Your Young Men Will See Visions

Receiving the SpiritAnd afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Acts 2:17

Are you a Christian? If you are, has this happened to you? Have you ever rendered a prophesy? I mean have you ever rendered a prophesy like in the days of the Prophets of Israel? Have you ever spoken in languages that you did not know? Have you?

No?

You should have…that is, if you received the Holy Spirit.

Let me explain.

In Acts 2:17, Peter is quoting the Prophet Joel to explain the following event:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. –Acts 2:1-4

During the festival of Shavuot (the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai), the Holy Spirit came upon the core group of the Jewish disciples of Jesus and when it did, they were enabled to speak in languages they didn’t actually know. Many of the Jews from the diaspora heard the disciples speaking in their languages and were amazed. Some though, thought the disciples were drunk. Peter defended them, denying that they were intoxicated at nine in the morning, and then he quoted from the Prophet Joel to further illuminate the meaning of the event.

But all this had happened before:

So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied – but did not do so again.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. –Numbers 11:24-30

It may have been a bit of a stretch to expect the Jews of Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Egypt, and Rome, visiting Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot in obedience to the commandment, to realize that the disciples were speaking through the power of God’s Spirit, but the most amazing thing was yet to come.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised (Jewish) believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. –Acts 10:44-48

Up to this point, Peter and the other Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah had witnessed the Spirit coming upon other Jews. It was a totally astonishing event to see the non-Jewish “God-fearers” also receive the Spirit in an identical manner. Christianity today tends to blow past just how amazing this was for the Jewish believers. For the first time, God’s Spirit became available to a people who were not of the Mosaic covenant. The Children of Israel no longer had exclusive access to God. The Gentiles could be saved!

But that’s not why I’m bringing this all up. I want to talk about the “accepting-the-spirit” experience recorded in Numbers and in Acts. In each case, the person receiving the spirit was suddenly (though temporarily) granted extraordinary powers, such as speaking the languages of other people groups and having the ability to render prophesy.

I ask again Christian, did that ever happen to you? Did you ever gain supernatural abilities when you came to faith? Why do I ask? Because it never happened to me. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a single Christian who, upon accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, was abruptly able to speak foreign tongues or render prophesies.

A fellow I used to know told me his “coming to faith” story and how the person at the “altar call” basically tried to force him to speak in tongues. My friend, through a number of events in his life, had come to faith in Christ. In a local church during an evening service, he answered the “altar call” and, with many others, he went up and met a man who prayed with him to receive the Spirit. One by one, the others who had gone up with him (apparently) received the Spirit and as time passed, the crowd diminished and the church started to empty.

But no matter how much he wanted to, my friend didn’t start speaking in supernatural languages. The person “guiding” him urged him on and even began to browbeat my friend.

DreamingI should mention at this point, that the person in question is a brilliant scholar and is fluent in several languages including Biblical Hebrew and Greek. He had these talents long before he came to faith.

Finally, out of desperation, my friend started speaking in the various languages that he already knew. This seemed to satisfy the Christian who was praying with my friend at the altar and, looking at his watch and mentioning that his wife was waiting for him in the parking lot, the man walked away and left my friend alone.

OK, not the ideal “conversion” story, but it does illustrate that some (but perhaps not all) churches expect when a person receives Christ and accepts the Holy Spirit, that they should have an experience similar to what we’ve read about in Acts 2 and Acts 10. As I’ve said though, neither my friend nor I…nor any other Christian I’ve ever met can say we gained access to temporary supernatural powers when we became believers.

I’ve never openly examined this matter before and asking this type of question is a departure from my usual sort of writings on this blog. But when you become a Christian, when you accept Jesus into your life, how do you know that the Holy Spirit comes upon you? Why don’t we prophesy? Why don’t we speak in “tongues”? Where are our visions? Where are our dreams?

8 thoughts on “Your Young Men Will See Visions”

  1. I grew up in a “charismatic” Christian atmosphere very much like what you’re describing, James. I was taken to many churches in which strange manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s influence were heavily emphasized as essentially the only worthwhile proof of God’s presence in a believer’s life. Another interpretation was that a believer’s ability to exhibit supernatural behavior reflected the strength of his or her faith in God. There was never a question as to whether the manifestations were genuine, beneficial, or appropriate—the only question was the believer’s individual level of faith as demonstrated by these expressions.

    Now that I’m an adult, I’ve come to be very suspicious of this type of church culture. We don’t tell the Holy Spirit how He aught to manifest Himself. We can’t compel a person to speak in Tongues because it’s not the person we’re compelling at all, and it’s not his faith we’re stoking. It’s the Holy Spirit’s choice, the Holy Spirit’s faith. If the Holy Spirit decides to make a construction worker speak in Akkadian, then glory be to God; but I’m immediately wary of ecstatic outpourings of blabber displayed as proof of God’s presence. If there’s no one in the room who can interpret the language, what purpose is it fulfilling in a group setting? Who does it edify? To whom does it minister? Like so many Charismatic staples, it’s selfish—it terminates on the individual.

    I myself have spoken in Tongues as these people would accept them, but for years now I’ve chosen not to allow it because I suspect it to be an expression of something other than true worship or supplication. Do I think that God can work through me that way? Sure, but I’m leaving it up to Him.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Elliot.
    It’s just from the examples in Acts, you’d expect that everyone who received the Holy Spirit would start speaking in tongues immediately. On the other hand, there’s this:

    Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”John 20:21-23

    That set of verses is almost never discussed, but we see Jesus giving the Holy Spirit to his disciples before the ascension. It makes me wonder if there’s a difference between the Holy Spirit that dwells within the believer and a sort of “special empowering” of the Spirit for specific purposes.

    Another telling example is Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian is baptized (Acts 8:36-40) but there’s no mention of the Holy Spirit coming upon him (and in Acts 10:44-48, the Gentile disciples were baptized only after they received the Spirit). Certainly the receiving of the Spirit upon coming to faith is a more complex issue than it might seem on the surface and we see people coming to faith in Acts that don’t follow the Acts 2:1-4 or Acts 10:44-48 “scenarios”.

  3. James, like you, I’ve never spoken in “tongues” (although I speak multiple languages), never had a vision (that could be due to myopia), and never uttered a prophecy. I’ve witnessed charismatics babble ecstatically (usually in repeating patterns of gibberish), and the few instances of “prophecies” and “visions” that I’ve seen or read about were praises or condemnation of some sin a person perceived among believer and not actual prophecies about any upcoming events one can pin-point, and they were usually, strangely enough, in King-Jamesian English. Once, when I traveled to Russia, a mentally disturbed lady got up when pastor asked if someone had a “word from the L-rd” and recited her crazy “poems” during a service.

    I’ve also never seen or even heard a credible report of an adult person being miraculous healed of a birth defect like blindness, deafness, lameness or paralysis – it’s usually diseases that are under the surfaces. I’ve seen people claiming healing only to succumb to the disease. I’ve also never heard a credible report of a person coming from the dead after the time normal medical resuscitation was but impossible.

    What gives?

  4. My aunt speaks in tongues. My father, a non-denominational Christian minister, does not. As a teenager, I have felt a mystical union with God and wrote poetry as a praise and inspiration of the union.

    About ten years ago, I fainted in a restaurant, descended to the clouds that opened for me, and heard a voice say something to me I no longer recall. Something like: it’s not your time.

    Of all these experiences, I still doubt I received them from the spirit of God. Sometimes I think they originate in our psyche. I don’t view myself as special or even a believer in the physical resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah. Yet, I know people from other religions who have astral projected and entered an “astral region” near me and referenced my dream in casual conversations.

    Clearly, most religions reference these supernatural abilities, which I do not fathom without my brain bursting into 1,000 perplexities.

    –Jon

  5. Hi, Jon. Thanks for stopping by.

    Everyone interprets their experience through their own belief system. A Buddhist, a Christian, and an Atheist could all have the same experience and each one might attributed it to a different cause or source. Of course, if it were significant enough and unexplainable from that person’s current belief context, it might be enough to trigger a shift in belief systems (an atheist converting to Christianity, for example).

    That said, just because a person has an unusual or even a fantastic experience doesn’t automatically mean it’s from God. If you accept that there is a reality beyond the environment we can experience with our five senses (i.e. the supernatural), then you can accept events as having a “more-than-natural” cause and then the big question would be how you identify the source (God, demons, spirits, universal consciousness, and so on). If you don’t believe in the supernatural, then it comes down to which “rational” cause you want to attach to your experience (it was a dream, I am mentally ill, and so on).

    The “core statement in Milton Steinberg’s novel As a Driven Leaf is:
    “There is no truth without faith. There is no truth unless first there be a faith on which it may be based.”

    Steinberg’s point, and a lesson that the book’s protagonist Elisha learns at a great cost, is that even in science and mathematics, at a very basic level, we accept certain core suppositions based on faith. Without experiencing faith (even though we may not realize it or call it as such) we can perceive no real truth and meaning in existence (and I’ve written more than one article on this blog exploring this theme) and all we end up with is a lot of questions that lead to nowhere except a perpetual feeling of dissatisfaction with the universe and with ourselves. I suppose that’s why we see most people struggling to find significance and meaning in their lives using some organized system and why Nihilism isn’t a predominant belief system worldwide.

    Of course, the next logical question is “which system of belief is the right one?” but that opens up an entirely different can of worms.

  6. I agree….people like to take ONE instance from the Bible and apply it generally. Dangerous teachings such as “if you dont speak in tongues means you are not saved!” make me shudder! A gift is just that – a gift, given as the giver sees fit! People forget that the Holy Spirit “gives as He WILLS” (1 Cor 12:11)

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