Does God still give visions?

In Acts 2:17, Peter quotes a prophecy from the book of Joel that “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” and “your young men will see visions.” The Greek word for visions means God-given visions, and so does the Hebrew word for visions in Joel 2:28, so yes, God gives visions, but does Acts 2:17 mean God will be giving visions to Christians all through the centuries, or was it meant only for the Jews back then?

In context, verse 14, Peter is talking to his “Fellow Jews” when he quotes Joel, and he ends the quote with “Men of Israel” in verse 22, so the prophecy is clearly meant for the Jews and Israel back then. But why Joel? Because Joel’s prophecy was both a warning and hope for the Jews of Peter’s time, just it had been a warning and hope for the Jews of Joel’s time.

In both Acts 2 and Joel the Jews were heading for the “dreadful day of the Lord” (Joel 1:15), a time when Judah would be attacked and destroyed by an invading army. In Joel the attacker was most likely Babylon, and in Acts it would be the Romans in 70 AD, when Jerusalem would be totally destroyed.

To the Jews in Joel’s day who responded to his warning and repented, God promised mercy, protection, and the pouring out of his Spirit and other “wonders” to provide clear evidence that he was with them before calamity struck, and that he would save any survivors who called on him when calamity struck. So hope was offered with the warning. But the Jews of Joel’s day didn’t respond to God’s call, and all the way up to Acts 2 they never received protection from pagan powers and they never received the Holy Spirit or the other wonders Joel promised.

And now in Acts 2 the Jews are warned again of the dreadful day of the Lord coming, in their case the impending attack by the Romans, but with the same hope being offered of the pouring out of the Spirit and other wonders to provide clear evidence God was with them, and that God would spare those who called on him from the calamity coming.

And many Jews did heed the warning (Acts 2:40), and the Holy Spirit was poured out on 3,000 of them in one day, followed by all sorts of visions and other wonders given and done by the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.

In context, then, Acts 2:17 is about God giving visions back then, and why. If some take that to mean God still gives visions today, Acts 2:17 is not a good verse for proving it.


Hello reality; goodbye religion

One thing God got right is death. He said we’d die, and there hasn’t been a human yet who hasn’t died. There is the hope, of course, that scientists will discover how to reverse the ageing gene, but how long will humanity survive when multiple billions of ageless humans have drained the earth’s resources?

Death comes to us one way or another, either in the natural ageing process, often advanced by disease and poverty, or at the hands of other humans. Hello reality, therefore; we’re all going to die.

But hello religion, because religion jumps in with a soothing solution: Death happens, yes, but not to worry, there’s another life after death, based on some vision of the afterlife a man somewhere had. And because so many people in his region of the world believed in his vision, it must be true, right?

But the same argument can be used in support of Jesus, because he also claimed he had special insight into life after death. He even claimed he’d come from God and been sent by God to solve the problem of human death in himself, and humans would no longer have to worry about death if they believed and followed him. And many people in his region of the world did follow him too.

But Jesus’ credibility took a nosedive when he died. So now what proof was there of life after death when Jesus, just like all the other charismatic visionaries in human history, died, and with their deaths the proof of whether they were right or not about their version of the afterlife died with them?

But hello reality; Jesus came back to life again. And the most shocked people of all were his followers, who thought Jesus had been talking through his hat when he predicted he would rise from the dead. But now he’d gone and done it, forcing that rag tag bunch of shattered, despondent men and women to face that reality.

And face it they did. It’s what started them on the road to believing in this man. It wasn’t for any religious reason or superstition based on vague, unprovable visions; it was based on evidence, the pure, raw evidence that a human being had defeated death, and he was standing there and talking to them as proof of it.

So hello reality, goodbye religion, because who needs religion when the proof of life after death has already happened, and a human has defeated death? But religion breezes over that as if it never happened, resulting in all sorts of weird ideas about the afterlife that have no proof whatsoever to back them up.

Visions, dreams and “messages from the Lord”

It was documented brilliantly in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ that the human mind can create people and events that seem utterly real but aren’t real at all, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. How can a person say with certainty, therefore, that he’s receiving supernatural visions, dreams and messages from the Lord when they could have a natural cause too, like a change in medication, mental illness, intense stress, or simply eating too much before bed?

The human mind can be easily manipulated too. A hypnotist can make people think and do all kinds of crazy things, none of which are from God. Who can say with certainty, therefore, that the vision he saw, or voice he heard, came from God, when it could simply be his own mind playing tricks on him?

History has also shown how visions, dreams and “messages from God” can lead to all sorts of charismatic visionaries starting new religions that conflict with other religions in their beliefs and ideas about the afterlife. History is now littered with warring religions, denominational splits, wild speculation, failed prophecies, arrogant know-it-alls, chronic self-deception and horrible disillusionment, all caused by people who claimed they were receiving direct revelation from God.

So how can we know if something is from God, or not? Fortunately, God himself provided the means for detecting a real message from him. He sent Jesus Christ with all the messages we’d ever need, and then confirmed his choice of messenger personally by bringing him back from the dead. So all we need do when someone says he or she has a vision or a message from God is compare it to the message of the one messenger we know for certain came from God, and if it agrees, great; if it doesn’t, ignore it.

It won’t stop people claiming their visions and revelations are from God, of course, because it’s a great attention-grabber and it gives average folks centre stage and a following of adoring groupies. It won’t stop people making great pronouncements about their absolute authority as a prophet either, or stop their ugly warnings to those who “dare challenge the Lord’s anointed.”

But we CAN challenge them, because we’ve already got all the messages from God we need, delivered in person by God himself when he was here on earth with us. The only vision we need, then, is a clearer vision of what he’s already told us in his word. And to aid us in that quest, God promised us a Spirit helper (John 14:26), who also happens to be the “Spirit of truth,” enabling us to recognize a self-proclaimed prophet talking through his hat.

“The Lord spoke to me….”

I’ve had several people tell me the Lord spoke to them, with messages meant for me. On one occasion I was told I’d have a dream that night that would change my life, and not knowing any better I believed the man, but the dream didn’t happen, nor did the predictions by other people that I would rise to a high position in my church denomination, and that my local congregation would grow into many hundreds of people.

All three predictions failed, but the people making them were utterly convinced the Lord was speaking to them, despite the statement in Hebrews 1:1-2 that “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

God’s not in the habit anymore of speaking direct messages through human prophets like he did in the Old Testament. Instead, he concentrates our attention on what he revealed to us through his Son with the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Lord has already spoken to us what we need to know through his Word, Jesus, and it’s the Spirit’s job to help us understand it, not give us new messages through other prophets.

Ah but, some might say, I hear things in my head, like an inner voice, that I should talk to someone, or send them a card of encouragement, or offer help of some kind, and on so many occasions when that happens a crucial need is met. Like the story of the Christian zooming past a stalled car who suddenly felt the need to go back and help. He was late for an important meeting, though, so on he zoomed, but the thought kept pressing on his mind so strongly that many miles later he turned round, drove back to the stalled car, where he easily pinpointed the car’s problem and everyone was on their way in minutes. “The Lord spoke to me,” the Christian said, and who can deny it when the fruits were so good?

So what’s the difference between saying “The Lord spoke to me” through an inner thought that led to an act of love, and saying “The Lord spoke to me” with a direct message from God about a person’s future? The difference is clear from Scripture, that “in these last days” God isn’t speaking through the voices of human prophets, he’s speaking through his Spirit into our hearts (Galatians 4:6) to create belief in his Son and love for one another (1 John 3:23-24), and it’s when those things are happening that we know the Lord is speaking to us.