(Volume 22, Issue 5, September/October 2016)
In recent years the stories of Muslims responding to the gospel, either directly or indirectly, as a result of dreams and visions have been abundant. In these dreams it is reported that Jesus (or Isa as the Muslims call Him) appears and then directs the individual to someone who will share the gospel with them or, on some occasions Isa will preach the good news directly. Rick Kronk’s opening story in his book Dreams and Visions, Muslim’s Miraculous Journey to Jesus, is representative. I will quote it in part:
While I napped, I began to dream, and then suddenly that dream was interrupted and I found myself surrounded by bright light and white clouds. Everything seemed so inviting and tranquil. Then I saw beams of light streaming past me from behind. I felt welcoming warmth upon my back from the light. I turned, and to my astonishment, I saw Jesus Christ looking with intense fondness at me. I not only saw Him, but I also felt in the warmth around Him, His deep love for me. Words could not describe this incredible love and fondness that I felt He had for me. It was the most powerful sensation I had ever experienced. It was so powerful that it drained all the energy from my body.
I wanted to run to Him, I was eager to get to Him, but the intensity of His love for me drained me of my energy, and I fell to the ground, still yearning to be with Him. As I lay on the ground, the huge but gentle hands of Christ swept me up and pulled me in to Him. I felt His embrace. I felt His deep love and longing to be with me. I enjoyed it thoroughly and never wanted to leave. The love of Christ is expressed in the crucifixion of Christ, but the love of Christ I now experienced in this dream was all encompassing.
This enthralling embrace seemed to last for a time immeasurable. And as I looked back over His shoulder, there suddenly appeared a television screen. As I continued hugging Christ, I witnessed on the television screen pictures of everything I had been doing wrong. I saw the promiscuity and the partying, and I felt the guilt all over again. But this time I could not deny it, nor did I want to deny it. Instead, I wanted to confess it and withdraw from Christ’s love because of it…
Jesus refused to look at the television screen. Instead, He kept His gaze upon me and smiled in a very understanding way. He said to me in such a kind and gentle tone, “Brett, don’t you understand? I knew about those things, and that is why I died for you.”…Then I understood. This is a God of grace! I threw my arms around Him and hugged Him again, and He smiled and enjoyed it as much as I did, perhaps even more.
The man giving this testimony declares that his life was changed and he is now a pastor in Minnesota. Such stories could be multiplied by the hundreds, but I think this one fairly represents many others. A Muslim encounters Jesus in a dream or vision; they are overwhelmed with the love of Christ; they either claim to become followers of Him at the time of the dream or shortly thereafter; and in many cases their lives are radically changed. All who love the Lord are thrilled at the conversion of anyone, no matter what the means, and most of us have witnessed Christ bringing people to Himself through the strangest of instruments including poor presentations of the gospel, egotistic evangelists, manipulative circumstances and the like. Yet we are overjoyed to see our sovereign, all-wise Lord uses even what appears to be inferior methods to bring people to saving grace. But results do not justify the use of unbiblical means or message in the presentation of the gospel. Nor do testimonies and stories determine truth. As we approach this subject we praise the Lord for Muslims who are coming to Christ, but the issue that must be critiqued is whether the stories concerning dreams are valid. Of even greater significance is whether Scripture or experience carries final authority in our lives. Experiences are not only subjective and prone to misinterpretation but they are also not valid in and of themselves. In support of this statement all we have to do is note that every false religion, from Buddhism to spiritism, every cult from Mormonism to Jehovah Witnesses, claims dreams, visions and messages from some deity as foundational to their belief system. Each of these will offer abundant testimony of how divine encounters changed people’s lives for the better. But, when examined in the light of Scripture, both the doctrines of these religions and cults, and their experiences, are proven invalid. How does one explain these stories that are all declared to be true but many cannot be? Do we declare the dreamers of dreams delusional? Do we claim they are liars and deceivers? Surely not, for while some are deeply confused and others are false witnesses, many others are sincere. This conundrum leaves many biblically-based Christians scratching their heads. How do we explain all of these experiences? I believe the best approach is to realize that we are not called, nor able, to explain everyone’s experience. We are called, however, to examine all things through the lens of Scripture. We will turn soon to the Bible to analyze the dream claims of Muslims, but first let’s look closer at some of the support given for these modern occurrences.
Support for Muslim Dreams
The major enthusiasm for Muslim dream encounters with Isa is certainly pragmatism. After centuries of largely failed efforts to evangelize Muslims, suddenly many seem to be coming to Christ and a large percentage of these as a result of supposed visions of Jesus. Tom Doyle, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, has written a book that has been endorsed by the likes of Anne Graham Lotz, Charles Dyer and Janet Parshall entitled, Dreams and Visions, Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? He is convinced that one-third of all Muslims come to Christ as a result of such dreams. Regardless of how one views these dreams, students of Scripture and church history have to admit that what is being asserted is unique. While the Bible details a number of dreams and visions, and while some have claimed visions of or from the Lord since the closure of the canon (often leading to heretical theology, such as those within Roman Catholicism and the cults – which is a subject for another day), nothing like the proclaimed frequency of Muslim dreams has ever been observed in the past. Scattered testimonies of visions and dreams are not uncommon, but to declare that the Lord has singled out the adherents of a world religion and blitzed them with visions of Himself in order to bring them to salvation is exceptional to say the least. This is not the paradigm found in Scripture, nor in post-biblical times. If the Lord is actually appearing to Muslims, as many believe, why is He doing so, and why now? Doyle suggests a number of possibilities:
- Dreams are an accepted form of communication within the Muslim community, indeed the Muslim religion was started by a dream to Muhammad.
- Muslims have believed in the visits of jinns, or genies, for centuries, although they are considered the “foot soldiers of Satan.”
- Much like the story earlier in this paper, dreams are viewed as ways for the Lord to express His love and protection and to open hearts to the gospel.
- It is like Jesus to reach out to the hated and despised of society as the Muslims are at this time.
Rick Kronk goes to great lengths to attempt to prove that the Lord is accommodating the Eastern worldview of Islamic people. His argument is that since Allah is a distant and transcendent deity the Muslim people are driven to invent intermediate quasi-divine beings who “give meaning and answer the questions of the everyday routine of life… the Islamic faith becomes a natural breeding ground for intermediate, superstitious, and folk elements of which dreams and visions are primary.” What does this mean for Christians, especially those who have a Western worldview? Kronk continues, [Christians] “cannot afford to ignore the unique pattern of folk Islam adopted by his Muslim friend. For unless the Christian can explain to his Muslim friend the person of Christ and His finished work on the cross from within the context of his particular folk Islamic worldview via the appropriate means, symbols, and language, the gospel may not be fully nor accurately understood and genuine opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel cannot be said to have occurred.” Kronk adds, “The Western mind more readily accepts as true that which is repeatable and verifiable and mistrusts that which is not. The Muslim, on the other hand, more readily accepts as true that which he can experience.” What Kronk is proposing is that, in order to reach Muslims for Christ both communication and worldview gaps must be bridged, and dreams and visions bridge that gap far better than proclamation of the gospel. For this reason, he suggests God has chosen at this time to reach out to Muslims via dreams of Isa rather than through the biblical proclamation that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Of course one does not have to think too deeply to realize that this is pure conjecture based upon anecdotal accounts and apparent success, and not on Scripture. Without biblical warrant it is a dangerous step, at best, to declare that God is doing something that He has never done before. And the danger of addressing people in accordance to their worldview, instead of challenging them by a biblical worldview, should be obvious.
In examining any worldview or any experiential claims, including encounters with Jesus and supposed additional revelation, it is important that we start with the teachings of the Scriptures themselves. In regard to the present discussion there are two primary issues we should inspect: claims of visions and dreams of Jesus and the matter of revelation apart from Scripture.
Encounters with Jesus
The biblical record reveals that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, has always existed and on occasion has taken a physical form and appeared to people. In the Old Testament most Bible scholars believe that He often took on the pre-incarnate form of the Angel of the Lord. If so, from the time of the fall of mankind to the completion of the Old Testament He appeared on a number of occasions stretched out over about 4000 years. The title “Angel of the Lord” itself is found 55 times, although unique appearances would be fewer since some of those mentioned are found in the same incidents. There are 19 unique appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament era, that would mean He appeared in His pre-incarnate form once every 211 years on average – not often. Of course at the incarnation Jesus took on human form and for 33 years or more tabernacled among men (John 1:14). At His ascension He physically left the earth promising to return at a future date. The question we need to address is, what can we expect in the meanwhile with regard to His appearing to people today? Does the Bible answer this question or does it leave us guessing? I believe several texts make it clear that Jesus no longer appears to humans today.
1 John 1:1-4 – John opens his largest epistle, one written as much as 50 years after the ascension, by discussing the person and message of Christ. He writes, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us—and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” John repeatedly states that he and others (note “we” in the text) have seen Jesus Christ. It is this same Christ whom he has seen and heard which is proclaimed to his audiences. His readers had obviously neither seen nor heard Jesus personally nor through visions and so they needed to rely upon John’s testimony if they were to have fellowship with him. Personal visits from Christ were unnecessary; the witness of the Holy Spirit inspired apostle John was enough.
1 Peter 1:8 – Peter commends his readers by stating, “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.” Peter, like John, had seen Jesus. As a matter of fact, in 2 Peter 1:16 Peter says that “we [the apostles] were eyewitnesses of His majesty” at the Transfiguration. Peter would apparently have one more vision of Jesus in Acts 10:11-20. But the first century Christians to whom he was writing had not personally seen Jesus in the past or in the present, yet they loved Him and believed in Him. Peter did not urge his readers to seek personal encounters from Jesus. As with John’s audience (see above), Peter’s could love and believe in Him as a result of his Holy Spirit inspired testimony.
1 Corinthians 15:8 – In providing supporting evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Paul mentions a number of appearances that Jesus made after His resurrection including those to Cephas, the apostles, five hundred brethren, James and “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” While Jesus’ other appearances happened prior to His ascension He appeared to Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) and to Paul (Acts 9:1-6; 16:9) post-ascension. Paul says clearly that he was the last individual to have such an experience. It should be mentioned that John would see Jesus, as recorded in the book of Revelation, after Paul saw Him. John however had seen Jesus on many occasions. But Paul was the last person to have had that privilege. There is no biblical evidence that anyone has seen Christ after the completion of the New Testament, nor does the New Testament predict such encounters prior to the return of Christ. As a matter of fact, Matthew 24:5, 23-24 warn that false Christs will arise to deceive the world prior to the Second Coming. Add to this that the angels clearly indicated to the disciples at the ascension, that they were not to look for future visions of Jesus, but to watch for His return (Acts 1:11).
Not only is there no biblical evidence of Jesus appearing to any other individuals after Paul and John but the New Testament warns of the dangers and limits of seeking such experiences.
Colossians 2:18-19a – Rather than commending the Colossians for desiring visions and dreams, Paul cautions them of the dangers: “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head…” These believers had put themselves in the position of losing reward (being defrauded) and losing their focus on Christ because they were chasing after ascetic and mystical experiences. They were taking their stand on visions rather than on Christ and they were the losers for it.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 – Here Paul warns believers of satanic deception: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” This description of Satan’s methodologies should be taken seriously by those looking to dreams and visions, rather than Scripture for their source of truth and knowledge. It is interesting that many of the Muslim dreams include a “being of light” that speaks to them and gives them feelings of warmth and love. It should come as a shock to no one that the devil will attempt to counterfeit every aspect of the person and work of Christ. Because someone has had an experience which they interpret as seeing Jesus does not mean that their interpretation is correct. They may very well be encountering a satanic counterfeit.
Luke 16:27-31 – One of the arguments as to why the Lord would be visiting Muslims in dreams and visions is that by this means He will persuade them of who He really is and of His message of redemption. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus disagrees. When the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus from paradise to his brothers, assuming that someone who had returned from the dead would be an outstanding witness, Abraham refuses and tells the rich man that they have Moses and the prophets that they could read. The rich man does not see the Old Testament Scriptures as that convincing so insists that Lazarus resurrect and evangelize his brothers. But Abraham retorts, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (16:31). The clear implication is that there is far more power in the Scriptures than in experiences, even supernatural ones, in opening people’s eyes to the truth of the gospel. Later Paul concurs, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17).
Of even greater importance is the issue of authority and revelation. Upon what do we base our lives? How do we know truth? What is the final authority for all we know and do? If it is experience, as has long been at the heart of the Eastern worldview and has infiltrated the West in more recent years, we have the problem of deciding whose experience is authoritative. Is it my experience, or yours, or Muslims or atheists or [fill in the blank]? Faced with this dilemma many have opted for so-called postmodernism which says that there is no such thing as universal, authoritative truth. You are welcome to your own truth claim, and you can stake your life on it if you like, but your truth is not necessarily truth for me. With this mindset, if enough people from the Muslim community claim to be receiving visits and messages from Jesus then it does not matter if these things really happened; it is reality for them. And it is even better if pragmatic and beneficial results occur in connection with the experiences. In other words, if good things happen; if people actually get saved; then the experiences are self-authenticating. Such might actually be the case if we had no higher source of truth, but the Scriptures make the claim of being God’s revelation of truth. And this truth determines, trumps and critiques all other truth claims. This means that all experiences, philosophies, and worldviews must pass the test of Scripture or they are not true. And if they are not true, by process of elimination, they are false. Jesus not only declared Himself to be the truth (John 14:6), He also declared God’s Word as truth (John 17:17). And importantly Jesus affirmed that “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
Jesus did not introduce this concept. In Psalm 19:9 David says that the “judgments” (a synonym for Scripture) of the Lord are true.” In Psalm 119 we read, “Your law is truth” (v. 142), “Your commandments are truth” (v. 151) and “the sum of Your word is truth” (v. 160). Turning to the epistles we find this same idea laced throughout. Ephesians 4:15 informs us that our spiritual growth is dependent upon “speaking the truth in love,” and 1 Timothy 3:15 reminds us that the church (the New Testament people of God) are the “pillar and the support of the truth.” It is when people “turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:5) that they stray from the ways of God. No wonder, given the importance of the truth of Scripture, that Paul challenges Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). As an apostle inspired by the Holy Spirit to communicate truth and write most of the New Testament epistles, Paul could say to Timothy, “Retain the standard of sound words which you heard from me” (2 Tim 1:13) and “the things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2) and “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14-15). There is not even a hint in Paul’s final letter that Timothy or others should look to experiences and visions and dreams as an additional source of truth. Timothy (as are we) is pointed to the Word of God, that which has been inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16) and handed down to us in the written revelation of the Bible. It is these same Scriptures that are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (1 Tim 3:16). And when they have done their work in our lives not only do they lead us to salvation (v. 15), but they make us “adequate, equipped for every good work” (v. 17). What need is there for additions to the Word of Truth in the form of new scriptures, prophecies, dreams, visions, experiences, human wisdom and philosophy in order to either lead us to salvation or equip us for godly living. After all, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3). It is no wonder that the very last chapter of the New Testament warns us not to tamper with God’s Word: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev 22:18-19).
Muslim dreams of Isa have baffled and divided Christians. Interestingly Tom Doyle believes these appearances by Jesus will be short lived and once Muslims are significantly evangelized He will move on to another religious group such as the Hindus or Buddhists or even atheists. How he knows this is undisclosed. Many mission organizations ministering in the Islamic world view these events as undeniable and are actively asking for people to pray for more visions among Muslims. I am often asked, especially in light of my views that the Lord communicates to us since the completion of the canon exclusively through the Word of God and not through extra-biblical sources, how we should understand these claims. If, in fact, Jesus is showing up on a regular basis to Muslims, as many think, then why not to others? What about the claims of extreme Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and multitudes of others who say they have seen Jesus, talked with Him, been guided or encouraged by Him? On what basis are we to accept Muslim dreams and visions but reject those of Christian Scientists or Word of Faith adherents? If Jesus is speaking apart from Scripture to Muslims then the doctrine of cessationism (that He speaks today only in His Word and prophecies, visions, words of knowledge, etc., have ceased for this age) is nonsense. He either speaks to us exclusively through Scripture in this age, or He is giving additional revelation at this time. There is no third option.
It is deeply disturbing that many who would defend the inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency and centrality of the Scriptures would so easily give ground to Muslim revelations and dreams. There seems to be little evaluation of the subjective nature of mystical encounters in general, or specifically the worldview of Muslim people who value experience over propositional truth. Many of those who are accepting of Muslim visions would be in full agreement with the “Chicago Statement of Biblical Hermeneutics” which affirms in Article XXV, “We deny that the preacher has any message from God apart from the text of Scripture.” Sadly for many, pragmatism trumps all else. If Muslims say they are seeing and hearing from Jesus, and some of them might even be getting saved, then who can reasonably question that these encounters are genuine. The logic is that God must be doing a new thing – a new thing that has no biblical example, warrant or support.
A few years ago Pastor Dennis McBride wrote two articles for Think on These Things entitled “An Evaluation of Muslim Dreams and Visions of Isa (Jesus).” I cannot improve on his evaluation of the movement so I will close this article with some of his thoughts. Here I quote from him as he presents and answers common questions about Muslim dreams.
Does this phenomenon constitute ongoing revelation?
Some supporters of Muslim dreams affirm that divine revelation ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. They see no contradiction in those positions because they don’t view these dreams as ongoing revelation. Isa, they say, isn’t adding to Scripture; he’s merely reiterating what has already been revealed (i.e., Scripture verses and biblical principles)…However, the doctrine of no ongoing revelation affirms that Christians have no message from God apart from the text of Scripture. In other words, Scripture alone is God’s verbal communication to mankind, which excludes all other supposed communication from Him, including Jesus speaking in contemporary dreams and visions. Therefore, one can’t affirm both cessation of divine revelation and Jesus personally communicating with Muslims (or anyone else). They are mutually exclusive doctrines…Claiming that these dreams aren’t intended to add to Scripture doesn’t change the fact that they are appeals to divine revelation. Content aside, the encounter itself, if true, is revelatory. It is God revealing Himself personally beyond His self-disclosure in Scripture. Therefore, any personal encounter with God is rightly considered ongoing revelation…Additionally, in Muslim dreams Isa is reportedly communicating not only Bible verses, but also messages of encouragement, instruction, exhortation, prophecies, and other information not included in Scripture. That’s ongoing (or additional) revelation, especially since it reportedly comes from God Himself. Granted, it’s not intended to be canonized, but it is divine revelation nonetheless. When Jesus Himself speaks, how can it be anything less than authoritative divine revelation? Fact is, far from being non-revelatory, these hundreds of appearances of Isa suggest a contemporary period of divine revelation rivaling the New Testament era itself.
Can God communicate the gospel supernaturally?
Does Scripture disallow Jesus (post-ascension) personally communicating to unbelievers to prepare them to receive the gospel? That’s a fair question, but I think the more appropriate question is: where does Scripture teach that He will do that? And do the biblical accounts of visions serve as parallels or patterns for what is occurring today in some Muslim communities?
Could God Do It?
Before answering those questions, I want to comment on the hypothetical question of whether God could communicate His gospel apart from human instrumentality if He chose to do so. The answer, of course, is yes, He could. However, He has already decreed both the end and the means of salvation, and has revealed His decree in Scripture. The end is that all the elect will be saved and none lost (John 6:39-40); the means is through faith in Christ in response to the Spirit-empowered gospel proclaimed by human instrumentality (e.g., Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:36-40; Rom. 1:16; 10:13-15).
Jesus personally communicating the gospel at this point in redemptive history would be outside His revealed decree, which would be a highly exceptional situation. That raises the questions of what aspects of Muslim evangelism constitute a highly exceptional situation that would require God to work outside His revealed decree and if there is clear Scriptural support for Him doing so.
Is this phenomenon consistent with the Holy Spirit’s convicting role?
Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus told His disciples He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come. And He told them the Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and would guide people into all truth. He would also reveal the things of Christ, impart illumination and saving faith, and regenerate human hearts (cf. John 16:5-15; 1 Cor. 1:12-16).
We know from Rom. 1:18-20 and 2:14-15 that general revelation (i.e., external creation and internal conscience) is God’s self-revelation to everyone; that’s why all are without excuse and accountable before Him (Rom. 2:20; 3:9). Also, general revelation is how He pre-conditions His elect to the gospel. Those who by grace respond to general revelation receive additional (special) revelation through God’s Word and the Spirit’s ministry. Why then is it necessary for Jesus to make personal appearances to prepare someone to receive the gospel when that’s the specific role of the Holy Spirit?
All unbelievers are equally lost and can be saved only if the Father grants them faith (John 6:65), draws them (John 6:44), opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14), and teaches them (John 6:45). That’s how every unbeliever comes to faith. There is no unbelief that is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s convicting and regenerating power and which requires personal visitations from Jesus to convince it of the truth of the gospel.
Does the church’s failure to evangelize Muslims necessitate Jesus’ personal intervention?
Some say that Jesus has to intervene personally because the church has failed to evangelize Muslims. However, that could be said of any people group in any area at any time in church history and even of individuals in our own culture who haven’t heard the gospel because a Christian friend failed to share it. If that were the case, dreams and visions would be commonplace.
My main point here is that failure on the church’s part doesn’t necessitate Jesus personally intervening through dreams and visions, because it’s the Holy Spirit’s role to direct the elect to the gospel and the gospel to the elect. Could the Spirit prompt unredeemed elect individuals to dream about Jesus and use those dreams to open their hearts to the gospel? Of course He could. But that’s not what’s being claimed. To have a dream about Jesus, even a Spirit-directed dream, is different from Jesus revealing Himself in a dream. One is natural; the other is supernatural. One is a natural dream; the other is a divine revelation. Those distinctions must be understood and maintained.
What did Jesus say about His future appearances?
Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, two men (angels) said to the onlookers, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And when He does come to earth again, it will be “in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt. 16:27). Jesus warned about any supposed appearances prior to that time (Matt. 24).
Those passages refer specifically to Christ’s physical return to earth at some future point in time, but do they also preclude Him appearing in dreams or visions prior to that time? We can’t answer that question conclusively from those texts, but we can conclude that the only teaching Jesus gave concerning His future appearances on earth relate to His physical return. Therefore, we mustn’t conclude that other appearances are permissible unless Scripture elsewhere permits us to do so. With that in mind, I’ll briefly discuss the relevant New Testament “visions” passages below to see if they give a green light to modern-day appearances of Jesus in dreams or visions.
Does Scripture encourage expectations of personal visitations from Jesus?
Faith based on God’s Word (spoken or written), not personal divine visitations, has been the biblical requirement and standard since the birth of the church. In fact, with the exception of Paul on the road to Damascus, there is no biblical record of Jesus appearing to any unbeliever following His ascension. And Scripture nowhere encourages or even suggests praying for divine appearances as an evangelism strategy or a means of comforting persecuted Christians during the church age. That is utterly foreign to Scripture. Yet the challenges to propagate this phenomenon continue.
Is Isa’s message consistent with Scripture?
If Jesus were appearing to unbelieving Muslims, it follows that His message would be consistent with His message to unbelievers while on earth. But that is not the case. As I read the various accounts of dreams, I’m struck with the impossibility of testing them according to Scripture because their extra-biblical content is so extensive and varied. Many of the dreams contain a verse or two of Scripture, along with encouragement to seek the Savior spoken of in the verses. In many, Isa either identifies himself as Jesus or is assumed to be Jesus by the dreamers.
Reportedly, some of the dreamers had no prior exposure to the Bible or the gospel, but most of the accounts I’ve read indicate the dreamers had some prior exposure to the Bible and/or Christians. Other accounts don’t comment on that aspect of the story.
Most of the content of the dreams relate generally to the circumstances of the various dreamers (e.g., encouragement in trials or rescue from danger, which are common themes). That kind of content can’t be tested by Scripture except by broad measurements such as “Does it encourage faith in Christ?” or “Is it generally consistent with biblical principles?” But those are vague and inadequate tests for determining the divine origin of a dream or vision, as I will explain below.
[But] I am most struck by what Isa doesn’t say in the accounts I’ve read. Although the encounters are said to prepare the dreamers for the gospel, there is little or no mention of sin, repentance, confession, righteousness, or forgiveness, and no presentation of God’s holiness or justice. Simply put, the need for salvation isn’t clarified (or in some cases even mentioned), yet that was at the heart of Christ’s communication with unbelievers when He was on earth. Isa’s “gospel” is minimalistic and devoid of any clear and concise call to repentance. Gospel clarity and precision would be especially important for those Muslims who don’t have a biblical background to draw from and who would therefore need to understand what God requires of them.
Does Isa Pass the Test?
Jesus used a variety of approaches when speaking with unbelievers, depending on the individual or group (e.g., Nicodemus, Rich Young Ruler, Woman at the Well), but typically He identified who He was, confronted their sin, called them to repentance, called them to believe in Him, cautioned them to count the cost of discipleship, and admonished them to take up their crosses daily and follow Him. He didn’t state all those elements in every case, but collectively they constituted the thrust of His message.
By way of contrast, Isa typically identifies who he is (or the dreamer instinctively knows who he is) and tells the dreamer he loves him and wants him (the dreamer) to follow him (Isa). Sometimes the dreamer is overwhelmed with a sense of love and peace just by being in Isa’s presence (which was never the case with unbelievers in the presence of Jesus). So the message that emerges is one of believing in Isa and following him apparently apart from the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
That’s the pattern I see throughout the accounts I’ve read. Consequently I question the substance of the message Isa is delivering and the substance of the gospel some of these Muslims are affirming. That’s not to say their conversions aren’t genuine, especially given the fuller gospel presentation that some receive subsequent to their initial dreams. But it is to say that the message Isa is giving falls short of the message Jesus typically gave to unbelievers while on earth. That shortcoming is a major point of consideration in discerning if this really is Jesus speaking to these people.
Again, I understand the assertion that Isa isn’t sharing the gospel but is merely preparing dreamers for the gospel that is to come in greater fullness via a human evangelist. But I still question the inconsistencies between Jesus’ preparation of unbelievers while on earth and Isa’s preparation via dreams. Also, in some of the accounts I’ve read, Isa does, in fact, call on the dreamers to believe in him. So the claim that he merely prepares them to receive the gospel isn’t always consistent with the testimony record.
Additionally, I have to wonder why Jesus wouldn’t share the gospel with Muslims if He were appearing to them. He’s the most capable and powerful evangelist the world has ever known. Yes, Rom. 10:13-15 says salvation comes by hearing the gospel preached by a human, and that is part of the divine decree I mentioned above. But those who affirm that Jesus is appearing to Muslims also affirm by implication that God isn’t confined to His own decree in these instances, so why would the human evangelist be necessary at all except in a follow-up capacity?
 Ibid. p. 130.
 Ibid. pp. 52-53.
 Ibid., p. 132.
 Rick Kronk, p. 71.
 Ibid., p. 73.
 Ibid., p. 74.
 Tom Doyle and Greg Webster, p. 245.
 Rick Kronk (p. 164, cf. pp. 95-110).
 Tom Doyle, pp. 198-199.