!” They then begin seeking God in anticipation, expecting God to do the same thing for them as He did for those they read about in the Bible.

What we need to understand is that those whom God revealed Himself in such a way, was to a very few. They were the rare exception, not the rule. I happen to know someone who is seeking God’s will in anticipation of God revealing His will to him via some miraculous revelation, such as via a vision or a dream or prophecy or angel. Nowhere in Scripture do we see anyone seeking and waiting on God to reveal Himself in such a manner, nor do we even find any instructions to do so.

In regard to the blessed few who received a miraculous revelation from God, it was always He who took the initiative. It was always completely up to God’s own will and timing. Nowhere in either testament do we see someone just waiting on God to reveal His will to them in such a way. However, once God did make Himself known in a particular way ‒ to the OT prophets, for example ‒ and they became accustomed to this type of revelation from God and had that type of relationship with God, then sure, it would have been normal for them to expect God to reveal Himself to them as He did before—perhaps many times before.

I want to discuss a passage of Scripture that Pentecostals and charismatics use to support their position that God still reveals Himself through visions, dreams and prophecies:

 

Acts 2:16-22 (Red) quoting Joel 2:28-32 (Green)

(Acts 2:14-17)14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them, saying, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words. 15 For these are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third hour of the day;

 

16 but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth 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:

Joel 2:28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

 

Acts 2:18 Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

Joel 2:29 and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.

 

Acts 2:19 And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke:

Joel 2:30 And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.

 

Acts 2:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day.

Joel 2:31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Jehovah cometh.

 

Acts 2:21 And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Joel 2:32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as Jehovah hath said, and among the remnant those whom Jehovah doth call.

 

Acts 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know;

 

Interpretation:

Acts 2:16 but this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel:

 

Peter is very clear that what they were seeing and experiencing (Acts 2:1-4) was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32. When we read this passage in Joel, we don’t have to try and figure out what it means or what it refers to, because Peter does that for us:

 

Acts 2:17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth 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:

 

“it shall be in the last days”

 

First, this cannot refer to the whole Church age. It’s been 2000 years since the Church began. Are we to believe that it’s been the “last days” for 2000 years? And what if it lasts another 2000 years? The idea that Peter is referring to the entire Church era is unreasonable. He’s obviously referring to a specific time in history. Otherwise, the phrase last days has no real meaning.

Second, this cannot be referring to the last days of the world prior to the return of Christ. This is the position of many Bible teachers. They conclude that this prophecy is only partially fulfilled during this event on the day of Pentecost, and that it’s completely fulfilled in the last days before Jesus returns. However, like the first option, it’s an unreasonable interpretation. In verse 18, Peter emphasizes the fact that what they were seeing and experiencing was in “those days,” so that there would be no mistaking the time period of this Joel-prophecy.

In both of the above cases, they (the Bible teachers mentioned above) can only interpret the event of Pentecost and the Joel prophecy as they do, based on a positional bias. We cannot allow our personal and positional beliefs determine the interpretation of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t set aside our biases, it will likely blind us to what’s actually being revealed. We have to be willing to allow truth to lead us where it wants to take us.

To interpret the event of Pentecost and this prophecy of Joel correctly, we must consider what was taking place in the history of Israel at that time. We have to view this from the perspective of the people of Israel—or more specifically, from the perspective of the believing Jews, such as Peter and the other Apostles. We have to consider God’s redemptive plan for mankind at this point in time.

With that in mind, this has to refer to the “last days” of Israel under the Old Covenant (He 1:2; 1 Pe 1:20). Pentecost ushered in the Church age. It was the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant in Christ (He 8:8,13; He 9:15; He 10:9; He 12:24). This was a period of transition. This is the “last days” of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. This is the end of those days where God’s plan was focused on the people and nation of Israel. Pentecost marked the “official” end of that era, and the beginning of the Church era. Instead of working through the nation of Israel as His representatives in the world, He’s now working through His Church to reach the people of the world and to fulfill His plan for the world.

Also in view in the “last days” of this prophecy is the destruction of Jerusalem (and temple) in AD 70. Like Pentecost, it was a dramatic and visible sign of the “last days” of Israel under the old economy. It marked the final end of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel as He did before. That event will come into focus in verses 19-20.

 

“I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh”

 

On the day of Pentecost, believers experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Believers at that time and place received the Holy Spirit and were baptized into the body of Christ, which is the Church (1 Cor 12:13,27; Eph 3:6; Eph 4:12; Eph 5:23). This marked the beginning of the Church and the Church age, the gospel/Christian era. What began then, continues until the return of Christ. While this was a one time event, the receiving of the Spirit and baptism into Christ’s Church, continues from that point forward as individuals place their faith in Him.

This outpouring of the Spirit also involves all miracle gifts of the Spirit that was operational during those days.

 

“your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”

 

We must keep in mind that “the last days” are the last days of the Old Covenant, that time of transition to the New Covenant and the establishment of the Church in Christ. We make an interpretive mistake to go beyond the boundaries of those last days. Therefore, the prophecies mentioned here occurred during those same last days. These are the days of the Apostles and prophets while the NT Scriptures were being written.

 

“your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams”

 

Again, this occurred during those last days, that time of transition, during the days of the Apostles and prophets when the message of Christ needed to be confirmed as being from God.

 

Acts 2:18 Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

 

“In those days” refers to the same “last days” that we’ve been talking about. This is the end of the OT. This is that time of transition from OT to NT, from Israel to the Church. It was in those days that the NT Scriptures were being written by the Apostles and prophets. Thus when they prophesied, it was primarily the teachings of the Christian faith, which we have in the NT today.

 

Acts 2:19-22 And I will show wonders in the heaven above, And signs on the earth beneath; Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: 20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day. 21 And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. 22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know;

 

Regarding the miracles of Christ, the events that surrounded His crucifixion (Matt 27:45-54), the star that led the wise men to the child Jesus (Matt 2:2,7-9), the transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8), the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 and all the events that occurred at that time (Lu 21:5-24; Mal 4:1-6), the events of Pentecost, the signs and wonders done by the Apostles (Acts 5:12; 14:3; 15:12; Ro 15:18-19; 2 Cor 12:12; He 2:3-4) — all of these events easily fulfill what’s described in these verses.

We must also keep in mind all the miracles Jesus performed that wasn’t recorded for us in the gospels, as the following verses reveal:

 

(Jn 20:30-31; Jn 21:25)“30 Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: 31 but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name…….21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.”

 

The fact is, the Gospels only reveal a partial account of the miracles of Christ. Accordingly, among those miracles that aren’t recorded for us, may be included in the signs and wonders of verses 19 and 20, and most certainly included in verse 22. Therefore, we need not wonder if verses 19, 20 and 22 were completely fulfilled in the time of Christ and the early days of the Church. The facts and evidence are surely there.

 

“Before the day of the Lord come, That great and notable day.”

 

The interpretation of the “day of the Lord” is provided by verse 32 of Joel, but not quoted by Peter:

 

Joel 2:32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered; for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those that escape, as Jehovah hath said, and among the remnant those whom Jehovah doth call.

 

The mention of those that escape mount Zion and Jerusalem, has to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, which corresponds precisely with what Jesus said about this escape in Luke 21:20-24:

 

(Luke 21:20-24)21:20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21:21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, 21:22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 21:23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people. 21:24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away as captives among all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (NET)

 

Also Malachi 4:5-6:

 

(Malachi 4:5-6) – 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (ESV)

 

Verse 6: “land” (land of Israel) (ESV, NASB, LEB, NIV, CSB, NRSV, NLT) instead of “earth” (ASV, NET).

 

Jesus Himself identified Elijah (who was to come “before the great and terrible day of the Lord”) as John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11-14. The nation of Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and judgment came upon them. Accordingly, all of these Scriptures point to the destruction of Jerusalem as being the “day of the Lord” or the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” In other words, in this context, the “day of the Lord” refers to the coming of Jesus in judgment against Jerusalem, via the legions of Rome. We have to keep everything in proper perspective. We have to view all these scriptures through the eyes of the Jews of their day as it relates to the people and nation of Israel. We must ever be mindful of the transition that was taking place at that point in history — from Old Covenant to New Covenant, from OT to NT, from Israel to the Church.

 

Note: There is a “day of the Lord” which refers to the judgment of Israel in AD 70, and there is a “day of the Lord” which refers to the judgment of the world when Jesus returns. In this regard, Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem serves as a type of the unbelieving world and its destruction when Jesus returns. Just as God is finished with the nation of Israel, so will He one day be finished with the world.

 

Acts 2:21 And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

 

In context, this most certainly refers to those living in Jerusalem and the surrounding cities at the time of its destruction in AD 70. However, this verse is applicable to all people throughout the Church age as they call upon the name of the Lord in faith. The Apostle Paul Himself quoted this verse in Romans 10:13.

 

In conclusion, why do I go into such detail about Acts 2:16-22? Again, I do so because those who believe that the miracle gifts, visions, dreams and prophecies are still operational today, typically point to this passage to support the idea that they continue all through the Church age, up to the return of Christ. They view the “last days” of verse 17 as referring to the entire Christian era, and view “the day of the Lord” of verse 20 as the return of Christ (see red note above). However, as we’ve seen, that’s an interpretation that doesn’t fit well. In fact, I believe it’s an interpretation that must be forced. Instead, I believe this passage provides support for the argument that these things were limited to the Apostles and prophets during the transitional period from Old Covenant to New Covenant, during that time when the NT Scriptures were being written and the Church was being established. Everything in Joel’s prophecy is, and must be, confined to that time in history.

As I discussed in my note above, we must not confuse the “day of the Lord” in AD 70 against Israel, and the “day of the Lord” which is yet to be fulfilled against the world. God’s judgment of Israel is a type and precursor of God’s judgment of the world. We must be careful to keep everything in its proper context.

 

Today, in the NT era, the miracle gifts ceased with the chosen Apostles and prophets with the establishment of the Church (but God still works miracles today). We cannot require or expect God to deal with us in the way He did with the few that we see in the Bible, whether it be OT or NT. We have no instructions to seek God and His will via dreams and visions or prophecies or angels. We don’t see any support for that in either testament. It’s completely up to God how He reveals Himself to us. If He wants to reveal Himself through dreams, visions, or prophecies ‒ in rare exceptions to the norm of our appointed post-apostolic era ‒ that’s up to Him. But in no way are we to seek it or require it or even expect it.

Besides the difference in the way we interpret the Bible, the reason this subject is so controversial is because we simply don’t see the same miracles, dreams, visions, or prophecies that we saw in the early Church by the blessed few, such as the Apostles and prophets. Yet at the same time, Pentecostals and charismatics still insist it’s all still true and actively occurring today. If such were the case, we would see it happening in all churches that are led by faithful leaders and faithful followers of Christ, regardless of denomination or association. The argument that miracles, dreams, visions, and prophecies (and tongues) ‒ as reportedly taking place ‒ don’t take place in non-Pentecostal/charismatic churches because they don’t accept them for today, doesn’t hold up. The Holy Spirit is Sovereign, and He is the One who distributes and activates the gifts to His people (1 Cor 12:11). He empowers those who are faithful and seeking Him and His power faithfully. If dreams, visions, prophecies, and tongues were active today, we would surely see them in faithful churches everywhere.

The fact that these things are reportedly taking place only in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, should be a red flag that there is something amiss. Things aren’t always as they appear to be. There will always be phonies or self-deceived people who want recognition and status. We must also be aware of the fact that these things can be of satanic origin, as Jesus reveals in Matthew 7:21-23, deceiving many. I believe both of these are taking place in these churches. Jesus also reveals in this Matthew passage that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a true born-again believer in Christ. I can’t express how careful we must be about these matters. We must be alert and discerning and not accept everything that comes down the pike as being from God.

 

Seeking God’s Will According to Wisdom

What God does require of us, and what we do have plenty of instruction for in regard to His will, is that we’re to walk according to His wisdom. We’re to seek (pray for) wisdom from God in reliance upon the Holy Spirit as we make life’s decisions. That begins with searching His written Word. Where God gives clear commands or instructions, we know that’s God’s will. Where there are no specific commands or instructions, we’re to look for principles. But I must caution that when it comes to seeking God’s will via His Word, we must have a right understanding of what it teaches—especially in its context and within its own period of history. That takes time. I recommend getting counsel from men or women of God whom we know have a good grasp of the Scriptures, and who have been walking with the Lord for a lot of years. As the Bible teaches, there’s safety in the multitude of counselors (Pr 24:6). Learning to walk in God’s will is not instantaneous. It takes years to learn and grow. Those who seek to know God’s will via some miraculous revelation, may want it to be instantaneous, but such is not the case in the post-apostolic period in which we live.

We will waste many years of precious life waiting on God to reveal Himself and His will in miraculous ways, when we could be living productive lives, making a difference in people’s lives and being a good witness for Christ. We can’t make foolish assumptions about God and require that He reveal Himself in a particular way. That’s not up to us to decide. We haven’t been given that right. It’s God who decides how He’s going to go about revealing His will. And it’s always in harmony with His written Word, as it’s correctly interpreted.

God has made it clear that we’re to seek His will through prayer and His Word. We’re to seek to live according to the wisdom that He provides. We’re to take advantage of the opportunities that He brings our way (Gal 6:10; Eph 5:16; Col 4:5). We’re to involve ourselves in people’s lives. We’re to get involved in church ministry. We’re to educate ourselves and keep learning—for many, that may mean getting a college degree. But the important thing is, that we stay active and keep moving. We must stay involved in people’s lives. When we do, things begin to happen, doors of opportunity open up, one thing leads to another. That’s the normal way that God works in our lives. Anything beyond that is up to Him.

But again, in no way are we to be seeking or expecting God to reveal His will through prophecies or dreams or visions. I believe that the biblical evidence, as well as the absence of these things in faithful churches today, makes it sufficiently clear that those things ceased when the NT Scriptures were completed and the Church was fully established.

Therefore, in countries like America, where Bibles and churches are everywhere, dreams and visions and prophecies, etc., are not normative today in the post-apostolic Church era. We have God’s complete written revelation for instruction and guidance, and so we don’t have the same need that the early Church had, while the NT Scriptures were still being written.

 

Final Note: I believe that Jesus reveals Himself in unusual ways to people in parts of the world where Christianity is outlawed and there is a scarcity of Bibles. Situations like that are much like the situation of the beginning years of the Church. For those who are seeking the truth in those isolated places of the world, I believe the Lord will do whatever He needs to do to reveal both Himself and the gospel message to those individuals—and that may include dreams, visions, and personal appearances. I believe this is a good example of the rare exception to the norm of which we live in post-apostolic times.