A sight or scene presented to a person’s mind by day or by night, usually through other than ordinary means, and sometimes while the recipient was in a trance or was dreaming. (Ac 10:3; Ge 46:2) It is often difficult to establish a clear demarcation between visions and dreams described in the Bible, and at times they are combined.
When a person received a vision from God during waking hours, it appears that the impression was made upon the conscious mind. The vision could later be recalled and described or recorded by the recipient, in his own words. Some persons, such as Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, also had nocturnal visions, or ‘visions of the night.’ These seem to have been impressed upon the subconscious mind while the recipient slept.
Trance. Apparently God’s spirit at times superimposed on the mind a picture of God’s purpose or a vision while a person was in a trance, a state of deep concentration or a sleeplike condition. The Greek word rendered “trance” in the Christian Scriptures is ekʹsta·sis. Defined literally as a putting away or displacement, it carries the figurative idea of a throwing of the mind out of its normal state. An individual in a trance would be oblivious of his literal surroundings and would be receptive to a vision.—Ac 22:17, 18.
Assurances of Divine Favor. Certain visions from God revealed to Jehovah’s servants how he was dealing with them and gave them assurance of divine favor. The word of Jehovah came to Abram (Abraham) in a vision, and the patriarch was assured: “Do not fear, Abram. I am a shield for you. Your reward will be very great.” (Ge 15:1) Thereafter, Jehovah made a covenant with Abraham. (Ge 15:2-21) Some years later, God talked to Jacob in visions of the night, telling him not to be afraid to go down to Egypt, for God would constitute him a great nation there and would eventually bring him up from that land.—Ge 46:1-4; compare 2Sa 7:1-17; 1Ch 17:1-15.
Direction in Serving the Divine Purpose. Some visions from God gave the recipients direction in the doing of Jehovah’s will. After the glorified Jesus Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus, Saul, though temporarily blinded, had a vision in which he saw a man named Ananias lay his hands upon him so that he might recover sight. Also by means of a vision, Ananias was directed to the very house where Saul was in Damascus.—Ac 9:1-19.
In Caesarea in 36 C.E., the devout Gentile Cornelius received a vision in which an angel told him to send to Joppa for Simon Peter. (Ac 10:1-8) At Joppa, Peter fell into a trance and had a vision in which he saw descending from heaven a vessel containing various unclean creatures. By this means the apostle was taught that he should not consider defiled the things God had cleansed. This prepared Peter to initiate the work of preaching the good news to uncircumcised Gentiles.—Ac 10:9-23; 11:5-12.
Divine direction in the preaching work was also given to Paul by means of visions. At Troas, during Paul’s second missionary tour, at night the apostle had a vision of a Macedonian man who entreated: “Step over into Macedonia and help us.” (Ac 16:8-12) Later, as a result of a reassuring vision by night in which the Lord spoke to him, the apostle remained in Corinth for a year and six months, teaching the Word of God.—Ac 18:8-11.
Prophecy. Some visions from God were prophetic or were given to enable the recipient to interpret prophecies communicated in visions and dreams. The prophet Daniel “had understanding in all sorts of visions and dreams.” (Da 1:17) It was in “a night vision” that God revealed to Daniel the content and meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about an immense image pictorial of world powers.—Da 2:19, 28; compare Da 4:5, 10, 13, 20-22.
In a prophetic dream and “visions during the night,” Daniel beheld four huge beasts coming out of the sea, indicating that four “kings” would stand up from the earth. (Da 7:1-3, 17) The prophet was also privileged to behold in vision “someone like a son of man” obtaining rulership, dignity, and kingdom from the Ancient of Days.—Da 7:13, 14.
Visions from God were also received by such Bible writers as Isaiah (1:1; 6:1-13), Amos (7:1-9, 12; 8:1, 2), and Ezekiel (1:1). Obadiah’s inspired prophetic declaration against Edom opens with the words: “The vision of Obadiah.” (Ob 1) “The vision of Nahum” contains a pronouncement against Nineveh.—Na 1:1.
The book of Revelation contains a series of visions seen by the aged apostle John. The book’s Greek name, A·po·kaʹly·psis, meaning “Uncovering” or “Disclosure,” is apropos, for Revelation does uncover matters, disclosing many events of the distant future, far beyond the time of its composition.—Re 1:1, ftn.
False Visions. Prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E., that city’s false prophets spoke “the vision of their own heart,” their messages not originating with Jehovah. (Jer 23:16) Having no vision from Jehovah, what they visioned was worthless. (La 2:9, 14) Because they spoke untruth and “visioned a lie,” Jehovah was against them.—Eze 13.
Some Foretold to See Visions. In contrast with false visions and in addition to the God-given visions already discussed, Joel was divinely inspired to foretell that, under the influence of God’s spirit, young men would “see visions.” (Joe 2:28) Peter showed that there was a fulfillment of this prophecy on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., when the holy spirit was bestowed upon followers of Jesus Christ and they miraculously declared in many languages “the magnificent things of God.”—Ac 2:1-4, 11, 15-17.