There are all kinds of popular books and movies based on ‘true stories’ of people who have claimed to been to Heaven or Hell and returned to earth to tell people about it. All claims must be compared to what God has made known in His Word. What does scripture say about these claims? Through this we can determine a if these experiences and visions are true or hallucinations and vivid imagination.
True or Hallucinations; Must be Tested
First of all, we are commanded by God to test everything, even these claims (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). The Berean people were praised by Paul for testing his claims with scripture (Acts 17:11). If any of those who make these claims tell you that testing them is wrong, they are incorrect from the start. To know if these are true claims or confused hallucinations, vivid imaginative dreams, or even malicious false stories or exaggerations to sell books and make movies; we simply compare them to the truths revealed by God in scripture. All true claims must be in agreement with scripture. Also, the visions themselves could not contradict each other if true. The first and most important test, is the need for the test itself. If the claim is untestable, it goes against God’s Word as God commands us to test everything. If anyone who is making the claims belittles testing of their claims, they are going against scripture.
Also read Scripture Alone
Visions of Heaven
God has given visions of heaven (Isaiah, John). Paul even reveals that he was ‘caught up to Heaven’ but he makes it clear he does not know if it was in the body or just in the spirit (vision). He was humble when telling people about it, he did not mention it was himself. So we see that God can, if he so wills it, give visions of Heaven to people who he chooses. But what these people in modern times are claiming is that they did in fact experience direct divine things. Keep in mind, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and others also claim to have had direct experiences with divine things. Is it true by face value because it is about Jesus? of course not, and Joseph Smith is the example of why it is not true by default by its subject. A claim of an afterlife experience or divine vision is not by default true or false; which is why it must be tested against an objective source; God’s Word. There is no evidence in Scripture that states people will no longer be given visions. God can and will give visions and experiences as he sees fit according to his good and glorious will. The danger is believing a claimed divine vision that which is not from God but of sinful man or of another unholy spirit.
Disclosures of The Experience
God did not allow everyone who he gave visions to, to disclose everything they saw and heard. Paul stated “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). John was commanded by God not to write everything he heard in his massive vision (Revelation 10:4). Even Daniel was told to seal up things he saw and heard (Daniel 8:26; 9:24; 12:4). So we see that when it comes to visions it is contradictory for a ‘greater’ modern vision to suddenly happen in full disclosure when in scripture God did not allow for full disclosure. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, made it explicitly clear that there are some things that “cannot be told” and that “man may not utter”. And those who experience this Almighty command, comply. When Paul stated ‘man’ he was not only speaking of himself but of everyone. The major problem for these more recent visions is that there is no holding back as they attempt to describe everything they heard and saw.
Jesus makes some statements that cause for a major dilemma in the claims of those who have been to heaven and seen God. He states explicitly, no one has seen The Father at any time (John 3:13; 1:18). That would include our time. These claims then put their witness of God The Father equal to Jesus as the closest to God The Father. But, there is only one person closest to God The Father, that is his Son. Did God make them an equally qualified witness to that of his Son Jesus Christ? Was the faith ‘once delivered from the saints [The Apostles and eyewitnesses of Jesus]” now delivered again? This statement by Jude, via The Holy Spirit (Jude 3), now null and void? Paul’s experience even had to be validated by the Apostles (Galatians 1:18-24). We see in Holy Scripture that the only qualified and true eyewitnesses of divine revelations were those of the Prophets, Jesus, and The Apostles, Paul included. But, still, only Jesus has seen God the Father. The Prophets and The Apostles were the only ones qualified to validate witnesses of the The Angel of The Lord, The Risen Glorified Christ. The major problem for these more recent visions is that they are not qualified and are not verifiable.
Also read The Beauty of Accountability
Another problem with these claims is that they came from people who have complete access to scripture that lacks nothing for their faith. Seemingly, God’s holy word does not seem to be enough for the adherents of those who make these claims. They ‘feel’ more uplifted by these claims; which means Holy Scripture wasn’t enough to make them ‘feel’ spiritually enlightened.
John makes it explicitly clear that only the things he has written is enough for faith and he admits he did not record everything (John 20:31); why not? because it wasn’t necessary. Everything that was written, is enough for saving faith and spiritual enlightenment (2 Timothy 3:16). Holy Scripture is sufficient for saving faith; rendering additional extra visions irreverent. God may still use visions to reveal what is already revealed in Scripture to people who do not have access to Holy Scripture. God may use visions to reveal the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard the gospel message. No matter the situation, there is nothing lacking or missing in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit, through David, declared the sufficiency of Holy Scripture in Psalm 19:7–9. Peter also makes a statement in 2 Peter 3:16 even saying that some things in Holy Scripture are hard to understand that get distorted. People in modern societies have the internet and complete access to Holy Scripture. The average American family own 2 bibles.
God validated His promises. Jesus proved His claims. The Apostles healed and raised people from the dead as proof of their claims, which were of God. Paul’s claims were reviewed and approved by The Apostles themselves. The Berean people reviewed Paul’s claims and proved them with Holy Scripture. Those who claim to have these visions and travel to heaven or hell are only claims and are subjective in their support. The Holy Spirit guided these validated people to record what was of God (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:16). The objective validator of spiritual truth is The Holy Spirit through Holy Scripture.
Is Colton Burpo an absolute source of spiritual truth like Jesus and the Apostles? Is his visions of the future on par with John’s vision in Revelations? Did he see the risen Lord and Savior like Paul did? If so, he must be equally authoritative as An Apostle. If not, he his claims of divine revelation are untrue. There is no middle ground. We must either believe his claims are equal to Holy Scripture or not.
Colton Burpo also reveals that Christ’s Second coming is within his fathers life time. A time that Jesus did not even give when asked by the Apostles (Matthew. 24:35-37). This would make Colton more informed than The Apostles themselves. Even the angels in heaven did not even know this information. Jesus himself was not willing to disclose it. Yet, Colton is more than willing to disclose a time. But that’s not it, Colton’s father will participate in the final battle of Armageddon. These extra biblical claims are not validated by The Holy Spirit through Holy Scripture.
Interestingly, each claim has a different view of the travel to wherever they imagined they went. Mary Neal in Incredible Journeys and Eden Alexander in Proof of Heaven both describe something contradictory to each other and even their statements contradict Scripture. Were Mary Neal describes a final opportunity to choose God. But scripture is explicitly clear, God does the choosing before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Eden Alexander states that there is nothing you can do wrong and that he experienced an emotional truth (Romans 3:10, 23). Again, emotionalism does not validate truth and there is something we can do wrong; we are sinners. Colton Burpo claims that Heaven has pearly gates but John states that these gates came down from heaven and not in heaven because they will be in the new earth (Revelation 21:21). Colton either misunderstood this or misspoke; but misunderstanding or misspeaking can not be divine; The Holy Spirit did not allow for mistakes because He can not make mistakes when guiding the words of those who were qualified to pen divine truths.
Near Death is not Absolute Death
Those who make claims of dying do not actually die. They may be announced as clinically dead by limited human understanding of death; but clearly and obviously they do not experience the moment when we go to our “eternal home”, the “silver cord is severed”, and “the dust returns to the ground” (Eccl. 12:5-7). Eternally returning home is not a temporary event; it is eternal. Though our home that awaits may be a place of eternity, going there is not a temporary event. According to scripture, they were not actually dead. They ‘returned’ and their silver cord of life in this world was not severed.
That brings up a good question, why couldn’t those who claim to experience the after life been raised from the dead to explain how they have returned. A counter question is, why didn’t the Apostles raise themselves from
the dead? The Apostles claims were validated before their death and
they didn’t attempt to raise each other from the dead either. Paul never claimed to have actually died when he was given his vision he was unwilling to speak of in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5. So near-death experiences are not people who were raised from the dead because they were never actually absolutely dead. They may have been clinically declared ‘dead’ by our biological understanding of death, but there is no scriptural support for them being raised from actual absolute death. If they claim to have actually died, they are in error and have no biblical support for their claim.
What about Lazarus? Jesus raised him from the dead, right? But do you also notice that Lazarus does not make a single claim of what he saw, if he saw anything at all. For all we know, he just felt like he was asleep. He closed his eyes, and boom, woke back up at the sound of Jesus’ commanding voice. Lazarus was defiantly clinically dead. He was wrapped, spiced, and oiled. Then his body was taken to the tomb and was laid to rest. In this supernatural rare event, he obviously did not go on into eternity; he was woken back up four days later. His body did not see decay or return to the earth either; the Pharisees wanted to kill him still (John 12:10). Therefore, we can see that his “silver cord” from this world was not severed. Purposely to show the power of Jesus over death, which defeats death and prevents death. Also, notice, Lazarus was not raised in his Glorified eternal body. Lazarus died before Jesus, but Jesus was the first to be raised from absolute death (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5) leaving behind his worldly body; unlike Lazarus. That means that Lazarus was not raised from eternal bodily death but a clinical death as an example of Jesus’ power and authority over death. Power over clinical death is a tangible and visual example Jesus’ power over spiritual death to give spiritual life; much like healing the physically blind to see spiritual truths. A physical example to teach a spiritual truth. That truth is that there is spiritual eternal life in Jesus Christ. Those who claim to have actually died and come back would then also be comparing themselves to Lazarus; but ignorantly validating a clinical death and not absolute bodily death and resurrection.
Also read How Holy is God?
After testing the modern afterlife claims with themselves and scripture it becomes clear that these claims can not be absolutely truth in and of themselves. Though visions are given to people, these major motion pictures and best selling books of after life experiences can not be of divine origins due to the contradictions and fallacies they contain. We are commanded to test everything with Holy Scripture so that we remain completely dependent on God and not lead astray to trust in other people making all kinds of false claims.
What is most commonly lost in these claims is the acceptance and understanding of Prophet and Apostle Authority. The Bereans tested Paul’s claims with the Prophets (Holy Scripture). The Apostles claims were validated by God himself through healing and raising clinically dead people; along with support of the Prophets. The Apostles tested Paul’s claims with what they had witnessed; given their unique position as eye witnesses of the Risen and Glorified Christ. This is because only the Prophets and The Apostles have this unique authority, and it was by this authority their claims were validated so that we can use their claims to test everything by them. Holy Scripture contains all the claims of the Prophets and Apostles that have been absolutely validated by God through The Holy Spirit. Colton Burpo, Mary Neal, Eden Alexander, Joseph Smith, Muhammad, and many others do not have Prophetic and Apostolic Authority in their claims. It is a natural self-seeking self-righteous desire to associate true or false experiences with a self-validating authoritative position; of which only God has previously granted to The Prophets and The Apostles. Of Whom were lead by The Holy Spirit to record Holy Scripture to guide us to real spiritual truths now.
Is it possible they experienced seeing amazing things? Of course. Does that mean they were of divine origin? Of course not. Hallucinations, vivid imaginations, and vivid dreams can be very real and impact the lives of people that experienced them. This is why they must be tested so that people who are truly seeking God are not lead by false claims of divine spiritual truths. We see this sad reality in evangelical Spiritual Legalists, Mormonism, and Islam.
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