Last night I had one of those dreams. You know, the kind you wake up from and remember. Basically, there were a lot of things that were unusual, but people and places that were familiar—common themes for many who remember their dream content.

I was supposed to conduct an interview to be broadcast online (something I do every week for work), but there were challenges relating to the pandemic, Wi-Fi availability, and finding a venue that was quiet and would give us uninterrupted time. There were several things I was anxious about, and it was clear when I woke up that my subconscious had been working overtime, figuring out problems and wrestling with things that were concerning me, all while I slept.

But what did it all mean? Was there a deeper meaning, a message of some kind that could be relevant to real life? Should I take action on what my unconscious mind was showing me in my dream world?

The purpose of dreams

According to scientists, we all dream every single night. In fact, on average, we have two to three dreams a night—some of us up to seven! It’s just that we don’t remember most of those dreams the next day. To remember a dream, it must take place in the REM stage (rapid eye movement) of the sleep cycle. REM phase is a time when your brain activity increases and your eyes move around, even while closed. It is often 90 minutes or so after you’ve fallen asleep.

But what is dreaming for?

There are different schools of thought. According to a Time magazine article, dreaming could be an information dump, threat simulation (like a fire drill for your brain to keep you sharp), wish fulfillment, or problem-solving practice. Studies have been developed in each of these areas and the reality is that dreams probably fulfill all these functions.

And we’ll probably discover more as researchers study and develop dream analysis and theory further. After all, it’s hard to study something that happens entirely in the brain while subjects are asleep.

Yet, many of us are fascinated by dreams and what they might be telling us. We link dreaming to the search for meaning and understanding. We may even be tempted to look to the internet for interpretation of our dreams, but this will not usually provide us with the right answers. Dream meaning is a complicated topic, and it is rare that internet advice about dream symbols or hidden meanings will truly explain what’s going on.

Yet dreams can be important, especially recurring ones.

Dreams in the good book

Dreams feature heavily in the BibleGod uses dreams to communicate with people. Famous biblical dreamers include Jacob and his dream of Jacob’s ladder, King Solomon, Joseph the father of Jesus, and the apostle Peter. And while many of the dreams recorded in the Bible are sent to those who follow God, He also sends dreams to those who don’t follow Him.

The first book of the Bible tells the story of a young man, Joseph, with a history of having and interpreting dreams. Initially, his ability to interpret dreams causes Joseph’s brothers to be jealous, and sell him into slavery. Despite this, Joseph’s gift eventually leads him to Egypt where he attains the position of Pharaoh’s cupbearer. While there, Joseph is asked to interpret Egyptian ruler Pharaoh’s troubling dreams.

The dreams point to future events—seven years of plenty before a seven-year famine that will decimate Egypt and the surrounding nations. Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s interpretation and places him in charge of saving up grain for the famine. Pharaoh becomes rich by Joseph’s foresight and leadership, and the story ends happily for Joseph who is reunited with his lost family.

Still in the Old Testament, the book of Daniel heavily features dreams and visions. Daniel is taken captive as a young man and enslaved in Babylon. At the time, Babylon was the strongest power in the Middle Eastern region. Daniel served in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar II (642BC–562BC), a conquering, empire-builder who had pillaged Daniel’s homeland.

In Daniel 2, we learn that the king is disturbed by a vivid dream, but he can’t remember what it is about. So, he asks all his counsellors, priests, wise men and all manner of dream interpreters to reveal his dream and then interpret it for him. And if they don’t, they will be killed! All the counsellors are understandably afraid. “It’s impossible,” they claim. But the king is not swayed.

When Daniel hears about the situation, he goes to the king and asks for a day to provide the answer. During those 24 hours, Daniel and his friends abstain from food and pray that God will reveal the dream. God answers their prayers, provides the dream interpretation and Daniel returns to the king with details of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning.

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Daniel tells the king that the dream has been sent by God. It features a giant statue of a man, with a head of gold, a chest and arms of silver, a belly of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of mixed iron and clay. A rock from the heavens crashes into the feet and obliterates the statue, taking its place and filling the whole earth.

Daniel goes on to explain to the king that the different metals represent different kingdoms that will follow one another. The head of gold is Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom of Babylon. Following Babylon will be a lesser empire and so on until God’s kingdom arrives.

Nebuchadnezzar confirms to Daniel that the giant statue was in his dream. It is a risky thing to tell an emperor that his dynasty, his kingdom, will not last forever, but Daniel is honoured by the king. In fact, the king says to Daniel, a slave in his court, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47).

Scholars have since agreed that the kingdoms in the dream were Persia, Greece and Rome, and history shows that these empires did succeed one another. What does it mean for us? According to the theologians, we are now living in the era of the feet of iron and clay, at the end of earth’s history. This means that God’s kingdom is not far away.

Does God still use dreams to communicate today?

Yes. In the New Testament, leader of the early church, Peter, reminds the people of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit and send dreams: “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams'” (Acts 2:17).

Therefore, we can expect that God will still send messages through the form of dreams. In fact, there are reports of people from countries where Christianity is banned who have met Jesus through dreams—and they have been described in books like Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi and The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin.

While God doesn’t always use dreams to communicate with people, and not all dreams are messages of some kind or even come from God, we can safely assume that God still sends dreams today. And what’s more, we can see from the dreams and visions recorded in the Bible that God knows the future and cares what happens to us.

Jarrod Stackelroth is the editor of Signs of the Times Australia/New Zealand and Adventist Record. He lives in Sydney, NSW. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia website and is republished with permission.