“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB).
1) How Vivid were Visions from God? (Tom Edwards)
How Vivid were Visions from God?
Have you ever wondered how clear and lifelike visions from God must have been? It was one of the “many ways” (Heb. 1:1) in which the Lord spoke to the prophets in time’s past.
The term itself is first seen in Genesis 15:1, in which the account declares that “…the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…” It is also seen with regard to Jacob (Gen. 46:2), Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 7:17), Iddo the seer (2 Chron. 9:29), Isaiah (Isa. 1:1), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1), Daniel (Dan. 2:19), Amos (Amos 1:1), Obadiah (Obad. 1:1), Nahum (Nah. 1:1), Habakkuk (Hab. 2:2), Ananias (Acts 9:10), Paul (Acts 9:12), Cornelius (Acts 10:3), Peter (Acts 10:17), and the apostle John (Rev. 9:17). All of these received visions from God, and how many more there must have also been! For the Lord had “spoken to the prophets” and “gave numerous visions” (Hos. 12:10).
Consider Samuel’s experience with visions when still a boy (1 Sam. 3:1-15). During one night, God had called him three times by name; but Samuel thought it was Eli calling instead. The voice was that real! On the fourth time, Samuel then responded, for Eli had told him to do so; and the Lord, who “came and stood and called as at other times…” (v. 10), then spoke His message to young Samuel, which is all referred to as a “vision” (v. 15).
The book of Isaiah begins by saying, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isa. 1:1). Later in the book, Isaiah declares that “A harsh vision has been shown to me…” (Isa. 21:2).
Ezekiel, while in Babylonian captivity, mentions in the first verse of his book that while he was “by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” Some of the visions Ezekiel received were most strange in appearance, outlandish: “As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle” (Ezek. 1:4-10). He then goes on throughout the rest of the chapter to vividly describe more of what he saw in this vision. But notice especially the last three verses: “Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking” (vv. 26-28).
Not only did Ezekiel hear and see visions from God, but he was also “transported” by them. He writes: “….as I was sitting in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell on me there. Then I looked, and behold, a likeness as the appearance of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal. He stretched out the form of a hand and caught me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the appearance which I saw in the plain. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, raise your eyes now toward the north.’ So I raised my eyes toward the north, and behold, to the north of the altar gate was this idol of jealousy at the entrance. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here, so that I would be far from My sanctuary? But yet you will see still greater abominations” (Ezek. 8:1-6).
Ezekiel had been in Babylonian captivity. Babylon was about 500 miles straight across from Jerusalem. Of course, travelers would follow the Fertile Crescent NW, arching over at the top, and coming down south into the land of Israel for about a 900-mile journey, instead of going straight across the desert. But Ezekiel was transported in a vision by God, so physical distances are irrelevant.
Notice, too, that not only did Ezekiel see visions, hear God, and be “transported,” but he also could touch, feel, and interact with what he saw in the vision! For look what he goes on to say: “Then He brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, a hole in the wall. He said to me, ‘Son of man, now dig through the wall.’ So I dug through the wall, and behold, an entrance. And He said to me, ‘Go in and see the wicked abominations that they are committing here.’ So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. Standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel… each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising” (vv. 7-11). So much imagery! And all of which he could see, touch, feel, hear, smell, interact with, and experience! These visions were way beyond mere vague notions or foggy impressions! And since Ezekiel could move around in them and interact, these visions must have been at least three dimensional! How real they were!
Ezekiel then relates other things God declared and revealed to him by a vision. Following that, the prophet then writes of his “return” to Babylon: “And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me. Then I told the exiles all the things that the LORD had shown me” (Ezek. 11:24-25).
How real that vision was! But would Ezekiel have had any less trouble in explaining exactly how all that was happening to him than the apostle Paul when saying, “…but I will go on 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 out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows – was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:1-5). Paul is speaking in the third person about himself in this passage. He knows this miraculous event happened to him, but he can’t fully explain the process of how it took place. For he knew not whether he had actually left his own body or remained in it when he was caught up to that heavenly realm. But how vivid and beautifully real it must have all been to him — and even though it is referred to as “visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Cor. 12:1)!
Like Ezekiel, the apostle John was also given some very unusual visions by God for the Revelation letter, which are highly figurative and symbolic to the reader (cf. Rev. 9:17-21).
But now consider even more of just how real in appearance these visions must have been to those receiving them. In Acts 12, “Peter was kept in prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God” (v. 5). “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and put on your sandals.’ And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’ And he went out and continued to follow, and HE DID NOT KNOW THAT WHAT WAS BEING DONE BY THE ANGEL WAS REAL, BUT THOUGHT HE WAS SEEING A VISION” (vv. 6-9, emphasis mine).
Peter knew about visions. He had received one prior when on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s in Joppa. In that vision, Peter “saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. A voice came to him, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat!’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’ Again a voice came to him a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky” (vv. 11-16). This is referred to as a “vision” (Acts 10:19; 11:5). So, yes, Peter was well aware of how real a vision could appear.
But now Peter was seeing an actual event, which wasn’t a vision, when an angel of the Lord had come to him in prison (whom he had seen), had struck him on his side to awaken him (which he had felt), with the chains now falling from his hands miraculously (which he could also see and feel), and his obeying the angel’s instructions to gird himself, to put on his sandals and a cloak, and to follow the angel (which he could see and experience himself doing). Peter was involved in all that. It was all really happening — but Peter thought it was just a vision! Doesn’t that indicate how real visions from God must have been?! They were certainly not just a hazy awareness, or some type of foggy image that cannot be clearly seen. For in that jail, Peter was seeing reality; but it was so far from a normal event that it seemed to him like a vision! So the vision he had seen at Simon the tanner’s must have been vividly real with lifelikeness — like seeing reality! And would not the same be also so for the many others — from Abram on down — who had also received visions from God? How amazingly real and clear it must have been for them!
(All Scripture from the NASB, unless otherwise indicated.)
The Steps That Lead to Eternal Salvation
1) Hear the gospel, for that is how faith comes (Rom. 10:17; John 20:30,31).
2) Believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24; John 3:18).
3) Repent of sins (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30).
4) Confess faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9,10; Acts 8:36-38).
5) Be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:26,27; 1 Pet. 3:21).
6) Continue in the faith, living for the Lord; for, if not, salvation can be lost (Heb. 10:36-39; Rev. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:20-22).
CHURCH OF CHRIST
1402 Tebeau Street, Waycross, GA 31501
Sunday services: 9:00 a.m. (Bible class); 10 a.m. & 5 p.m. (worship)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. (Bible class)
evangelist/editor: Tom Edwards (912) 281-9917
http://thomastedwards.com/go (Older version of Gospel Observer website without pictures, but back to March 1990)
http://ThomasTEdwards.com/audioser.html (audio sermons)