Saturday, September 21, 2013
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Think on These Things Articles
August/September 2013, Volume 19, Issue 4
This is part two of the article by Pastor Dennis McBride on Muslim dreams and visions of Isa (Jesus). In the June/July publication of TOTT, Pastor McBride discussed the four representative descriptions of the Muslim dreams phenomenon and examined the first 10 primary considerations of this subject. In this publication he will finish discussing the primary considerations and conclude his thoughts.
Gary E. Gilley
Beginning of Part 2 of the article by Pastor Dennis McBride
11. Are New Testament visions a pattern for Muslim dreams?
Descriptive or Prescriptive? One task of an interpreter of Scripture is to determine if a passage is descriptive or prescriptive. In other words, does the passage describe what occurred in the past, or does it prescribe what will or should occur in the future, or both? For example, determining if the Acts chapter two account of the Day of Pentecost only describes what did occur as a unique event in the history of the church, or whether it also prescribes a pattern for what should occur in each believer’s life, will determine one’s position on Pentecostalism. Determining whether Paul’s teachings on the role of women were descriptive of the culture of his day or prescriptive for every culture will determine one’s position on the role of women in the church today.
Similarly, determining if the accounts of biblical visions describe what did occur during a unique time in revelatory and/or redemptive history, or whether they also prescribe a pattern for what should occur today will, in large part, determine one’s position on the current Muslim phenomenon. So with that in mind, I’ll briefly examine the New Testament accounts used in support of the Muslim dreams phenomenon.
Consider the Context: I should first mention that in support of Muslim dreams, their advocates often cite the occurrences of similar phenomenon in Scripture. And without question God did use dreams and visions on occasion in both the Old and New Testaments when they served His purposes. But we must consider not only the fact of their use in Scripture, but also the reasons for their use and the historical and redemptive contexts in which they were used. If those considerations have contemporary parallels in the Muslim phenomenon, then it may have biblical support. If they don’t have parallels, the phenomenon isn’t “just as” or “in like manner” as the biblical accounts (to quote Rick Love), and therefore lacks direct biblical support.
I’ll confine my examination to the New Testament visions that have been appealed to in support of the Muslim dreams phenomenon, or that help us evaluate that phenomenon. Those passages are:
a. Acts 7:55-56 – Stephen’s vision of heaven
b. Acts 9:1-10 – God’s visions to Paul and Ananias
c. Acts 10:3 – The vision to Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa
d. Acts 10:9 – Peter’s visions of the “sheet” and animals
e. Acts 10:19 – Peter is “thinking about the vision” and the Spirit interrupts him
f. Acts 16:6 – Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia beckoning him to come there
g. Acts 18:9 – Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision to encourage him to keep preaching
h. 2 Corinthians 12:1 – Paul says he had momentous visions
i. Revelation 1:9-17 – John’s vision of the ascended and glorified Christ
A Brief Examination of Those Visions:
a. Acts 7:55-56 – Stephen – “Being full of the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’”
Stephen was a man “full of grace and power”, who “was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). His vision of heaven, while facing martyrdom, followed his powerfully and confrontive sermon to the Jewish Council, and is often offered as a pattern for the dreams and visions some Muslims experience during similar trials. But to my knowledge Stephen was the only New Testament saint to have a vision of Christ or heaven just prior to his death. So Stephen serves as an example of how God can comfort His children during martyrdom, but doesn’t establish a pattern for Him doing so either then or now.
Unique Apostolic Period: More importantly, although Stephen was not an apostle per se, he ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit during the apostolic period, which was a unique transitional period in which God was giving new revelation through His messengers, and confirming the messengers and the message by miraculous signs and wonders (Acts 6:8; Heb. 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 12:12). Those signs and wonders, as well as the personal revelations, were directly linked to the birth of the church, to apostolic preaching, and to inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures.
Those events and that period of time have no parallel in church history, so their context can’t be duplicated. Therefore, the experiences of Steven and his apostolic companions must be viewed as descriptive unless Scripture indicates otherwise. That’s a point I’ll return to repeatedly in the considerations that follow because the contexts that reveal God communicating one-on-one to His messengers also reveal His reasons for doing so. And those reasons were directly linked to non-repeatable historical and revelatory events. So it isn’t exegetically permissible to pull an experience like Steven’s vision out of its context and place it into a context of contemporary Muslim dreams without a more definitive biblical rationale.
New Testament Pattern for Persecution: I praise the Lord for encouraging and undergirding His children during times of persecution or martyrdom, and I certainly don’t question His ability to do that. Although Stephen’s vision was unique and therefore doesn’t serve as a pattern or norm, Scripture does give us a pattern for undergoing persecution:
In this [your eternal inheritance] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (1 Pet. 1:6-9, italics added. See also Rom. 5:1-5; James 1:2-4).
In that passage Peter makes clear that “the revelation of Jesus Christ” was yet future for those believers, and that the firey testing of their faith, apart from any visions or appearances of Jesus, was what produced faith like pure gold, which would result in praise, glory and honor to Christ.
That’s the New Testament pattern for discerning God’s will in persecution, which doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Jesus appearing to persecuted Christians today, but it does raise the question of what it is about today’s persecutions that would prompt Jesus to appear when He didn’t do so even in Peter’s time when the church was relatively young and Christians were being severely persecuted and definitely in need of encouragement?
b. Acts 9:1-10 – God’s visions to Paul and Ananias concerning Ananias’ healing ministry to the newly converted Paul.
Paul described this experience as “a heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19) even though it included time-space manifestations, some of which were also witnessed by his companions (Acts 9:7). Apparently Paul did not see Jesus Himself, but saw “a light brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13) and heard Jesus’ voice (Acts 9:3-4ff; 26:14ff).
This was an encounter wherein Jesus personally called an unbeliever to faith. But this, of course, was no ordinary unbeliever, and the unique apostolic ministry to which Paul was being called makes this encounter utterly unique and directly related to the canonical revelation that was to follow. Does Paul’s vision establish a pattern for contemporary Muslim dreams as Rick Love and others assert? The fact that Paul had a “vision” is similar, but the reason for that vision has no modern parallel because it was linked inextricably to Paul’s apostolic calling, divine revelation, and the future disclosure of God’s Word.
The same is true of Ananias’ vision, which apparently involved hearing the Lord’s voice but not seeing Him. His vision was directly linked to Paul’s, and therefore it, too, has no direct modern parallel. Both of those accounts are descriptive of what happened in the past, but not prescriptive of what should happen in the future.
c. Acts 10:3 – The vision to Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa. (See notes under Acts 10:19 below.)
d. Acts 10:9 – As the messengers arrive from Cornelius, Peter falls into a trance and has the three visions of a “sheet” of animals coming down from heaven; this is the divine lesson that teaches him to accept the gentiles as co-participants in the Abrahamic covenant blessings. (See notes under Acts 10:19 below.)
e. Acts 10:19 – Peter is “thinking about the vision” and the Spirit interrupts him.
The visions Peter and Cornelius experienced are often cited as patterns for Isa preparing unbelieving Muslims to receive the gospel from Christian evangelists. But Peter and Cornelius aren’t a pattern even for New Testament evangelism, much less modern-day evangelism. Theirs was a unique situation in which the Lord drew them together supernaturally for a specific purpose that has no parallel today or in any other period of church history.
Further, there is no correlation between Cornelius’ experience and Muslim unbelievers whom Isa is reportedly preparing to receive the gospel. Cornelius was not an unbeliever, but “a devout man, and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:1-2). He did not see Jesus, but an angel (Acts 10:3, 7, 30-31) and was then directed by the Holy Spirit to send for Peter (Acts 10:20). Cornelius’ vision was clearly revelatory and intended to be included in the canon of Scripture (as were Peter’s).
But beyond those dissimilarities is the unique role their visions played in redemptive and revelatory history. Peter’s visions were intended to teach him that God was including gentiles in His covenant promises. Peter represented Jewish believers to whom the gospel was entrusted, and through whom it was first proclaimed following Christ’s Ascension. He also represented apostolic authority. Cornelius represented gentiles, who were previously outside the covenant (cf. Eph. 2:11-12) but who were now to be included.
Given the animosity between Jews and gentiles, and the other Jew/gentile dynamics present at that time, Peter and his apostolic companions needed to know that God was including gentiles in the covenant promises (Acts 10:28-29), and that the Holy Spirit had been given to them just as He had been given to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-18). Similarly, Cornelius and his fellow gentile believers needed to know that the Apostles were God’s authoritative ambassadors of the gospel. Those mutual understandings were critical for the foundation and unity of the early church, and that’s why Peter and Cornelius had to meet face to face.
My assumption is that most Muslims are gentiles, and therefore would already be included in the covenant promises upon exercising faith in Christ. So there would be no need for God to move among them as a people group in a parallel fashion as He did with Peter and Cornelius. So there is no apparent pattern that Peter and Cornelius set for the current Muslim phenomenon. Yes, they had visions, but those visions were set in a unique and non-repeatable redemptive context.
f. Acts 16:6 – Paul’s vision of the man of Macedonia beckoning him to come there. I’ve already commented on the unique nature and context of Paul’s visions, so I needn’t repeat myself here or in “g.” and “h.” below, except to emphasize once again that they were directly linked to apostolic authority, the birth of the church, and biblical revelation, which means they have no contemporary parallels.
g. Acts 18:9 – Jesus speaks to Paul in a vision to encourage him to keep preaching.
h. 2 Corinthians 12:1 – Paul says he had momentous visions.
i. Revelation 1:9-17 – John has a vision of the ascended and glorified Christ. It’s interesting to note that John’s reaction was to “fall at His feet as a dead man” (v. 17). John knew Jesus well, and even described himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). But when he saw Christ in His ascended glory, he fell down as if dead. That’s a far cry from the reactions of Muslims who reportedly have seen Jesus in dreams and visions in which He is typically described simply as a man in a white robe who made them feel an overwhelming sense of love.
Conclusion: In light of their unique contexts I must conclude that the New Testament vision passages do not lend biblical support to contemporary Muslim dreams.
12. Does Joel 2:28 support the Muslim dreams phenomenon?
Joel 2:28 is a favorite verse for supporters of Muslim dreams because it speaks of a time when dreams and visions will be common: “And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” There’s no doubt Joel prophesied that such a time would come, but are Muslim dreams part of its fulfillment?
Joel’s prophecy has elements that are difficult to interpret, but its key elements are clear and identify a time that is yet future as the time of its fulfillment. A full exegesis of that passage is beyond the scope of this paper , but note that verse 28 begins, “and it will come about after this” (italics added), which refers back to verses 2-27. Those verses speak of events that have not yet occurred, and of a time when God will bless Israel and she will know that He is her God. Then verse 28 will occur.
Many advocates of Muslim dreams reference Pentecost and Peter’s description of the phenomenon accompanying the coming of the Holy Spirit on that occasion as initiating the era of dreams and visions prophesied by Joel – an era, they say, that will continue throughout the church age. In Acts 2:16 Peter does describe the phenomenon onlookers were witnessing at Pentecost as “what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” He then quotes Joel 2:28-32:
“And it shall be in the last days,” God says, “That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:17-21).
It’s clear from the description of the cosmic signs in Joel’s prophecy that Pentecost was only a partial fulfillment of that prophecy, with its complete fulfillment yet to come. Dr. Irvin Busenitz comments:
The cosmic signs of Joel 2:30-31 [3:3-4] are significantly absent in Luke’s account of Pentecost. The sun was not darkened; the moon did not turn to blood. There is no blood, fire, or columns of smoke. Joel mentions nothing of speaking supernaturally generated foreign languages nor does Acts give evidence of supernatural dreams. 
Nathan Busenitz adds, “If the continuationist [those who believe that the signs and wonders of the Apostolic age continue throughout the church age] is going to apply the prophecy and dreams of Joel 2 to the entire church age, he must explain why the cosmic signs of Joel 2/Acts 2 are not also a continuing part of the church age.” That’s the challenge for those who appeal to Joel 2:28 in support of Muslim dreams as well.
Dr. Irvin Busenitz continues:
Only two points of contact are found [between Joel’s prophecy and Pentecost]: God’s Spirit was poured out, and those who called upon the name of the Lord were saved. But it is these two elements of Joel’s prophecy – the Spirit poured out and salvation for those who call on the Lord – that provide the connecting link to Pentecost. They lead logically to the central focus of Peter’s sermon. Consequently, it appears best to view Joel’s prophecy as fulfilled in a preliminary fashion at the time of Pentecost, with a complete fulfillment reserved for the time surrounding the Second Advent.
There were no dreams or visions at Pentecost, nor did Joel indicate that Jesus would appear in dreams and visions when His Prophecy was fulfilled. He speaks only of the fact of dreams and visions, not of their content. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon those who defend Muslim dreams on the basis of Joel 2:28 to demonstrate more convincingly how Joel’s prophecy supports this phenomenon.
13. If Jesus isn’t appearing in these dreams, who is?
If the Isa of Muslim dreams is not the Jesus of the Bible, who is he? One option is a false Christ appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:4, 13-15). But what could the enemy of our souls hope to gain from doing that? Consider this: we’ve already seen that people with sinful motives have preached Christ for selfish gain (Phil. 1:15-18), so it’s reasonable to envision the author of pride and selfishness doing the same and in the process potentially:
· Diverting worship from Christ to himself, which has been his goal from the beginning (Isa. 14:12-14; Matt. 4:9).
· Deceiving Muslims into thinking they’re worshiping the true Jesus when, in fact, they’re worshiping the person in their dreams. All the accounts I’ve read unquestioningly equate Isa with Jesus.
· Diluting the primacy, centrality and authority of God’s Word by establishing faith based on subjective revelations and experiences (John 20:24-29).
· Creating expectations of evangelism linked to visitations from Jesus. (Some Muslim outreach strategies now include praying that Isa will appear to even more Muslims so more will be saved.)
· Creating expectations of additional visitations from Jesus, such as during times of persecution, and the inevitable disillusionment and confusion that result when those expectations aren’t met.
· Causing division within the Body of Christ over this issue.
I mention those to illustrate how the enemy could benefit from a phenomenon that on the surface may seems like a kingdom divided. I haven’t concluded that visions of Isa are necessarily demonic, nor do I believe Muslims are not being genuinely saved. But Muslims who come to Christ do so in the same way everyone else throughout church history has: the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14). But the spiritual harm that can result from connecting their faith to subjective mystical experiences can be great, as certain parallel revelatory claims of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (as well as various cultic groups) have demonstrated over the years.
When it comes to personal revelations from God, the difference between the Muslim phenomenon and other revelatory claims is simply one of degree, not kind. Consequently, an experiential and mystical foundation has already been laid for the communities of former Muslims who have seen Isa and now profess faith in Christ.
14. Are there cultural considerations that might shed light on this phenomenon?
Another option to the question of who is appearing to these Muslims has to do with cultural considerations. In my research I sought the counsel of Dr. William Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary. Dr. Barrick ministered among Muslims in Bangladesh for 15 years and offered these observations about reported appearances of Jesus to Muslim converts there:
(1) Most turned out to be pure imagination upon close questioning and examination. None had really seen him while awake—almost every single one had had some sort of dream.
(2) Muslims can be extremely susceptible to charismatic doctrine and practices, because much of folk Islam is infused with the same things seen in charismatic circles (speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, extreme emotionalism).
(3) Muslims revere special experiences and make them up in order to provide (a) a viable [in their opinion] response to those who accuse them of abandoning Islam, (b) a means of identifying with the testimony and life of persecution lived by the Apostle Paul, and (c) dreams are taken very, very seriously—about anything.
(4) Those who had dreams about Jesus seem to have all had some prior contact with Christians, the Gospel, or with the Scriptures that left an indelible impression. What was revealed in the dream had first been revealed to them in real life experience. The dreams merely replicated those experiences. The appearance of Jesus in their dreams matched exactly the appearance of Him they had seen as a child in a Christian flannelgraph lesson or in some Christian literature. The verses of Scripture (John 3:16 being a favorite) in their dreams was one they had been taught or heard.
(5) Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians deals with those who claim special experiences (such as visions) and counters their error with the realities of the work and Person of Christ.
Conclusion: If Muslims were having dreams about Jesus, which resulted in opening their hearts to the gospel, I’d say, “Praise the Lord”, because I believe the Holy Spirit can use natural dreams to convict people of their need for salvation and direct them to the gospel if He so chooses. However, the reports I’m hearing and reading claim that Jesus Himself, in the person of Isa, is appearing to Muslims in dreams. I must reject the accuracy of those claims for all the reasons outlined above, and conclude that such dreams and visions lack biblical authority and must therefore be viewed as extra-biblical experiences generated from sources other than the Holy Spirit. I must also continue to pray that the gospel of Jesus Christ, not dreams and visions of Isa, will permeate Muslim communities throughout the world for the glory of our Lord and the salvation of many precious souls.
 For a full treatment of Joel’s prophecy, I recommend Dr. Irvin Busenitz’s commentary, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, or Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, Moody Press.
 Irvin Busenitz, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, p. 193.
 Nathan Busenitz, Now that’s the Spirit - Assessing and Addressing Evangelical Charismatics, Notes from 2006 Grace Community Church Shepherds’ Conference, p. 3.
 Irvin Busenitz, Joel and Obadiah: A Mentor Commentary, Christian Focus, p. 194.
 The Arabic translation of the Christian Scriptures dates back to about 867 AD (the Mt. Sinai Arabic Codex 151, and includes the Biblical text, marginal comments, lectionary notes, and glosses). Therefore, many Muslims have had the Bible in their language for more than 1,000 years. (c.f. http://www.arabicbible.com/bible/ codex_151.htm.