Pastor Bob Vacendak and I were talking on the phone the other day. The subject of Muslims reportedly seeing Jesus in dreams and visions came up. We had a nice discussion. The next day Bob sent me an article by Sam Martyn (a pseudonym) entitled, “The Role of Pre-Conversion Dreams and Visions in Islamic Contexts: An Examination of the Evidence.” You can view the article here.
The article was basically saying what Bob and I had said the previous night.
The thesis of the article is that the evidence is strong that God uses dreams and visions of Muslims to make them open to coming to faith in Christ. Martyn says that the evidence is weak that any Muslims come to faith purely from a dream or vision. He said that these experiences do not lay out the gospel and the promise of everlasting life. Instead, they picture a transfigured Jesus. Martyn indicates that “dreams are considered authoritative in Islamic contexts” (p. 64).
He said almost always these reported sightings of Jesus typically occur around the time a Muslim is being evangelized. The dream or vision is used by God to validate the truth of what the Christian witness is saying.
Martyn discusses Paul’s Damascus road encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 and the angelic visitation of Cornelius in Acts 10 as examples of visions in the Bible. He says, “Presumably, the angel could have proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius directly but chose instead to work through a human mediator, Peter” (p. 66).
As an aside, there is a nice footnote in which Martyn comments on Acts 11:14 saying, “As John Piper points out, sōthēsē (you will be saved) is future. This means Cornelius was not saved prior to the encounter with Peter, contra some inclusivists’ claims about him” (p. 70, note 54).
I especially liked the close of this article. Martyn writes, “Many Christians have prayed for and have called others to pray for Muslims to have dreams and visions to lead them to faith. Perhaps a better prayer would be to ask God to send laborers to the harvest (Matt 9:38). Regardless, even if Christians ‘pray that the Lord would send dreams and visions…to arouse curiosity in Christ…only the poorest and laziest of mission strategies would end there’” (p. 73, with the quote at the end from a 2010 book by Todd Miles).
Before closing, I should mention that I am a cessationist. That is, I do not believe that the sign gifts have been operating since the Apostles left the scene. (I do think they will be operating in the Tribulation, but the evidence is that they are not functioning now.) However, I do believe that the sort of experience that Paul had on the Damascus road or Cornelius had in his home could well have occurred many times in the last two millennia, continuing to this day. Jesus appearing to people in dreams and visions does not rely upon the use of sign gifts.
I am skeptical that all these reports are legitimate. Many of the reports I’ve read are tied to a Lordship Salvation or works salvation testimony. That makes me doubt the report.
However, I have heard of some who report believing the faith-alone message after having had a dream or vision of Jesus. And I find such reports credible.
As Martyn says in his article, the large number of reports of Muslims seeing Jesus in dreams and visions makes it extremely likely that Jesus is indeed sometimes appearing to Muslims, though God leaves the proclamation of the evangelistic message up to Christians.