In the biblical sense, dreams and visions only differ in how they occur. In a dream, the Lord speaks to an individual (or shows them something) while they are asleep. On the other hand, a vision occurs when God reveals something to a person while they are awake. The idea of dreams and visions in our modern time has been controversial for many years. Hopefully, everything below will give greater insight into the matter.
The truth regarding dreams and visions in today’s church possibly lies in the middle. We already know that the gift of prophecy (in the sense of receiving and proclaiming new and future truths) died out roughly around the closing of the Canon (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Since the Bible’s completion, there has not been any need for any “new teachings” since that time (none have been given since). However, this does not remove the possibility that (very rarely and occasionally) God does speak to individuals through dreams and visions. The Bible is entirely silent on this particular issue. But there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that God doesn’t rarely communicate to some believers in these two particular ways.
Suppose a person has a dream or vision about truth already in Scripture, good and well. One could consider that a gift and blessing from the Lord. But if said dream or vision contains something not in the Bible (new revelation or teaching), it should be rejected out of hand. There is always a danger that recipients of spiritual messages (whether from God or the evil one) may read into their experiences too far, so they begin to wrongly act on their experience by misreading it. Regardless of whatever took place, all believers must continuously focus on spiritual growth and not let anything distract them from their good course.
So what could be an example of a vision a person might receive today? One possibility comes to mind. For example, the Lord may speak to someone about something personal that will happen in their life (either with them or their family) and then that may come true later on. This is not entirely impossible, considering it contained no biblical teaching or prophecy. The Bible (for obvious reasons) will not tell us what will happen (for example) in Jen’s life three days from now. Those are personal matters involving no new teachings. But we must remember that even good things that God gives us can become a distraction or even a test of our faith. If not handled correctly, God’s provisions (or gifts/blessings) can be abused, and misapplied.
A prime example was the Corinthians. Some in that assembly possessed the gift of tongues (no longer available today). But just because something can be a distraction, abused, and misapplied does not mean God never intended us to have it. So if the Lord really has spoken to an individual through a dream or vision (for whatever reason(s)), then it is still something that person can appreciate for what it was. The point we are making here is that the argument “visions and dreams can’t occur today at all because they would be a distraction” does not remove the possibility of God occasionally speaking to certain people in these manners (few and far between as they may be). The simple rebuttal to this argument is that just about anything in this world can be a distraction. God may intend to give specific individuals certain things for His glory and own reasons. What the person chooses to do with what they’ve received is up to them.
The occasional dream or vision is not the same as consistently and constantly being shown things by God (and has nothing to do with any spiritual gift). So if they do occur today, they will not be common throughout anyone’s life. Secondly, the content of the message would not be anything unbiblical per se (unless it is demonic attack) in that it is anything “new." The Bible already has all the information we need (even if it doesn’t tell us as much as we may want to know). So for God to tell someone about an experience that will occur later in their life (however far) is a personal matter that has nothing to do with any new written truth and prophecies. The Lord has a purpose for everything. And considering that He is sovereign (as One who does what He wishes) and works in mysterious ways, it is not our right to say He does not occasionally speak to certain believers presently in the ways we are discussing. We are not God, so we should never attempt to “play” His part as if we knew His mind (1 Corinthians 2:16, Romans 11:34, Isaiah 40:13).
However, we may be tempted to ask, “But why would the Lord choose to communicate to anyone directly today?” There may be multiple reasons for this, but the fact that we don’t fully understand them does not mean He does not do so (or that He has no reasons at all). He does have His reasons (assuming this is true), even if they are not clear to us. And, as a brief side note, it is possible that God may speak to an individual (assuming they want to know Him further) through a dream or vision in a land where the Gospel is not commonly available. That is definitely a possibility. Needless to say, the Lord will do whatever He desires to get the gospel to those who genuinely want it.
It is not within our right to judge the personal experience of another. But if it goes against what the Bible teaches (such as a false dream or vision or someone claiming to possess any of the past sign gifts (no longer available today)), we are obligated to reject it.
Regarding dreams and visions, most of us (excluding those who may have had an experience) cannot be sure about this simply because the Bible says nothing about this subject concerning our modern time. Plus, unless we were a recipient, we only have other people’s words to go by. But even though many so-called dreams and visions are undoubtedly false and misleading (demonic in many cases), we should not allow that fact to rule out the possibility that God occasionally speaks to believers and unbelievers directly in the manner under discussion. But even a genuine experience can be mishandled.
Typically, many have and do claim that God told them to do this or that (a different scenario from the example we cited above about family and personal matters). We have a right to be skeptical of such claims (though not dogmatic about whether they are false unless they contradict Scripture). The reason is because those types of experiences have led to a host of dangerous and unbiblical actions taken by those who claimed God communicated to them through some vision or dream (we see much of this (though not just limited to them) within Charismatic circles). Instead, these types of experiences (God told me to do this or gave me this information) very often lead the person down a dangerous path. Although some may be true, the best step to take in dealing with something like that is to focus on continuous growth in the Word. There is nothing we can’t know about what to do that God’s Word followed by Spiritual growth will not reveal to us either presently or later on. So many Christians have asked, “what does God want me to do?” Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t tell us what (as an example) an individual’s spiritual gift, ministry, and career path should be because we are expected to figure those things out through a closer walk with Jesus. So the answer to that question is to grow spiritually, not rely on some experience that may or may not have been from God. True, continued spiritual advance may lead one down the path they were told to go directly by the Lord. But never should any dreams or visions (if they were indeed that) be the first and primary “compass” (or any source at all) to gauge one’s life choices. In other words, we don’t need them to tell us where to go and what to do because spiritual growth naturally reveals all these things. Besides, we walk by faith and not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). So if said experience is confirmed through our spiritual advance, that could be considered a gift from God.
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
False teachers are the most extreme example of those who misread or misapply what they claim to have seen or heard (through a dream or vision). It has been common since Old Testament times (and still prevalent in our day) to hear many claim they have received direct revelation from God. But such is not the case when they are false teachers whose teachings and experiences contradict the truth (that and there is no new truth currently being given). And the sad reality is that many of those who turn to error were once believers themselves. Either way, false teachers and prophets can arise from within and outside the church.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Many well-known “teachers” have risen to power using their past experiences to legitimize their authority. Many claim, “God spoke to me this way and told me this!” But again, if what they teach and say doesn’t line up with Scripture, then it is false. And even if the Bible doesn’t refute what they claim to have undergone, we have every right to be skeptical (even if the experience was possibly genuine) because it is very much possible the experience was misread and misapplied (or it may have been demonic in origin).
For the above reasons, we must never place our faith and trust in experiences over what the Bible says. We have already mentioned dreams and visions as a possibility today. But many (if not most) are undoubtedly false and misleading. And if something is unbiblical (most likely from the evil one), it cannot be from God. This is why we must pay heed and close attention to what Scripture says. Even if said message was from God, it can still be mishandled and misapplied. That is why we should never read too deeply into these things. The best thing to do is to move on from them and “carry on” in committed growth, progress, and production. If God did speak to us, then we can take some good from that just as long as it contributes to our growth. But the threat of compromise by irresponsibly reacting according to what we think may have happened is exceptionally high because it can stunt and even wreck our spiritual advance. That is why we must heed the Spirit’s still small voice by following His leading (combined with the teachings and godly advice of Scripture and sound, qualified teachers). When we do things this way, we must allow the Bible (not any outside “source”) to be our guide.