Last time, we talked about a few people in the Old Testament who received dreams for guidance, warning, preparation, and revelation of what the future would hold. The New Testament gives us several examples of people hearing from God through dreams as well, and for the same reasons.
While Pilate was in the process of trying Jesus, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just man, for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). Pilate, because of his fear of man, chose to ignore her warning, and history tells us that thereafter he was demoted for incompetence over other matters, ending in disgrace.
Jesus’ step-father Joseph received specific direction from God in four dreams, in at least three of which an angel appeared to him with a message (Matthew 1:20 – 2:23). In that same passage, we see that the wise men were also warned in a dream not to return to Herod (Matthew 2:12).
The Apostle Paul regularly heard from God in non-symbolic, directional dreams. God also spoke to him in this way to encourage him. Let’s look at several of those briefly:
In Acts 16:6-10, we see that Paul and his companions had been having difficulty discovering the Lord’s will concerning where they were to preach the gospel next. But then, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night. There stood a man from Macedonia, and requested of him, ‘Come over into Macedonia, and help us.’” This “night vision” was a non-symbolic dream, with clear direction for what to do, and Paul and his team immediately acted upon the direction in it.
Acts 18: 1-17 tells the story of Paul at Corinth. It was a fruitful time for him, but it was also a stressful time, with much opposition. Verses 9 and 10 tell us, “Then the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no man shall set upon you to hurt you: for I have much people in this city.’” In this non-symbolic dream (once again, a “night vision”), God encouraged Paul by letting him know he would be unhurt, so that he would not run out of town. He also encouraged him to be bold, and assured him that there would be a good harvest.
Acts 27 records the story of the shipwreck Paul endured on his way to Rome as a prisoner. Again, in verses 22-26 he had a vision during the night (probably a dream, although it is not specifically stated that way), which was meant to encourage him and the other people on the boat. It also was very specific about how events would play out. He relayed the information to the others on board: “And now, I exhort you to cheer up, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but the ship will be lost. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not fear, Paul. You must be brought before Caesar, and God has given you all them who are sailing with you.’ Wherefore, sirs, cheer up! For I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. However, we must be cast upon a certain island.”
Here we see that God wanted to give Paul hope and a sense of safety, as well as to reaffirm that God’s plan to get him to Rome would be accomplished. Paul apparently had been interceding for the lives of everyone on board to be spared, and God also assured him through the angel that his prayer had been heard.
In each of the dreams we’ve mentioned, there was no symbolism. They were direct messages, sometimes delivered through angels, with no need of interpretation. The wise men, Joseph, Paul, and even Pilate’s wife, could act upon the messages given, without needing any further revelation. If we have these kinds of dreams, we can act upon them as well.
However, when we have symbolic dreams, where angels are not appearing directly to us with a concrete word of what to do, interpretation will be needed. We will also need to hear from God through other means before making major decisions. It is unwise to make weighty decisions based on symbolic dreams alone. God usually speaks more than once and in more than one way about important life-changes, such as a marriage, career change, or geographical move.