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Are “Near Death Experiences” Real?

People who are legally dead for a short time sometimes report visions of the afterlife. Do these “near-death experiences” give a glimpse of heaven? How can we know for sure?

The Boy Who Did Not Go to Heaven
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:

We don’t need those who claim to have these experiences to openly recant in order to know these stories are false. Common sense and the Bible give us the answers. “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 them 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, like Alex did, in order to know these stories are false. 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 has a near-death experience makes these claims.

Because of the advances in medical technology in the last 50 years, doctors have been able to save many people who were technically 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.

But think: If human beings have an immortal soul that continues to live after our body dies—why doesn’t every person who legally dies experience something? Does it make sense that some live on after death, but others don’t?  

2. Jesus Christ explicitly stated that these claims are false.

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).

Can any statement be clearer? 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. For more insight into what the Bible says about going to heaven, read “Do We Go to Heaven When We Die?

3. The Bible doesn’t support such near-death experiences.

The Bible contains many accounts of people dying and being brought back to 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 involves unconsciousness.

Lazarus was dead for four days before Jesus arrived (John 11:17, 39). The account describes Jesus Christ miraculously resurrecting Lazarus. What is missing from the whole account is anything about Lazarus’ soul being snatched from heaven and brought back to physical life.

Read some of the other accounts of physical resurrections in the Bible and 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.

Much more to the story

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.

About the Author

Erik Jones

Erik Jones

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

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