Near-Death Experiences and Hebrews 9:27

From a study on Hebrews 9:27.

There are great controversies in Christianity today about whether or not “near-death experiences” can happen. A near-death experience, from my understanding, is an experience a person has when they seem to have no breath in them and see to “another world” or into spiritual realities, possibly heaven or hell. Many people have said that these experiences turn them toward God or cause them to think about how they are living. These are very popular in the world today. According to Gallup, as of 1991, 5% of Americans had experienced a near-death experience. This number has almost certainly gone up in the last 16 years. The next two verses (Heb. 9:27-28), I feel, squelch any argument for these experiences. Now, I do not doubt the actual experience of any one person. Those visions and dreams can happen, but are they biblical? Are they a divine gift from God? Are they a tool of Satan to deceive people? The Scriptures should be our final source of truth.

The word “once” in Hebrews 9:27 is the Greek word hepax, which means “once, one time.” The author says very plainly right here: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.” We only get one chance at life. Once breath runs out of us, we are dead, “and after that comes judgment.” This one verse would seem to shed light on these “experiences.” It would interpret those experiences as what they are: “near-death.” Not death. When a person’s heart stops, it doesn’t mean they have died. There are many examples in Scriptures about a person appearing “dead” but not really being dead (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; Acts 9:40, 20:10).

A person cannot see the afterlife of heaven or hell and then go back. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a prime example. In Luke 16, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to tell his family to change their ways of living, “lest they also come into this place of torment.” This seems like one of the “warnings” we hear from someone who just had a near-death experience. The rich man continued, “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” We see from Luke 16 that after the rich man died, he was in a place of judgment. Revelation 20:14 talks about the lake of fire-which is hell. This is called the “second death.” If someone were to die once, and then die finally, and then be thrown into hell, that would be three deaths! The arithmetic does not add up according to Scripture. Therefore, on the issue of “near-death experiences,” we must say that they may be dreams, visions, or hallucinations, but we cannot say that a real death has occurred in which a person has seen the gates of heaven or the fires of hell. Furthermore, in John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born-again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” This verse tells us that unless you are a child of God and have a new life in Christ, you cannot even see the kingdom. So, it makes no sense that people who have had these experiences can say, “I saw the pearly gates” or “I was in heaven, talking with loved ones and Jesus.” It simply does not mesh with the word of God.

3 thoughts on “Near-Death Experiences and Hebrews 9:27

  1. Question: How does all of that mesh with those instances in Scripture where dead people were raised? For example, Lazarus, or the dead people in the tombs after Jesus’ crucifiction who came back to life? (Matthew 27:52) Jesus himself sent a report back to John the Baptist that the dead were raised in Matthew 11:5. How does that fit? Did not those people die more than once?

    Interesting throughts…I’m just curious.

    ~Tara

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  2. Tara,

    Again, you have a great question here and though it’s hard to find explanations for that in commentaries and what not, my contention would be that this was not a normal experience. Also, remember, we had Jesus raising the dead and in Matthew 10, we had Jesus commissioning the disciples to “raise the daid” (v. 8).

    There were many people who died during the time Jesus ministered, yet not all were raised. Furthermore, we never hear of a person in Scripture who died saying, “I saw a light!” or “I stood at the gates of heaven!” or “I saw relatives and friends there!” When we die, my understanding from Scripture is that whether we are saved or not, we will be ushered into the prescence of Almighty God and I’m sure no one would be able to forget that experience. It’s funny–all the NDEs I’ve heard, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I stood in front of the Most High God…” Not one.

    Perhaps for those people in Scripture, God kept them in an unconcious state or did not have them pass into the afterlife. I’m not sure. But my overall sense is that Scripture holds this is not normative for us. That’s about all I can offer at this point. I hope that helps.

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