Is the Bible silent about people having near death experiences? If so, what verses are involved and if not, what can we say about these from a biblical viewpoint?
An Appointment with Death
The statistics on death are very impressive; the latest being that ten out of every ten will die. There is no escape clause out of this. Every single person that has lived, is living now, or will live in the future has a destiny of death for an appointed day. The only exception would be that if Christ were to return before we die and we’d be with Him at that very moment. What does the Bible say about death and our appointed time? It has a lot to say about that like in Hebrews 9:27 “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” This suggests that there is an appointment for all of us to die but we don’t know when that time is coming. This verse also says that we die “once” so it seems to contradict the idea that we can die and then come back to life again but some have reported that they’ve died and had an experience where they could see their dead bodies and even the surgeons working on them to resuscitate them; a kind of out of body experience, however this verse says that we die once and then face the judgment of God but there’s even been a movie made about a young boy who apparently had died and went to heaven and described some things and people that he could not have possibly known about so how do we explain this and other such accounts? It is impossible of course to verify these occurrences with absolute certainty.
Did Paul Die and Come Back to Life?
Some use the text found in 2nd Corinthians 12:2-5 as proof that we can die and go to heaven and then come back again. These verses say “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.”
The problem with using these verses as proof texts are that it doesn’t clearly say that Paul or the man he was referring to (himself?) actually died and went into the “third heaven” which is where the presence of God is at. Was it “in the body or out of the body” Paul did not know so we can’t know either. He says only God knows and that is all I can say…only God knows whether some have died and went to heaven only to return again. Others have said that they have gone to hell and came back with terrifying accounts. Are these only visions that are similar to what the Apostle John had in writing the Book of Revelation? Again, only God knows for sure but there is not one Bible verse in the entire Bible that shows that we can die and come back to earth again. The only exception to this is the experience that King Saul had after consulting with the prophet Samuel which we will look at next but that is not the same as a near-death experience and Samuel did not come back to the living on the earth.
Did Saul Communicate with the Dead?
King Saul was in big trouble. He had the Philistines breathing down his neck ready to crush him and all of Israel so “When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor” (1 Sam 28:5-7). King Saul had lost the relationship with God due to his continual disobedience so he was desperate for help so he consulted a medium and was able to speak to the deceased Samuel who God had apparently allowed him to answer Saul but it wasn’t a near-death experience and the result of this conversation would be how Saul’s fate would be sealed. God allowed Samuel to tell Saul that it was because of Saul’s disobedience (1 Sam 28:18) that Saul and his sons would soon be with Samuel (1 Sam 28:19).
Are our Days Numbered?
Here are a few Bible verses that are clear about God knowing the exact number of our days on earth. Job 14:5 says “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass.” There is “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Eccl 3:2). The psalmist wrote “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). Clearly our days are predetermined by God and we have a set appointment for which we are to die (Heb 9:27) and we cannot pass beyond these limits or increase them because that is in the sovereign hands of God.
I think we need to use caution when hearing reports or accounts of people dying and going to heaven, or to hell for that matter, because we just don’t know for sure. The Bible is silent on this subject so where the Bible is silent, I have to be. We also need to be cautious when quoting certain Bible verses (e.g. 2nd Cor 12:2-5) or occurrences (like with Saul and the deceased Samuel) to use as proof texts to establish a belief since these verses do not specifically say whether a person can die and go to heaven and come back again. The most important question right now is will you going to heaven when you die? That decision needs to be reached today before you do. After death, it’s too late because you’ll face the judgment of God at that time with no chance for repentance (Rev 20:12-15). Decide today if you will be saved because no one has any guarantee that they’ll even be here tomorrow because we all have an appointment with death (Heb 9:27) and you nor do I know when that time is.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon