by William J. Stewart
Does God speak to folks directly, by visions or in dreams today? Many in the religious world will answer yes, citing personal experiences as evidence. As we noted last week, such claims cannot be authenticated, and the messages attributed to God by people are often contradictory.
There are several New Testament texts about communication from God. We want to look at some of those today.
John 10:27—My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
Does this text demand that His voice be audibly heard? The idea of hearing His voice is used throughout John 10 (v 3, 4, 16, 27). Is He saying that one must literally hear His voice to be His? Notice verse 6:
Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
It’s an illustration. Many heard His voice in the 1st century but didn’t believe. Were they saved? His point is not we will audibly hear His voice, but we will know Him and His word. In contrast, we don’t hear the voice of strangers or follow them. Does that mean Christians cannot audibly hear strangers? No, it means we won’t follow false teachings of a stranger. But if we make one an audible voice, of necessity the other must be too. Foolishness!
God Speaking In The New Testament
While Jesus was upon the earth, many people heard His voice. However, the number of times He (apart from being in the flesh) or the Father speak audibly in the New Testament is very few. When the Father does speak, it is worth noting what He said. Notice:
…suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ (Mt 3:17)
…a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’ (Mt 17:5)
When the Father spoke directly to people, He pointed them to His Son. That is the very thing we saw last week in Hebrews 1:1-2, God has spoken at various times and in various ways, but now speaks to us by His Son. Does that mean Jesus is now speaking audibly from heaven?
Read through the Scriptures and search for Jesus speaking audibly with people after His ascension recorded in Acts 1. We don’t see Jesus audibly speaking from heaven until Acts 9, when He spoke to Saul of Tarsus. No text after that has Jesus audibly speaking with someone on earth until the book of Revelation. But there, John says he was “in the Spirit” (1:10; 4:1-12; 17:3; 21:10), that is, he received the Revelation as a vision. If Jesus were speaking regularly with people on earth in an audible way, we should expect to see such in the New Testament, but we do not.
Well, maybe the Holy Spirit is speaking audibly to people today. The Holy Spirit did speak to a few people a few times in the New Testament, but again, it was rare. The first time we have a record of the Spirit speaking to someone is in Acts 8, when the Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian eunuch. After that, we have a record of the Spirit speaking to Peter in Acts 10, calling Barnabas and Saul to a specific work in Acts 13, and perhaps to Paul and Silas in Acts 16. That’s all. God’s Spirit was not speaking directly to Christians on a regular basis.
What About Visions & Dreams?
We know that the Lord used visions and dreams to reveal things to people. But, as it was rare for the Lord to speak directly, visions and dreams were also seldom experienced. We see a record of visions in Acts 9, as Ananias was commanded to go to Saul; Acts 10, as the Lord showed Peter that the Gentiles could receive the gospel; Acts 16, as Paul was called to go to Macedonia; and Acts 18, where Paul was given assurance by the Lord in the city of Corinth. Later, when writing to the Corinthians, Paul wrote:
It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Cor 12:1-4)
If visions and dreams are commonplace, why did Paul not mention the man who received a vision or a dream or a revelation last week? Why does he need to go back 14 years to speak of this? It is because they are not commonplace, and they were not given to every and any Christian. They were given to specific people at specific times.
Well, At Least Angels, Right?
If God speaking directly to people or through a dream or vision was rare, then maybe He is sending angels regularly to His people, right? No. Appearances of angels in the New Testament are as rare as the Lord audibly speaking, visions and dreams. There was heightened angelic activity in the months before Jesus’ birth (angels appeared to Zacharias, Mary, Joseph and to the shepherds in the field when Jesus was born). Angels also bore witness to His resurrection at the empty tomb. After this, messages coming from angels become exceptionally rare: an angel freed Peter & John from prison and told them to preach (Acts 5:17-20), an angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter (Acts 10:1-5), an angel led Peter out of prison a second time (Acts 12:1-9), and an angel assured Paul that no lives would be lost on the boat he sailed upon (Acts 27:21-24).
Two texts for us to consider about angels. First from Hebrews 1:
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)
Angels are ministering to God’s people. Whether we ever see them or not is another question. Hebrews 13:2 speaks about some unwittingly entertaining angels. Angels of God may have ministered to us in some way without us knowing it. However, part of their ministry to us IS NOT revelation. Hear the apostle Paul:
…even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
God is not sending angels to reveal tidbits of truth to us. All truth has been given, and is recorded in the Scriptures. We are commanded to read and understand (Ephesians 3:3; 5:17).
If God speaking audibly or by a vision or by a dream was so rare in the first century when the apostles were here, on what basis do folks today claim to have these on a regular basis? It is a claim set in ignorance or arrogance—perhaps both. More next week…