When Miriam and Aaron opposed Moses, the LORD said to them, “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” (Num. 12:6)
The Hebrew word mar’âh is used in this passage, and transliterated into English as ‘a vision’. It means ‘a mode of revelation; in the sense of a mirror’. Mar’âh can refer to anything, either literal or figurative, that is seen or perceived, which reveals and reflects back a message from, and/or a characteristic or attribute of, God.
‘Vision’, in English, means ‘the act or power of seeing with the eyes’. The term ‘a vision’, however, relates only to that which was seen, not the action itself. A vision is an experience of the mind that naturally begins with sight — for whether the vision’s image or scene is transmitted via the eyes, or is simply registered directly in the mind — of necessity something must first be seen.
In that context, consider the phrase frequently uttered by the prophets of the Old Testament: ‘and the word of the Lord came to me’. It would be consistent with God’s statement in Numbers 12:6 to assume that the ‘word of the Lord’ often came in the form of pictorial representations (visions and dreams) of the message God wanted to convey. Pictures are the simplest form of communication, and they precede words: because when learning a language, we are first shown pictures of objects, then we are given the word(s) that is/are associated with them. Pictures and words both express meaning, but pictures are superior in that they can be understood universally, while words are language specific. And to a certain degree, a prophet receiving a vision in this manner can be made analogous to a person watching a video presentation; so the value of this method of communication is readily apparent.
However, there are also instances of God sending an angel as a messenger to speak for him; and Hebrews 1:1 informs that God disclosed his thoughts to the prophets in many ways, at different times. So, with all of the various ways that God can communicate, why are there seemingly no prophets among the Lord’s followers today? Does Christianity have no need for prophecy anymore? This can by no means be the case, for Romans 12:6 states, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” Furthermore, we are told, “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” (1 Cor. 12:28) Paul ranks prophecy as the second highest function within the body of Christ!! He also says we ought to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy, and that he wishes everyone in the church prophesied. (1 Cor 14:1&5) Should anyone reasonably assume then that a need for so important a role no longer exists?! God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so if the manifestation of prophesy is nearly extinct today, it is a reflection of our own failure and inadequacy — but that is a different subject that cannot be explored here, so I will simply draw attention to the implication of the words “earnestly desire” and move on.
At this point, it would be remiss to not return to and conclude the rest of the thought from Hebrews 1:1. Picking back up in verse 2, “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” This indicates that the means by which the Father communicates with man has changed. Prior to the Lord’s first advent, communication from God came in diverse forms. When Jesus was on the earth, God was then speaking directly through his Son, who was the preexistent Word. Now that he has been resurrected, God speaks via the gift of the Holy Spirit, in combination with the revealed word of Scripture. This change in the manner by which God communicates does not bring the need for prophecy to an end in the present day, it merely changes how prophecy is conveyed.
The Father’s disclosure of his plan for the salvation of man through his Son was completed with the Book of Revelation. It would seem that all He intends to reveal regarding the end of days has already been spoken. It would appear that visions and dreams have had their end — perhaps not on an isolated, individual basis — but at least as far they concern any messages intended to be delivered on a national or worldwide scale. Yet although there are no new revelations regarding salvation, in the general sense of those conveyed by visions, it is still true that not all of the revelations from Scripture have been made clear: and this is why the gift of prophecy is still essential today.
Prophecy is not only predictive, it is also interpretive. This can be shown by the statement found in Dan. 9:1-2, which says: “In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes… I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The prophecy he refers to is from Jer. 29:1-24. Its message was for the all of the exiles who lived in that time, and it retained its relevance to its intended audience up until the command to return to Jerusalem was given. But a prophecy, whether it be given for guidance and instruction, or to serve as a warning, is without value unless it is understood — just like the gift of tongues is only useful when it is interpreted. Therefore, Daniel, a prophet himself, was given understanding by God so that he could act in accordance to the dictates of a prophecy that had been given previously to another of God’s servants.
As a prophet, he was also given the power to interpret: as when he translated the king’s dark dreams. Likewise, he received visions himself, that spoke of events far into the future — and angelic beings supplied the explanations in an obscure manner — not for his own benefit, but for the sake of those who would live during the age when the visions would attain their relevance and fulfillment. That which was veiled would only be made plain at the appropriate time. Since the events to which some prophecies allude have not yet occurred, and since all of their meanings have not been fully understood, it stands to reason that the interpretive component of prophecy still has relevance today.
The interpretive aspect of prophecy is essentially a process of converting something hidden — a meaning that is unseen and incomprehensible –into something that is now clear and readily understood. This idea evokes a further discussion of sight, because understanding how light converts the invisible into the visible can aid in comprehending how the phenomenon of understanding a vision is made possible. The eye sees, the mind reasons, and the heart understands, as stated in Isaiah 6:10 and elsewhere. Sight is the action whereby the eyes take in whatever is reflected back and revealed by light. The information the eyes receive is processed in the mind, and the brain then attempts to define what was seen, provide context from past experience, and attach meaning to it. The mind then relays its analysis to the heart, submitting its conclusions for judgement. The heart then renders its verdict as to whether the mind has determined accurately, or falsely — and the communication continues until the two are of one accord.
This process is common to all, both the believer and the unbeliever alike, but it is important to note that definitude of the heart’s judgment can only be had when it is given in the presence of the holy spirit, since God alone sees all things as they truly are — and it is only by His spirit that man can know the mind of God, and see as He sees. The Lord Jesus, the Christ, is both the Word, who spoke in days past to the prophets in the light of visions and dreams, and the present Light of the world, who reveals the hidden things contained in the word of scripture. He is the one who sends forth the holy spirit, which teaches righteous judgment to the hearts of all those into whom it is sent; and it is by this same spirit that the prophecies of old were uttered. It should not be imagined that the passage of time has rendered the Lord’s spirit mute.
Based on the meaning of mar’âh, a prophet of the Old Testament would reflect back to the people what God had revealed by the vision. The vision itself was always sharply impressed upon the prophet’s mind, even when its meaning was obscure. It was rendered in such a way that it appeared to their mind with the same clarity and distinctness as that which is visible to the eye, so that they could speak with certainty and conviction. In a sense, the vision acted as a light to the prophet’s mind, revealing the things of God that would have been otherwise imperceptible; since vision is impossible in the absence of light. So, one could say the Old Testament prophet received the spiritual word by physical sight. The prophet then functioned as a mirror, reflecting the light of that vision back to the people. This is fitting because the Word of God had not yet been sent, and God’s word (Scripture) had not been completed.
Before the promised Messiah was revealed, visions and dreams served in his stead, but today the Lord is the Light of the world, by whom we are made to see. A prophet of the modern era, therefore, is the beneficiary of revelation his predecessors did not have access to. Therefore, they receive insight by the Light of the Word (as Christ dwells in them). In contrast to the previous era, this would be a case of spiritual sight coming through the physical word of Scripture.
The prophets of old had faith in what they saw — they believed the vision — and thereby communicated new revelations to the people. Today, the prophet must believe the word — and have faith in the unseen things of God — depending upon the Lord to provide insight into prophesies which are still not fully understood, though they were spoken of long ago.
The ability to see in a physical capacity is a gift given by God, which he provides to all but a few. The ability to see in the spiritual sense — that which can be called insight, discernment, or wisdom — is also a gift of God, but its dispensation is far more rare. Its treasures are only discovered by those who eagerly desire and earnestly seek them. Those who truly ‘seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness’ will have such things added to them, and more. The need for spiritual insight is more urgent today then ever. Remember that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev. 19:10) May God inspire the hearts of all those who love Him to set aside their concerns for the things of this life, and may He fill more of His children with an earnest desire to be granted the greatest spiritual gifts — which He makes readily available to those who seek.