In 29 years as a pastor/minister I have had several people tell me they have had visions. I’ve had more tell me “God told them” an assortment of things most of which were vague at best. Only a few times have people said they heard God’s voice.

There are a number of places in Scripture where it is recorded that God spoke audibly to individuals (Abraham, Moses). There are also times God spoke and groups of people heard Him (Jesus’ Baptism, The Transfiguration). Then at least one event where God spoke, one person understood Him while others present just heard thunder (Saul on the road to Damascus). There are also a number of instances in Scripture when angels, not God, spoke to people as happened with Daniel.

The purpose of this study is for being able to discern whether or not a person’s experience is heavenly, human, or demonic.

Let’s start with the last possibility, a demon impersonating God. This is more regular than most realize. Consider 2 Cor 11:12-15

And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Satan is a liar and father of all lies. Thus he attempts to deceive.

Just because of a miracle or a person thinks they’ve encountered an angelic type being does NOT mean it has actually happened. There is a possibility the person was deceived. This will be the case in The Last Days according to 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

Satan impersonating God extends to the miraculous. In Exodus 7:8-13. Moses’ staff became a serpent. However, Pharaoh’s magicians cast their staffs down and they became serpents… but Moses’ serpent ate the magician’s serpents. Point being God is greater than man.

The next miracle was Moses turning water into blood and is found in Exodus 7:20-22. Moses performed this miracle but so did Pharaoh’s magicians with their “magic arts.”

Thus it is wise to be cautious, skeptical, and discerning when one asserts they heard God’s voice or experienced a miracle.

Was it a dream? One of the first things I try to discern is what were the circumstances? Were they asleep… were they in between sleep and awake? We’ve all had dreams that were so real it was hard to realize it was just a dream. If the person’s circumstances were in some kind of dream state I continue in my quest to understand more.

Was their reaction to the event fear? In Scripture when a person encounters God, the resurrected Jesus, or an angel there is fear and trembling. Some fall down as though dead. The reason is God’s holiness (And also that of angels to a lesser but overwhelming degree) are so awesome the reaction… as far as I’m aware in Scripture… is fear.

Some instances are: Abraham {Gen 15:12-13}; Moses {Ex 3:6}; Daniel {Dan 10:10-11}; At Jesus’ tomb {Mt 28:2-6}; Transfiguration {Matt 17:5-6}; Saul’s conversion {Ac 9:3-7}; John the Apostle {Rev 1:17-18}. If a person doesn’t communicate this kind of reaction I’m skeptical of the source of their encounter.

Hesitancy in telling others. People who have encountered heavenly beings (Jesus, prophets, angels) or had a heavenly vision tend to keep it to themselves rather than immediately telling what they have experienced. Two examples are The Transfiguration {Mt 17:9} and Paul’s heavenly visit/vision {2 Cor 12:1-6}.

As far as we know Paul did not tell anyone about his experience for 14 years. Even when he wrote about it, he used the third person so as to deflect attention away from himself. People who’ve had a real encounter of a Godly nature (Godly vision, an angel, etc.) will be humble about their experience.

The event won’t contradict The Gospel or Scripture but affirm it. This requires wisdom and discernment since Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light, will couch his deception in Biblical terms using Scripture as he did when tempting Jesus {Mt 4:1-11}. We know this to be the case as seen earlier in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12.

Seek discernment from God through study and prayer. This is affirmed in Acts 17:11. A genuinely holy encounter will be proved by “test(ing) everything and hold(ing) on to the good” {1 Thess 5:21}.

Conclusion: I tend to be highly skeptical when I’m told, “I heard God” or “An angel spoke to me” or “I had a vision.” I’m won’t say these things don’t happen, I just don’t want to be deceived by the Adversary.

By the same token… were I to have any such encounter or event take place in my life… I pray I would work through what I’ve written myself.

As a last case in point here is a story told to me personally by a professor at Beeson Divinity School, Dr. Lewis Drummond. This is not a direct word for word quote, but it is very close.

He told this story to me from a missionary who had served in Africa as told to him…

My missionary friend was home on furlough. He decided to worship at a local well known congregation in Phenix City, Alabama. There was nothing out of the ordinary as hymns and prayers were offered in worship. But during the Pastor’s message he began speaking in tongues… in a dialect he recognized from people he worked with in Africa! The problem was he heard the pastor saying over and over, “Satan is lord… Satan is lord… Satan is lord.” He immediately walked out. On Monday he tried to contact the pastor to meet him. But after multiple attempts and no reply, he vowed never to attend there again.

Dr. Drummond was a godly man well respected in the Southern Baptist Convention serving as President of one of the Seminaries. He wrote many books and I believed him. We must be discerning always.

Note: This draft written on May 19, 2018.

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