There are many stories of people who claimed to have died and visited heaven and/or hell before coming back to life. Some of these stories have become very popular books. What to think of them? First of all, it is important to note that all what we need to know to be saved is to be found in the Bible. “The sacred writings… are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Any other information or book is not sacred writing. It is not necessary to know to be saved; and it is not infallible.
What does the Bible say?
But is it true? There are many reasons to believe that the stories of journeys to heaven and hell are not factual.
- The Bible says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
- Jesus Himself said that people needed to be saved through the preaching of God’s Word. Not through a testimony from someone who came back from the dead. This was the point of the story He told about the rich man and Lazarus, which concludes by Abraham saying “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
- When Paul was taken to heaven in a vision, he did not write a book about it. He “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4).
- A real revelation of how heaven actually is, would come very close to an extra revelation about which John wrote in Revelations 22:18. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.”
- The stories of heaven and hell that people tell, are very different.
- The stories of heaven and hell that people tell, are often not completely biblical. Some say that people who are ‘deserving’ go to heaven, while the Bible teaches that it is by grace through faith. Some say that demons are torturing people in hell, while the Bible says that not the devil but God is the one who punishes people in hell. Often there is little or no understanding of the Gospel in these stories.
Only one power of God for salvation
This does not mean that the people who are telling these stories, are lying. They might very well be describing experiences that they had while they were near death. There might be elements in there that are helpful for other people, especially if they warn to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus for salvation. But we should not accept them as God’s truth for us. There is only one power of God for salvation, and that is the Gospel (Romans 1:17) found in the Bible.
Many popular books describe people’s near-death experiences. They claim to have been in heaven or hell and describe what it looks like. We should be careful with embracing these testimonies. What is revealed to us in the Bible about the after-life is sufficient. Also, these accounts sometimes contradict the Bible and often contradict each other.