A common question asked by people beginning to walk in realms of supernatural encounters and divine revelation is, “What is the purpose of these prophetic encounters and gifting?” Why does God give revelatory graces to His children? The answer is simple to state, but profound in its working out in our lives: God gives revelatory graces to His children to reveal in us, and to a desperate and needy world, the glorious Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. That revelation has life-changing power, not only for non-believers brought to faith because of it but also for believers whose faith walk and ministry is forever transformed by a personal God encounter.
The Lord creates within His people a deep-seated craving and yearning for more of Him. Once aroused, that appetite is never satisfied—the more we get, the more we want. Indeed, arousing a ravenous appetite for God’s presence is the ultimate purpose of all true prophetic revelatory experiences.
Having said that, I want to consider ten supplemental purposes for God’s revelatory graces—along with some scriptural examples—that serve the ultimate purpose of drawing us closer to Him.
1. Dreams and visions are used to reveal God’s promises.
In Genesis 28:10-15, we find the account of “Jacob’s ladder.” Fleeing home for fear of his brother Esau’s wrath, Jacob stopped at a particular location in the wilderness for the night. Using a rock for a pillow, Jacob fell asleep and dreamed of a ladder that linked Heaven and earth and had God’s angels ascending and descending its steps. Atop the ladder, Jacob saw the Lord, who gave him a wonderful promise:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:13b-15).
God’s promise to Jacob was a reaffirmation of the promise given to both Abraham and Isaac, who were Jacob’s grandfather and father, respectively. Their descendants would become a great nation and would inherit and occupy the land of Canaan.
This dream had an immediate, profound impact on Jacob. Upon awakening, Jacob was filled with awe and fear and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. …How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16-17). Taking the stone he had used for a pillow, Jacob established a memorial to his God encounter; then he anointed it with oil and worshiped the Lord. Jacob vowed that if God would protect and provide for him, then he would serve the Lord. Jacob’s transformation was not completed overnight, but that one dream sent him well on his way to being changed from Jacob (whose name means “deceiver”) to Israel (whose name means “prince of God”).
2. Supernatural encounters often give direction, especially at major turning points.
Consider Joseph’s dilemma in the first chapter of Matthew. Betrothed to Mary, Joseph learns that she is pregnant and, not wishing to disgrace her publicly, plans to divorce her quietly. That is, until an angel visits Joseph in a dream and gives counsel that changes both his mind and course of action: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). Joseph’s revelatory experience gave him direction to help him make the right decision.
In Acts 16:9, the apostle Paul receives a vision in which a man appeals for him to come to Macedonia. This experience leads to the first evangelistic thrust into Europe. Prior to Paul’s vision, he and his companions had tried to take the gospel into both Asia and Bithynia, but each time the Holy Spirit forbade them from doing so. Only Paul’s Macedonian vision gave them direction to know where to go.
3. Revelatory experiences give warnings.
In Matthew 2:12, a dream warns the wise men not to report back to King Herod, so they end up returning home by a different route. In the very next verse, an angel warns Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous rage. Sometime after Herod’s death, Joseph is told in another dream that it is now safe to return home.
In Acts 22:17-21, Paul relates how—while praying in Jerusalem—he fell into a trance and a vision of the Lord warned him to flee because the Jews would not accept Paul’s testimony about Him. In God’s plan for His people, there is a time to stand and a time to flee. In this instance, the time was for Paul to flee. As Paul indicates in verse 21, this warning from the Lord first propelled him into carrying the gospel to the Gentiles.
4. Dreams and visions give instruction.
Job 33:14-18 says:
Indeed God speaks once, or twice, yet no one notices it. In a dream, a vision of the night, when sound sleep falls on men, while they slumber in their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction, that He may turn man aside from his conduct, and keep man from pride; He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from passing over into Sheol.
God speaks once, twice, and numerous times, and in a variety of different ways—including dreams and visions—so as to open men’s ears and seal His instruction. The Lord’s gracious and redemptive purpose is to turn men from their evil ways and prevent them from going to hell by leading them into knowledge of righteousness.
For years, Christians around the world have been praying for God to visit the Muslim people. As a general rule, Muslims hold a strong belief in the power of dreams. Not long ago, an international leader of Youth with a Mission reported that in Algeria (a primarily Muslim nation) some 10,000 Muslims had the same dream on the same night—Jesus appeared in all these dreams. As a result of this supernatural encounter, these Muslims came to faith in Christ.
Sometimes God gives dreams and visions to turn people from darkness and error to truth and light. His purpose is to deliver their souls from hell because, as Ezekiel 33:11 says, God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” and He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Part of God’s last-days’ great purposes is to release conviction in the human spirit through revelatory graces.
5. In the Spirit of revelation, God can deal with a man in a special way.
The prophetic has a way of cutting through our traditions and hard outside “crust” to pierce our spirit. No matter what our tradition, theology, or doctrinal background, when God wants to get our attention, He can do it through prophetic expression. Remember Dr. A.J. Gordon’s experience.
God dealt with King Solomon in a particular way through a dream. First Kings 3:5 says: “In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, ‘Ask what you wish Me to give you.’” If God came to you with such an open-ended offer, what would you ask for? Out of all the possibilities Solomon could have chosen, he asked for wisdom to rule his people well. God was so pleased with Solomon’s selfless request that He gave him not only wisdom but riches and honor greater than any who came before or after him.
I believe that it is significant that God used a dream to communicate with Solomon in this instance. Notice that the verse says that “the Lord appeared to Solomon.” Was this a theophany, which is a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, the second Person of the Godhead? No one knows. At the very least, Solomon understood from his dream that he was being spoken to by God and not just an angelic being.
6. Prophetic activity predicts the future.
The Bible contains many examples of the prophetic predicting future events. For instance, in Daniel 2 the King of Babylon dreams about future kingdoms to arise after the Babylonian empire is no more. Neither the king nor any of his wise men can understand the dream, but Daniel does an interpretation as the Spirit of God gives him understanding. The Babylonian kingdom will be followed by empires built by the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman peoples. After these empires of men collapse, a divine Kingdom will come that will last forever.
The Book of Luke speaks of Zacharias, a priest who has a vision of an angel while he ministers in the temple. The angel tells Zacharias that he and his wife Elisabeth, who is barren, will have a son to be named John. Nine months later, Elisabeth does bear a son, who grows up to be known as John the Baptist and who, according to Jesus, is the greatest prophet to have ever walked the earth.
Years ago, when our oldest son Justin was only a week old, the Lord woke me at 2 a.m. and said, in a quiet, gentle voice, “I have a surprise I want to show you.” I got up, went into the living room, and sat down on the couch. Across the room from me was our piano. As I gazed at the instrument, my eyes opened up into the spirit realm and I saw an open vision of a little girl sitting on a piano bench. Her long dark hair hung down to her waist, and her skin had an ivory complexion. Even in that brief moment, I could feel her personality.
The Spirit’s voice said, “I’d like to introduce you to your daughter. Her name will be Grace Ann Elizabeth, and she will be tender and sensitive, and you will learn much through her.” To this day, I believe this vision was meant to prepare my wife and me for the one to come. Almost three years later, Grace Ann was born. With her long dark hair, ivory complexion, and sensitive and tender spirit, she was the perfect image of the little girl whom I saw in my vision. Today, at the age of 30, this artistic daughter of ours is an art therapy professor at a university in Nashville, Tennessee. God is faithful and He watches over His word to fulfill it.
7. Prophetic gifts give courage.
Paul was ministering in Corinth after having suffered hardship and persecution for the sake of the gospel in city after city. What lay ahead for him in Corinth? Paul was no different from us; in his lowest moments, he must have wondered at times whether all his hard work and sacrifice truly made any difference. In Paul’s hour of need, the Lord brought him encouragement:
And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” And he settled there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:9-11).
Month after month and place after place, Paul had labored hard and faithfully, often alone and against fierce opposition and hostility. How reassuring it must have been to hear that in Corinth the Lord had “many people.” With these like-minded believers, Paul could work, worship, and fellowship. Instead of being run out of town for preaching the gospel, as had happened so often, Paul could settle down for a year and a half of teaching God’s word free from persecution. This period of rest and respite renewed Paul’s strength and gave him courage to continue the Lord’s work.
Years later, Paul was sailing to Rome as an imperial prisoner to be tried before the emperor. A violent, two-week-long storm at sea caught Paul, his traveling companions, the ship’s crew, and a contingent of Roman soldiers guarding all the prisoners. Just when everyone else had almost given up hope, Paul spoke to the entire company:
Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island (Acts 27:22-26).
The account says that Paul’s words encouraged all on board and restored their hope. In the end, events transpired in precisely the manner foretold to Paul by the angel. The ship ran aground and was battered to pieces by the waves, but everyone aboard made it safely to shore. As it happened, they had arrived on the island of Malta, where they spent three winter months.
8. Dreams and visions are a major way that God communicates to His prophets.
In Numbers 12:6, God says: “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.” For prophets and other prophetic people, dreams and visions come with the territory. For me it is a regular way that the Holy Spirit speaks to me and prepares me for my assignments. But always remember, God encounters are for everyone!
9. Revelatory graces draw us into worship.
Do you remember the story of Gideon? God raised up Gideon as a judge to deliver the Israelites from continuous attack from the Midianites. Gideon put out his fleece to verify that God had spoken, then went out and amassed an army of 32,000, which the Lord pared down to 300 men. Then, with their trumpets, torches, and clay pitchers, Gideon and his men surrounded the Midianite camp. The night before the battle, Gideon needed a little extra encouragement, so the Lord directed him to sneak into the enemy’s camp. While there, he overheard two Midianites talking.
When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, “Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” His friend replied, “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the camp of Midian into your hands” (Judges 7:13-15).
Hearing God’s plan come from the mouth of a pagan Midianite was all the confirmation Gideon needed. He returned to his own camp absolutely convinced and confident of victory. Notice what Gideon did before returning to camp, however: He bowed in worship. In humility and devotion Gideon acknowledged God as the Source of the revelation and the victory that was sure to come.
Gideon’s revelatory experience served several purposes. First, it revealed a promise—that God had delivered the Midianites into Gideon’s hands. Second, it predicted the future—victory for Gideon and his men. Third, it gave Gideon courage to follow through with God’s command. Fourth, it inspired Gideon to worship the Lord.
That should be the effect of all revelatory graces upon our lives—they should draw us into worship. Whenever God speaks, He always does so in an incredibly personal fashion. He speaks to us out of symbols of the past; He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, and our failures; and He knows our destination. In the midst of it all, He comes to strengthen us with His power, enlighten us with His revelation, and encourage us with reminders of our destiny. Our response should be one of praise, humble surrender, and joyous worship.
10. Prophetic encounters cast new light and grant new perspective.
God’s prophetic revelatory graces can enlighten us to past events, our current understanding, and even future incidents. Remember when Elisha and his servant were surrounded by the Syrians. Once God opened the servant’s eyes to see the flaming chariots and their angelic occupants, his entire perspective on the situation changed. The revelatory grace God bestowed on him—as a result of Elisha’s prayer—cast a whole new light on his circumstances.
In a healing dream, the Lord can pull something negative or hurtful out of our past and—by casting a new light or granting new perspective—give us a redemptive reinterpretation so that it is no longer a source of pain.
What is the purpose of revelatory graces? They help us follow Christ Jesus and become more like Him. Revelation 19:10 says, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Jesus is the express image of the Father. Everything about Jesus is a testimony of the Father’s true nature and will. Our prophetic ministry today should be a testimony of the “Good News” of Jesus in word, attitude, and deed. As our knowledge of Jesus increases through the prophetic message, then grace and peace will be multiplied in our daily lives.