Beginning of article by Pastor Dennis McBride
My Goal: The goal of this paper is to evaluate the reported phenomenon of Jesus (Isa) appearing to some Muslims in dreams and visions , and to discern if such reports fit the pattern of Scripture as determined through conservative grammatical/historical principles of interpretation (hermeneutics).
My Concerns: I first became aware of the Muslin dreams phenomenon through a Christian brother who spoke with great excitement about a special moving of the Lord within Muslim communities. I wanted to share his excitement because I knew something of the difficulties of Muslim evangelism, and the great joy missionaries experience over even one Muslim coming to faith in Christ. However, over the course of our conversations my questions and concerns started to mount.
In short, I questioned if it was really Jesus appearing to these people, and if so, why? What special circumstances at this point in redemptive history would necessitate Him personally intervening, when He said it would be the Holy Spirit’s role to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment through the preaching of the gospel by human preachers (John16:8; Rom. 10:14-15; 1 Cor. 1:21)?
I had no desire to resist or even question what God might be doing, but I feared these dreams of Isa might be little more than extra-biblical psychological or spiritual encounters that could supplant God’s Word and potentially lead their participants away from biblical authority rather than into it. And I was greatly concerned to hear the supposedly biblical rationale some of my fellow conservative Bible teachers were offering in defense of this movement. Some former defenders of the centrality and sufficiency of God’s Word in evangelism seemed suddenly to be sacrificing that doctrine on the altar of subjective mystical encounters. I needed to understand why, and to evaluate their rationale by God’s Word. I also needed to examine Isa’s communication to determine if it was consistent with Christ’s communication while He was on earth.
My Prayer: I rejoice that many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ, and I pray the Lord will send many more laborers into those fields. However, as Christians we have a mandate to guard God’s Word with all diligence and to test all claims of divine communication (1 Thess 5:20-21; Acts 17:11). This study is an attempt to do that.
Throughout this study I raise a number of questions about various aspects of this phenomenon, and I welcome the reader’s responses, whether they agree or disagree with my conclusions. I also welcome input on aspects I may have overlooked but need to consider.
My Conclusion: This study concludes that the biblical support offered for the Muslim dreams phenomenon, when evaluated within the context of Scripture, does not, in fact, support the phenomenon. Therefore, I conclude that these dreams and visions lack biblical authority and must therefore be viewed as extra-biblical experiences generated from sources other than the Holy Spirit.
Four Representative Descriptions or Views of the Muslim Dreams Phenomenon:
The following quotes are taken from the sources footnoted and reflect the primary views in support of this phenomenon.
Description/View #1 – We are now hearing many stories of people coming to faith in Christ as the result of a dream or vision where He appears to them, inviting them to trust in Him. This is particularly happening in the Muslim world. Many people instantly know it’s the Lord Jesus when He appears to them, but some do not. In some dreams and visions, He tells them who He is, and in others He does not—He just loves them and calls them to come to Him. After the dream/vision, the Lord provides someone to identify Him as they continue to seek Him. (We see something similar in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10.)
So, from what I understand, people are putting their trust in Christ, but some don’t know anything more about Him than that He is God, He loves them and He invites them to trust in Him. Two recurrent invitations continue to appear in the dreams and visions we are hearing about: 1) “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and 2) “You belong to Me.” As people are then able to get a copy of the Bible or talk to a Christian, their knowledge of Christ, the Cross, and the Christian life grows, as well as their faith and their understanding of who Jesus is and what He did.
For years, I have heard that God’s only plan for evangelism is for us to share the gospel. But these stories show that sometimes, Jesus goes directly to a person. And, in Revelation 14:6, there is an angel who takes the gospel to men.
So what that means is that if a person has never heard of Jesus through the preaching of the gospel, that is no obstacle for God. He can, and testimony shows that He does, appear directly to—and call a person to—have faith in Him. We still need to diligently pursue the Great Commission and take the gospel to all nations, since evangelism through the changed lives of Christ-followers is still God’s main plan. But God’s hands are not tied by our inability (or laziness, or selfishness, or disobedience) to get the gospel to everyone He has chosen for eternal life. 
Description/View #2 – There are many ways that people who have grown up and lived their lives in the Western part of the world will differ from the person who has grown up in the Eastern part of the world. Their foods differ. Their clothing differs. These things are mostly accepted and understand, but that same sort of understanding must continue to be brought to the forefront with regard to views on the supernatural.
Dreams and visions have been a known reality especially within the region we now know as the Middle East dating back to the days of Joseph. Both the Bible and the Qur’an document the stories of Joseph and his interpretation of dreams, not to mention the vision he was given. God was moving through dreams and visions then and He continues to speak through them today. Likewise, there is no reason not to believe that he will speak through them in the future. Instead, the words of Joel once again serve as a reminder that old men will “dream dreams” and young men will “see visions.”
In lands where people have never seen the words of God in written form and they may not even know how to read at all, God is still speaking to them and revealing Himself to them through dreams and visions. Within the lives of people so entrenched in the rituals and structure of Islam, God is breaking through with dreams and visions. In societies that are already open to the reality of the supernatural, God is showing himself to be a power above all powers, a name above all names. In the still of the night or the calm of a moment, God is using a form of communication that is not new, but instead echoes through generations. It is not the only way for Him to reach them, but case after case shows that it is one way. Missionaries have a choice to either ignore the reality or dare to believe and ask that God would invade their friends’ dreams, too, and reveal the truth of Jesus Christ to them as he has done in the lives of countless individuals.
Description/View #3 – The visions or dreams we are discussing, and as documented in Muslim countries and elsewhere, come on two occasions. First, they come as heralds of the gospel, to non-believers. They open the eyes, point to, or start the search for the gospel message that is to come in its fullness. It is not the gospel itself, which only comes through the Word of God, written, or shared by a follower of Jesus either in person or over the radio and such. Think of Cornelius, who received a vision but was presented the gospel by Peter.
Once the gospel is received, the dreams stop. They do not return until and only if there is a great need for spiritual ministering such as under torture or martyrdom. They may, but not always, return under those circumstances as a vision of the waiting glory to come. Think of Steven. This is the pattern that missionaries see and the pattern that is seen in Scripture. . . [The dreams and visions] are not ongoing and indiscriminate in their nature and never add to the canon. They are given to nonbelievers in the first instance and to spiritually needy believers in the second instance. 
Description /View #4 – Just as God used a vision to convert Paul, in like manner He reveals Himself to Muslims through dreams. Just as God prepared Cornelius to hear the gospel through a vision, so God is preparing a multitude of Muslims to respond to His good news. 
Primary Considerations: Below are the primary considerations on this issue, most of which are reflected in one or more of the descriptions quoted above. I will address them in question and answer format.
1. Should we question an experience that helps lead someone to faith in Christ?
Why make an issue of how Muslims come to faith in Christ, as long as they come to faith? And doesn’t the fact that they come to faith legitimize the means by which they come? Those are fair questions, and the most concise answers are: 1) God commands us to be discerning in all things 2) the end doesn’t justify the means if the means fail the test of Scripture, and 3) this isn’t merely an experience; it’s a significant spiritual movement based on subjective mystical encounters that must have objective biblical support before they can be classified as truly Christian. Testing what claims to be from God is every Christian’s responsibility (1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1-3), and exercising caution about claims of Jesus speaking personally to Muslims is as important as exercising caution about any reports of divine communication beyond the text of Scripture itself.
In Acts 17:11 God commends the Bereans for putting the gospel itself to the test. But testing Muslim dreams is more difficult by far than testing the gospel because the gospel is a singular, cohesive, objective entity readily affirmed by direct biblical support; whereas these personal dreams are numerous, varied, subjective, and virtually impossible to test fully due to their extra-biblical content.
2. Is this a secondary doctrinal issue?
It has been argued that the fact of Muslims coming to Christ is so significant that the means by which they come is inconsequential. Therefore, to question the validity of dreams and visions is to miss the point and to nitpick over “secondary doctrines” when we should be rejoicing over God’s grace toward these people.
However, examining claims of Jesus appearing to Muslims does not diminish the value of Muslim converts. Just as God calls us to evangelize the lost and rejoice in their salvation, He also calls us to guard His Word and rejoice in the truth. One is not to be set against the other by improperly juxtaposing salvation and sound doctrine.
Claims that Jesus personally speaks to individuals today under any circumstances is not a secondary doctrinal issue by any means. Any time someone claims to have heard the voice of God, and especially if they claim to have seen Jesus, it’s of utmost importance to verify what Jesus reportedly did and said.
3. Are we to test the message or the messenger?
Discerning rightly between the message and the messenger is a key component in testing this phenomenon. That is to say, we can’t conclude that Isa is who he claims to be, or who his hearers perceive him to be, simply because his message has some biblical content (i.e., Scripture verses), or because God may use those verses to help bring the dreamers to saving faith. God’s Word will accomplish its intended purposes regardless of the messenger. That’s why Paul could rejoice even when men who wanted nothing more than to cause him grief proclaimed Jesus (Philippians 1:15-18). But even in his rejoicing Paul still exposed the sinful motives of those messengers, thereby demonstrating that the message doesn’t necessarily validate the messenger.
In Gal. 1:8, where Paul’s focus is primarily on the message, he also addresses the messengers, and does so in the strongest possible language: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” That’s a hypothetical scenario involving a false message, but coupled with Phil. 1:15-18 it shows the need to test both message and messenger, and to reject the “end justifies the means” approach to the Muslim dreams phenomenon offered by some of its advocates (i.e., “people are getting saved; therefore it must be Jesus appearing to them”, or “people are getting saved; therefore we shouldn’t question the means by which they are coming to faith”).
As important as the messengers are, the power of the gospel to redeem souls is not dependent on their identity or credibility. Therefore one can rejoice in Muslim conversions while still expressing concerns about the messenger, especially since the Isa of Muslim dreams isn’t simply calling Muslim’s to believe in the Jesus of the Bible; he is calling them to believe in him (Isa), therefore claiming to be God and worthy of their worship.
That’s one of my primary concerns with this phenomenon. To believe in the Jesus of the Bible is one thing; to believe in the “Jesus” of one’s dreams is quite another. Muslims who are “coming to Jesus” are equating the two, as are many who minister to Muslims and who pray Isa will appear to more Muslims so more will be “saved.” Therefore, it may be even more important to discern between this messenger and his message than in either of Paul’s two examples cited above. Paul’s were messengers with false motives or false messages; Isa is a messenger claiming to be God! 
4. Does this phenomenon constitute ongoing revelation?
Some supporters of Muslim dreams also affirm that divine revelation ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. They see no contradiction in those positions because they don’t view these dreams as ongoing revelation. Isa, they say, isn’t adding to Scripture; he’s merely reiterating what has already been revealed (i.e., Scripture verses and biblical principles).
A Doctrinal Contradiction: However, the doctrine of no ongoing revelation affirms that Christians have no message from God apart from the text of Scripture. In other words, Scripture alone is God’s verbal communication to mankind, which excludes all other supposed communication from Him, including Jesus speaking in contemporary dreams and visions. Therefore, one can’t affirm both cessation of divine revelation and Jesus personally communicating with Muslims (or anyone else). They are mutually exclusive doctrines.
A Divine Encounter: Claiming that these dreams aren’t intended to add to Scripture doesn’t change the fact that they are appeals to divine revelation. Content aside, the encounter itself, if true, is revelatory. It is God revealing Himself personally beyond His self-disclosure in Scripture. Therefore, any personal encounter with God is rightly considered ongoing revelation.
New Messages from Jesus: Additionally, in Muslim dreams Isa is reportedly communicating not only Bible verses, but also messages of encouragement, instruction, exhortation, prophecies, and other information not included in Scripture. That’s ongoing (or additional) revelation, especially since it reportedly comes from God Himself. Granted, it’s not intended to be canonized, but it is divine revelation nonetheless. When Jesus Himself speaks, how can it be anything less than authoritative divine revelation? Fact is, far from being non-revelatory, these hundreds of appearances of Isa suggest a contemporary period of divine revelation rivaling the New Testament era itself.
5. Can God communicate the gospel supernaturally?
Does Scripture disallow Jesus (post-ascension) personally communicating to unbelievers to prepare them to receive the gospel? That’s a fair question, but I think the more appropriate question is: where does Scripture teach that He will do that? And do the biblical accounts of visions serve as parallels or patterns for what is occurring today in some Muslim communities?
Could God Do It? Before answering those questions, I want to comment on the hypothetical question of whether God could communicate His gospel apart from human instrumentality if He chose to do so. The answer, of course, is yes, He could. However, He has already decreed both the end and the means of salvation, and has revealed His decree in Scripture. The end is that all the elect will be saved and none lost (John 6:39-40); the means is through faith in Christ in response to the Spirit-empowered gospel proclaimed by human instrumentality (e.g., Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:36-40; Rom. 1:16; 10:13-15).
Jesus personally communicating the gospel at this point in redemptive history would be outside His revealed decree, which would be a highly exceptional situation. That raises the questions of what aspects of Muslim evangelism constitute a highly exceptional situation that would require God to work outside His revealed decree, and is there clear Scriptural support for Him doing so? I will answer those questions below as I examine the texts used to support Isa’s appearances.
6. Is this phenomenon consistent with the Holy Spirit’s convicting role?
Toward the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus told His disciples He had to leave so the Holy Spirit could come. And He told them the Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, and would guide people into all truth. He would also reveal the things of Christ, impart illumination and saving faith, and regenerate human hearts (cf. John 16:5-15; 1 Cor. 1:12-16).
We know from Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14-15 that general revelation (i.e., external creation and internal conscience) is God’s self-revelation to everyone; that’s why all are without excuse and accountable before Him (Rom. 2:20; 3:9). Also, general revelation is how He pre-conditions His elect to the gospel. Those who by grace respond to general revelation receive additional (special) revelation through God’s Word and the Spirit’s ministry. Why then is it necessary for Jesus to make personal appearances to prepare someone to receive the gospel when that’s the specific role of the Holy Spirit?
All unbelievers are equally lost and can be saved only if the Father grants them faith (John 6:65), draws them (John 6:44), opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14), and teaches them (John 6:45). That’s how every unbeliever comes to faith. There is no unbelief that is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit’s convicting and regenerating power, and which requires personal visitations from Jesus to convince it of the truth of the gospel.
7. Does the church’s failure to evangelize Muslims necessitate Jesus’ personal intervention?
Some say that Jesus has to intervene personally because the church has failed to evangelize Muslims. However, that could be said of any people group in any area at any time in church history, and even of individuals in our own culture who haven’t heard the gospel because a Christian friend failed to share it. If that were the case, dreams and visions would be commonplace.
Perhaps the church has failed in some measure to evangelize Muslims, and I pray that Christians will be increasingly active in reaching out to them. But the third description of this phenomenon cited above echoes a common assertion that the dreams and visions “open the eyes, point to, or start the search for the gospel message that is to come in its fullness. It is not the gospel itself, which only comes through the Word of God, written, or shared by a follower of Jesus either in person or over the radio and such.”
That description argues against failure on the part of the church to reach out to Muslims. If Muslims are receiving the gospel that can only come through God’s Word, written or shared by a follower of Jesus, then of necessity Christians are involved in the process. So despite any evangelistic deficiencies within the church, it appears God is still linking Muslims with Christians, either directly or indirectly, to help get the job done.
However, my main point here is that failure on the church’s part doesn’t necessitate Jesus personally intervening through dreams and visions, because it’s the Holy Spirit’s role to direct the elect to the gospel and the gospel to the elect. Could the Spirit prompt unredeemed elect individuals to dream about Jesus and use those dreams to open their hearts to the gospel? Of course He could. But that’s not what’s being claimed. To have a dream about Jesus, even a Spirit-directed dream, is different from Jesus revealing Himself in a dream. One is natural; the other is supernatural. One is a natural dream; the other is a divine revelation. Those distinctions must be understood and maintained.
8. What did Jesus say about His future appearances?
Immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven, two men (angels) said to the onlookers, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And when He does come to earth again, it will be “in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt. 16:27). Jesus warned about any supposed appearances prior to that time (Matt. 24).
Those passages refer specifically to Christ’s physical return to earth at some future point in time, but do they also preclude Him appearing in dreams or visions prior to that time? We can’t answer that question conclusively from those texts, but we can conclude that the only teaching Jesus gave concerning His future appearances on earth relate to His physical return. Therefore, we mustn’t conclude that other appearances are permissible unless Scripture elsewhere permits us to do so. With that in mind, I’ll briefly discuss the relevant New Testament “visions” passages below (see #11) to see if they give a green light to modern-day appearances of Jesus in dreams or visions.
9. Does Scripture encourage expectations of personal visitations from Jesus?
Faith based on God’s Word (spoken or written), not personal divine visitations, has been the biblical requirement and standard since the birth of the church. In fact, with the exception of Paul on the road to Damascus, there is no biblical record of Jesus appearing to any unbeliever following His ascension. And Scripture nowhere encourages or even suggests praying for divine appearances as an evangelism strategy or a means of comforting persecuted Christians during the church age. That is utterly foreign to Scripture. Yet the challenges to propagate this phenomenon continue: “Missionaries have a choice to either ignore the reality [of Muslim dreams] or dare to believe and ask that God would invade their friends’ dreams, too, and reveal the truth of Jesus Christ to them as he has done in the lives of countless individuals” (italics added). 
It’s important to note that Jesus Himself commended those who believed without seeing Him (John 20:24-29), and He corrected the erroneous thinking that a personal appearance of one who has died is more persuasive than hearing God’s Word (Luke 16:19-31).  Peter, too, commended believers who loved the Lord without having seen Him (1 Pet. 1:3-9). That’s normal Christian faith. Additionally, there are no instructions or regulating principles in the Pastoral Epistles regarding dreams or visions (with the exception of the Col. 2:18-19warning about false teachers who take their stand on such experiences), whereas there are numerous and detailed instructions for teaching, preaching, and guarding “the sacred writings which are able to give . . . the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15; see also 1 Tim. 4:13-16; 2 Tim. 4:1-4; Titus 1:9-11).
10. Is Isa’s message consistent with Scripture?
If Jesus were appearing to unbelieving Muslims, it follows that His message would be consistent with His message to unbelievers while on earth. But that is not the case.
What Isa Reportedly Says: As I read the various accounts of dreams, I’m struck with the impossibility of testing them according to Scripture because their extra-biblical content is so extensive and varied. Many of the dreams contain a verse or two of Scripture, along with encouragement to seek the Savior spoken of in the verses. In many, Isa either identifies himself as Jesus or is assumed to be Jesus by the dreamers.
Reportedly, some of the dreamers had no prior exposure to the Bible or the gospel, but most of the accounts I’ve read indicate the dreamers had some prior exposure to the Bible and/or Christians. Other accounts don’t comment on that aspect of the story.
Most of the content of the dreams relate generally to the circumstances of the various dreamers (e.g., encouragement in trials or rescue from danger, which are common themes). That kind of content can’t be tested by Scripture except by broad measurements such as “does it encourage faith in Christ?” or “is it generally consistent with biblical principles?” But those are vague and inadequate tests for determining the divine origin of a dream or vision, as I will explain below.
What Isa Doesn’t Say: I’m most struck by what Isa doesn’t say in the accounts I’ve read. Although the encounters are said to prepare the dreamers for the gospel, there is little or no mention of sin, repentance, confession, righteousness, or forgiveness; and no presentation of God’s holiness or justice. Simply put, theneed for salvation isn’t clarified (or in some cases even mentioned), yet that was at the heart of Christ’s communication with unbelievers when He was on earth. But Isa’s “gospel” is minimalistic and void of any clear and concise call to repentance. Gospel clarity and precision would be especially important for those Muslims who don’t have a biblical background to draw from and who would therefore need to understand what God requires of them.
Does Isa Pass the Test? Jesus used a variety of approaches when speaking with unbelievers, depending on the individual or group (e.g., Nicodemus, Rich Young Ruler, Woman at the Well), but typically He identified who He was, confronted their sin, called them to repentance, called them to believe in Him, cautioned them to count the cost of discipleship, and then to take up their crosses daily and follow Him. He didn’t state all those elements in every case, but collectively they constituted the thrust of His message.
By way of contrast, Isa typically identifies who he is (or the dreamer instinctively knows who he is), and tells the dreamer he loves him and wants him (the dreamer) to follow him (Isa). Sometimes the dreamer is overwhelmed with a sense of love and peace just by being in Isa’s presence (which was never the case with unbelievers in the presence of Jesus). So the message that emerges is one of believing in Isa and following him apparently apart from the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).
That’s the pattern I see throughout the accounts I’ve read. Consequently I question the substance of the message Isa is delivering, and the substance of the gospel some of these Muslims are affirming. That’s not to say their conversions aren’t genuine, especially given the fuller gospel presentation that some receive subsequent to their initial dreams. But it is to say that the message Isa is giving falls short of the message Jesus typically gave to unbelievers while on earth. That shortcoming is a major point of consideration in discerning if this really is Jesus speaking to these people.
Again, I understand the assertion that Isa isn’t sharing the gospel but is merely preparing dreamers for the gospel that is to come in greater fullness via a human evangelist. But I still question the inconsistencies between Jesus’ preparation of unbelievers while on earth and Isa’s preparation via dreams. Also, in some of the accounts I’ve read, Isa does, in fact, call on the dreamers to believe in him. So the claim that he merely prepares them to receive the gospel isn’t always consistent with the testimony record.
Additionally, I have to wonder why Jesus wouldn’t share the gospel with Muslims if He were appearing to them. He’s the most capable and powerful evangelist the world has ever known. Yes, Rom. 10:13-15 says salvation comes by hearing the gospel preached by a human, and that is part of the divine decree I mentioned above. But those who affirm that Jesus is appearing to Muslims also affirm by implication that God isn’t confined to His own decree in these instances, so why would the human evangelist be necessary at all except in a follow-up capacity?