The Heavenly Vision

“I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
—Acts 26:19

DURING THE TIME when the Bible was in course of preparation, many of God’s instructions and warnings to his people, as well as the revelation of his plans and purposes, were imparted by means of ‘visions’. These were frequently, if not always, of a miraculous nature, and so impressive that they left no doubt in the minds of those to whom they were given that the Lord had spoken to them. Visions were not given to satisfy curiosity, but in order that those receiving them might be equipped to cooperate with the Lord in the outworking of his plans, either for themselves or for others, or both.


In many instances visions are referred to in the Scriptures as the ‘voice’ of the Lord speaking to his people, and a glance through a concordance is sufficient to impress one with the importance the Lord placed upon obedience to his voice, and the dire consequences that should result from disobedience. God spoke to Noah, not merely that he might know of the coming Flood, but in order that he might warn the people and make preparation for the salvation of himself and his family.

God also spoke to Abram of Ur, told him of his purpose to bless all the families of the earth, and gave him instructions to leave his own people and his father’s house and go to a land which he would show him. The blessings to be derived from this contact with the Lord depended upon Abram’s obedience to these instructions.

God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush and commissioned him to be the great deliverer of his people. Even the ground where Moses was standing when this vision was given to him, became holy, or sanctified, for God was using it at the time as the place where he was imparting information to his servant as to what he wanted him to do. If Moses from then on was to enjoy the continued favor of the Lord he had no alternative; he must obey the vision.

When Joshua entered the Promised Land and was confronted with the task of dispersing the Canaanites, an angel appeared to him as “the captain of the host of the Lord.” (Josh. 5:14) It was from this angelic army captain that Joshua received instructions as to how he should proceed to capture Jericho. Had he gone contrary to these instructions the city would not have been captured.

The Prophet Isaiah was given a vision in which he saw the Lord “high and lifted up.” (Isa. 6:1) In this vision the prophet heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (vs. 8) and he responded, “Here am I; send me.” This, in reality, was the meaning of most of the visions with which the Lord favored his people in ancient times, although not always so plainly stated in words.

In every age of the Divine plan there are certain things which the Lord desires accomplished which can be done—with his help—by human hands; messages which can be given by human tongues; errands that can be run by human feet, and happy are those to whom he gives these opportunities and who are faithful to the responsibilities he entrusts to them—who, when God reveals his will to them are like Isaiah, and respond ‘Here am I; send me’.


The most notable vision mentioned in the New Testament was the one given to Jesus at the time of his baptism, when the heavens were opened to him. Here, at the age of thirty, Jesus was beginning his earthly ministry. He had come to perform the will of his Heavenly Father—all that had been written in the “volume of the book”—the Old Testament. (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-9) All the instructions recorded in the Old Testament for the guidance of the Master were given under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. There had been no one to interpret their meaning, and even for the perfect mind of Jesus to comprehend their import, it was necessary that he be given a special revelation, a vision, and it was this with which he was blessed when the heavens were opened to him.

Jesus had come to ‘do’ the things which had been written concerning him and, when their meaning was revealed, he unhesitatingly entered upon the task of performing it. And at what great cost did Jesus obey the heavenly vision! The period of his ministry was short, but every day was a tiring one. He was rebuffed by his enemies, misunderstood by his friends, and the great “contradiction of sinners” finally resulted in his arrest, mock trial, and cruel crucifixion. (Heb. 12:3) But this was the meaning of the vision. He was to be led as a lamb to the slaughter. He was to give his flesh for the life of the world. He was to be a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and he was obedient. He learned the cost of obedience through suffering.—Heb. 2:10; 5:8

But to offset the cost of obedience, the Master also experienced a rich reward even while he was laying down his life. His heritage of peace and joy more than compensated for the sacrifice he was making. Indeed, it was this that enabled him to obey—“for the joy that was set before him,” he “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb. 12:2) True, this was a future joy, but the anticipation of it, and his complete confidence that it would be his, gave him a present peace and joy which the world could neither give nor take away. So while he was a “man of sorrows,” he was undoubtedly also the happiest man on earth; and for him, the scripture applied: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”—Neh. 8:10


Saul of Tarsus had always been a zealous servant of God, although he had been wrong in his understanding of what the Lord wanted him to do. It was on an errand of misdirected service that he was favored with that revealing vision of our theme text, and to which he had not been disobedient. It was this vision which halted Saul in the wrong course he was taking, and revealed to him the position he was to occupy as a fellow sufferer with Christ, and the task he was to perform as the apostle to the Gentiles.

So far as Paul’s earthly service of Christ was concerned, perhaps the briefest summary we are given of what it was to mean to him by way of experience is in the statement made to Ananias when the Lord commissioned him to tell Saul what great things he was to suffer for his name’s sake. (Acts 9:16) Obedience to the heavenly vision meant much suffering for Paul, and in this he rejoiced; for the vision had revealed that he had the privilege of filling up that which was behind of the afflictions of Christ.—Col. 1:24

These sufferings came as a result of his obedience to the vision revealed to him, and by making it known to others. After declaring to Agrippa that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision, he added, “But [I] shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20) It was for these causes, Paul explained to the king, that he was accused by his fellow Jews, and it was for these causes that he continued to be persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles until he finished his course with joy. He was later executed at Rome.

Because he had implicit confidence in the Lord and knew that nothing would be permitted to come into his life that was not for his highest spiritual welfare, Paul enjoyed rest of heart and mind; but he had no rest from the impelling urgency of laying down his life in obedience to the heavenly vision—that Jesus was the Christ and that the hope of both the church and the world centered in him as the Redeemer, and the one who was to reign until all enemies were put under his feet, even the great enemy death.

Paul’s faithfulness to the heavenly vision involved a great deal more than bearing witness to the Gospel of Christ. On one occasion he said that he had not shunned to declare “all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) In doing this he encouraged, comforted, warned, and corrected the brethren, thus helping to build them up in the most holy faith, and to grow up to the full stature of manhood in Christ Jesus.


Paul also prophesied that there would come a great falling away from the faith, that “grievous wolves” would enter in among the sheep not sparing the flock, that a great antichrist system would develop and flourish through much of the age, continuing until destroyed by the brightshining of the Master’s second presence at the end of the age. (II Thess. 2:3-8; Acts 20:29) He also foretold that in the Day of the Lord at the end of the age, sudden and unexpected destruction would come upon “them [the world],” while “ye brethren” would not be in darkness “that that day should overtake you as a thief.”—I Thess. 5:1-4

The Apostle Peter also prophesied that at the end of the age—the ‘last days’—only scoffers would say, “Where is the promise of his coming [Greek parousia—‘presence’]?” The ‘scoffers’ would fail to understand the significance of the time in which they were living.—II Pet. 3:3,4

The Book of Revelation reveals unmistakably, and in greater detail, the facts of the great falling away, the apostasy which developed in the church subsequent to the death of the apostles. This prophetic vision, which was given to John on Patmos, also makes it clear that at the end of the age the Lord’s own people, his faithful followers—the ones who would be taking heed to the ‘sure Word of prophecy’—would be blessed with increased light on the Word appropriate and needful for the time. (II Pet. 1:19) Indeed, we are assured during this time that the “mystery of God” would be finished.—Rev. 1:1; 10:7

These prophecies by Paul, Peter, and John, all assure us that the Lord’s people at the end of the age were to be blessed with a brilliance of light with respect to the plans and purposes of God. The Master’s own testimony is to the same effect. In describing the manner of his return and second presence he said that it was to be as a brightshining coming out of the east and shining even unto the west. While this is an assurance that ultimately, and as a result of his presence, the knowledge of the glory of God shall fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea, the Master’s own disciples are the first to be illuminated by the light of his presence.—Luke 21:31

Using a different illustration of the truth that would be given to the household of faith at the end of the age, Jesus explained that when he returned he would sit down with his people and would serve them “meat in due season.” (Matt. 24:45-47; Luke 12:37) Explaining the manner in which this would be done, he said that he would appoint a steward, a servant, whom he would use to dispense the ‘meat’, the spiritual food, the truth, which would be given to the ‘household’ at the time of his return.

The combined testimony of Jesus and the apostles, with many confirmations in the Old Testament, leave no doubt that the Lord’s people at this time should expect to be blessed with another outstanding vision of truth. The Scriptures do not indicate that this latter day vision would be given by God in a miraculous manner as in the past, when he illuminated the minds of his holy prophets and apostles and our Lord Jesus. Further visions of this character are not now necessary, for all the plans and purposes of God were then revealed and recorded in his Word.

A special understanding of the Word of God has been given to his people in this end of the age, and in the manner indicated by the prophecies, particularly by the prophecy of Jesus concerning the “meat in due season.” (Matt. 24:45) The method which should be used to serve this food to the household of faith would be through “that servant.” The message received through him is therefore God’s vision of truth for this end of the age.


When it comes to the understanding of the entire plan of God for human salvation, we cannot properly judge truth from error simply by examining one, or even several, individual points of doctrine. We must identify the central theme of the Divine plan, and the great objective to which every detail of the plan is leading. That which comes to light as we look into the promises and prophecies of the Word of God is the fact that God purposes to establish a kingdom here on this earth. This will quell the rebellion of fallen man by his acceptance of God’s provision of life through Christ, so that he may be restored to perfection and live forever.

Jesus summed up this great theme when he taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) The Prophet Isaiah reveals that the accomplishment of this Divine purpose is not dependent upon the frail arm of flesh, that “the government shall be upon his shoulder,” and that the “zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7

Translating into our own language this great theme which permeates the Word of God, it simply means that the Divine plan is the outline of what God will do for man, and not what man tries to do for God. This vision of truth which has come in God’s appointed time, and in which so many are rejoicing, is complete and all-comprehensive. It embraces the meaning of all the great visions God gave to his people in ancient times. It was a blessed thing for Noah to be informed about the coming Flood and the privilege of service which was to be his in connection with it; but Noah did not know, as we understand today, that his experiences and the ending of that world prefigured the ‘days of the Son of Man’ in which we are now living, and the end of ‘this present evil world’.

Abraham must have rejoiced when God informed him of his purpose to bless all the families of the earth through his seed, but he did not know that the real ‘seed’ of promise was to be a ‘faith seed’ made up of Jesus and his body members who suffer and die with him that they might live and reign with him.

Moses was awed when he saw the burning bush and heard the voice of God instructing him to take off his shoes, for the place on which he stood was holy ground. He learned that he was to be the deliverer of his people from Egypt, and to be their lawgiver; but he was given little conception of the greater deliverance that was to come to all mankind, and of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile to God under the terms of the New Covenant. True, he prophesied that one greater than he was to come, but like the other prophets of the Old Testament, it is doubtful if he understood very clearly the implication of this and others of his prophecies.

Isaiah saw the Lord ‘high and lifted up’, and he was inspired with the sight to do the bidding of such an exalted and holy one. His vision of God did not reveal the glories of the Divine character, and he did not understand the marvelous harmony of Jehovah’s attributes—his wisdom, justice, love, and power.

When the heavens were opened to Jesus he had revealed to him the meaning of the Old Testament instructions concerning the purpose of his earthly ministry, that he was to suffer and to die for the world. It was not possible then to impart that knowledge to his disciples, for they were not able to ‘bear it’. When later he did open up the Scriptures to them concerning the meaning of his death, their hearts burned within them. (Luke 24:32) But even so, it was not until after Pentecost, when the meaning of the vision was enlarged to include the church, that they learned of their privilege to suffer and die with the Master, thus to share in the “better sacrifices” (Heb. 9:23) of this age—the sin-offering feature of the Divine plan. This precious truth was also lost sight of as the apostasy developed, but is a part of the ‘vision’ with which we have been blessed.

The vision to which Paul was obedient was glorious in all of its implications. In it he saw that the plan of God had progressed to include the Gentiles, and the offering to them of the opportunity to become fellow heirs with the Jews in the kingdom promises. Later, Paul was given other visions. He was “caught up” to the “third heaven” and to “paradise” and saw things he was not permitted to utter, because it was not then the due time. (II Cor. 12:1-7) Today we too can see the ‘third heaven’ and know what Paul saw in ‘paradise’—that he saw God’s purpose of restitution accomplished, and the entire human race living in a worldwide Eden of perfection of life and peace. We are bidden by our ‘vision’ to tell the whole world these blessed tidings.

We are living when the seventh trumpet is about to sound, and the time for the mystery of God to be finished. We can rejoice in a vision of truth which comprehends the whole plan of God. In Daniel 12:12, a reference is made to the blessedness of the people of God who would be living at this end of the age, when the meaning of the vision would be unfolded to them, and how blessed indeed we have been!


One of the greatest causes for rejoicing by those servants who are blessed by the ‘meat in due season’ being served by our returned Lord, is the knowledge of the restitution blessings which, in God’s due time, will be showered upon the sin-sick and dying world of mankind. The reign of sin and death has been a long and painful one, and we rejoice that soon the Sun of the new day will appear above the horizon. It will dispel the sorrow that has gripped mankind in its cruel clutches since our first parents transgressed God’s law and were driven out of their garden home into the unfinished earth to die. When the “Sun of righteousness” begins to shine “with healing in his wings” (Mal. 4:2), then the heavenly vision shall have become a reality for all of God’s creation.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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