It’s true that God spoke through dreams to some people in the past, but even then, it was a rare occurrence. Hebrews 1:1-2 indicates that the principal way in which God communicates with people today is through Christ via the written Word that God inspired, not through visions or dreams. Additionally, the Scripture advises Christians to be on guard against spirits (fallen angels or demons) that attempt to mislead (1 John 4:1). One of the ways that they deceive people is through paranormal activities.
The Definition of a Dream
Once again I want to emphasize that we will define a dream using the scriptural definition. We often speak of day dreaming or following our dreams in addition to our standard concept of dreaming, but here we will focus on the dreams that we have during sleep. The Bible defines a dream in Job 33:15
, “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed;”. The Bible says several things in this one verse. First of all, a dream is a vision of the night. The verse also teaches that a dream occurs when deep sleep falls upon men. According to the Bible, a vision is something that occurs when a man is awake, while a dream is something that occurs when a man is asleep. Some who study dreams say that we are always dreaming when we sleep, but we only remember the dreams right before we awake. This would actually fit with the scriptures in several cases where men remember a dream that actually woke them up.
The Cause of a Dream
From everything that I have read about dreams, it seems as though we still do not have solid answers as to what causes them. The Bible, however, does contain a verse that quite possibly gives us the cause. Consider Ecclesiastes 5:3
, “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.” Now it is interesting that several who study dreams suggest that when your body slows down to rest, your mind continues to work. The Bible says that the multitude of business will cause dreams. This could be the multitude of physical and emotional business or it could be the multitude of mental business, but either way it appears that this is what causes us to dream. Though your body settles in rest, your mind can keep right on working and thinking.
New Testament Dreams and Visions
Visions in the New Testament also served to provide information that was unavailable elsewhere. Specifically, God used visions and dreams to identify Jesus and to establish His church.
Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23): God used a vision to tell Zacharias, an old priest, that he would soon have an important son. Not long after, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, had John the Baptist.
Joseph (Matthew 1:20; 2:13): Joseph would have divorced Mary when he found out she was pregnant, but God sent an angel to him in a dream, convincing him that the pregnancy was of God. Joseph went ahead with the marriage. After Jesus was born, God sent two more dreams, one to tell Joseph to take his family to Egypt so Herod could not kill Jesus and another to tell him Herod was dead and that he could return home.
Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19): During Jesus’ trial, Pilate’s wife sent an urgent message to the governor encouraging him to free Jesus. Her message was prompted by a dream she had—a nightmare, really—that convinced her that Jesus was innocent and that Pilate should have nothing to do with His case.
Ananias (Acts 9:10): It would have taken nothing less than a vision from God to convince Ananias, a Christian in Damascus, to visit Paul, the persecutor of Christians. But because Ananias was obedient to God’s leading, Paul regained his sight and found the truth about those he was trying to kill.
Cornelius (Acts 10:1-6): God spoke to an Italian centurion named Cornelius who feared the God of the Jews. In his vision, Cornelius saw an angel who told him where to find Simon Peter and to send for him and listen to his message. Cornelius obeyed the vision, Peter came and preached, and Cornelius and his household full of Gentiles were saved by the grace of God.
Peter (Acts 10:9-15): While Peter was praying on the rooftop of a house in Joppa, God gave him a vision of animals lowered in something like a sheet. A voice from heaven told Peter to kill the animals (some of which were unclean) and eat them. The vision served to show that Christians are not bound by kosher law and that God had pronounced Gentiles “clean”; that is, heaven is open to all who follow Jesus.
Paul: Paul had several visions in his missionary career. One sent him to preach in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10). Another encouraged him to keep preaching in Corinth (Acts 18:9-11). God also gave him a vision of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-6).
John (Revelation): Nearly the entire book of Revelation is a vision John had while exiled on the island of Patmos. John’s vision explains in more detail some of the events that God had shown Daniel.