I was always fascinated by testimonials of people who have reported Near Death experiences of visiting heaven and hell. This subject puzzled me especially when the different testimonials of Near Death Experiences sometimes contradicted each other. So, I really wanted to find out if the Bible has something to say about that. I was excited to find out that Jesus Himself touched on this topic in the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11).
Speaking to His disciples about Lazarus, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleep he shall do well.” The disciples were confused and thought Christ meant natural sleep, but He meant the sleep of death. “Howbeit Jesus spake of his death; but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead” (John 11:11-14).
Martha responded, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew the truth about death. She expected that, like everyone, Lazarus would remain in the sleep of death until the resurrection at the last day.
When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, “he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). Jesus’ command raised Lazarus to life, and the Lord said, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44).
So, if Lazarus had been somewhere in the afterlife during those four days, wouldn’t he have said something? Certainly! His family, friends and even enemies would have asked him: what did you see? What did you do? Who’d you meet? What was it like to be dead?
But Lazarus said nothing. There was nothing to report about what happened after he died simply because he had experienced the sleep of death which is a state of unconsciousness. He did not go anywhere.
Both the Old and New Testaments are very clear on the issue of resurrection. Life will be restored to the dead in the resurrection on the last day and not at death. 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, Job 14:10-15 and 19:25-26, Psalm 17:15 and Daniel 12:13 speak about this. There will be separate resurrections for the righteous and for the wicked:
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV).
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5-6 NKJV).
Jesus’ voice that raised Lazarus from the grave will raise the righteous on the last day. The evil dead will remain as dust, to be raised after the millennium in the resurrection of those who have rejected God.
So how do we explain these Near Death Experiences?
Scientific research suggests that NDE experiences are not spiritual but instead chemical – a function of anoxia or oxygen deprivation in the brain. This has been shown in a new study by the University of Michigan Medical School and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Therefore, we should be careful not to build our theology on these dreams or visions because they may not be always in alignment with the Bible. The most important test of any experience is comparing it with the the Bible.