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People have been known to see and hear angels in visions. It is also possible to have a real physical visit from an angel. When this occurs, you are not having a vision "in the spirit," you are having a direct encounter with one of God's messengers. They come to where you are physically and they manifest to you and they interact with you. It is sometimes a frightening experience. There is often a sense of God's glory or of His holiness in the visitation, as angels tend to reflect God's glory. But there are also times when God causes the sense of His presence to be masked and you may not realize that an angel is appearing to you. Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." But, most of the time, you will know it if you are visited by an angel.
Scripture is filled with angelic visitations to God's people. In most cases the person was very frightened when they saw the angel and the angel's first words were "Fear not," or "Do not be afraid." It is not surprising that angels are scary, we know that they wield great power and great authority. Tradition has it that God sent a single angel who slew all of the firstborn in Egypt on the first Passover (Heb 11:28). We know that God sent a single angel to kill thousands by plague when David sinned and numbered his soldiers (2 Samuel 24). It is clear that angels carry a great deal of power. Angels come from the very presence of God, so it is not surprising that they would carry some of His glory.
We can see that they radiate God's glory from Rev 22:8-9, where John was overwhelmed by the angel's glory and wanted to worship the angel. John was corrected and told to only worship God, not His servants. Another example is from when Gabriel visited Daniel to interpret a vision he had been given. Daniel shared his experience, where he said in Dan 8:16-17, "And I heard a man's voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, 'Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.' So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face..." Daniel was a very godly man, but he found the angel's presence very frightening. That is a common experience.
There are many incidents of angelic visitations recorded in scripture. An angel appeared to Gideon in Judges 6:12, bringing him a commission from the Lord. An angel appeared to Samson's mother in Judges 13:3 and gave her instructions on how to raise her son. Samson's father missed the original visitation and prayed for God to send the angel back to instruct him as well, and God honored his prayer and did so (Judges 13:8-21). An angel appeared to David at the threshing floor of Araunah the Gebusite just after God had released a plague on Israel as a judgment (2 Samuel 24:15-17). An angel appeared to Zechariah and spoke to him in Zech 5:5. An angel appeared to Mary to tell her she was going to be Jesus' mother in Luke 1:26-38. A great company of angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus' birth in Luke 2:8-15. Angels even appeared to and ministered to Jesus while He walked on the earth as a human (Luke 22:43). An angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:3). An angel delivered Peter from prison in Acts 12:7. Scripture is full of stories of God sending angels to interact with His children.
Sometimes when angels appear to people, they just show up, as the angel that suddenly appeared when Zechariah was doing his priestly duty in the temple (see Luke 1:8-20). The Lord, accompanied by two of His angels, appeared out of thin air before Abraham as he sat in his tent door (Gen 18:1-2). Other times, angels choose to appear to people in dreams instead of physically appearing before them. The angel who spoke to Joseph (Jesus' step-father) did this several times. This is recorded in Matt 1:20, Matt 2:13 and Matt 2:19.
And angels might also walk up to you (or away from you) in a natural way. We see this in Gen 18:16 and Gen 18:22..."Then the men [e.g., the two angels] rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way." "Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord." The angels did not suddenly disappear, they simply walked away from Abraham towards Sodom until they were out of sight, just like a human person might do.
I must emphasize that the presence or absence of angelic visitations is not an indication of an individual's holiness, anointing or call of God on their lives. Some people with only minor roles in expanding God's kingdom have experienced them while others with very major roles and anointings have never had this type of experience. For instance, the shepherds on the hillside received an angelic visitation when Jesus was born. The bible records that they came to see the baby Jesus, but after that they drop out of the story...they did not have all that important of a role, but they still received an angelic visitation. Angelic visitations are solely from the sovereignty of God for His purposes. We must not judge a person's spirituality or anointing based on these experiences or the lack of them.
Angelic Visitations Today
Until a few years ago, I had not had an angelic visitation. I had a few odd experiences in the past, where others saw angels but I did not. One time I was with some prophets in South Africa. They claimed that an angel was in the room. One could see the angel and the other sensed it and knew where it was in the room. Personally I could neither see it nor sense it's presence. I had seen angels in open visions, but I had not had one visit me in "real life" until November of 2000.
I thought I understood how angelic visitations should work. They seemed quite straight-forward. I figured it would go like I always seemed to read about it in scripture. Suddenly an angel would be standing there, visible to the naked eye. I figured that maybe the glory of God would reflect off of them in some way. Maybe they would glow like the "actors" on "Touched By an Angel," or shine like Moses' face shined when he came away from God's presence. I figured that an angel would be roughly the same size and shape as a person, probably be clothed in white robes and may or may not have wings. First a person would see the angel and then it would speak to them and bring them a message from God. After the angel was done, it would suddenly disappear into thin air. That is how I thought an angelic visitation should work.
In November of 2000, I had my first angelic visitation. And I was in for a bit of a surprise. The angel did not conform to any of my expectations. The encounter did not go at all like I expected. For starters, I could sense the angel's presence and I could hear it's voice, but I could not actually see the angel. I could see a very bright light around me. (We were in Italy at a hotel at the time, and my husband was sound asleep on the bed. I thought the light from the angel would wake him, but he continued to sleep soundly through the whole episode.) I had another surprise. I assumed that angels could only hear you if you spoke audibly, but I found that this angel responded to a question I had thought but did not voice verbally. The angel began to instruct me on some stuff related to a prayer journey I was doing through Italy. Some of what the angel instructed me on was related to things the Lord has set me to pray about. I did not think angels were sent to instruct people, so that experience set me to searching Scripture. I found that an angel had been sent to instruct Daniel in response to his prayers for understanding.
I have since had additional visitations from this angel. There has been some supernatural revelation that it has given to me (very detailed and accurate) but mostly the angel has instructed me or come with the answer to something I was desperately seeking God about in prayer. The first time I saw a bright light, but on the other visitations, I could not see the angel at all...I could hear it's voice. I don't think I was hearing it with my physical ears, but the voice was sharp and clear and distinct and unmistakable.
For the first three or four weeks, I was afraid to tell anyone about my visitation because it did not happen the way I expected. Who would imagine hearing the angel but not seeing it? I kept very quiet about this because I did not want anyone to think I had gone "off of the deep end." But when I was in India, I shared this with my teammate. He knew of another person who had an almost identical experience with angelic visitations. It was reassuring for me to find that I was not totally alone in this. About four weeks later, I spoke to one of the prophetic school leadership core members, Jim Paul. I was incredibly encouraged to learn that he has also had angelic visitations in which he heard the angel but did not see it.
Sometimes we let our culture give us expectations of what a given supernatural experience should be like. But where we have the actual experience it may not line up with our expectations at all. If you have an angelic visitation, don't assume your experience will be like mine. Both God and angels appear to have a wide variety of ways that they do things. For instance, I know one person who has seen and spoken to angels. While he could see the angels with his physical eyes, they were translucent.. e.g., you could sort of see through them, they were not totally solid. Others have seen the angel just as though they were a physical person, modernly dressed (jeans and polo-shirt, not a white robe).