Are clinical death experiences of visiting Heaven valid?
Interestingly, Paul writes about such an experience himself, and admits to having the same uncertainties about how to understand it.
“…I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man* in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.** Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows.*** And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Cor. 12:1b-4)
Note that Paul refers to this experience in the context of “visions and revelations” and emphasizes he is not at all certain whether this was a bodily transport or and out of body experience. Whichever it was is of little importance to him; “but God knows,” he adds. He seems also to suggest that this was something very personal, beyond words, and not intended for others, “inexpressible”… “things that no one is permitted to tell.”
On the Day of Pentecost when God gave the promised Holy Spirit Peter stood up and announced that the manifestations the onlookers were witnessing were in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:24).
“In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
He continues, “I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”(v.20-21)
Jesus also spoke of strange happenings as we neared the end of this age, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars… the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25,26). We’ve seen these already: blood moons, radical climate changes, and storms of increasing violence. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” writes Paul (Rom. 8:22).
What is to be our response to these manifestations? Jesus tells us, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
At the same time every Christian does well to be very cautious indeed about heavenly revelation claims. No claim which contradicts or adds to the truths of scripture is to be believed. Believers must be ever wary that along with the end of the age signs of “dreams and visions” are the those of an increase in “false Christ’s and false prophets.” The body of Truth is complete, and not to be added to, no matter how spectacular. As Paul writes,
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” (Gal.1:8,9)
We can trust that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit resident within us. If a claim just doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably false. Truth should agree with scripture yet not add to it; it should bring us a sense of peace and the Lord’s presence, encourage our hearts and bear witness of the Holy Spirit. Lies are the only thing the devil can manufacture, though often mixed with partial truth. Scripture tells us he “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14) in his attempts to deceive us — what is more enticing than the claims of an adorable young child?
Our Lord warned, “be wise as serpents” (Matt. 10:16). Paul cautioned us to be “not ignorant if his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). And Peter exhorted, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Know these times in which we live. Discern the spirits and trust only the Truth of scripture not the phenomena of experiences. The Word of God and the witness of the Holy Spirit are our foundation , and, as Paul warns, “each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:10c, 11)
*I know a man: Many Bible scholars believe Paul is speaking about himself here, but in the 3rd person in order to avoid taking pride.
**third heaven: As one commentator explains, “The first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual.”/ Paul writes that Jesus “ascended higher than all the heavens…“ (Eph.4:10).
***in the body or out of the body: I would tend to believe this was a vision for in the full counsel of God we understand that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor. 15:50). Further, I know of no clinical death report where the physical body actually disappeared temporarily from the operating table or hospital bed.
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