Near Death and Out of Body Experiences
By Pastor Kelly Sensenig
There has been an ongoing interest, resurgence, and debate around what is termed the “near death” experience (NDE) and out of body experience (OBE). The term “near death” experience is defined as occurring when someone, who has been close to clinical death, or declared clinically dead, leaves his body, but eventually returns to his body to resume one’s life again. In many cases, those who pass through a “near death” experience claim to have died, but then cheat death, since their spirit returns back to their body again and they resume life. However, Biblically, if someone was truly dead and comes back to life, this is not a near-death experience; it’s actually a resurrection from the dead!
The modern definition of a “near death” experience (the spirit leaving a dead body and returning) is misleading. Think of it this way. If someone is in a severe automobile accident and they almost die, or they are close to death, this is a true near death experience. In other words, they do not actually die but they come close to death. However, those who explain the “near death” or “out-of-body” experience often mean something different by this term.
Those who speak of a “near death” experience conclude that a person actually dies, when their spirit leaves the body, and when their spirit miraculously comes back into their body, after they have been informed that their time on earth is not yet finished. The common understanding of the “near death” experience today is that a person dies temporarily; therefore, they call their experience a near death experience, since the person has not died permanently. They cheat death and their spirit returns to their body to once again live within the body.
Not long ago, I was listening to an interview of people who had supposedly died and allegedly experienced the “near death” or “out of body” experience. All of these people had a common or similar story. In general, they were floating around in their spirit and could see the surgeon operating on them or the emergency personnel trying to resuscitate their dead corpse or body. The claim is made by many that these people witnessed themselves trying to be revived by medical personnel and some actually heard themselves pronounced dead.
Those who passed through these experiences claim they experienced an overwhelming sense of peace that was indescribable. Human language was insufficient to depict what occurred. People experienced sensations of extreme pleasure, peace, and quiet. As a result of these incredible feelings or peace and tranquility or love and warmth, the people did not want to come back into their body. Nevertheless many return for they are told they are not finished with their earthly tasks.
Many report of hearing a noise that is pleasant, something like rapturous music, while others hear harsh and disturbing music like a continual buzzing or ringing sound. Another common experience is that people sense they are being pulled back through a dark passageway or tunnel. The claim is also made by many that there are spiritual entities present to help them through their death experience. Sometimes these spiritual entities are their loved ones who have already passed away.
One of the most common characteristics is that there was also a being of light present with them. Although the light was brilliant, which was emanating from this being’s body, it did not hurt their eyes. This being emanated warmth and love and often communicated with thoughts (telepathy) instead of words. This personal being would often talk to the people about the true meaning of life.
Sometimes those people who have these experiences have a quick review of their entire life which helps them to love others. Many times people with these types of experiences come to some kind of obstruction that prevents them from going any further on their journey. The border is sometimes described as a fence, a door, or a body of water. Others claim they have actually died, gone to Heaven or hell, and then are given the chance to return to share their experience and prepare others for the afterlife.
Lastly, most people who pass through these out-of-body experiences claim they no longer have any fear of death. Today there are actually people who have formed a club made up of those who have died and went through these near death experiences. Although some do not speak of their experience, others want to have a place where they can relate to others who have had a similar experience of dying.
Truth or Experience?
How do we evaluate these reports? Are these types of experiences supported by the Bible? If these experiences are to be trusted as being from God, then how do they fit into Biblical revelation? Does the Bible actually talk about them? And if not, how should we view them?
1 Thessalonians 5:21 says:
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Christianity is in serious danger today since it is following the way of mysticism and experience. However, we discover that everything must be tested by the Word of God. Experience is not a valid test for truth; the Word of God is the only valid test for absolute truth. This is why there is a need to “prove” or test and examine everything (“all things”) that we hear and see today by the Word of God. This is a call for careful scrutiny and discernment. We are commanded to examine everything and make sure it aligns with the truth of God’s Word. What is found to be “good” is to be wholeheartedly embraced. What is unbiblical is to be shunned.
Does the Word of God promote and favor what people are saying today regarding out-of-body experiences? Should we believe and openly support those who are sharing these experiences? Yes, these people may be having some kind of experience, but are these experiences supported by the Bible? In other words, does the Bible validate these experiences as being genuine experiences that are related to death and are they actually from God? There are Christians today who get rather disturbed when we try to test or examine everything by the Word of God. Why is this? It is because they have a low view of Scripture.Their emotions and desire for the spectacular overrides the infallibility of the Word of God.
If we do not examine and test the claims, conclusions, and alleged experiences of others by the Word of God, then we will be led astray into all kinds of error. Let me dogmatically assert that the Bible must be the final authority regarding these out of the body experiences and every other experience that people claim to have today. If we begin to follow our feelings on these matters and claims, we will be led away from Biblical revelation into mystical practices. People sometimes ask, “What is your feeling regarding these near death or out-of-body experiences?” I reply to them, “I don’t go by feeling; I go by the Word of God!”
“Feelings come and feeling go
And feeling are deceiving
My warrant is the Word of God
For naught is worth believing.”
Dudley Danielson, in the "National Courier," a Charismatic newspaper, ran an ad. "A Genuine Photograph of the Lord!” He wrote, “Yes, I believe I have one recorded on film. In mid-summer I awoke at 3:30 am to a strong voice thought impression, 'Go and photograph my sunrise.' Beside the river I set up my camera; waited for the sun, and that predawn I felt so very close to God, perfect peace. On one negative is the perfect shape of a figure, arms raised in blessing, as reflected in the water, exactly opposite every other shadow. I believe God gave me an image of Himself to share.”
The item is signed Dudley Danielson, Photographer, and you can get a picture of God for only $9.95. It doesn't seem to bother Dudley that the Bible says, "No man has seen God at any time" (John 1:18). Nor does it matter to him that the Bible says that, "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and that God Himself said in Exodus 33:20, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” Dudley should be dead according to what the Bible says!
Such extreme examples of experiences like these are not uncommon in the Charismatic Movement. In the November 1990 issue of Charisma Magazine, which is the most popular magazine in the movement, there is a claim made by a lady named Aline Baxley, an ex-alcoholic and drug addict, who says she has been to Hell and God brought her back to tell her story. Experience after experience is reported in the Charismatic press, television, and on radio. A subtle but sinister pattern has developed over the years. Instead of responding to a proper interpretation of God's Word, many Christians are confiding in preposterous tales producing what some have called “pseudo-Christian mysticism.”
One woman wrote a preacher and teacher of God’s Word and said, "Put away your Bible, your books and stop studying." You see, feelings and experiences are more important than the eternal Word of God. This is a tragic thing and why God has called us to be discerning and prove or test these experiences and see if they line up with what the Bible says and teaches regarding Christian living.
Searching the Scriptures
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
The Christians from Berea were noted as being Bible students. The word “searched” means to scrutinize, examine, judge or investigate. We are to examine everything that people say and measure it by the yardstick or truth of Scripture. We must determine “whether those things were so” such as “out-of-body” or “near death” experiences which people claim to have. If we stop scrutinizing, we will be swept into the sea of mystical experiences, or the melting pot of end time deception through mysticism (dreams, visions, esoteric experiences). Mysticism says spiritual reality and truth is found through feelings, imagination, personal visions, inner voices and private illumination or other experiences. Mysticism places experience above the Word of God.
Everything must stand or fall in light of the Word of God! One of the frightening things that have been occurring among evangelicalism today is the abandonment of objective truth found in the Bible for the search for subjective truth found in experience. Today we are told we can also discover what is true by listening to the experiences of others.
The church in our generation has become tolerant of outlandish ideas and more intolerant of sound teaching (2 Tim. 4:2-4). The popular evangelical conception of "truth" has become almost completely subjective. People say, “The Bible can be interpreted in so many different ways - who can say which interpretation is right?” In fact, many, who call themselves evangelical Christians, believe there is truth beyond the Bible. This is a very dangerous position to embrace for it opens a person up to endless speculation and the acceptance of mystical experiences over the evidence of Scripture.
Relativism is the buzzword of the day. This concept means truth is flexible and is constantly changing. People can base truth upon their subjective experience and what feels right to them. Every person can believe in his own set of values or belief system without condemning another person’s values or beliefs. Therefore, whenever someone seeks the truth behind the experiences that others pass through, they are seen to be contentious, divisive, unloving, or unchristian. Today it’s viewed as being all right to espouse any view you wish, but it is never right to criticize another person's views no matter how unbiblical these views and claims might be. However, the Bible commands us to test all experiences and search the Scriptures to verify if they are genuine and according to Biblical revelation.
Today many evangelicals have made an idol out of tolerance (Rev. 2:20). They tolerate some error, unbiblical views regarding the Lord’s return, and mystical or extrabiblical experiences that Charismatic and other people are claiming to have, which contradict truth and the way God expects us to live the normal Christian life.
One author concludes:
“When tolerance is valued above the truth, the truth always suffers. Church history shows this to be so. The times of decline in the history of the church have always been marked by a tolerant spirit which ultimately leads to carelessness, worldliness, doctrinal compromise, and great confusion in the church.”
The church has gone adrift on the sea of subjectivity. A paradigm shift has occurred. There is a new call for a new generation to shift from an objective approach to God's truth, to an almost entirely subjective or experiential approach. However, to abandon and replace the objective view of Scripture with a more subjective view leaves you very vulnerable to error and deception.
Ephesians 4:14 says:
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (teaching), by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive”
The word “sleight” literally means “dice playing.” Metaphorically it speaks of the deception of men because dice players sometimes cheated and defrauded their fellow players. Dear friend, unless fundamental Bible believing churches continue to take a unified stand in “the faith” (Eph. 4:13), we will be blown out into the sea of mysticism. The winds of false teachings and extra-biblical experiences are being widely embraced and are becoming acceptable to churches, which once shunned these experiences.
One Baptist preacher said:
“My own nephew drowned once as a child and was resuscitated. He later was able to describe in unbelievable detail the folks and events involved in his resuscitation. He said afterwards, ‘I looked down and saw them.’ Who am I to say there was nothing to it? Not me, brother.”
Today believers are jettisoning the clear teachings and conclusions of the Bible over the experiences that children and other people have had. As a result, many are being swept further and further out into the sea of mystical experiences. But “What saith the scripture?” (Romans 4:3). What does the Bible, the final authority, have to say about these types of experiences? Are they legitimate and true experiences based upon what the Bible says? Let’s investigate.
Clinical and Biblical Death
What is death? There are two kinds of death. There is death from a medical viewpoint and death from a Biblical viewpoint. From the medical viewpoint, doctors claim that death has occurred when there is the absence of certain detectable signs, such as the heart stopping, blood pressure being so low that it is unreadable, or the body temperature so low that death is a certainty. However, from the Biblical viewpoint, death occurs when the spirit of a person leaves or departs from the body, without any possibility of returning to the body. This is because a person dies only once; therefore, their spirit can only leave their body once. We will verify this later in our study.
James 2:26 gives the Biblical definition of death:
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
According to the Bible, death occurs when the spirit actually leaves the human body. What the medical field terms as death is not death. There are plenty of people, who were thought to be dead from a medical standpoint (they code blue), but they were revived and are alive today. These people were dead from a medical standpoint but they were not dead from a Biblical standpoint. Their spirit did not actually leave their body. Of course, many will argue that their spirit did leave their body during their “near death” experience, since they sensed they were floating around the operating room and witnessed the doctors and surgeons working on their body.
The Bible teaches that when a person dies in the Biblical sense, the spirit of that person actually leaves the body immediately and then enters the next abode of life, which is life in Heaven or hell (Hades). The Bible teaches that when the human spirit leaves the human body it does not have any possibility of return. This Biblical conclusion will help us understand that whatever is happening to people, who claim to have these near death experiences, is not true Biblical death. It’s some other experience unrelated to death. It’s an experience that has occurred while the human spirit was still residing in the human body. Therefore, it becomes obvious that people who were revived, after having these near death experiences, had not actually died in the Biblical sense; rather, they had been in an unconscious state or condition.
Biblical death occurs when the spirit departs from the human body and never again returns to the body. If the spirit leaves the body there is no possibility of return. The Old Testament revelation supports this conclusion. A person dies in the Biblical sense when the spirit of that person departs and never again returns to the body. Any other claims of spirits leaving and returning to bodies are not true encounters with death. They are pseudo-death. Death has not actually occurred.
Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 reveals:
“Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then (after death occurs) shall the dust (the body made out of clay) return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (the real person) shall return unto God who gave it.”
Solomon correctly observes that when a person dies their spirit immediately returns under the custody of God and He then places that spirit in the place of its own choosing. The spirit of a person immediately comes under the control of the Creator at the time of death as it prepares to depart into the next life. The Bible never mentions about the human spirit floating around in some kind of limbo state in the afterlife. The spirit “returns” to God and not to the operating room, or the scene of a car accident, in order to reenter the body. It returns to God and the journey is over. If the spirit can return to the human body, as so many claim, then the death was a hoax. It was not true death.
I once shared this verse with a cultist who was at my door. She was trying to use the book of Ecclesiastes to prove that a person dies like a dog, or that a person’s soul and spirit ceases to exist after death. I took her to this verse, which clearly reveals that Solomon believed in the existence of the human spirit in the afterlife. The spirit of a person immediately returns into the hands of the Creator at the time of death.
The Biblical revelation concludes that there is no possibility of the spirit floating around in a state of limbo, or spending time in the operating room, after leaving the human body. The spirit immediately returns into the controlling hands of the Creator following death to be dispensed in the place of its choosing. In addition, the Bible never suggests that the body leaves its destiny in the afterlife and returns once again to earth.
The New Testament leads us to the same conclusion.
Philippians 1:23-24 says:
“For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”
In this verse, Paul is clearly talking about born again Christians, who are saved and ready to meet the Lord when they die. Did you catch what Paul reveals to us under the inspiration of God? The Bible says that that the born again human spirit departs from the human body to immediately be with Christ in Heaven. In other words, when the human spirit leaves our body, we are immediately ushered into the presence of the Lord.
The revelation of Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments does not allow for a human spirit to leave the body, float around an operating room, roam about through tunnels, or experience other spiritual phenomenon, before entering Heaven. The Bible is clear on this matter of death; we “depart … to be with Christ.” It does not say we depart from our body and witness ourselves being operated on by surgeons, or we depart from our body and find ourselves moving through a dark tunnel or tunnel of light.
In addition, Paul is obviously teaching that when his human spirit did leave his body, he did not expect his spirit to return to earth in order to reenter his body. Actually, he did not want to leave his body knowing that he would leave behind his friends on earth that needed him. Paul is actually saying that he was between a rock and a hard place. I want to die and immediately go home to be with the Lord, but at the same time, he knew that he was needed here on earth to help the saints (“needful for you”). Once again, we can conclude that Paul was looking forward to the immediate departure of his spirit into the presence of the Lord. If he was not on earth, then he would be in Heaven. Someday our regenerated spirit will leave this old worn out body behind and make a beeline for Glory!
“Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away.
What a day it will be!
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 gives more light on the subject:
“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
Whenever you see the word “Therefore” you must determine what it’s therefore. Paul links these verses to what was previously stated about the reassurance of our future resurrection and the eternal body we will possess someday (“eternal in the heavens” – 1 Cor. 5:1). In these verses, we see the reoccurring word “confidence,” which means Paul was persuaded that he would someday be present with Jesus Christ in Heaven, with a new glorified body. We too can have this blessed hope!
The expression “at home in the body” (2 Cor. 5:6) means to dwell in the earthly tent – our body (2 Cor. 5:1), which is presently humiliating (“naked” and “unclothed” – 2 Cor. 5:3-4 with Phil. 3:20), outwardly wasting away (2 Cor. 4:16), and remains in a state of mortality away from the immediate presence of the Lord (“absent from the Lord” – 2 Cor. 5:6; see also 1 Cor. 13:12).
Paul’s point is clear. While we reside in our present earthly bodies, we are not in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who resides in Heaven. In light of this, the translators remind us that we need to walk by faith instead of by sight (vs. 7). Of course, when we look at our present bodies they are a sight to behold! Nevertheless, when we walk by faith, we know that we will get a new body someday, be delivered from all of our earthly pains and problems, and see Jesus Christ face to face. This is brought out in the next verse.
Paul says we can be “confident,” or persuaded, that when we are “absent from the body” (2 Cor. 5:8), we will be immediately “present with the Lord” in Heaven. This could be achieved through one of two ways: by death and our entrance into Heaven (Phil. 1:21-23), or by the return of Christ and our translation into Heaven (1 Thess. 2:19). Actually both are true; however, the confidence and anticipated joy of seeing the Savior in the Rapture, immediately receiving a new body, and entering his eternal state seems to be in Paul’s thinking.
It seems that Paul looked forward to someday being “present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8) either by death or Rapture. Ultimately, he longed to be clothed with the new body (1 Cor. 5:4) and be with Christ forever in the eternal state – his heavenly home (1 Cor. 5:1). One thing is certain; Paul never taught that the spirit would float or roam around between death or at the time when Jesus returns for His children. Only one thing would occur - “absent from the body and present with the Lord.”
This is something we must claim for our own personal lives as well. Death brings us into the immediate presence of the Lord. Blessed noonday promise! The Bible never teaches there is an intermediate state where the spirit roams about prior to entering the Lord’s presence. The moment we die, in the Biblical sense, when the spirit leaves our human body, we open our eyes in the presence of the Lord.
“When my lifework is ended, and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.”
In John 3:13 Jesus said:
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven (no person ever has ascended to Heaven and come back), but he that came down from heaven (incarnation), even the Son of man which is in heaven.”
In this context (John 2:12) Jesus is saying that no person has actually died, gone to Heaven, and come back to give out spiritual information or divine truth. The one exception is Jesus who is the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Jesus is the “Ladder” between Heaven and earth with access to both realms. After eternally existing with His Father in Heaven, He “descended” in the Incarnation and then “ascended” in the Ascension. And someday He is going to return to earth again in His Second Coming. This means that Jesus is the only heavenly messenger that knows the divine teachings which we need for our personal lives. His established authority, living eternally as the Son of God in Heaven, descending in the incarnation, and ascending back to Heaven authenticates His teachings.
Once again, this means that no child or any person has ever died, gone to Heaven, and come back from the afterlife to give us spiritual information. Only the eternal Son of God has come down from Heaven to give us the spiritual truths that we need to believe, know, and live by on a daily basis.
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
Can Jesus make it any clearer? People don’t die, go to Heaven, see God, and then return to earth to declare what He is like (2 Cor. 5:18; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 9:27). The only person who has done this is Jesus. He has unfolded to us what God is like in His eternal being and given us revelation about the Father (John 14:10). Anybody who makes the accusations and claims of seeing God in Heaven is not giving us the truth. They are under the influence of what we term the figment of their own human imagination, which involves dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies or even lies. Or else they are deceived by demons. Satan is always trying to deceive the world by false information of the afterlife (2 Cor. 11:14). Let us never forget this.
People of all ages in their altered state of consciousness, as they hover between death and life, can find themselves in a condition where their mind goes blank. As a result, they can become open to outside input from the spiritual world (a world outside the realm of our own physical world). Demons, whose goal it is to undermine the Word of God and deceive mankind about the afterlife, can very easily program the mind by revealing information to these people, even prior information which they did not know (Eph. 6:12; 2 Cor. 11:3). Some of the information is false and others is true. Of course, all of this information given by “seducing spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1) is designed to deceive people and keep them from following the Bible, God’s standard of truth. We must stop following the pseudo experiences of those who bypass God’s absolute standard of truth. Jesus told us to not believe those who claim to have seen Him (“believe it not” - Matt. 24:26).
The language of all the texts observed above, reveal that when a person enters Heaven they are not coming back. Once again, Paul is clearly teaching that when his human spirit leaves his present earthly body, he did not expect to return to earth in order to reenter his old worn out body. He was looking forward to being with the Lord and being forever released from the humiliation and hardships connected with the present earthly body he possessed. In short, there was no operating room experience, no tunnel to pass through, and no river to cross. Absent from the body and immediately present with the Lord. Paul’s departure from his old earthly body was viewed as a permanent departure – not a temporary departure and return. Absent from the body and present with the Lord! It does not get any clearer than this.
“There are only two places the Christian can be: in the body or with the Lord.”
This is Biblical and a comforting reality to our hearts today. The Bible verifies that the regenerated spirit of a person is either within the present body or it departs into the presence of the Lord. You are either at home in the body or at home with the Lord. There is no in-between state that occurs where the spirit roams about outside the realm of Heaven. The “near death” experience is foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. This is why we must reject “out of body” experiences, which claim the human spirit leaves the body, passes through mystical experiences, and then returns to the body again. The Bible reveals that the spirit of a saved individual immediately passes into the presence of the Lord to dwell with Him forever. This is what occurs in the event of true, Biblical death and dying.
Luke 16:22-23 also reveals that following death the spirit of a person does not roam about. In this case, it is the spirit of an unsaved person. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Please notice once again that there was no intermediate state, where the spirit of the rich man roamed about in a state of limbo. There was death and the next thing he knew was hell! His eyes were opened in the place called Hades. There were no second chances, no out-of-body-experiences, and no opportunity for return.
We must observe that this man’s departed spirit could not return to planet earth, once he was dead and his spirit entered Hades, the place of suffering. Jesus says, “neither can they pass to us” (Luke 16:26), or return to those people who are living on earth. We must understand that when a person dies and his spirit is separated from his body, he cannot return to that body and come back to his earthly existence. Jesus says that this is impossible. No person can go to Heaven or the afterlife and then return.
I was recently listening to a testimony of a man who claimed he had died and went to hell. He said that he was a believer. That startles me. I could not figure out why God would send a believer to hell! Anyway, he shared the experience he had while in hell. His testimony was that he was taken to hell in order to experience God’s judgment and he was then sent back in order to testify of the truthfulness of hell and warn others to believe in Christ and not go there. Beloved, do not believe these extrabiblical experiences which contradict what Jesus and the Bible taught regarding death. When you die, you are not coming back! No person can return from the afterlife. Your destiny is sealed. More on this later.
We discover that Biblical revelation does not validate “near death” experiences as reflecting truth regarding the death experience. We must discredit these “near death” experiences as being unbiblical and therefore something other than Biblical death. These experiences are sham experiences and pseudo tales. In short, whatever is occurring with these people is not Biblical death, since in Biblical death the spirit departs the human body and never returns.
The Great Gulf
Luke 16:22 says:
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom:”
Jesus taught that when people die they immediately enter the place of their choosing. When this saved man died, his spirit did not float around; it was immediately escorted by the angels into Paradise, which at this time was at the center of the earth. This place was called “Abraham’s bosom” since Abraham went to this place for his faith or belief in the Lord (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). As a result, Abraham became the leading figure of faith within the Old Testament and the compartment of “sheol,” where he departed to after his death, became named after him.
Today “sheol” no longer exists as a place of residency for God’s saints. This compartment of Sheol or Hades has been emptied after Christ’s resurrection (Eph. 4:8) and now God’s children enter Heaven immediately at the time of death (Heb. 12:22-23; 2 Cor. 12:2) and the place that Christ has prepared for His Church (John 14:1-3). In this incident, we discover that the angels escorted Abraham safely to the other side. We may not know all that happens in that short lapse of time, between our death and entrance into Heaven, but we do know that we will get there safely. Satan cannot harm us. We are God’s children.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Lord will see to it that we are taken safely home to dwell with Him forever, even as the angels escorted Abraham into Sheol. We will not be rerouted to hell, or left in a state of limbo to float around, or be temporarily placed in Purgatory. We are going straight to Heaven! No devil or demon will keep us from the place God has prepared for us!
There is another side to this account of the afterlife. It deals with the rich man who was unsaved.
“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
The rich man, who was unsaved, died and immediately entered the place called Hades, which is a compartment of terrible judgment and suffering for the unsaved of all the ages. Please notice that this man’s spirit did not roam about. It was immediately ushered into Hades. And in hell there was the horror of an eternally damned spirit that could sense pain, agony, and experience great suffering!
Luke 16:24-25 records these frightening words:
“And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”
Hell is no joke. Hell is not just a curse word. Hell is a real place where unsaved people enter when they die. Our hearts should be deeply burdened for those who die without salvation and eternal life. There is an awful fate that awaits them in the next life. This is why we are to “go” (Mark 16:15) with the Gospel. People need the Lord!
Jesus once again says in Luke 16:26:
“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
Abraham and the rich man could not change places. Once they were in the place of their choosing there was no escape. The Bible teaches that God has His lines which cannot be crossed. Death is one line that people cannot cross over for there is “a great gulf fixed.” What was true of “Hades” prior to the resurrection of Christ is also true today, regarding death and a person’s entrance into Heaven or hell.
Once your spirit leaves your body and you die, there is no chance to change your destination or return to your present body on earth. The rich man could not pass over the great gulf that divided him from Abraham. He could not move back and forth at will once he had died. A person’s destiny is sealed after their death (“they which would pass from hence to you cannot”). In other words, there is no movement of the human spirit from the realm of the afterlife nor is there any second chance after death has occurred. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, Jesus taught that a person can never come back to earth, since He said, “neither can they pass to us.” Once death has taken place, a person’s destiny is fixed.
God has set boundaries that no person can cross over after they die! The boundaries surrounding the next life are sealed by God.Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18) and once a person dies, his spirit is locked into that place until the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:22-23). The idea that people can go to hell or Heaven and then be released to come back and tell about their journey, experience, or something that Jesus said to them, is totally unscriptural! Death is a boundary and barrier that no human spirit can cross over. There are no returns! When you enter the afterlife, your spirit is locked into that place of existence forever. The great gulf cannot be crossed.
There is no coming back my friend! When you are gone you are gone! You will be in judgment forever or you will be in the blessing of God’s presence forever! We must therefore conclude that when a person dies in the true Biblical sense, they never have the authority, or ability, to pass in and out of their abode, within Heaven or hell. God has designed that when the spirit departs from the body there can be no possibility of return to this present life. This truth alone should discredit all the stories, which people share, who supposedly have entered Heaven or hell, and then returned to tell about their experience.
The Bible clearly reveals that dead people cannot come back to this earth, enter their body, and resume their lives. They cannot return and resume their normal earthly activities after experiencing Biblical death.
Job 7:9-10 records:
“As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.”
The word grave in the Old Testament is actually translated “sheol.” The context will determine whether or not the word is referring to the grave for the human body or the actual place of departed spirits. The reference to “sheol” in this verse may actually be applicable to either the grave for the body or the place of departed spirits. It may be that Job had the actual place of departed spirits in his mind, as he wrote, “He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.”
Whatever Job was conveying, the verse seems to suggest that a person cannot return from the afterlife and know what is taking place upon earth. There is no chance for Job, or any of us, to move back into this world, after we have died. There is no opportunity for people to once again regain knowledge of what is taking place in this present world.This means that the departed spirit of a person does not have the capability to move back into the body and back to earth, or this present existence of life, after it leaves the body. Once the spirit departs to its destination, there is no possibility of return.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 also verifies this:
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing (about things in this present life), neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun (they never again have anything to do with their earthly experiences).
Here is Solomon’s observation, which by the way, is actually true. He is not teaching soul sleep as the cults assume. What is recorded here is actually true. When a person dies, they do not know what is going on upon planet earth. They certainly know what is occurring in the place where their spirit had gone (Luke 16); however, they do not know what is taking place on this earth any longer. All the empty things that Solomon tried (those things “under the sun”) would no longer be known or experienced by the person who dies. This is because their spirit departs and has no present knowledge of the circumstances and happenings upon planet earth.
This truth suggests that the spirit of a person does not float around in a state of limbo after death and then return to the body to resume one’s life again. The Biblical record is clear. The spirit of a person has no idea what is taking place on earth. The spirit departs into another place of existence (Heaven or hell) and this excludes the spirit from knowing what is occurring in this present life.
Over the years, I have had many people ask me if their loved ones, who have gone on to be with the Lord, can actually see them living their life here on earth. They wonder if their lost loved one can see the beautiful flowers that they have placed beside their grave. We must conclude Biblically that departed loved ones cannot witness the events of this life. They cannot see the events of this world taking place.
The whole idea that the spirits of departed loved ones are sitting in the grandstands of Heaven watching us live out our lives on earth is not Scriptural. The epistle of Hebrews is not suggesting this concept either, when it speaks of the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us (Hebrews 12:1). This text is looking back to the great martyred heroes of faith in chapter eleven, who have gone on before us. In one sense, these people are memorialized and we can view or witness them today, as great people of faith. They are not witnessing us; we are witnessing them! We are to look at their past lives and see the testimony and legacy of faith which they have left behind. What kind of legacy will you leave behind?
Here is the point; if departed saints can view the events of earth, then Heaven would no longer be Heaven. It would be earth in Heaven. I don’t want any earth in Heaven. I want only Heaven!
The testimony of Scripture is clear on the matter of death.
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
When the testimonies and experiences of people do not reflect the sacred record of truth, we can be sure that these people have not experienced death and they lack true light or revelation. Whatever experience they have had was not a genuine death experience.
It’s either the testimony of Scripture or the testimony of men. Of course, the testimony of the Word of God must be believed over the testimonies of children, men, and money-making charlatans. Those who claim they have actually died, whose spirits leave their bodies, float above operating tables, pass through tunnels, witness beings of light, and whose spirits go to Heaven or hell and then return to their bodies to resume life on earth are not giving Biblical conclusions regarding death. Their experiences are not supported by the Bible. The Bible does not validate these experiences as being genuine experiences that are related to death; therefore, they are not from God. Biblically, there is no possibility of return, after the spirit departs from the human body. A person’s destiny and destination is sealed after death.
There are only two men who have cheated death – Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Another group will cheat death, which is the Church. Living believers at Christ’s return will someday be raptured away without dying (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17). However, these are rare exceptions to the rule that God has established which is for a person to die only once.
Hebrews 9:27 declares: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”
The Bible declares what the normal process would be for the billions upon billions people who have been born on earth. Their experience would all be similar – they die only once. The Bible clearly teaches that a person is designed to die only once and afterward they pass into their next existence of life. For the unsaved individual, there is the inevitable and immediate consequence of judgment, following death.
The unsaved will not float around the operating room and experience peace and rest as so many have declared. They will experience the immediate judgment of God! Their human spirit is immediately ushered into the fires of hell. You can mark this down as coming from the infallible book!
The Bible dogmatically asserts that you will die only once. You cannot die, have your spirit reenter your body again, and come back to life. Let us not be fooled by these alleged out-of-body experiences. Dying once has been the general rule for all mankind.
There have been very rare exceptions of people who were raised from the dead by a miraculous act of Jesus Christ. There was Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43), the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Lazarus (John 11) and the multitude who were brought back to life at Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 27:51–53). Apparently our Lord brought these people back to life, while He was dwelling upon earth and seeking to prove His Messianic claims and deity. Again, these were rare exceptions to the general rule of a person experiencing death only once.
John 20:30-31 says:
“And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Christ is not raising people from the dead today in order to prove His deity and authenticate His name as He did while living upon earth. He has already confirmed His divinity by all the miracles He did (“But these are written”) while He was present on earth. All the miraculous things written about Him in the Bible give ample proof of His deity. Therefore, we don’t need miracles to verify Christ’s credentials.
We also know that Peter and Paul also raised several dead people. In Acts 9:36-42, Peter raised Tabitha and in Acts 20:9-12, Paul raised Eutychus. This man went asleep while Paul was preaching and fell out of the loft. It pays to listen to the preacher! Of course, the apostles were granted the “gifts of healing” (1 Cor. 12:9) since they were God’s special agents (2 Cor. 12:12) who witnessed Christ in His resurrection body (Acts 1:22, 2:32, 3:15, 4:33, 5:32, 10:39-41, 13:30-31; I Corinthians 9:1, 15:7-8). These healing gifts even extended to the ability of raising the dead. The apostles were specially chosen men that were given miraculous gifts of healing to prove that their apostleship was genuine and that their words came from God.
Mark 16:20 records:
“And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”
The miraculous sign gifts were temporarily bestowed upon these special men to verify their call, as the unique apostles of Christ, and to verify that through them the New Testament revelation came. The miracles verified both the man and the message. The few restorations by Jesus and the apostles actually reversed “irreversible death” to prove the genuineness of these people and their words.
We must understand that Jesus is no longer on earth trying to prove His deity, nor are the apostles here on earth giving out the Word of God, since we have the completed canon of Scripture today (Jude 3; Rev. 22:18). Therefore, the Bible teaches that apostles and the early apostolic gifts of sign miracles have ceased and are no longer needed in the later Church era (1 Cor. 13:8-10). These miraculous sign gifts have served their purpose and are no longer operative in the Church.
Here is the point; all of these instances of people being brought back to life were rare and extremely uncommon occasions when the normal experience of dying “only once” was not followed. These people actually died twice. However, as the general rule, the Bible declares that when a person dies, they die only once. This is always true today, since there are no genuine apostles on earth that are raising the dead, proving their apostleship, and since Jesus is no longer on earth performing miracles and proving His deity.