There are different types of visions a Christian may experience that are supported by Scripture. I thought it would be interesting to collect some verses that cover the different types of visions in the Bible but I came across a thorough list in James Goll’s book The Seer—which was more extensive then what I would have come up with on my own. I’ve included the list in this post but will go into more detail in my own words below.
The different types of visions in the Bible:
- Spiritual Perception
- Pictorial Vision
- Panoramic Vision
- Dreams (and night visions)
- Audible Voice
- An Appearance
- Divine Sight
- Open Heaven
- Out of Body Experience
- Heavenly Visitation
These are the 12 different types of visions in the Bible.
I’ve experienced many of these types of visions but not all of them. Let’s look at how James defines each one of them and I’ll also give my thoughts. These definitions are in my words but I’ve taken some of the ideas from his book. You will have to check out The Seer on Amazon for more on these.
1. What is Spiritual Perception?
Jame’s Goll considers this to be the lowest level of vision a person can experience. It’s basically spiritual perception and knowing something. It could also be called intuition or a gut feeling. An example would be when Jesus just knew things about people. Jesus knew what was in all men (John 2:24). He could also perceive and know what people were thinking (Mathew 12:25).
You may have a word of knowledge or a word of wisdom for someone and you just know what it is but you don’t know how you know. You perceive it. You don’t necessarily see a vision or hear a voice—you just know something by the Spirit. It’s difficult to explain. For me, it often feels like a memory coming to my mind—only its not my memory. It’s like I am remembering something I didn’t previously know or experience. It can feel like dejavu at times too.
2. What is a Pictorial Vision?
And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Numbers 12:6 ESV
With a pictorial vision, the Holy Spirit is revealing information through pictures (or mental impressions) in your mind. These come as flashes like still snapshots. The Holy Spirit is showing you something visual to communicate something to you about someone or a situation. James mentions that the images you see can be superimposed over a person or place. You will see them in the natural and in your mind’s eye see something on them or over them. You are seeing in the natural and in the spirit with your mind simultaneously.
I think this type of vision is the most frequent in Christian circles when seeing something over someone while praying for them. I believe this is part of the simple gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3) and is something that every believer can grow in—but I do think some people are more gifted to visually see than others. I am more of a feeler than a seer but a feeler is part of the seer realm too.
This person may say, “The Lord is showing me…” or “I am seeing…” or “Does this picture mean anything to you?” Because pictorial visions are presenting distinct pictures in his or her mind, and not only in the spirit, as is the case with spiritual perception. The Seer Page 117
3. What is a Panoramic Vision?
I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables. - Hosea 12:10 ESV
A panoramic vision is similar to a pictorial vision but it’s a vision with movement. It’s not a still image like a pictorial vision is. It’s a motion picture that unfolds before your eyes as you watch. James mentions that you may also hear audible messages in these types of encounters too.
He gives the example in Acts 9—when Ananias received a vision in which he was instructed to lay hands on Saul to give him his sight back (before Saul became Paul.) In the same way Saul, after being blinded by the light, received a vision of a man coming to pray for him to restore his sight. In both of these verses, the Greek word for vision is horama which is one of the root words for panorama. So a panoramic vision James defines as a motion picture. It’s something that unfolds in movement before your eyes.
4. What is a Night Vision? (Dream)
Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed Dan 7:1 ESV
The Bible is full of God giving people dreams to instruct, guide, and motivate them to action. There are many times God is trying to speak something important to us but we are too busy to notice that he’s trying to get our attention—so he will make his will known to us in a dream.
Dreams and visions frequently involve angels in the Bible. This can be seen in many stories in the Bible; especially in Daniel 10 (when he was on a fast and an angel appeared to him and gave him visions). In my life, I’ve had a number of dreams in which there was also an angelic element to the dream. Either I sensed or I knew that there was an angel present when I got the dream.
Angels are messengers. I believe they hear from God and are given messages (or scrolls) to deliver to people on the earth. One of the ways in which they communicate is through dreams.
When Jesus was born, an angel visited Joseph in a dream to tell him that Mary’s child was of the Holy Spirit. An angel also warned him in dreams to flee certain regions to protect baby Jesus. This angel warned him on multiple occasions through dreams.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you Mathew 2:13 ESV
5. Audible Voice
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. Acts 8:26
Hearing an audible voice can accompany a dream or a vision but it can also just be on its own. The voice can be external or internal. It can be in your inner ear (or mind) so only you can hear it—or it can come from outside of yourself and be something you hear with your actual ear—and something other people can hear around you as well.
I’ve only heard an audible voice once, that I can remember, and it was the internal audible voice of God—but I’ve frequently awoken at night to angelic voices singing as well.
When I was 19 years old I was worshipping Jesus in my heart as I waited for my ride home from work when suddenly I heard a loud voice in my head speak my first name and tell me that he was proud of me. I instantly recognized it as the Father.
and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Mathew 3:17 ESV
6. What is an Apparition? (Appearance)
And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Luke 1:11 ESV
So James describes the appearance of a person (like Jesus or an angel) as being separate from a pictorial vision. So there is a difference between an apparition and a vision. He classifies visions as being symbolic while an appearance is actually someone appearing to you and actually happening in the moment. He believes that apparitions can be interactive as well.
I’ve never had an apparition so I don’t have too much to say about this—but I’d love to encounter Jesus like this someday! Wouldn’t you?
An appearance or apparition is different from a pictorial vision in that it is an actual—perhaps tangible and audible—visitation occurring outside of the person. Pictorial visions, by themselves, are basically symbolic revelations with images shown to the mind by the Holy Spirit. These images may be of a person, a place, a thing, or any combination of these. In an apparition, an object, a place, a person, an angel, or Jesus himself, might actually appear. These appearances can be “interactive” as well.– The Seer page 121
7. What is Divine Sight?
And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned. Exodus 3:3 ESV
He classifies divine sight as an experience similar to an apparition but the difference being that divine site is seeing an object or activity taking place in the spiritual realm and being made visible in the natural realm. When Moses saw the flaming bush it wasn’t burned up because the fire he saw was in the spiritual realm—even though it appeared to him in the natural.
Another example would be when the glory cloud descended and filled the temple in 2 Chronicles 5:13-14. Also, the Israelites followed a supernatural cloud by day and a supernatural fire by night.
The only encounter I’ve had that fit’s his description was when I saw a flaming ball of fire in the night sky–which remained for 30-45 seconds or so without moving. This was immediately after a Sozo session I was in—in which someone had said they discerned the archangel, Gabriel. I admit—I didn’t believe him—but when I saw this on the way home I realized he was probably right and this experience confirmed some things he had said to me.
8. What is an Open Heaven?
In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God . Ezekiel 1:1 ESV
Open heaven is often the phrase used to describe the times when the manifest presence and power of God come down over a city, region, or meeting. The presence can be felt tangibly and conversions, repentance, healings are common and easy. People can have visions of the heavens opening.
An open heaven” is a vision where a hole seems to appear in the immediate sky, the celestial realm is disclosed and heavenly sights of God become seeable. The Seer page 122
Open heavens can be discerned by feeling too. I’m extremely sensitive to the spiritual atmosphere around me. When the heavens start opening during an intercession set or worship set in the prayer room (at IHOPKC) I immediately know it because I can feel it. The subtle shifts in the spiritual atmosphere are tangible to me. Small shifts and big ones. Many times other people can’t perceive what I am feeling and sensing.
I can sense when the heavens are opening and I can also sense when warfare is increasing. When there is an actual open heaven it becomes pretty clear to almost everyone. Even the least spiritually sensitive people are aware that God is invading the space and doing something significant.
9. What is a Trance?
When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance Acts 22:17 ESV
The greek word for trance is ekstasis which is the root word for ecstasy. An ecstatic experience can be something you are caught up in. Your consciousness and perception is expanded into whatever God wants to impart to you. The Christians mystics (like Teresa of Avila) referred to trances as raptures:
My soul at once becomes recollected and I enter the state of quiet or that of rapture, so that I can use none of my faculties and senses…Everything is stilled, and the soul is left in a state of great quiet and deep satisfaction. –Teresa of Avila in Spiritual Relations
In 2015 I experienced a dozen or so ecstatic trances. My soul was suspended. My consciousness was immersed with extreme pleasure and joy; as if I was Adam in the garden; or an infant. This was during a time I was under much warfare and had been in much anguish of soul—I had lost my grandmother who raised me. I needed a lot of healing in my soul and God took me into a trance on several occasions to bring internal healing to my soul.
In the trances, I experienced great joy and powerful weighty vibrations. My entire body vibrated for a couple of weeks. It was wonderful and at the same time scary—it was a new experience for me. It was exhilarating and it was thrilling. It was at this time in my life I realized that for anyone to experience the emotion of exhilaration—there has to be some element of exploring the unknown; of danger; of fear. There really is a fear of God—it’s an awesome thing.
In these trances, I hardly had to breathe at all. I could exhale deeply and not have to inhale for over 5 minutes. It felt as if I could indefinitely hold my breath; I was being energized by a supernatural power. I didn’t need to breathe. I could sing at the top of my lungs while not physically breathing. I know that doesn’t make sense—you’d have to experience it to fully grasp what I mean.
10. Are Out Of Body Experience in the Bible?
He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem - Ezekiel 8:3 ESV
In the Bible, God took Ezekiel’s spirit out of his body and brought him to Jerusalem. I’ve heard many stories of intercessors and prophets being taken out of their bodies to different locations around the globe. Sometimes God took them there to show them what to pray for. I’ve heard other stories where God has taken people’s spirits out of their bodies and brought them to the location of a loved one they were worried about—to show them where they are and that they are safe.
I don’t believe a Christian should pursue out of body experiences. I do believe it’s ok to ask and that these encounters should be initiated by God for His purpose. I had an out of body experience once during a Daniel Fast. I awoke one night and I was standing in the Spirit out of my body.
There were two angels who couldn’t speak to me until I rebuked a couple of demons. I rebuked the demons in the spirit and immediately had a night vision and woke up in my physical body. I had 3 visions that night for my future. I believe the Lord took me out of my body to show me that there was warfare hindering the angelic messenger from giving me the dreams. Similar to Daniel’s experience in Daniel 10.
The apostle Paul was also brought to heaven—either in his physical body or his spirit—he didn’t know. I’ve heard many stories of people today being taken to the 3rd heaven—although it’s never happened to me.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.
Christians can have out of body experiences as the Holy Spirit leads. This isn’t something that a person should seek outside of seeking Jesus—but we can ask for these experiences!
11. What is a Translation?
And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:39 ESV
A translation is when someone is physically transported to another place. When Philip baptized the eunuch his physical body was transported somewhere else. In the same way, Jesus was transported when he was being tempted by Satan on his 40 day fast in the wilderness.
I’ve never experienced this type of encounter but I’ve heard stories of people who have. Ian Clayton talks about how he has been transported to other countries—even to the underground church in China. Bob Jones has stories of being transported to places as well. I’ve never experienced this—but it would be pretty cool I think!
12. What is a Heavenly Visitation?
James distinguishes a heavenly visitation from an out of body experience. It’s basically an out of body experience where a person goes to the 3rd heaven and interacts with Jesus and/or angels.
Paul made it clear that when he visited heaven it was the 3rd heaven—suggesting that there is a first and second heaven as well:
- The first heaven is the atmosphere. The lowest heaven. Mathew 16:1-3
- The second heaven is outer space (stars, sun moon) Gen 1:16-17
- The third heaven is where God is. It’s the highest heaven. Psalm 11:4
How To Recognize A Vision Is From God
To recognize if a vision is from God you need to weigh it against Scripture and test the spirit behind the vision or revelation. The things we see in the spirit need to be tested. God will never go against his word revealed in scripture. If it doesn’t like up in scripture it isn’t from God. Period.
We are instructed in scripture to test the spirits. This suggests that the early church was encountering spirits. They were encountering Holy Spirit, angels, and demons. This is why they wrote about testing the spirits. Any spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh and is the son of God is a deceiving spirit. Even satan can appear to a person as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God 1 John 4:1-2
You can learn how to discern what is from God and what isn’t—you learn by practice. You learn by living a righteous life; being set apart and consecrated to God. By growing in the word and in relationship with the Holy Spirit.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:14
Sometimes you may experience things that do not contradict scripture but they also can’t be found in scripture. This is extra-biblical revelation. I’ve heard many people experience this type of revelation—many people have had conversations with angels and Jesus in heaven and things are revealed to them that are not in the Bible—but also don’t contradict the Bible either.
I’m not against this but I think we really need to be cautious about this. It absolutely can’t go against the revealed word of God. If it’s not in the Bible (like I’ve heard Kat Kerr talk about bracelets people wear in heaven)—it doesn’t mean it’s wrong it just should not be a part of a person’s foundation in Christ. We need to be grounded in the written word of God.
How to know if a Vision is From God or My Imagination?
To know if a vision is from God or your imagination you should ask yourself how you felt when you woke up. What were you feeling in your emotions when you woke up from the dream? Was it peaceful or fearful? If it was causing fear or confusion it wasn’t from God. We know that God is not the author of confusion.
Did the dream bring you closer to Jesus? Did it reveal something you should intercede and pray for? Ask the Holy Spirit and pause and wait for a response. Ask God to guide your thoughts and to confirm whether this is something coming from your soul or from him. If it’s truly from him ask him to confirm it again. Sometimes we can’t be certain. All we can do is surrender it to God and trust that he will continue to speak and confirm what he is speaking into our lives.
Sometimes I think prophetic people put too much significance on their visions or dreams. They put a lot of pressure on themselves as if it’s a life or death scenario—like if they misinterpret a dream that could be from God they will somehow miss out on his calling for their lives. God knows how to speak to each one of us individually. If you think a dream may be from God but you aren’t sure. Simply ask him to confirm it again. He is able to!
What is a vision from God like?
Getting a vision from God is a different experience for everyone. It will usually fit into on of the 12 different types of visions listed in this post. When you have one you usually know it.
I find that my visions from God usually have multiple parts to them. I often have visions while I am asleep. Not simply dreams but visions in which I am conscious. These, almost always, have 2-3 separate parts to them. In one part of the vision, I may be standing on a glacier and in the next in the sky looking down at a city.
These 12 different types of visions in the Bible were identified by Jame’s Goll and you can read more about them in his book called The Seer.