The prophet Joel wrote that in the last days, God would pour out His Spirit upon all believers, and that young people would see divine visions while older people would dream dreams. Peter later quoted Joel’s prophecy in a sermon to more than 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost, where the gift of the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the newborn church of Jesus Christ.
What are these divine visions, and how do they differ from dreams?
First of all, the dreams that Joel is talking about are not the routine dreams we frequently experience at night. The dreams referred to in the Bible are divine visual messages from God received while sleeping. Every detail is vivid, fully remembered, and serves a divine purpose. The messages are given by God at His initiative, not ours.
Visions are similar to divine dreams, but received when the person is still awake, perhaps in some kind of spiritual prayer state. Neither experience is likely to be frequent or common – that does not seem to be the way God normally works in scripture, so watch out for counterfeits. But God will do whatever He wants to do, whenever He wants to do it.
Many of the prophetic authors in the Old Testament had visions of heaven and its throne as part of their special calling into a life of ministry and service to God. The Lord spoke His word through these faithful servants to weave a tapestry of vision and revelation about God, the future of Israel, and the coming kingdom of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Jesus came the first time to bear witness to His kingdom and to offer a sacrifice on the cross for the cleansing and removal of our sin. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection from the dead purchased the gift of holiness and a new life for all believers, life that stretches out forever with God into eternity.
While on earth, Jesus picked twelve apostles as His inner circle to assist with building out the kingdom and to spread the gospel after He ascended into heaven. One of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, would betray Jesus unto death, then hang himself in shame and disgrace. Tradition tells us that ten more of the apostles would be killed as a result of their faithful service to Christ. Only one of the original twelve, John, lived to an old age, and even then, he was taken prisoner and placed in exile on the island of Patmos. It was here that the Lord Jesus came to John to give him a series of visions. These were recorded in the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation.
John’s series of revelations began one prayerful Sunday when he received a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And after turning I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and wrapped around the chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been heated to a glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. Revelation 1:12-15 (NASB)
Jesus then gave John words of commendation and warning to pass along in a letter to the seven churches that John was bishop over. After addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each church, John was then given a vision of heaven, as recorded in Revelation Chapter 4. In it, John saw the same heavenly throne room that was seen by the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, each recording their observations with a different emphasis and with some new or different detail added.
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and someone was sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.
5 Out from the throne came flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God. Revelation 4:1-5 (NASB)
John’s vision of heaven in the Book of Revelation was as full of splendor and glory as the ones recorded by the Old Testament prophets. God gave these visions to His servants to be shared with us so that, as we admire the beauty of God’s physical creation, we remember that there is much more to the story – a spiritual realm that we have not yet seen, something far greater than can be expressed with human words. One day, we, too, will experience this profound vision and incomparable revelations that will testify to the limitless wonder of God.
What aspects of God’s creation impress you the most? What do these reveal about the character and nature of our Creator?
Lord, You have granted us access to Your amazing Creation, yet You value each one of us far more than even Your beautiful universe. You have placed an eternal soul within each of us, and You long to be in fellowship with us each day. Cleanse us of the stain of sin and failure and place Your Holy Spirit within us. Make us alive in You so that we may reflect Your love to others and boldly approach Your throne in prayer by day or night. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.