During His earthly ministry, Jesus often had large crowds following Him wherever He went, and there were many people who saw and heard, were healed by, and spoke with Jesus. After His resurrection, Jesus was also seen by His disciples, Mary Magdalene, and over five hundred other people (1 Corinthians 15:6). Since His ascension, however, Jesus has been seated at the right hand of God. When people today claim to have had a heavenly vision or say, “I saw Jesus,” we should respond with cautious skepticism.
A few select people have been granted visions of Jesus in His glory, such as Stephen (Acts 7:55–56) and John (Revelation 1:12–16). Paul encountered the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–19). In this encounter, Paul saw a bright light and heard Jesus’ voice, but Scripture never says that Paul actually saw Jesus in the flesh at that time.
Jesus informed His disciples that He would no longer be in the world after His death and resurrection. In His High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus prays for protection for His disciples because He would “remain in the world no longer” (John 17:11). He knew that His time on earth was coming to an end and that He would no longer be physically present with His followers. Instead, He would send the Spirit to indwell them (John 14:17; 15:26) while He Himself would be seated in heaven with the Father.
If someone today were to actually see Jesus, it would require a divine vision or a heavenly revelation of some kind. The Bible gives no indication that such extra-biblical revelation is to be expected today, now that the apostolic age has ended. The canon of Scripture is complete (see Revelation 22:18). For this reason alone, when someone claims, “I saw Jesus,” a Christian should be skeptical. If a person truly did see Jesus today, nothing in his vision of Jesus would contradict the truth of the Bible, nor would it add anything to the revelation God has already given us in His Word.
Some who have claimed, “I saw Jesus,” have proceeded to lead many people astray. For example, in 1820 Joseph Smith claimed to have seen Jesus, and the result was Mormonism. In 1844 Ellen G. White claimed to have seen Jesus, and the result was Seventh-Day Adventism. Obviously, not everyone who says they have seen Jesus is on the side of truth.
Former Muslims sometimes tell stories of seeing Jesus in a dream, with the result that they left Islam and placed their faith in Christ. These reports are most common in “closed” countries, that is, places where access to the Bible and the gospel is limited. While we should exercise discernment regarding any claim of divinely sent dreams, and while it is unlikely that all such dreams are actual visitations from Jesus, we can allow the possibility that God could be bringing people to faith in Christ in such a way. “The arm of the LORD is not too short to save” (Isaiah 59:1), and the methods God uses to disseminate the gospel are up to Him.
The claim “I saw Jesus” should be met with a healthy dose of skepticism and prudence. If the “Jesus” who appears to someone differs in any way from the Jesus presented in the Bible, then the vision is to be rejected as false. If the “Jesus” who appears gives instructions that would lead anyone to sin, then the vision is false and must be discarded. If the one receiving the vision is aggrandized, or if the vision is a source of pride or financial gain, then the vision should be spurned. If the vision of Jesus results in less reliance on the written Word of God and more reliance on personal experience, then the vision is not of God.
In 2 Peter 1:16–18, Peter relates his own personal experience on the mount of transfiguration, where he had seen the glory of Christ firsthand. But, rather than use that experience as the basis for faith, Peter points his readers to the written Word of God: “We have the prophetic word [the Old Testament prophecies] made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention” (2 Peter 1:19, NASB). Miracles, dreams, and visions must take a secondary position to Scripture.
We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We have the written Word. We have the Comforter. We have the blessedness of believing in Christ without having seen Him (John 20:29).