While the Bible talks of both dreams and night visions, it doesn’t clearly explain the difference. I’ve heard the theory that one is more symbolic while the other is more literal. I’ve also heard that there is virtually no difference at all. However, there are distinct differences between dreams and night visions, and between visions and trances as well. The difference lies not so much in the nature of the revelation as in the physical state that you are in when you receive the revelation.
“What one has not experienced, one will never understand in print.” – Isadora Duncan
Let’s start with what a vision is. A vision is a sight, something you see in your spirit when you are awake. You could say it’s something you see “in your mind’s eye” when you are awake. But to be technical, everything you see, whether from the spiritual realm or the natural realm is seen in your mind’s eye. Your mind processes and filters all the information it receives and then it constructs a picture. That picture is what you “see.” But that’s a deeper teaching for another day.
A night vision is simply a vision that you have when half asleep or half awake. In other words, it’s revelation you see when you have some physical awareness. Some refer to this as the twilight state. It’s the state you’re in early in the morning when you’re just beginning to wake up or at night when you’re just beginning to fall asleep. You are aware that you are sleeping and dreaming, but you are fully aware nonetheless. Visions that you have in this state are what the Bible refers to as night visions.
A dream is more commonly understood. A dream is something you see when you have little to no physical awareness. There are various categories and types of dreams. Some dreams are from God and some are not, but everyone dreams—whether they realize or remember it or not. In fact, everyone has both dreams and night visions, but not everyone has visions and trances.
Trances are not only okay, but they are Biblical and God-given (Dan. 10; Act. 10-11, 22:17). A trance is no different than a vision, night vision, or dream in regards to the revelation. The difference lies only in your physical state. A trance is like a dream in the sense that you have no physical awareness. The difference is that it comes on you suddenly. You are awake and then you suddenly fall into a deep sleep-like state, you see a vision, and then you are suddenly fully awake again. The reason that the Gospel was openly spread to the world was because of a vision that Peter had while God put him into a trance (Act. 10-11).
Visions, night visions, dreams, and trances all refer to visions received while in various physical states.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for twenty years, and is the proud father of two boys.