The Differences Between True and False Visions

Had any good visions lately? In the past 50 years or so, it seems that stories of visions inside and outside the church have increased to significant proportions.

The term vision has different applications, depending upon one’s worldview. From a biblical sense it may be used to describe an actual vision or revelation from God. For materialists the term is often used in a skeptical or derogatory sense. For example, they would argue that the resurrection appearances of Christ were merely “visions,” i.e., internal phenomena having no objective reality or even necessarily any reality at all, something like hallucinations.[1]

In this article, we are going to look at visions from a biblical worldview in both a positive and negative sense. By doing this we can discern when a vision is true and when it is not true. In other words, assuming the vision is real, how do we know whether it is from God, the devil, or our own psychological makeup?

In the Bible we find over 100 references to the word “vision” or “visions.” Illus­trations of some of the biblical prophets and individuals who received true visions from God include Abraham (Gen. 15:1), Iddo (2 Chron. 9:29), Isaiah (1:1), Ezekiel (1:1), Daniel (1:17, 8:15), Amos (1:1), Obadiah (1:1), Nahum (1:1), and others. In the New Testament, we also find many examples of visions, including to Zacharias (Lk. 1:22) and among the apostles (Mt. 17:9), e.g., Peter (Acts 9:10; 10:3), Paul (Acts 16:9, 2 Cor. 12:1) and John (Rev. 9:17).

There is no doubt that God has used visions in the life of His people in both the Old and New Testaments or that He continues to do so today when it suits His purposes. For different reasons, considered historically, visions may be infrequent in number (1 Sam. 3:1; Ez. 7:26, Lam. 2:9) or relatively frequent (Joel 2:2S; Acts 2:17; Hos. 12:10).

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia provides the following descrip­tive “short list” of biblical visions briefly describing how and why they come:

The vision may come in one’s waking moments (Dnl 10:7; Acts 9:7); by day (Cornelius, Acts 10:3; Peter, Acts 10 9ff; cf. Nu 24:4-16) or night (Jacob, Gen 46:2); but commonly under conditions of dreaming (Nu 12:6; Job 4:13; Dnl 4:9)…. The character of the revelation through vision has a double aspect in the Bib. narrative. In one aspect it proposes a revelation for immediate direction, as in the case of Abram (Gen 15:2 and frequently); Lot (Gen 19:15); Balaam (Nu 22:22), and Peter (Acts 12:7). In another aspect it deals with the development of the Kingdom of God as conditioned by the moral ideals of the people; such are the prophetic visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah, and the apocalypses of Daniel and John…. From the nature of the vision as an instrument of Divine communication, the seeing of visions is naturally associated with revivals of religion (Ezk 12:21-25; Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:17), and the absence of visions with spiritual decline (Isa 29:11,12; Lam 2:9; Ezk 7:26; Mic 3:6).

One may see visions without being visionary in the bad sense of that word. The outstanding characters to whom visions were vouchsafed in the history of Israel—Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul—were all men of action as well as sentiment, and it is manifest from any fair reading of their lives that their work was helped and not hindered by this aspect of their fellowship with God.[2]

An example of a godly vision outside the Bible would be that of Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome. Constantine was a pagan prior to the key Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. Just before this battle he saw a vision of the mono­gram for Christ, and he heard the words, “In this sign, conquer” Constantine was indeed victorious in battle and he took this symbol as his standard. The dramatic vision led to his conversion to Christianity.

Nevertheless, Scripture is equally clear that all visions are not from God. Some are from the vain imaginings of individuals and some are clearly demonic. False visions lead people away from God’s will and frequently into idolatry. In Matthew 4:8, a rather startling passage, Satan gave Jesus Himself a vision of all the kingdoms of the world: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’” We all know the outcome.

Godly Visions

So how do we tell a godly vision from an ungodly one? A godly vision fits the characteristics of godly visions: The vision itself contains nothing opposed to biblical teaching and the results of the vision glorify God. (As we will see below, natural and demonic visions do the opposite.)

Consider the case of Constantine as an example of a godly vision. First, it led to Constantine’s conversion from paganism. Second, prior to the time of Constantine, the church had experienced severe persecutions. In fact, some were horrendous. And even the best arguments of the early apologists were unsuccessful, or not completely successful, in turning away the hostility of the Roman government. As one result of his vision, Constantine established the Edict or Constitution of Milan in 313 A.D. which required an expression of toler­ance for Christianity. (It was not Constantine, but Justinian who actually made the church a state church and turned heresy into a criminal action against the state.) Third, Constantine himself convened the Council of Nicaea which played a key role in the history of the church relative to the formulation of the doctrine of the deity of Christ and also by extension, later, the doctrine of the Trinity at the Coun­cil of Constantinople in 381 A.D.

In other words, as a pagan, it would be highly unlikely that Constantine would invent the story of a vision that supported a religion he had no interest in and was probably opposed to. The devil would certainly not give him such a vision. If the vision did not come from the mind of Constantine or from the devil, it had to come from God. Consider again its outcome. It helped convert Constantine to Christian faith. The vision resulted in the ceasing of persecution of the church, which permitted the church to grow dramatically.[3] Indirectly, it led to one of the most important doctrinal creeds in the history of the Christian church. Indeed, given the fact that the church had experienced nine major persecutions prior to this vision, one would think the devil would have done all in his power to prevent such a vision.

So godly visions have certain characteristics; they teach nothing unbiblical and their end result is to glorify God. But there are also false visions.

False Visions in the Old Testament

Jeremiah the prophet had to repeatedly warn Israel about the people claiming to be God’s prophets who were really false prophets leading the people astray: “Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds’” (Jer. 14:14).

Jeremiah also warned, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. The speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord’” (Jer. 23:16). Further, “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they give you were false and misleading” (Lam. 2:14).

In the above verses we see another manner by which to judge true and false visions. In these cases, the godly visions exposed sin and prevented divine judgment. But the ungodly visions of the false prophets, whether generated naturally or by the devil, helped to rationalize sin, and later, when sin bore its full fruit, led to judgment, in other words, godly visions speak the truth and encour­age holiness; false visions speak lies, divinations and idolatry and lead to sin and judgment.

Obviously, visions that endorse evil and destruction in the lives of people, regardless of their source, are to the devil’s best interests.

God declared through the prophet Ezekiel that those who saw false visions were to have no part among His people:

Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, “The Lord declares,” when the Lord has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The Lord declares,” though I have not spoken? Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord…. “those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace,” declares the Sovereign Lord. (Ezek. 13:6­9,16)

Listening to those who give false visions has its consequences:

Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing”? (Ezek. 12:22)
Her prophets whitewash these [evil] deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says”— when the Lord has not spoken. (Ezek. 22:28)

Isaiah the prophet also mocked the false prophets, “And these all stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are be­fuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions” (Is. 28:7).

The prophet Zechariah warns: “The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd (Zech. 10:2). “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his prophetic vision. He will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive” (Zech. 13:4).

False Visions in the New Testament

In the New Testament also, we see that professing or even genuine Christians can be led astray by false visions, e.g., “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Col. 2:18-19).

The NIV text note at this point comments that the term “what he has seen” probably refers to “professed vision by the false teachers” who were seeking to lead the Colossian believers astray. This is why the NASB translates this verse, “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,…” (Col. 2:18). The word visions is italicized so the reader understands that it is not part of the original text, but implied.

False Visions in the Church

Modern examples of false visions include those found in the world of the cults and the occult (e.g., among psychics, astrologers, channelers, etc.) where they are legion and they bear all the fruit of false visions: false doctrines, sin, pride, idolatry, divination and other occult practices, etc. But false or dubious visions may also occur within the church. Consider those seen by Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts and David Wilkerson.

In 1980, Oral Roberts claimed a vision of a 900-foot Jesus promised him his “City of Faith” medical complex would be completed. The implication of this and subsequent visions/revela­tions was that Jesus would bless and prosper the “City of Faith.” In 1983 Roberts spoke of another revelation from God promising a major breakthrough in cancer treatment at the “City of Faith.” But the “City of Faith” did not survive and there was no cancer breakthrough.

In the case of Kenneth Hagin, he claims that in 1958 “the Lord Jesus suddenly appeared” before him, with an angel standing three feet behind Him. In I Believe in Visions he reveals, “He [Jesus] said, ‘This is your angel,’ ‘My angel?’ I asked. ‘Yes, your angel, and if you will respond to him, he will appear to you as I will at times; and he will give you guidance and direction concern­ing the things of life…’”[4] Those who have read of Kenneth Hagin’s other visions from “Jesus” in his I Believe in Visions will realize these visions could not have come from God because their content was unbiblical, e.g., they supported Hagin’s false theology regarding his unbiblical “Faith” teachings. (We documented this in The Facts on False Teachings in the Church, The Facts on the Faith Movement and our Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs.)

We do not mention these illustrations to negate whatever good these men may have accom­plished for the Lord, only to issue a warning. In Pentecostal, charismatic and other experientially-oriented Christian circles, there appear to be more false than genuine visions.

Because of this, Christians must become more discerning and less accepting of claims surrounding contemporary visions. Consider Kenneth Copeland as an example: In 1987, Copeland gave a prophecy “from Jesus Christ” in which “Jesus” promised that new and dra­matic angel manifestations were going to increase in the church and that many “will have visita­tions from the spirit realm.” Concerning the angels, “Jesus” allegedly told Copeland:

A very outstanding time is on the way. A time is coming when there will be manifestations of angels more than usual, more than there has been in the past. Many of you are going to witness for yourselves the angel that has been put in charge and in command of your ministry and your life. Many of you are going to have visitations from the spirit realm. Many of you will have divinely appointed visions and dreams…. Oh, there’s no time nor distance in the spirit realm. You’ll be connected together at times like you’ve never witnessed before. Suddenly, you will be standing in that [spiritual] country, and suddenly you’ll deliver a message and then suddenly you’ll be brought back in your kitchen again. Oh, I have some outstanding things, saith the Lord.[5]

But this “Jesus” also denied his own deity when he said: “Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you are God…. They crucified me for claiming that I was God. But I didn’t claim I was God; I just claimed I walked with Him and that He was in me. Hallelujah. That’s what you are doing.”[6] But in the Bible Jesus did claim to be God when He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9) and “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30) and “Before Abraham was, I Am” (Jn. 8:58, cf. Jn. 1:1, 14; Phil. 2:9; Heb. 1:3, 8-10; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1).

In a subsequent issue, Copeland explained that he does believe in Christ’s deity and that “Jesus” only meant to say He never claimed to be God while on earth.[7] But Copeland is incor­rect again. (For example, the Gospel of John is full of Christ’s claim to be God while on earth— Jn. 8:58; 10:30; 14:9; 15:26; 20:28, 29). Even the Kenneth Copeland Ministry Staff admitted in a letter dated February 9, 1988 (on file) that while on earth, “Jesus revealed His deity only in a very limited number of situations.” Copeland’s own staff admits that Jesus did reveal His deity on earth, thus denying Copeland’s statement.

False Visions in Roman Catholicism

Another example of false visions would be those of Catholic mystics through­out church history who have frequently had visions that confirmed unbiblical Catholic beliefs or led people into unbiblical practices. Catholic mystics and saints have had visions of purgatory in which they saw the souls of dead Catholics suffering horribly and in which these souls frequently cried out to them or otherwise communicated to them that they could ease their torments or get them out of purgatory by praying to Mary, participating in the Catholic mass, performing duties with the Rosary, etc. Obviously, the implications for the atonement of Christ, works salvation and the entire structure of Catholic theological belief is variously supported by these visions and therefore they could not have come from God. Nothing in Scripture indicates purgatory even exists, let alone that we or Mary can help people out of purgatory when we use the Rosary—that we should pray for the dead, etc.

Some Catholic saints and mystics have also had visions of “Jesus” with result­ing stigmata, such as Padre Pio. Since the results of these visions, again, ac­tively support unbiblical Catholic beliefs, such visions could not have been from Jesus Himself.[8] This also is true for supernatural healings associated with these visions, which are frequently related to the veneration of or prayers to Catholic saints and mystics.

While we cannot exclude God’s mercy at any point, one must be skeptical of miracles that support false beliefs. When we subsequently consider the phenom­enon of visions and apparitions of dead Catholic saints and mystics who may give supernatural healings and/or unbiblical revelations, it is even more difficult to accept such phenomena as having a divine origin.

False Visions and Miracles

As a final example of false visions, consider the TV special “Miracles and Visions: Fact or Fiction?” for March 31, 1996 on the Fox Network. This program discussed visions and apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the appearance of the stigmata, with serious wounds healing so quickly something supernatural seemed required; appearances of the Catholic host on a child’s tongue, statues that wept real liquid for weeks, glowing crosses in Medjugoria, Yugoslavia, stat­ues of Hindu gods drinking milk by the liter, etc. The program observed in Medjugoria that, “the miraculous is commonplace.” In fact, this was declared by a former military intelligence officer who had personally witnessed miraculous events. In examining the miracles discussed on this show, we find that almost all of them support Roman Catholic belief. The miracles referred to were seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses and many were confirmed and/or authenticated photo­graphically.

These kinds of miracles are apparently now happening around the world, in many different countries and in most of the 50 states. The program moderator noted, “Whether believer or skeptic, it’s hard not to be amazed by the sheer number of these events.”

The program also discussed weeping icons in Brooklyn, New York that ooze “healing oil, “visions” of Jesus in the clouds and of a blinking sun seen in Conyers, Georgia, where a woman “channels” revelations from the alleged Virgin Mary. In fact, Conyers, Georgia was called “a modern day Fatima”—no mean accolade.

In Fatima, also, thousands of people saw a vision of the sun that moved in circles and messages from Mary were given to teenagers. In Medjugoria as well, the sun “pulsated.” Thousands of people were convinced they saw the sun blink, pulsate or move in circles and in the case of its pulsating and blinking, this was said to have been captured on video. The program pointed out this was impos­sible to explain physically or scientifically. Obviously, whether in Conyers, Geor­gia, Medjugoria or Fatima, the sun did not pulsate, move in circles or blink, etc. No observatory recorded this and it would be physically impossible regardless. While a natural explanation may be possible for what people think they saw, we know the sun did nothing extraordinary.

However, the miraculous is also at least a possible explanation in some cases. There are incidents in occult literature of film being impregnated with false im­ages and there are also cases of mass visions, both apparently accomplished by spiritistic power.[9]

Regardless, in Conyers, Georgia, other things that people saw included strange cloud formations and thousands of rose petals falling from the sky in the dead of winter, something reminiscent of certain poltergeist events. Some people heard, in a statue of Mary, a heart beating.

Now considered as a whole, there is little doubt that at least some miraculous events are occurring, On the one hand, this may involve a simple manipulation of the mind whereby things are seen that have no reality external to the individual, as in the case of the moving sun. Or they may involve actual materializations or apparitions of “Mary” or physical phenomena such as the rose petals falling from the sky. In either case, the end result is a confirmation of unbiblical teachings, in this case, Roman Catholic theology, and in particular its Mariology and everything associated with it.

Significantly, there is evidence of direct physiological influence on Nancy Fowler, the lady who receives revelations from ‘“Mary” in Conyers, Georgia. She has been tested by scientists who have found that her EEG pattern goes into delta waves whenever she begins to receive messages from “Jesus.” The odd thing is that she goes into delta waves fully conscious, something that was said to be physiologically impossible.

True vs. False Visions

What do we make of all this? In light of the seemingly great number of these kinds of false visions happening worldwide, this might be considered a precursor to the statement of Jesus concerning the last days, “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Mt. 24:24).

As we have seen, godly visions honor God’s character and glory Him and when they contain prophecy, come true 100 percent of the time. Godly visions will declare God’s will, even if the vision is terrifying, as in the divine judgments of the book of Revelation or the Old Testament. Godly visions are also never unbiblical.

To the contrary, false visions usually don’t come true. But even when they do, they still lead people away from the God of the Bible, or confuse people spiritu­ally—and they never bring honor and glory to God. In light of this, we must re­member that Scripture declares that counterfeit visions can be accompanied by genuine miracles. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5 we read:

If a prophet [i.e., a seer, one who has visions], or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

Important Visions in the Bible

We began this article noting there were over 100 uses of the term “vision” or “visions” in the Bible. We conclude it by presenting a brief description concerning the most important usages. This material indicates that three common themes of godly visions are for 1) encouragement in difficult times, 2) warnings of future judgment for sin, whether national or individual and 3) giving specific information, e.g., regarding the future or other revelation of needed information at a particular time, e.g., Daniel’s interpretation of the dream that God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

We hope the reader will find that reading these illustrations is instructive:

Genesis 15:1—To encourage Abram concerning his inheritance.
Genesis 46:2—To encourage Israel to go down to Egypt.
Numbers 12:6 + Hosea 12:10—God reveals Himself to His prophets in visions and dreams.
1 Samuel 3:15—The young Samuel is given a vision-prophecy of judgment upon Eli.
Job 7:14—Visions can be disturbing or terrifying (cf. Dan. 4:5; 7:15; Is. 21:2).
Job 33:15-18—God may give believer or unbeliever warning visions in (or as) their dreams to keep them from sin and evil (cf., Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. ch. 2; Dan. 4:5, 25-27).
Isaiah 1:1—A vision concerning the judgment of Judah and Jerusalem given to Isaiah.
Isaiah 21:2—God sends a terrifying vision that has painful consequences to Isaiah.
Isaiah 29:11—The ungodly do not understand visions.
Isaiah 30:10-11—The rebellious and ungodly reject divine visions,
Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16—False prophets give false visions, false hope, encour­age idolatries, divination and self-delusion (cf. Lam. 2:14).
Lamentations 2:9—Visions may be sealed up during periods of divine judgment.
Lamentations 2:14—False visions do not expose sin or prevent judgment; they help rationalize sin (cf. Ezek. 22:28).
Ezekiel 7:13—A vision of judgment.
Ezekiel 7:26—Visions can’t be forced.
Ezekiel 8:3—Ezekiel is taken in a vision to Jerusalem.
Ezekiel 11:24-25—In a vision, the spirit of God takes Ezekiel to the Babylonian exiles who then tells the exiles of the vision.
Ezekiel 22-24; 13:6-8—There are “false visions and flattering divinations” when God’s people have been unfaithful and rebellious (cf. 13:9, 16; 21:29).
Ezekiel 43:3—Ezekiel is taken in a vision into the temple inner court.
Daniel 2:19-23—A vision in the night to the prophet Daniel explaining the mean­ing of the divine dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 2:28; 7:1; 1 Kings 3:15—Visions can occur within dreams or be dreams.
Daniel chs. 2 and 7—Visions to Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel regarding the future kingdoms of the world and the second coming of Christ.
Daniel ch. 8—A vision of the time of the end.
Daniel 8:15—Daniel was “watching the vision and trying to understand it.”
Daniel 8:26-27—The vision is sealed up and is “beyond understanding”; godly visions may bring exhaustion and illness.
Daniel 9:22-24—The angel Gabriel explains Daniel’s vision to him.
Daniel 10:1—A revelation from God, a vision concerning a great war and Daniel’s mourning and fasting for three weeks.
Daniel 10:7—Only Daniel sees the vision, not those with him. (However the men were terrified and fled, so they experienced something.) The vision leaves Daniel extremely sick.
Daniel 10:16-17—Daniel is overcome with anguish from the vision and weakened so that he can hardly breathe.
Joel 2:28—In the Day of the Lord/last days, young men will see visions—this is fulfilled in Acts 2:16-19.
Obadiah 1—Obadiah’s vision concerning Edom’s judgment.
Micah 1:1—Micah’s vision about the judgment of Samaria and Judah.
Nahum 1:1—Nahum’s vision regarding the judgment of Ninevah,
Zechariah 1:8ff—Zechariah’s vision of God’s mercy to Israel and of judgment to her enemies.
Zechariah ch. 13—God will remove false prophets from the land.
Luke 1:22—Zechariah’s temple vision from the angel Gabriel regarding John the Baptist. (Note: even though this is stated to be a vision, it concerns an obvious space-time appearance of the angel Gabriel, i.e., not all visions are internal, mental events, cf., Paul’s vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:10 below.)
Luke 24:23—The women receive a vision of angels regarding Jesus’ resurrec­tion.
Acts 9:10—God’s vision to Paul and Ananias concerning Ananias’ healing minis­try to the new convert Paul. (Note: by examining Paul’s conversion experience in Acts 9:1-9, and Paul’s account of it in Acts 26:12-19, we see that Paul re­ferred to this experience as a “vision from heaven” and yet that it included space-time manifestations. In Acts 9:7, Paul’s traveling companions “heard the sound” and in Acts 26:13-14 it says that a light brighter than the sun blazed around Paul and his companions and “we all fell to the ground.”)
Acts 10:3—The vision to the godly Roman centurion Cornelius to send for the Apostle Peter in Joppa.
Acts 10:9—At the same time the messengers arrive from Cornelius, Peter falls into a trance and has the three visions of the “sheet” of animals coming down from heaven; this is the divine lesson which teaches him to accept the Gentiles as co-participants of the Abrahamic covenant blessings.
Acts 10:19—Peter is “thinking about the vision” and the Spirit interrupts him.
Acts 16:6—Visions may direct the course of evangelism. Here Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia beckoning to him results in preaching the gospel to those in Macedonia.
Acts 18:9—Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision to encourage him to keep preach­ing.
2 Corinthians 12:1—Paul had momentous visions.

In conclusion, the above listing of visions in the Bible is conclusive proof that godly visions have particular characteristics and therefore that godly visions can be and are distinguished from ungodly, false vision.

Notes

  1. That the resurrection appearances were not visions or hallucinations is evident not only from the biblical text but common sense as well. First, the disciples were not psychologically susceptible to visions because they did not expect Christ to rise from the dead. Second, the total number of people who saw Jesus alive after His death (500 on one specific occasion, 1 Cor. 15:6) present far too diverse a psychological population to suggest they all experienced visions. Third, visions are normally of short duration whereas some of Jesus’ appearances were of very long duration such as along the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-28). Further, Jesus appeared over a period of 40 days at many different times and places; visions cannot do the kinds of things Jesus did, such as taking food and giving it to the disciples to eat; encouraging and allowing a skeptic to place his hands and fingers in his wounds, etc. True, some of the disciples at first thought Jesus was a ghost. This was a normal reaction since they knew He was dead, didn’t expect a resurrection, and would logically assume little else. But Jesus Himself replied, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see 1 have” (Lk, 24:39). Then He ate fish, something visions don’t normally do.
  2. James Orr (Gen. ed.), p. v. “Vision,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), pp. 3057-8; a more complete list is given in Naves Topical Bible.
  3. Harold O. J. Brown, Heresies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), pp. 3, 76, 120, 186.
  4. Kenneth Hagin, I Believe in Visions (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1984), p. 93.
  5. Kenneth Copeland, “Take Time to Pray,” Believers Voice of Victory, February 1987, p. 9.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Pre-publication copy.
  8. For a critique of Roman Catholic beliefs on salvation, see our Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publisher, 1995).
  9. E.g., the editors of Time-Life Books, Psychic Powers (Mysteries of the Unknown Series), (Alex­andria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1987), p. 117.

29 Comments

  1. Rachel on December 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Maybe you can help…. I was 8 yes old… I woke up and first there was a vision of a friend of mine trying to coax me outside…. When I wouldn’t go she disappeared and an angel with 3 arms appeared…. said nothing wings and eyes closed head bowed…. I then had a vision of books swirling…. I went back to bed and when I tried to tell my family they scarred me saying no angel would visit me it must’ve been a demon….. I forgot about it for years…. until recently when I was spending time in the word and prayer the memory was brought back…. can you help…..
    I tried to look it up on my own and the only thing i could find close is it says seraphim have six wings (thought maybe it could be because of the 3 arms) but then i read that they only show themselves to prophets…. but I have never had any visions or anything like that…. and I had a couple of decades of really bad experiences so I am not sure on this I just want to be certain I am on the right path, not coursing one of my own, please can you help explain.

    • Ryan on February 5, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      My advice for you is to pray and ask God if it’s from the Lord. The angel said nothing,so their is no way of knowing if it’s from the Lord or not,keep in mind that demons can make themselvs look like angels of light. Personally, I believe their will be no more prophets till revalations. I had generally, demonic encounter because, I almost left Christ but he pulled me back in through visions, dreams and allowing me to see a glimpse of the unseen world. I had a feeling of dread when it was around so I knew for a fact it was not from the Lord. Most of the time, Angles come to people on a mission read about Daniel, other people in the bible who encounter them.

    • Ryan on February 5, 2016 at 11:04 pm

      Sampson parents were not prophets a Angle came to them. Angle are messengers, if their was no message, then I would ignore it but pray to God for verification. As a rule of thumb, ask God to protect you from seen and unseen.

  2. gary on February 20, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Were Jesus’ disciples capable of differentiating between a vivid dream and reality?

    In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph twice, once to tell him that he should go ahead and marry Mary, even though she is pregnant (not by him), and then again a couple of years later to warn him of Herod’s plan to kill Jesus and that he should take the family to Egypt. The author of Matthew tells us that both of these “appearances” occurred in dreams.

    The question is: Did Joseph believe that God had sent a real angel to him to give him real messages?

    If first century Jews were truly able to distinguish dreams/visions from reality, why would Joseph marry a woman who had been impregnated by someone else just because an angel “appeared” to him in a dream? If first century Jews knew that dreams are not reality, Joseph would have ignored the imaginary angel and his imaginary message. For Joseph to go through with his marriage to a pregnant Mary was a very rare exception to the behavior of people in an Honor-Shame society. His act of obeying an angel in a dream is solid proof that he believed that the angel was real and the message was real.

    And if Joseph understood that dreams are not reality, why would he move his family to a foreign country based only on a dream?

    And how about Paul’s dream/vision? Paul saw and heard a talking bright light in a dream. Paul saw the men accompanying him to Damascus collapse to the ground with him…in a dream. Paul reported that these men also saw the light but didn’t hear the voice…or heard some kind of noise but didn’t see the light…in a dream….depending which passage of Acts you read.

    So it is obvious that first century Jews were just as likely to believe that a dream is reality as some people do today! People have been seeing angels, bright lights and dead people for thousands of years…in their dreams…and have believed that these events are reality.

    So the fact that four, anonymous, first century books contain stories of people “seeing” dead people and even “seeing” large groups of people “seeing” dead people, should come as no surprise.

    They were vivid dreams. Visions. Nothing more.

  3. beth on June 15, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    I had a vision that I was told was demonic. I believe I was awake but my eyes were closed. I heard thunder/crashing waves. When I opened my eyes I saw swirling clouds and what I knew was Jesus’ face behind the veil of clouds.I felt Godly fear, awe , peace and love. I also knew the clouds were to protect me because I would not be able to physically withstand His actual presence. He communicated to me that he would not leave until I reached out to him and said his name (Jesus). I did so with difficulty because I felt paralyzed. After saying his name and reaching out the vision disappeared as if swilling into a vortex. If Satan was trying to trick me he sure messed up. My walk has been unsteady and I nearly converted to Judaism. But I could never stray from my faith and deny Christ after aknoweleging him in such profound way. The message of this vision was Jesus saying he wouldn’t leave until I
    aknoweleged him, which I understood was as my Lord and savior.

    • Michael on September 29, 2016 at 7:04 pm

      Can you please send me an email twwarrior@gmail.com I just want to ask you something regarding your experience.

    • Joshua Porch on December 17, 2017 at 11:05 pm

      I find it interesting that you mentioned the physical cloud thing. During a particular time where I was in a half-awake state, I saw a variety of things some of which I knew were from the devil and some I knew were from God. However, the particular thing that caught my attention was that during a part of my vision, I saw a bunch of little blue crosses everywhere in the sky, and as I turned my head in the vision, I saw God in a veiled form… He appeared as a golden lion wearing a white robe with blue jewels and designs on the robe, seated in a golden throne upright like a man. I also instantly knew that this was God appearing to me in a form which my human eyes/body COULD survive from seeing. I received no words, only a strong feeling of His presence and the Holy Spirit feeling one gets in their head and skin when the Holy Spirit moves on people. I know it is possible this wasn’t from God but there was nothing unbiblical about that “scene” either.

  4. Michaela on August 23, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    I’m still not sure if this is was a vision or not, I woke up in the middle of the night and I was staring at the wall, I started reading something and once I snapped back in to reality it was gone. I’m pretty sure it was verses from the one and only bible. I forget what verses and such it was because I didn’t know what was going on and I was dead tired. But I also had a dream one time about multiple bible verses but it wasn’t the bible, it was directed to my friend because her dad had died in the dream and she had let me read. Next to it he wrote some stuff in highlighted letters. I’ve had a few other vision type dreams which God spoke to me, declaring I was his. Would that be just a God sent dream or a vision? This last one I’m sure is a vision, I saw my self in bed sleeping and my a bright light was shining through my blinds. I’m still not sure, I’m not positive either. Can someone say if these are visions or not? Thank you for the help. 🙂

  5. Kristen on October 5, 2016 at 11:05 pm

    I am unsure I saw a vision yesterday but it came to me from no where. I contiously know when I’m making things up but this was a sudden thing. It was in regards to my future husband who I know I haven’t yet met.

    We where standing together by a little white church on a grassy hill, under the spring time sun. It looked like a wedding of sorts altho I never have planned on getting married in spring or summer time. Threw this “vision” I recived some detained information about him. He’s 5’10, sandy blond hair, greenish blue eyes, well built, beautiful smile…33 years old and his name is Travis. (I couldn’t have possibly come up with the name Travis on my own because any guy I have day dreamed of in the past never bore that name.) Wile all this was happening I felt a surge of energy…not of my own…it was as if he really was there with me…but physically wasn’t.

    What would you say this is. Was this a vision message or was it my mind fooling around with me?

    • Dustin Jacobs on December 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      i had a similar vision, as though I could see the future in the past. I feel the energy everyday though. Seek and find Travis.

    • Joshua Porch on December 17, 2017 at 10:50 pm

      I had a very similar experience and I’ve been praying to God a lot and asking Him for clarification, trying to find out if mine was false or not. Briefly, the details of mine were this (and please do not be alarmed by a certain coincidence as you will see soon) – I saw a young woman who appeared to be in her mid to late twenties, with sandy-blonde hair that was fairly long, standing at a place where one can overlook a bunch of mountains. She was looking up in the sky at a slight angle, smiling, with the wind blowing her hair. She was wearing a white long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans, she was “attractively shaped” but wearing clothing that was not revealing, implying physical beauty without drawing about inappropriate/lustful thoughts. I felt or heard in the spirit that her name was either Christen or Kristen but I couldn’t tell which spelling since it was a thought impression. It seemed to imply that God was going to give her to me as a wife in the future, and to let that thought give me confidence, and to focus on other important matters in the meantime. The key thing to point out here is that I am currently separated, but not really of my choosing. I married a Christian woman who turned a 180 very quickly after getting married and I believe brought a lot of evil into my life, and upon our son, church people around us, my relatives, etc. I tried as hard as I could and begged/pleaded in prayer with God to rescue our marriage, turn things around, do miracles we desperately needed, etc. I tried over and over and over again in my marriage and it only ended in a true “hell on earth” scenario that I’m still recovering from. So because of this current situation, and because divorce cannot be avoided, and because I half-killed myself trying to be a good biblical husband and father and got trampled on… I had this cognitive dissonance in my soul of “I know what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage” but then also “maybe this is God confirming that He will give me the kind of wife I should have had all along, as recompense for all of the evils I suffered at the hands of my first.” Weeks later, I was asking God in prayer about this vision and I felt like the Holy Spirit spoke to me that I was going to be 33 and she would be 29 at the time we married, but not when we met. Also, there was the peculiar added detail that she would be a virgin. Seeing your name merely caught my attention as I was scrolling through the comments, but then the nature of your vision sounded extremely similar to mine. However, obviously my name isn’t Travis, I’m not 5’10, etc. but the point I’m getting to is that because some of the details of both of our visions were so similar, including very specific ones, then that likely indicates that both of our visions came from the same “place of origin” (either God or the devil) since chance imagination of such strikingly similar details is pretty much zero probability. We just have to keep praying and praying for God to really make clear to us if these were false or truly from Him, and not give up until we get answers from Him that are clear enough to remove any possibility of it being a vain imagination.

  6. Darren on November 23, 2016 at 3:47 am

    can you tell me if it is vision or imagination?

    that night i attended EGR (encounter god retreat). And when we were about to end, our pastor told us to ask Jesus for a spiritual baptism.I followed his instructions and I was shocked when the holy spirit’s pressence made me speak into many languages.I don’t know what’s happening that time but there are many impressions or imaginations or maybe vissions that time.I was crawling that time and I know that I know what’s happening but I can’t control my body from shaking ang speaking in tounges.

    Then maybe I imaginate or maybe God himself showed me a girl in a beautiful gown marrying me. I know who’s this girl and I know i have a llittle feelings for her (crush)

    But my question is, is that true?Did God gave me a true vission that time?
    And why he will gave me that vissions for I am just 15 years old?

    Someone to confirm what’s happening

    • tonia on April 2, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      I pray you are well in christ. This experience has me worried for you. Know that I will pray for you. What stands out is crawling and speaking in toungs. When the Holy spirit comes on you you will have no doubt about who or what it is. Demons crawl sweety. They also speak in tounges. Please pray to Jesus and ask him to help you I will be praying with you. No matter what anyone says know that that experience at your retreat was NOT! Biblically based. Read about king Nebuchadnezzer he crawled when he refused to submit to God and acknowledge him. I know this is hard to hear. But trust you will understand sooner than you think. Pray for truth to be revealed.

  7. Mekk on November 25, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    When I came to Christ two years ago, I wish I’d known all this. I ended up following a demon (actually, I believe multiple demons were involved) who claimed to be Jesus/Holy Spirit for a long time before both the real Holy Spirit and the Bible outed it/them for what they were.
    The shocking thing was how closely they were able to fake it. I don’t think the church as a whole realizes how deceptive they can be- they can start out giving you 99.9% truth and .1% lie. In fact, this “Jesus” never once said anything that directly contradicted the Bible. My dreams/words of knowledge didn’t either. The demon even explained scripture to me in order to upkeep the deception. To anybody on the outside, the fruit of my walk with this “Jesus” was stellar. What tipped me off was how unstable my faith was- instead of standing on the Word of God, my faith was being formed on feelings/visions/dreams/experiences/words of knowledge. Eventually, I came across 1 Corinth 14:33 and realized this amount of instability couldn’t be from God.
    After I rejected the false Jesus/Holy Spirit, they dropped the charade and turned nasty. Real nasty. Any doubt I had on whether I’d be deceived was removed. I re-started my walk with God both awed and humbled. In God’s hands, Satan’s attempts backfired and my faith is stronger than ever.

    We are told in 2 Timothy 3:15-17 that Scripture alone can make us complete and lacking nothing. I’m not saying to never accept visions/dreams/prophecy- God can and does speak to our daily lives in this way. But you cannot cling to these- you have to be grounded enough in God’s Word to put them on the shelf, leave them in God’s hands, test them, and be willing to throw them away if they don’t pass the test, regardless of how nice it sounded. The devil is great at telling us exactly what we want to hear. I had to throw out ages worth of experiences and start my faith walk from scratch.

    Experiences can be taken away from you. Visions/dreams/prophecy can be taken away from you. The recorded Words of God in the Scriptures will NEVER be taken from you.

    Also- feelings of peace/bliss/love do NOT mean an experience is from God. You’ll see New Age followers experiencing the exact same feelings with their “spirit guides,” which are demons. Feelings don’t mean much. In fact, almost every time an angel appears in the Bible, people are terrified. Count how many times the angel’s first words are “Don’t be afraid.” Please, please do not go off feelings.

    • Jonathan on December 1, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Hey Mekk,

      How did you know it was a false Holy spirit? I have been getting demonized myself. I’ve received a vision ect. I feel as though God is there with me fighting these demons. But I would just like to know how you realized this wasn’t God? Could you email me at jonk916@gmail.com?

      • Kenneth Lovette on May 13, 2017 at 10:25 pm

        I had a vision. And another and another. The evil ones were clearly demonic but the One from God made me feel loved

    • Lizette on October 10, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      Hi Mekk. I am also interested in how you knew they were not visions from God.
      I’m asking bc I’ve noticed a lot of people on YouTube are claiming to have had visions of God the father and want to know what truth they may have or not. Please email me if you can ltdiaz@asu.edu

  8. Dustin Jacobs on December 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    1 – I got a vision of Christ at my lowest after i found out about my wife’s infidelity, but to this day i still have no physical proof. It helped me, unknown to myslef, to calm me down and help settle my emotions. 2 – i was given a vision of the second coming of Christ, that the end of days are around the corner and that I would become a prophet. 3 – I have the individual spirit of Christ inside me, as found in the Godhead of the Holy Trinity and will become a vessel that God will use to help to bring peace to the world.

    So is this a real vision? To add to it, i feel as though i have “something” inside of me, physically and physiologically.

  9. Rev. 21. 4 on February 12, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    my name is not important but i a former atheist was converted by a true vision. I CAN ASSURE U U WILL ABSOLUTELY KNOW 100% FACT IF U HAD A TRUE VISION FROM GOD there is no wondering and its very humbling u certaintly DO NOT USE IT as a weapon or think your special rather feel extremely unworthy and wonder why me im the least of all feel. First IT WILL ALLIGN WITH GODS WORD you will bodly know and fear the LORD. U never tell of your vision if it will hurt a believer or non believer or cause a stumbling block. I can assure u that theres is no confusion of if its real or not from my expierence it absolutly will terrify you. If u have a true vision your spiritual desirgnment of hearing the visions of others will be made very clear to u if there bogus. Your dealing with a REAL GOD and from my research iv only believed one vision that iv seen testified and theres details like the descripritions of certain details that will make u know if its true or not. I choose not to expess my vision on this sight unless asked u will know when its appeopriate or not do to situation and unksion of the Holy Spirit. God isnt the author of confusion but TRUTH.

  10. woodrow nichols on April 24, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Revelation did not come to pass quickly, soon, or within any reasonable length of time and according to the
    test of prophecy in Dt. 18, it is false prophecy. Is this too hard to grasp?. I understand it causes
    cognitive dissonance but coming up with fantastic explanations to keep it true is satanic nonsense.
    Read my “Hope You Guess My Name,” at antinomianuniversalism.com for more.

  11. Jdawn2 on May 16, 2017 at 11:39 am

    The first time I expearancd a vission I was 14. I was mad at my self for not being able to stop wondering about why this world confused me and fall asleep because I had to get up early for school. So many questions bothering me. I finally gave up trying and turned over and stared out the window telling myself I was not going to allow my self to fall asleep. Suddenly I felt this hand laying upon me. I assumed that it must be my mother checking to see if I had a fever but wondered why her hand rested across my ear? Suddenly I realized I was no longer in my room but standing up in a place of darkness. As I stood there my eyes became adjusted to where I was able to make out that I was inside of a cave. As I stood there wondering about this I heard something behind me. What was it? People. What kind of people I began thinking? All kinds of people some great some small. What are they doing? Hideing, hideing in the shadows. Why are they hiding? “The Lords Returning”. As soon as I Hurd that I looked up and before me there stood a man who’s eyes seemed to look right through me. I Hurd what sounded like Thunder and then I knew that what I was being told was true. Because I wanted to be there I knew I had to go out and be standing where it was I was supposed to be at the moment of his return so that he might see me. As I was standing next to this big boulder I saw myself comping from out of the mouth of that cave towards me. The next thing that I knew I was standing on top of boulder looking up at the sky that was covered with dark clouds watching and waiting because I knew that he was already there about to come through. Then suddenly the hand lifted off me and I rolled with it and said out loud Mom? No one was there. I got up and found everyone still sleeping. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME…I will post the second time it’s related.

  12. Belen Torres on May 20, 2017 at 11:20 am

    My husband had a vision while still awake: This was his vision: He saw a forked road ahead (he does not know if he was on the road or was just seeing a road), there was a man ahead on a very very tall bike, when the man reached the fork on the road he took a left turn. After than man took the left turn, the man circled around and on the left side of the road were a bunch of sheep, the man on the tall bike took a whip and started striking the sheep and driving then towards the forked road. There were cars coming from the right side of the forked road, then the vision disappeared.
    What could this mean?

  13. Albert Ramos on August 21, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    It’s interesting that some people get visions. According to my book, Satan has been on the prowl of snatching souls by any means necessary, which includes visions. How interesting. https://www.createspace.com/6829741

    • David on September 16, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Yes, I had a vision when I was 25, some 34 years ago, as a new convert to Christ. It was a moving picture, as you would see in a cinema, except that I myself was in the vision as one witnessing it. The vision was totally lifelike, as if it was something I witnessed right in front of me as you would in day to day life.
      What I saw was a market place full of people, selling things. Centrally, Jesus came through, weaving his way between people, until he stopped and looked directly at me. He didn’t open his mouth, but spoke in the Spirit, directly into me. What he said was ‘Are you going to follow me?’ Admittedly these words were not by any means unusual or strange and are totally consistent with scripture from the gospels in which Jesus called people. The experience was however, highly personal and by its very dynamic and loving nature, had a very big impact.
      All I can say is that I am truly grateful to have received this vision and no one is going to persuade me that it was from Satan, as it led me further into following Christ, not away from him. I have been a follower of Christ since this vision and the impact of this was so great that I have remembered it for 34 years.
      I’d also say, we should expect the Lord to speak to us, if we have a real relationship with a living Lord. If he does not speak to us personally in the Word of God, in preaching, in counsel from others, in dreams, in visions or some other way, then all we have is dead religion. Jesus promised that ‘his sheep hear his voice’. If that is not happening, then one has good reason to ask if they are truly following Christ with all one’s heart, soul and mind.

  14. Summer on February 12, 2018 at 11:03 am

    This article is great!

    • julie on February 14, 2018 at 9:53 am

      i have a question if someone can answer please
      a part of this article confused me where they wrote

      “God declared through the prophet Ezekiel that those who saw false visions were to have no part among His people”

      was that poorly written?
      that was only towards the false prophets who were lying and preaching lies etc…
      thats not for people who might have false visions sometimes but use discernment to separate the false from true with help from gods word to keep themselves from being being tricked or deceived. right??

      • julie on February 15, 2018 at 9:16 am

        UPDATE!!! i just realized that was from the old testament and right after that sentence they talk about the false prophets so it was only about the false prophets.

  15. julie on February 14, 2018 at 9:52 am

    i have a question if someone can answer please
    a part of this article confused me where they wrote

    “God declared through the prophet Ezekiel that those who saw false visions were to have no part among His people”

    was that poorly written?
    that was only towards the false prophets who were lying and preaching lies etc…
    thats not for people who might have false visions sometimes but use discernment to separate the false from true with help from gods word to keep themselves from being being tricked or deceived. right??

    • julie on February 15, 2018 at 9:16 am

      UPDATE!!! i just realized that was from the old testament and right after that sentence they talk about the false prophets so it was only about the false prophets.

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