Acts 2:1-4, 12-17 NIV - When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them… 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…”
Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects in the modern Church is the role of dreams and visions. At the very explosion of the Church on the Day of Pentecost, Peter quoted the Prophet Joel in a way that substantiated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as they spoke with other tongues and proclaimed the works and gospel of God. Yet in Peter’s sermon, he referenced Joel’s prophecy in a way that tied it to God’s speaking to men and women, young and old as a feature of this Spirit outpouring.
However, unlike our highest authority of the rightly-divided Scripture, dreams and visions are more subjective due to the individual nature of them. Is a dream from God? From the devil? From our own thoughts and imaginations? From something we watched or read? From pizza before bed? If the dream seems to be from God, what does it mean? Is it clear and straightforward, or is it more symbolic and perplexing? When it comes to visions, these are often rare instances in which God is spurring someone to specific direction - yet must be treated with extreme respect given the seriousness with which the word of God speaks about false visions. Like waking dreams, visions can be in “the mind’s eye” or something that appears beyond that in terms of seeing actual words, angels, or events in a realistic or symbolic manner. The Apostles had a number of detailed visions, yet they also had a ministry quite different from anyone’s today.
Sadly, some bizarre and dubious accounts of visions have been shared in recent decades that should make even the most staunch Christians cautious. Some people - from local churches to major personalities in Christian media - have shared accounts of dreams, visions, and words “from God” that appear to just be weird. Spiritual weirdness does not honor God or build up His Church. As has been said before, for how much God is supposedly showing some people (in visions), it’s amazing what He apparently hasn’t shown them (in terms of their adherence to Scripture)! This is an area where those in the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions have needed to police ourselves much better rather than allow kookiness to go unchecked. Jeremiah dealt with false prophets who prophesied falsely and claimed many false visions from God. In the Old Testament, claiming a prophetic word or vision from God falsely was a sin that merited the death penalty. On the one hand, claiming “God told me” (through a vision, dream, or direct word) may be true - one should seek God to make sure it’s indeed of Him. To claim “God told me” if He did not, is the sin of taking the name of the LORD in vain. If it is applied to others’ lives in a way in which bad decisions are made, people may lose faith - and in turn their salvation. Visions, like other expressions of God’s power, will never contradict the rightly-divided Bible and will always be for the furtherance of His purpose. For the overwhelming majority of our lives, visions are not needed - especially if we leave so much of the clear principles of Scripture unpracticed.
Because of their similarity to the gift of prophecy, dreams and visions may be handled by using a safe rule of thumb in which they are evaluated by those who have confirmed Christian character and experience with God speaking to them in these prophetic ways.
1 Corinthians 14:29 NKJV - Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
In the multitude of counselors, there is safety. The outpouring of God’s Spirit ushered in a Church age in which all Christians may be encouraged and blessed by legitimate dreams and visions from God; however, those who misuse or abuse the supernatural must be corrected lovingly or disciplined if leading others astray. It’s why knowledge of the Bible is so vital, and hopefully, our daily practice. The more you fill your life with prayer and your mind with Scripture, the safer you will be - and the more likely God may desire to provide you with a dream or a vision.