Timothy Leary and his psychedelic trips had nothing on these guys.
Throughout the Bible, people had visions. The prophets wrote about strange apparitions of monsters, heavenly beings and unearthly animals. Some examples are found in the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation.
Since these stories are sacred text, they are not the ravings of lunatics. What are we to make of these visions?
Henrietta C. Mears, a pioneer in Christian education and founder of Gospel Light Publications, defines a vision as “a way God showed someone a truth that would otherwise not be known. God sent visions to show a message of truth in pictures” (“What the Bible Is All About”).
God communicates through visions for various reasons.
1. To get our attention. Even the most devout person can get entangled in the distractions of daily life. At times we need something flashy and shiny to draw us back to God.
2. To send a special message. A vision was often an order for someone to do a specific task or a call to ministry. The vision gave the message high priority.
3. To teach a lesson. The strange visions were educational tools to help God’s people understand. Visual learning is often more productive than oral teaching.
All prophetic visions included an explanation of the images and their meanings. God never intended his word to arrive jumbled or confused.
4. To speak directly to the faithful. The prophets preached during turbulent times, when foreign nations were invading or conquering the Holy Land. The book of Revelation was written during Roman occupation when Christians were martyred for their faith.
These particular visions were given in a “code.” The people of God understood the fanciful images that represented the rulers and nations of their time. To outsiders, the stories were gibberish.
Modern-day readers should take care in interpreting the visions. For example, some have said the images in Revelation refer to contemporary personalities. But St. John knew nothing about 21st century public figures.
Also, many of the images are symbolic, not realistic, to convey a teaching that would be difficult to describe otherwise. Human words are inadequate to fully describe God’s splendor.
The prophets were not fortunetellers who predicted future events. Rather, their goal was to give a message of hope, comfort or repentance to the people in their immediate circumstances. The Israelites who were suffering in exile were more concerned with the here and now than in events destined for years away.
Yet many of the prophets spoke of a future time of prosperity and peace beyond the end of the current situation or generation. The early Christians saw many of these prophecies ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Why did only a few of the biblical writers see visions? Those who did were persons who walked closely with God and stayed tuned to his voice. If we can’t hear God, perhaps we are not listening.
Instead of trying to construct timelines or name figures from the visions, perhaps we should concentrate on the deeper meaning instead. During the difficult times, the prophets urged the people to stay faithful and hopeful because God still loved them and would soon bring them home.
When the prophets pronounced judgment, God was urging the people to repent and live righteous lives.
These messages are still relevant today.
Reach Sally Carpenter at firstname.lastname@example.org.