Good News! In John’s Gospel, chapter 14, Jesus tells us that he has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. Christ’s claim is that He knows the way, that He is telling us the truth, and that real life is available through him – best described as: HEAVEN.
So, there is much more to come – life really does goes on! Here are a few Q&A…
‘When you died, you first of all experienced total darkness. What was that all about?’
My NDE began with a conscious awareness that I was dead. My first experience was that the reality normally around me had disappeared in an instant; resulting in a lack of light and life as I knew it. I was in ‘death.’ Here are a few things the Bible says about this ‘dark place:’
“He will not depart from darkness” (Job 15:30)
“The wicked shall be silent in darkness” (1.Sam. 2:9)
“They shall never see light again” (Ps. 49:19)
Scripture tells us of two possible experiences after we breathe our last; the first is death as a loss of life itself (often referred to as hell); and the other is a spiritual place commonly called heaven. The claim made in the Bible and by Jesus Christ is that hell was set up for the fallen angels (not for humanity) – so death is just a passage through darkness (loss of our body) towards eternal life.
“Death and Hell delivered up the dead who were in them.” (Rev. 20:13)
“Thanks be to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of his Son.” (Col. 1:12,13)
‘So, when you experienced death, did you enter into what is called Hell – is death the same as Hell?’
Jesus used the word Gehenna over ten times to indicate a future Hell (the one that will exist for the fallen angels, often likened to a lake of fire in Rev. 20:13-15). The other word used by Jesus is Sheol, used about four times in reference to the current but temporary existence of Hell (often mentioned in reference to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth). Gehenna was actually the term used by locals regarding the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem. It was sometimes used as the dumping ground for unclaimed dead and diseased bodies, especially those who were foreigners. A constant smouldering fire consumed the rubbish, and vermin and maggots consumed the rest. It stunk, was filthy, and served as a good visual image for Hell. This is what inspired a lot of the medieval paintings in Catholic cathedrals. Sheol, however, was the place of the dead; the graveyard.
“These will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:46)
“Some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan. 12:2)
I didn’t experience Hell, but I did see the reality of death and the kind of black darkness that is talked about in Scripture, but only for a short time until that moment when I was led to see a glimpse of Heaven.
“How then do you get to see Heaven and not end up in Hell?”
The Christian teaching is that salvation is a free gift offered through Jesus Christ and based solely upon a relationship with Him expressed as faith. The truth is that without Christ’s salvation, we would all end up in Hell (Rom. 3:10-23). But that was not part of God’s plan nor His purpose for us ( see Jn. 1:1-5; and Jn. 3:16,17).
The simple act of repentance (the word means to turn around / or to turn away from that which has separated us) and our confession of faith in Jesus as our Saviour (taking up the rescue offer), makes salvation our personal experience (Luke 13:3 & 24:45-47).
“The thief on the cross said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘With certainty, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:42,43)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2.Cor. 5:17)
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)
“God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
“Why then does Hell exist?”
Apart from the gift of life, God has also given humanity the ability to choose – we see this mentioned in the Bible right at the beginning of the creation account when Adam and Eve chose to invest their hopes and dreams with the lie (from Satan) and do their own thing apart from God. All things were accessible to them with the exception of two ‘trees’ – the one was the knowledge of good and evil, the other was the tree of life. They were told not to eat from the tree of good and evil for doing so will bring about death. They chose to do so … with the result being a world that is constantly inflicted with decay and destruction and death; a spiritual death came upon humanity in the form of separation between God and people.
Hell came into being due to the fall of the angels (because of their rebellion these are now refered to as demons or devils). They brought destruction upon God’s creation and deception into our relationship with God. The rejection of God always results in the loss of everything that God is and has created – the absence of God can be rightly defined as Hell.
“Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels!” (Matt. 25:41)
- Hell is plunged into total darkness – because God is light and revelation (1.Jn. 1:5)
- Hell is filled with hate – because God is love and in Him we have hope (1.Jn. 4:16)
- Hell has no mercy – because God is full of mercy and forgiveness (Ps.36:5)
- Hell knows only death – because God is life and creativity (Jn 1:4)
- Hell has no peace – because only God brings everlasting peace and joy (Isa. 9:6)
The absence of God and His blessings in all its variety is the experience of what can only be described as Hell. We choose what kind of future we want – life with God, or removed from His presence – and join the company of Holy Angels or the fallen angels whose fate has already been sealed in the lake of fire. The reason the Bible mentions God’s wrath is because of the works of the devil (meaning: rejection of God – Rom. 6:23). But here is what we need to consider: God redirected His wrath on the cross where Christ took it up (Ps.22; Isa.53; Heb. 9:24-28; 1.Pet. 2:24). In Christ are we truly free from sin and separation; only in Christ are we restored.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (Jn. 3:36)
“Is access to Heaven limited to faith in Jesus Christ, or can I get there just by being a good person and doing good things? Can’t I just believe what I want to? What if I don’t want to believe in the Bible’s claim about salvation through Christ?”
Again, we assume that access to heaven is a universally granted human right. We presume that’s where we are going as a matter of evolution. We reject the notion of judgement, we dismiss as irrelevant the effects caused by sin, and we deny the idea of Hell. That’s popular, but it is not the biblical truth! Heaven, as a biblical definition, is the presence of God – the home of God. God doesn’t want a single person to be lost. But here is the difficult part for many, salvation is a relationship with God, not something apart from God.
Example: If I’m sick there is the possibility for me to go and see my Doctor. If he tells me that by his diagnosis I have an illness that could perhaps be very harmful, and prescribes the medicine that could actually help and heal me, it would be in my best interest to hear him out and take the prescription. But if I go away disbelieving the doctor’s advice, staying in denial of my true condition, then that would be foolish and eventually fatal. Who is at fault?
“For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and mankind together, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself to redeem all mankind. That was the proof at the right time that God wants everyone to be saved.” (1.Tim. 2:5,6)
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37)
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not within us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from sin. If we say that we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar, and His Word is not within us.” (1.Jn. 1:8-10)
“What makes you think that what you saw in your NDE wasn’t just your imagination? How do you know that it was for real? Concepts of Heaven and Hell are primitive caveman ideas and old fairy tales.”
A world view that excluded the concept of creation along with a Creator, and says to itself: ‘there is no God!,’ is not a recent phenomenon held only by a 21st century society. Even Scripture makes a reference to this world view dating back to 1000BC (by King David in Psalm 14:1). Putting your head in the sand (Rom. 1:18-22) doesn’t change the reality of what we are all going to have to face – our mortality. Ignoring the revealed truth as the Bible tells it to hopefully maintaining a blissful ignorance is no excuse at all. Truth be known, we don’t want to take responsibility for our future with the choices we make right now. To say there is no God, no Heaven or Hell, is an attempt at escapism!
My experience of the darkness in death and the follow-up vision of a heavenly experience was more real to me than the reality I live every day. I didn’t experience it with my body, because I know that my body was being worked on in the cardiac ward. But we have a soul (and for those who are baptized, we have received the gift of a new spirit within us: God’s Holy Spirit – Jn.3:3-6). I perceived and experienced death with my soul (the conscious, thinking, emotional, self-determining part of myself); and I was blessed to see a glimpse of the reality of Heaven through my spirit (as a redeemed human being, given access to the heavenly realm by grace).
Just as my soul experienced Heaven (as being real to my conscious awareness), so the Bible says that Hell is for real and is experienced in a very real way. Hell is not a dream state, its not a make-believe nightmare; nor is Heaven a fanciful daydream where I’m off with the fairies. Even science is now telling us that there is far more to the complexities of created reality than what we can see and feel and measure – the unseen universe is just as real.
All of Jesus’ parables in reference to Hell understood it as a real place. In fact Jesus stated that for this very reason he has come into the world … so that we would not end up there! Jesus mentions Hell in forty six verses. It is a theme in the Old Testament all the way to the New Testament. The idea of Hell was taken literally and seriously.
“So it shall be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.” (Matt. 13:49)
“He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. And the smoke ascends forever and ever; and they will never find rest, by day or night.” (Rev. 14:10,11)
“It is Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1.Thess. 1:10)
“Maybe you just saw the kind of Heaven you wanted, and others experience their own version; maybe there is a simple medical explanation for your visions – like ‘in-flight-entertainment’ of the mind. Maybe we create our own Heaven & Hell!”
The Bible assumes a created place called Heaven, and also warns of another place prepared called Hell. So many people believe that Hell is like jail – ‘once I served my time, I should be released and free to carry on as I please.’ Rejection of God cannot be payed off by ‘doing the time.’ So, perhaps it is right to say that we make our own Hell – by rejecting the very opposite: Heaven.
Our access to Heaven and eternity require a new heart and a renewed mind (Rom. 12:1,2). God is the only one who can give this to us, and who actually desires to give this to us. We cannot manufacture a new spirit within us – it is a gift. Faith is simply this: receiving God’s gift.
We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8,9).
The human soul is eternal (Gen.1:26), but how we want to experience eternity is left up to us. I have a friend who summed it up like this: “smoking or non-smoking?”
“You say that it literally happened, but that would mean that I have to believe in a literal God.”
So it comes down to this: is there a literal God, or is he just a figment of our imagination. Your answer will tell you if there is a literal Heaven. With that in mind, is the experience of Heaven then basically the same for all of us?
The Apostle John was given a vision of Heaven, as it was also the case with the Apostle Paul. Would it not then stand to reason that my observations would be similar. There are thousands upon thousands NDE testimonies. Many of them with very similar observations as with my own. Are they all wrong? What if they are telling us the truth? One of the most reassuring statements made by Jesus was also recorded for us by the Apostle John:
“Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” (Jn. 14:1-3)
“So was your vision of Heaven the same or similar to what the Bible tells us about Heaven?”
The Bible has something like 500 references to Heaven, which makes it a significant teaching topic. When we speak about the Church doctrine of the Trinity, the New Testament shares with us only two references (Mt. 28:18 & 1.Jn.6-12). So, the concept of where we will experience eternity is weighted heavily towards the actual questions we have about our mortality.
The Bible recognises multiple domains of ‘heaven.’ In our modern times, the most common realm is called atmosphere or ‘the sky above.’ It’s the place of birds and clouds. Another reference is directed towards what we today refer to as ‘outer-space,’ or the universe, the cosmos, the solar system. It’s the place of the planets, comets, and constellations. There is an interesting domain called the ‘heavenly realm,’ which we would designate to the spiritual place of angels and demons. This is the domain that the fallen ones have left in order to enter our created world domain (as you have the account retold in Genesis 6). Lastly, you have the domain of God’s presence in Heaven. You see visions of that recorded by John in Revelation 4.
Just as in the revelation given to the Apostle John, the vision of Heaven that was given to me draws on similar pictures painted for us from Scripture. The amazing colours, the sounds, the awe and grandeur make it almost impossible to describe with the the limitation of our human words and expressions.
“Doesn’t the Bible say that we ‘fall asleep’ and are only woken up at the end of the age at the judgement and the resurrection of the dead? So it’s impossible that you actually saw heaven!”
When Scripture talks about ‘falling asleep’ it is used as a term meaning, ‘they died.’ The NT Greek term is ‘koimao,’ which mean ‘to lie down.’ References in the OT anticipate a resurrection to come; which we have already received in Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even through he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25,26) The other account that speaks about this change in our reality upon death is spoken of by the Apostle Luke, where Jesus said: “I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43)
The Apostles believed that a significant change took place after Christ’s death and resurrection. For instance, we can see this expressed by the Apostle Paul: “We are of courage and would much prefer to leave our home in the body and be at home with the Lord.” (2.Cor. 5:8)
According to Paul’s epistles, he often writes with the understanding that there are three parts to our human existence; body, soul, and spirit. The reason for why the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost to the believers, was to address the first death, namely that our spirit within us had died at the original event that ushered in death (the sin of Adam and Eve). This part of us had to be restored for mankind to reconnect with God. The second death is physical. Our body is decaying and experiences disease until it can no longer function and dies. This is the result of sin in the world. Our life is contaminated with it. Christ’s work of salvation through forgiveness, addresses this human condition. The soul continues even after death to experience eternal life. I experienced heaven through my soul and God’s Spirit within me. My body was in the cardiac ward. I am fully aware that I did not physically walk up to heaven’s door, but did so spiritually.
“Is there a purgatory for our soul before we come to the judgement seat? Perhaps what you saw was a kind of in-between-heaven, like a holding place for the souls before we get to heaven.”
This idea comes from pre medieval Roman Catholic doctrine and was strenuously challenged by the Reformation. Jesus’ account of the death of the rich man and Lazarus told to his disciples (Luke 16:19-31), revealed a situation prior to Christ’s own completed work at the Resurrection. The idea was that as people died that they went to Abraham or they ended up in Hades. They were apparently within ear shot and eye view of each other, yet separated without any means to link these two realms. The conclusion to the desperate plea of the rich man was to send word back to his living brothers to change their ways as so not to end up where he now finds himself. Abraham’s reply was this: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone were to rise from death.” (Luke 16:31)
The real time to change our destiny is right now: “Listen! This is the hour to receive God’s favour; today is the day to be saved!” (2.Cor.6:2) The alternative is to join the same fate as that of the fallen angels: “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them into hell, where they are kept, chained in darkness, waiting for the Day of Judgement.” (2.Pet.2:4) Peter had a particular insight concerning his future: “I know that I shall soon put off this mortal body, as the Lord Jesus Christ plainly told me. I will do my best, then, to provide a way for you to remember these matters at all times after my death.” (2.Pet.1:15)
What the Apostles taught and anticipated is best described by Luke: “I tell you that the angels of God rejoice over every sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) The reason for this joy in heaven is often referenced at funerals. Passages like 1.Cor 15:1 -57 give us a glimpse into a future transformation of our body; to receive a ‘glorified immortal body.’ In all of this, it is vital to remember Christ’s words to you: “I am coming soon. Keep safe what you have, so that no one will rob you of your victory prize.” (Rev.3:11) For “to him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph 3:20,21)
Rev Dirk Willner