I just finished reading the book of Acts. I wish to know about the visions written in Acts and the Holy Spirit's guidance in Acts. How can I explain the relation between visions and the guidance of God's Spirit? Are they the same?
God has used both visions and dreams to communicate to His prophets, apostles, and others (Isa. 1:1; Ezek. 43:3; Dan. 1:7; Hosea 12:10; Acts 9:10-12; 10:1-3, 19; 16:9-10; Rev. 9:17). The visions and dreams were used to communicate scripture, provide direction, and give us clues about the future.
Communication by God
We will discover shortly that God has communicated to His prophets and apostles in a variety of ways including dreams and visions. But some of the most interesting passages regarding dreams and visions are those in the book of Acts. For example, Acts 9:10-12 tells us that God gave Ananias direction in a vision regarding Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. Ananias was a Christian but not an apostle. This important truth is also supported by the fact that God communicated to Joseph, the husband of Mary, by dream (Matt. 1:20). In summary, this means that God has communicated by visions to Christians who were not prophets or apostles. God has communicated and can communicate to any follower of Jesus through dreams and visions – not just to leaders.
In Acts 10:1-4 we discover that God gave a vision to a non-Christian.
Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household . . . About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had just come in and said to him, “Cornelius!” Acts 10:1-3 (NASB)
Cornelius was not a follower of Jesus Christ. He is described as one who feared God. He was a man looking for God. So God gave him a vision in order to help him know that He (God) was sending Peter to share the truth about Jesus Christ. Was the Holy Spirit responsible for the vision that Cornelius, the centurion, experienced? While we do not know, it is clear that at least God the Father did.
God also communicated to King Nebuchadnezzar through a dream (Daniel 4). King Nebuchadnezzar was a not a follower of God. God also gave the king another dream, according to Daniel 2. Numbers 24:2-9 also reveals that God the Holy Spirit came upon the false prophet Balaam and caused him to bless the nation of Israel. Therefore, we can conclude that God can minister to anyone even if he or she is a non-Christian. But the Holy Spirit will only live inside a Christian (Rom. 8:11).
Dreams and Visions – Everyone
The Holy Spirit appears to have been directly involved in revealing the vision that Isaiah saw, since he later recorded it for us in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 1:1). It is important to remember that God is not communicating scripture by dreams, visions, or any other method today. The Bible is complete. There is nothing new, nothing more to be added to it. In both Ezek. 8:3 and 11:24 we discover that the Holy Spirit was directly involved in the vision that was given to the prophet Ezekiel.
We also discover in Acts 10:1-19 and in Acts 26:19 that the Apostle Peter had a vision (v. 19). Verse 10 says that Peter had a trance and verse 19 explains that it was due to a vision. Verse 19 also reveals that the Holy Spirit was present but not necessarily involved directly in the vision.
In Acts 2:17 we read the following,
. . . AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,” God says, “THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS . . .” Acts 2:17 (NASB)
This passage is a quote of Joel 2:28. The quote strongly indicates that the Holy Spirit would be directly involved in dreams and visions in the last days. The passage implies that men and women will see visions and dreams because the Holy Spirit would be poured out on them. In summary, we conclude that prophets, apostles, and non-leaders saw dreams and visions because the Holy Spirit was either directly or implicitly involved.
Directions By Visions
In Acts 16:1-10 we discover that the Holy Spirit has been directly involved in providing guidance. The passage tells us that the Holy Spirit stopped Paul from going into the Phrygian and Galatian territories (v. 6). When Paul attempted to go to Mysia and Bithynia, the Holy Spirit stopped him again (v. 7-8). Finally, Paul was given a dream which indicated that he was to go to Macedonia (v. 9-10). Did the Holy Spirit stop Paul both times and then give Paul a dream as guidance?
In Acts 18:9 we also discover that God spoke to Paul in a dream and encouraged Paul to speak out boldly. God said that He would protect him and not allow anything to happen to him. Dreams and visions are common in the Bible. They are used to communicate truth, direction, and guidance. Both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit appear to be involved.
God can communicate to anyone through visions or dreams. In the book of Acts, we discover that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have communicated through dreams and visions. So the Holy Spirit has provided guidance through dreams and visions. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit’s primary ministry is here on planet earth among us. God the Father or God the Holy Spirit can still communicate through visions and dreams today. If you are seeking guidance from God. I would encourage you to read your Bible, ask God for direction, ask questions of wise people who really know the Bible since the Holy Spirit guides us today primarily through the Word of God. You might want to read a study titled, “God’s Will.”