Are Near-Death Experiences Real?

People who legally die sometimes report seeing visions. Are near-death experiences real or fake? What does the Bible say about near-death experiences?

Are Near-Death Experiences Real?
In 2010 a book titled The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was published, telling the story of Alex Malarkey. Alex was involved in a terrible car accident in 2004 when he was 6 years old. He survived the accident but was in a coma for two months and ultimately was left paralyzed. What was unique about his story was that when he awoke from the coma, he made the claim that he had temporarily died and ascended to heaven.

Alex described angels escorting him to heaven where he met and spoke with Jesus Christ and God the Father. He also claimed to have seen hell, describing it as a “hole in heaven.” Alex’s father, Kevin Malarkey, took Alex’s story and authored the aforementioned book, which became a New York Times best seller.

There was just one problem.

Alex Malarkey, at the age of 16, finally admitted in January 2015 that he made up the whole story—every word.

Here is Alex’s statement:

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to” (“‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ Recants Story, Rebukes Christian Retailers”).

The book about Alex is part of a popular book genre referred to as “heavenly tourism.” If you search Amazon or Christian Book Distributors, you will see dozens of books containing stories about individuals claiming to have gone to heaven after death, only to be resuscitated and returned to earth. There are hundreds of websites and YouTube videos that contain these stories—often called near-death experiences.

But, just like in Alex’s case, there’s one major problem.

None of the near-death experiences of people seeing a light or talking with people in heaven are real.

These stories are either totally made up (as Alex Malarkey’s was) or are possibly the result of surges of brain activity that often occur as the brain is dying. Read this interesting article that explains this phenomenon: “Near-Death Experiences Are ‘Electrical Surge in Dying Brain.’”

Three reasons near-death experiences are false

We don’t need those who claim to have these experiences to openly recant, as Alex did, in order to know these stories are not biblically accurate. Common sense and the Bible give us the answers. Here are three reasons these claims are, and always will be, false.

1. Not everyone who clinically dies has a near-death experience.

Because of the advances in medical technology in the last 50 years, doctors have been able to save many people who were clinically dead. In fact, you probably know someone whose heart and breathing stopped, yet who was resuscitated and lived. I do.

The fact is that the majority of people who experience this do not claim to have these visions and experiences. It is actually a small minority who make these claims. And honestly, these claims are usually made to draw attention and (in many cases) to make money. People know that human beings are fascinated with the afterlife and will listen to these stories.

If human beings had an immortal soul that continued to live after our body died—why wouldn’t every person who legally died experience something?Also, as already cited, there are scientific explanations for why some experience seeing lights or having visions—so not all people who experience these things are trying to deceive others. They simply are remembering a physical phenomenon their brain experienced while being unconscious (or clinically dead).

But think: If human beings had an immortal soul that continued to live after our body died—why wouldn’t every person who legally died experience something? Would it make sense that some would live on after death, but others wouldn’t?

Also, if the common idea of hell were true—undoubtedly some who experienced a near-death experience would be destined for that location, right? Why does nobody report a brief experience of fiery torment in hell? Or meeting Satan? A demon?

No one does because not only is the idea of an ever-burning hell a myth, but near-death experiences are myths as well. To learn more about the problems with the popular idea of hell, read “What Christianity Gets Wrong About Hell.”

2. Jesus Christ explicitly stated that no one has gone to heaven.

This is ultimately the reason we don’t have to wait for someone to retract his or her story to know whether these stories are true or false. It doesn’t matter what anyone says—the Word of God should be our source of truth (John 17:17).

Jesus Christ made one statement that should totally end questions or discussion on these experiences:

“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).

There is only one Man who has ever ascended to heaven (the place of God’s throne) after death—and that was Jesus Christ Himself. The words of Jesus, and the rest of the Bible, teach that the dead will live again in a resurrection that is still in the future (John 5:29; Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:52).

For more insight into what the Bible says about not going to heaven, read “Do We Go to Heaven When We Die?” To learn more about the future resurrection of the dead, read “What Are the Resurrections?

3. People resurrected in the Bible had no near-death experiences.

The Bible contains many accounts of people dying and being brought back to physical life. Some of the people who died in the Bible were dead for much longer than a few seconds or minutes. But none of these experiences include one word about these people leaving a heavenly state of consciousness to be brought back to physical life.

Read through one of the most famous resurrection accounts in the Bible—the resurrection of Jesus Christ’s personal friend Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus became very ill and died while Jesus was miles away. When Jesus referred to Lazarus’ death, He said, “Lazarus sleeps” (verse 11). In fact, many other scriptures use the terminology of sleep to describe death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14; Job 3:13). 

Sleep is a biblical metaphor for death because it describes unconsciousness. The Bible teaches that the experience of death is unconsciousness. In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read: “There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” Simply put, there is no consciousness, intelligent thought or activity after one dies.

Lazarus had been dead for four days before Jesus arrived and resurrected him to physical life (John 11:17, 39). What is missing from the whole account is anything about Lazarus’ soul being snatched from heaven and brought back to physical life. Jesus just woke Lazarus from the unconscious state of death. That is why there’s no record of Lazarus recounting memories of experiences he had during the four days he was dead in the tomb.

You can read some of the other accounts of physical resurrections in the Bible, but you will see no claims of white lights, angels or heaven: 1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4; Luke 7 and 8; Matthew 28; Acts 9; Acts 20.

Learn more about the Bible teaching on death

There is much more to the story! The Bible reveals many details about what happens after a person dies. Visit our life after death resource page and download a free, detailed booklet that explains the topic of the afterlife thoroughly.

As well as providing many more scriptures that support the above points, you will learn:

  • The origin of the belief that the soul is immortal and lives on after death.
  • The many scriptures that describe death as being a state of total unconsciousness.
  • The facts about hell and why it is not “a hole in heaven.”
  • The inspiring and encouraging truth of the future resurrection of the dead.
  • The exciting future of all of mankind after the resurrection.

No, near-death experiences are not real. But the future resurrection of the dead is a certainty!

Topics Covered: Doctrine, Science and Technology, Death

About the Author

Erik Jones

Erik Jones

Erik Jones is a full-time writer and editor at the Life, Hope & Truth offices in McKinney, Texas.

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