Here is a quick walk through the book of Acts, to see which occurred more frequently: an open heaven experience or the gift of prophecy as we now know it. I’m going to list the first open heavens incident as OH-1, and then will walk up the numbers. The first prophecy likewise will be P-1. By the end of this list, it will be clear which was more commonplace in the book of Acts.
OH-1. Jesus ascended into heaven, and two men in white apparel said He would return the same way He had left. (Acts 1:9-11)
OH-2. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was accompanied with the sound of a rushing mighty wind, then tongues of fire that sat on each person present. (Acts 2:1-2)
P-1. When Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy, he noted that the outpouring of the Spirit would cause people to prophesy. (Acts 2:16-21)
OH-3. When Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy, he described encounters with the glory of God and the seeing of wonders in heaven. (Acts 2:19)
OH-4. An angel opened the prison door to let Peter and other apostles out, with instructions to teach in the Temple the next morning. (Acts 5:17-21)
OH-5. As Stephen was put on trial, he saw the heavens opened and Jesus standing to receive him. He then died triumphantly, praying that God would forgive his persecutors. (Acts 7:55-60)
OH-6. While he was leading a revival in Samaria, Philip received an angelic visitation redirecting him to minister to one man on the road to Gaza. (Acts 8:26)
OH-7. Saul of Tarsus had an open heaven encounter as he saw Jesus in the glory of God. This began his conversion. (Acts 9:1-6)
P-2. Ananias was sent to Saul with further words about God’s plan for Saul’s life, and with healing for his blinded eyes and the baptism in the Holy Spirit – prophetic ministry, as we have known it. (Acts 9:10-19)
OH-8. An angel appeared to Cornelius to set up his meeting Peter, so Peter could introduce Christ to Cornelius’s household. (Acts 10:1-8)
OH-9 and P-3. To prepare Peter to minister to gentiles, God gave him a recurring vision while Peter was in a trance. Then the object that had descended was taken up into heaven again. Some might call this open heaven experience; some might call it prophecy.(Acts 10:9-16)
OH-10. When Peter defended his taking the gospel to the gentiles, the elders in Jerusalem did not balk at his stories of an angel and an open vision. They seemed to consider it normal Christianity. (Acts 11:1-18)
P-4. Agabus prophesied a famine, and the disciples purposed to send relief to the churches. (Acts 11:27-30)
OH-11. An angel released Peter from prison to save him from being killed as James had been. At first Peter thought it was a vision; eventually he realized it was real. (Acts 12: 5-11)
P-5. Prophets and teachers served God with fasting, and the Holy Spirit called for Barnabas and Saul to be sent out. (Acts 13:1-3)
P-6. The Macedonian call is typical of the sort of leadings many missionaries experience as they look to God for direction. For numbering, I’ve taken the conservative view and called it a prophetic experience. But it may also have been an open heaven encounter. (Acts 16:9-10)
P-7. Facing unrest in Corinth, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision in the night, telling him to speak and not to be afraid. (Acts 18:9-11)
P-8. In Ephesus, the people had never heard of the Holy Spirit. As Paul ministered the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-7)
P-9. As Paul journeyed to Jerusalem, Paul stayed with the disciples in Tyre and they spoke to him by the Spirit that he should not go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:3-4)
P-10. In Caesraea, Paul visited the home of Philip the evangelist, who had four daughters who prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9)
P-11. Agabus brought one more word warning Paul not to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10-14)
OH-12. We skip Paul’s testimony about his encounter with glory – his conversion. Here he adds that he was in a trance when God warned that the Jews would not hear him, but that God was sending him to the gentiles. (Acts 22:17-21)
OH-13. As Paul’s imprisonment was beginning, the Lord stood by him to cheer him and say he would be sent to Rome. (Acts 23:11)
P-12. As Paul’s voyage began with all the other prisoners, he said he sensed the voyage would end in shipwreck, with many lives lost. This is typical of the sort of prophetic ministry we have known for decades. (Acts 27:10)
OH-14. The ship’s journey was starting to be disastrous, but Paul announced an angel had assured him that no lives would be lost. (Acts 27:21-16)
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By my count, there are 12 incidents that look like what we today call prophetic ministry, with another 14 events that we would call open heaven experiences.
Someone else might tally the events a little differently than I did, but the point is clear: open heaven encounters – encounters with angels, appearances of Jesus, open visions, or glory encounters – are all part of what the book of Acts says was part of the life of the early church. Do you want a church like the one in Acts? Open heavens encounters will be part of normal church life.
Of course, someone may object that these things happened to apostles, not to ordinary believers. Fair enough. The next article will see what the book of Hebrews says about it.