Stories of the afterlife have existed for thousands of years. The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians was written in Macedonia in about 55 AD. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, Paul uses different methods to explain his view on life after death. He uses the metaphors of a tent, a building, clothing and being at home with God. Paul accepted that the future with God is certain and that he will receive a place from God in heaven even though he may die.
Paul describes a time when he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2–4). He mentions himself in the third person: “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.”
Paul considered the vastness of heaven to be too great for anyone to tell, though Heaven is mentioned about 700 times throughout the Bible, and in 44 of the 66 Biblical books. Several Biblical descriptions of what Heaven will look like and be like create a more vivid account. It is difficult to state categorically what the Bible says about Heaven… Biblical beliefs about heaven are varied, complex and open to interpretation. One thing we know for sure – there is life with God after death. A life of bliss is assured for those who believe in God.
Even so-called secularists in the ancient past recognized the afterlife. The philosopher Socrates remains, as he was in his lifetime (469–399 B.C.), an enigma, a confounding individual who, despite having written nothing, is considered one of the handful of philosophers who forever changed how philosophy itself was to be realized. At the end of his Socratic dialogue, The Republic, Plato described the warrior, Er, who was killed in battle but came back to life at his own funeral. Upon reviving, Er explained that while “dead,” he was taken to a place outside his body into a sort of afterlife. Plato believed Er’s story (and others like it) and took it as an indication that there is life after death.
Throughout history and across cultures, people have studied and reported on Near Death Experiences (NDEs). In the past 100 years or so, stories of NDEs have become more prevalent, as we now have the medical technology to revive patients from near brushes with death. Randy Kay Ministries has showcased hundreds of such cases on its YouTube channel, https://rb.gy/b5zdy, while sourcing thousands more through its contacts and affiliations.
Today, approximately 9% of adults and 85% of children who undergo cardiac arrest have a near-death experience. Our studies at Randy Kay Ministries and with John Burke (author, Imagine Heaven), reveal patterns and similarities of professing Christians who experienced Heaven or Hell that are distinctly unique from other accounts. While a number of these similarities are fascinating, this article will focus on what may be the most captivating of all: the transformative power of God through these afterlife experience.
Characteristics of Transformations in NDEs
As noted above, NDE accounts often have several elements in common. One, in particular, is the experience of transformation, that is, an experience not explained by science because of its spiritual supernature. Reports from those who experienced the afterlife having grown closer to the God of Jesus Christ describe their NDE as leaving the physical body followed by a transformation of their spiritual understanding. The transformed spirit transitions from a self-conscious to a Christ-centered knowing, capable of grasping reality beyond the body’s five senses—without the biological organs associated with those senses. It retains all positive memories and appears to have acute recall—without the use of the brain!
Furthermore, the transformed spirit is aware of itself, its identity relative to God, and its distinction from others in a way that is more than just self-consciousness. Though not physical, it is this transformed part of the person that finds its home in Heaven’s domain (often after traveling through a tunnel or being pulled by a Light) where it encounters spiritual beings like itself (e.g., deceased relatives). It might also encounter a wholly transcendent and all-powerful being greater than itself—Jesus. Or angels that reverence Jesus. It can communicate with God and these other beings without the use of voice and sounds.
To summarize, common transformational attributes of a Christ-centered near-death experience are:
- An out-of-body experience.
- Retention of self-identity and memories.
- A sense of awe and feeling of being loved when meeting God.
- A sense of “spiritual” embodiment—not pure consciousness.
- Enhanced visual and intuitive perception.
- Freedom from physical limitations oftentimes with corresponding telescopic vision.
- Observations of Heaven for believers and Hell for non-believers
- Encountering beings like itself (sometimes deceased relatives) as well as Jesus (surrounded by Light) and angels (who worship God).
- An encounter with a loving white light.
Randy Kay Ministries has introduced hundreds of near-death and afterlife (post clinical death) experiences on its website, randykay.org, and YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/RandyKay. More than 500 hundred near-death or afterlife experiences have been sourced through this ministry.
Of course, I also experienced my own afterlife encounter with Jesus in Heaven after my body succumbed to massive blood clots and septic shock, so I maintain an empathy and unique understanding of the people who have shared their stories with us. I wrote about my encounters and learnings in my three books:
My new book, Heaven Stormed (releasing February 2024 through Destiny Image) will include detailed life reviews and their meanings, as well as the end-times experiences I beheld from Heaven. Life reviews are a common experience for NDE and afterlife survivors.
I wrote these words after first encountering Jesus in Heaven:
“At that moment, a figure stood to my right and gently rested His bearded cheek onto mine as He embraced my side with His left arm. My first thought was, so this is Love. Even now as I write this account, I must admit that I am weeping because of the intense emotions I felt at that first encounter. No words can adequately explain my full immersion in the perfect peace, comfort, and assurance I experienced for the first time in my life. I implicitly knew the figure as Jesus and felt as if all of my yearnings were consummated at that first meeting. I was home. I was at perfect peace, knowing that my journey in life was complete.”
Similarities Between the Christian Afterlife Revelation of Heaven and Near-Death Experiences
Revelations in Heaven after a person clinically dies (their heart stops) define similar emotions and remarkable similarities. These persons who clinically die fit into the category of an “afterlife survivor,” because they not only came near to death, but they also actually died. Those who did not clinically die but experienced a vision or an experience in a coma fit into the category of a “near-death experience” person. One can see that there are several similarities between afterlife experiences and near-death experiences, with one notable difference.
Afterlife survivors were not at the effect of their brain’s processing, since the brain dies within seconds of death, so they could not imagine their experience. The brain remains active during near-death experiences, which can potentially lead to dreamlike experiences. Most afterlife survivors say that their perceived reality in Heaven was more real than their reality on earth after their return. Those who recall near-death experience oftentimes do not explain that same level of sentience while explaining Heaven, or Hell.
Afterlife survivors tend to be dramatically changed from their extraphysical experiences, even more so than NDEers, with many of these survivors relinquishing their careers for full-service devotion to Christian ministry. Some afterlife survivors, like me, develop an enhanced sense, such as empathy. However, both Christian NDEers and afterlife survivors are unalterably transformed by their supernatural experiences.
Three similarities stand out for all near-death or afterlife experiences involving Heaven, or a heavenly realm: freedom from physical limitations, feelings of peace and painlessness, and God’s Love.
Freedom from Physical Limitations
During an NDE or afterlife experience, people report leaving their physical body while still maintaining some familiar yet enhanced senses like seeing and hearing. The Apostle Paul talks about the idea of a spiritual body in his dialogue on the resurrection of the dead:
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” —1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Similarly, people with an NDE or afterlife report the ability to move through objects, ascend upward, and move beyond the physical domain. The resurrected Jesus had—and still has—these freedoms in his glorified body (see John 20:19 and Acts 1:9). Christian revelation teaches that our own bodies will be similarly transformed:
“And we eagerly await a Savior from there [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” —Philippians 3:20-21
Feelings of Peace and Painlessness
The dimension of paradise, peace, beauty, and joy—ultimate fulfillment—in many accounts of NDEs and afterlife survivors echoes Christian revelation about the Kingdom of Heaven:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” —Revelation 21:4
NDE and afterlife patients describe overwhelming love in a realm of light and/or a loving white light as their dominant experience. The following verse employs this idea of God in heaven as light:
“And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” —Revelation 22:5
The aspect of overwhelming love radiating from this light resembles the love of the Father revealed in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: unconditional, compassionate, and forgiving.
How We Can Use Similarities of Biblical Accounts of Heaven and Near-Death/Afterlife Experiences in Our Life?
Now that we’ve looked at the similarities between what the Bible says about Heaven and NDEs as well as afterlife experiences, how can we translate into our own life? We know that the transforming aspects of afterlife experiences support the scriptural revelation of Heaven. Therefore, we, like Plato, can use accounts of NDEs or afterlife survivors to affirm that we have a spirit, a soul and we live on after bodily death.
Moreover, the experience of overwhelming love by those who encountered a “being of light” confirms that this being’s intention is not only to give short-term benevolence but unconditional and eternal love. Survivors ultimately realize this “being of light” as God Himself. This not only supports the revelation of God’s love for us, but it corresponds to the fulfillment of our greatest desire as humans: to love and be loved.
The revelation of Heaven and supporting accounts from afterlife and near-death experiences should serve to confirm that Heaven is the ultimate home for those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior:
“Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10
Now that we’ve explored the similarities and differences between the Christian afterlife and near-death experiences and their view of Heaven and near-death experiences, what characteristics exist between negative near-death experiences and Hell?
While aspects of negative near-death experiences are similar to positive ones, the negative NDEers relay a painful experience, with some who returned demonstrating post-traumatic stress disorder. My interviews identified three different types of negative near-death experiences:
- Inverse of Heaven, described as Hell
- Void or Darkness Mixed with Fire
- Persistent Torment
Inverse of Heaven Described as Hell NDE
Inverse or Hell NDEs take place when the common joyful features of near-death experiences are instead horrific. For example, seeing the white light is often a source of comfort and peace. However, in the Hell NDE, the white light might appear threatening and bring on panic and depression.
Void or Darkness Mixed with Fire NDE
In the Darkness with Fire NDEs, the person encounters absolute isolation, loneliness, and inability to positively relate to others. Here is one such from Bryan Melvin:
“I suddenly was surrounded by fire in a black space of pure evil, with no sense of hope. What seemed like an eternity went by. I existed in this misery with grotesque figures attempting to devour me. I could not find any escape, except to cry out the name of Jesus Christ.”
Just like they sound, hellish NDEs are an experience of the common perceptions of Hell. Here is another report of a hellish NDE.
“I started falling toward a bottomless pit with fire down below, with screams ringing in my ear. . . crying, foul language, moans, and the gnashing of teeth. I saw these beings that were distorted creatures, with the shape of a head and body, but they were ugly and grotesque – more reptilian. . . They were horrifying and tried grabbing onto me as I screamed in agony.”
Three Types of Responses to Negative Near-Death Experiences by Those Who Became Christians
As aforementioned, Christian after-effects of near-death or afterlife experiences often inspire closeness to God. Unfortunately, with hellish near-death experiences, the opposite occurs. But the good news is that of those we interviewed who returned, they invariably turn to Jesus Christ. Some had said that “they got the hell scared out of them.” Their after-effects look like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These would include:
A change in personal beliefs, oftentimes toward the God of Jesus Christ, and short-term feelings of anger, depression and estrangement from family and friends before turning their lives over to Christ, which tends to cure their PTSD.
Just as there are three types of negative near-death experiences, we have identified three different responses to negative NDEs for those who turned their lives around in confessing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We defined these three responses:
- Seeking Answers
- The Turn Toward Jesus Christ
When seeking answers, an NDEer or afterlife survivor takes their experience as a message to change their ways. Or, as one person said, “I didn’t want to return to that place, so I had to get my life right, so I sought the truth.” In other words, they delved into the one true faith, with some knowing that Jesus is the only Way. The seeker response often results in the person becoming a Christian or seeking after a religious answer.
Of course, not all Hell survivors turned to Jesus Christ. Some immersed themselves into some other forms of religions, such as universalism, and our study showed that these persons continue their search for answers in a state of perpetual wondering. However, Christian Hell survivors tend to be fervently committed to their relationship with Jesus Christ, with the majority entering some form of ministry.
Those that respond with rationalization discount their experience and conclude that there are rational explanations for it (i.e., “It was a hallucination caused by chemicals” or “It was just an imaginary response to trauma”). The problem with rationalization is that only leads to further anxiety that oftentimes follows a negative NDE. No cure can lead to the need for counseling or psychiatric care and in the case of the Christian, a conversion of the soul.
The Turn Toward Jesus Christ
Unlike rationalization, the sincere responder seeks to understand their traumatic experience by seeking the truth, which ultimately leads to Jesus. This corresponds to when Jesus Christ said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Nothing but an inverse response to the Hell experience is required by this responder. Some are so haunted by the experience that they don’t initially share their experience, even their own spouse. After sometimes seeking psychotherapy, with no resolution if the therapist dismisses the NDE as a fantasy or prescribes medication to mask the anxiety, this responder deep dives into an understanding of the salvation guarantee of Heaven promised by the Christian faith. Conversely, those who seek after a universalistic answer or one espoused by a human prophet usually find themselves captive to ongoing rationalism or an adherence to rigid religious practices that accentuate ritual over intimate relationship with God.
Only Non-believers in Jesus Christ Can Have Negative Afterlife Experiences
The experience of a hell-like place after death is shared by only non-believers in Jesus Christ as Lord/God and Savior even if they are considered “good people.” Randy Kay Ministries states its findings:
“Evidence confirms that only non-believers (not born anew through the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit), ascribing to no-religion or belief, non-Christian religions, or professing Jesus as just another “prophet” enter Hell experiences after clinically dying. Even seemingly good people who discount the lordship of Jesus Christ can experience extremely disturbing NDEs, while convicted criminals and suicide attempters who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior prior to or amid their NDE, experience some form of paradise.”
—Note several books authored and podcasts by Randy Kay and Shaun Tabatt on this subject:
What can be learned about Hell experiences?
The overwhelming evidence supporting near-death experiences compels us to believe that a non-physical component of a person exists. Because patients who experience NDEs have experiences like actual death, and afterlife survivors cannot have imagined their experiences (i.e., no heartbeat, flat EEG, the absence of gag reflex, and fixed and dilated pupils), we can use their reports to extract information about the afterlife.
Correlations between medical studies of near-death experiences and Christian revelations of NDEs support Jesus’ message in the New Testament: our souls live on after our bodies die, and there is a Heaven and a Hell. To take descriptions from actual negative death experiences, we must conclude that Hell is…well, hell…as described by fires, a void, grotesque creatures, tormenting feelings, misery, and depression.
We must also deduce from Christian NDE and afterlife experiences that Heaven is better than anything we could imagine, and that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Learn more about Heaven and NDEs from the above noted books and podcasts.
By Randy Kay