According to a Gallup Poll several years ago, 5 percent of all Americans have had a near-death experience (NDE). However, before you accept this as proof of life after death, remember these facts.
FACT 1: You aren’t dead when you’re having a near-death experience.
Ask a doctor and he or she will tell you that you aren’t dead when you stop breathing. You aren’t dead when your heart stops beating. You aren’t even dead when an EEG reveals no trace of brain activity. You are dead only when so many cells have died that there is no chance of reviving you, and this is a process that takes time.
Brain cells only begin to die, for instance, after four to six minutes without oxygen. Hearts can be resuscitated after fifteen minutes of “death.” Muscles and skin can hang on for several hours. And unusual circumstances, such as hypothermia, can prolong this process.
Medically speaking, in other words, the fact that someone can tell you about their NDE means that he or she wasn’t dead when it happened! Almost dead? Yes. Really dead? No. That’s why they call them near-death experiences, not after-death experiences.
FACT 2: You can be near death without having a near-death experience.
The same poll that said 5 percent of all adult Americans have had an NDE also said that two-thirds of those who’ve been near death have not had an NDE. Take three dying people, in other words. One will have a mystical experience and two won’t. But which one do you think will get written up in the tabloids?
Also, not all NDEs are alike. Roughly two out of three people who have had one do not “leave” their body— and roughly three out of every four report neither a tunnel nor a light at the end of a tunnel.
Approximately 1 percent of all NDEs are described as “acutely unpleasant” and even hellish.
These differences suggest that NDEs aren’t so much an objective description of death as they are a person’s subjective reaction to the dying process. The victim’s background can influence his or her NDE. Like dreams, in other words, NDEs are shaped by the people who have them.
FACT 3: You don’t need to be near death to have a near-death experience.
Everything that takes place during an NDE can happen in “real” life. Anesthesia, pituitary tumors, and too much carbon dioxide can trigger an apparent NDE. The “light at the end of a tunnel” featured in some NDEs can be duplicated by epilepsy, migraine headaches, meditation, and drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. Even falling asleep triggers this reaction in some people!
It seems safe to say, in other words, that under certain conditions, the brain reacts in seemingly bizarre but fairly predictable ways. Frightened, in shock, poisoned by some of the by-products of dying cells—under these conditions, is it any wonder dying people see things that are out of the ordinary?
Exactly why people see what they do while dying is a mystery, but no more so than why people see what they do while they’re dreaming. The ultimate answer to both questions probably lies within our skulls, not outside of them.
Joe had been everywhere from Lapland to the Sea of Japan, but his strangest trip was down the block. Not that anything particularly exciting existed there. Nothing did. But then again, it was not where he went that was bizarre, but how.
A few weeks earlier, as he was lying on his bed, a strange tingling began in his toes. The sensation crawled up his body like a band of bugs until it centered in his head, encapsulating him in a loud, uncomfortable buzz. He felt himself falling through a gray, misty tunnel.
He sat up, mystified. The sensation occurred again and again, and each time he became less fearful and more curious. Finally, instead of fighting it, he decided to “go with the flow.”
One afternoon Joe stretched out, closed his eyes, and relaxed when the tingling began. When the buzzing reached his head, he told himself not to be afraid. Instantly, he rocketed through the ceiling and found himself floating in something like the crackling, mistlike static on an empty TV channel. Too scared to even scream, he suddenly snapped out of it and sat up in his room, bug-eyed.
When Joe told his friend Fred about the experience, Fred believed he could explain what had happened. “It’s astral travel,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve been to Jupiter. I’ve even talked with my dead grandfather in the astral plane.”
Fred’s explanation enthralled Joe. All his life he’d believed that if something couldn’t be put in a test tube, it didn’t exist. After those few seconds in the “astral plane,” however, he wasn’t so sure.
A short while later, however, Joe became a Christian. And, once he’d made that total commitment to Jesus, those experiences in the twilight zone never returned.
He soon learned why. As he studied the Bible, Joe discovered that his “astral travel” wasn’t travel at all. He’d never left his body. He’d simply been duped into thinking he had. And in addition to saving him from that deception, the Bible gave Joe a better understanding of what had happened and why so many people are deceived.
One of the most interesting facets of astral travel is how closely it replicates the so-called near-death experiences (NDEs) of people whose vital functions (heartbeat, breathing) stop, yet who, after being revived, are able to give fantastic accounts of what they saw while they were “dead.”
The phenomena they describe—a buzzing sound, the sensation of going through a tunnel, the apparent release from the body—are what Joe and others have experienced during astral travel.
“There is a buzz or a ring at death,” writes Dr. Raymond Moody Jr., who began documenting NDEs in the 1970s. These are “followed by a rapid progression through an enclosure or tunnel toward light. There is surprise at being outside the body.”
Joe knew the feeling, yet he had been nowhere near death!
Those experiencing astral travel and NDEs report identical phenomena. And no wonder, for both spring from the same lies: that we possess immortal souls and that the dead continue to live.
Despite popular theology, the Word of God never teaches that an immortal “soul” dwells within our bodies, which can be coughed up when a person is near death (NDEs) or in an altered state of consciousness (astral travel).
The Hebrew word sometimes translated “soul” in our English Bibles is nephesh. For example, the King James Version of Genesis 2:7 says that God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and he “became a living soul [nephesh].” The New International Version says that Adam “became a living being.” It takes both the “breath of life” and “the dust of the ground” (a body of flesh) to make a living human being.
The same Hebrew word is used of animals in Genesis 2:19, which says that God brought all the animals to Adam so that he could name them, and whatever he called “each living creature [nephesh], that was its name.”
The book of Revelation also uses the word soul (Greek: psuche) for animals that live in the sea. It says that the sea “became as the blood of a dead man, and every living soul [psuche] died in the sea” (Revelation 16:3, KJV).
Church historian LeRoy Froom states that “hundreds of outstanding Bible students of all faiths, spread over the centuries, attest that there is not a single passage in the Bible in which man, in his earthly life, is spoken of as immortal, either as a whole, or in any part of his being.”
Linked to the lie of the immortal soul is the lie of “life after life.” According to Scripture, the dead are not floating in some ethereal mist, but instead are resting in an unconscious sleep until the resurrection. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that “the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.” And Psalm 115:17 says, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence” (NKJV).*
When Lazarus died, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). A few verses later, He said clearly, “Lazarus is dead” (verse 14).
Peter placed King David, not in heaven, but in the grave. He said, “I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. . . . For David did not ascend to heaven” (Acts 2:29, 34).
A demonic deception
However, even though the Bible never says anything about people having immortal souls, it does warn about demonic powers that can deceive us with all kinds of lies. Speaking of Satan’s fall from heaven, Revelation 12:9 says, “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” And one of the ways he leads the whole world astray is with the lie that though our bodies die, we continue to live on as immortal souls. Genesis 3:4 informs us that this lie was first told to Eve in Eden—“You will not surely die.” And it has been promoted in one form or another ever since.
That lie is believed by many people to this day. A poll several years ago by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research found that 42 percent of Americans say that they have contacted the dead. What’s more, belief in an immortal soul and its logical corollary, an immediate life after death, are the cornerstone of almost all Eastern religions and the New Age movement.
And while Christians scoff at New Age mysticism, those who believe in an immortal soul are open to similar deceptions. Talking about those who have experienced NDEs, Pat Robertson wrote in his book Answers to 200 of Life’s Most Probing Questions that “many of them have been allowed to see hell. . . . For all of them the experience has been a life-changing one, and this is a uniform testimony to the existence of life after death.”
A number of years ago, Christianity Today published an article which said that NDEs “fundamentally ‘prove’ nothing about life after death.” “At best they are partial, ambiguous, fragmented and distorted glimpses of [another world].”
A fundamental teaching of Scripture is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal life (Acts 4:12). Yet few if any of those who have experienced astral projection or NDEs come back convicted of their need for Christ. “Instead,” says Christianity Today, “they tend to become suspicious of religious ‘sectarianism.’ . . . The modern visionary’s conversion is not to an austere spirituality, but to one that affirms joy and laughter.”
Christianity Today came closest to the truth when it said that “demonic (or New Age) elements cannot be ruled out.” They certainly can’t, for they are the only explanation in light of the Bible truth about our human nature, the state of the dead, and salvation.
Though certain psychological factors may be involved in astral travel or NDEs, others are fundamentally frauds—supernaturally inspired frauds. They could be hallucinations, or demonic powers could be involved as well, for the Bible says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Clearly, when the Bible talks about evil supernatural forces, it isn’t using poetic figures. It’s warning us of literal powers whose deceptions are so vivid, so convincing and real that, without a proper understanding of the Bible, human beings are almost powerless against them.
After Joe’s first time in the astral plane, some Christians warned him that he was dabbling with the devil. He was so convinced that his experiences were what he thought they were that he laughed in their faces. “Do you believe in Santa Claus as well?”
After he became a Christian, though, and after he understood what had happened, he tried to convince Fred of Satan’s deception. “You can’t possibly be talking with your grandfather,” he said, “because he’s asleep.”
When Joe explained that supernatural powers were behind these experiences, however, Fred refused to listen. “No,” he replied. “I know my grandfather.”
He’s not the only one!
To many, my Saturday church attendance appears to be out of step with the Sunday Christian tradition. They wonder how I can be so confused as to go on the “wrong day.” So, exactly why do I, and millions like me, choose Saturday over Sunday? Consider these three reasons that may surprise you.
Reason One – God’s Word
I go to church on Saturday because it is biblical and Sunday church attendance is not. While God welcomes worship every day of the week, He set aside the seventh day as a special day of rest. This day is called the Sabbath and corresponds with Saturday. It was given to humankind at creation, about 2,000 years before the Jewish people existed (Genesis 2:1-3). Jesus said the “Sabbath was made for man”—not just for Jews (Mark 2:27).
At creation, God performed three deliberate acts to make the seventh day uniquely different from the other six—he rested, blessed and sanctified the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2, 3). This is extremely significant.
First, we need rest from labor and time to reflect. God wired us this way. This is why He drew us aside that very first seventh day of creation for special time with Him. Second, God packed a spiritual blessing into the seventh day that He didn’t put into the other six. Lastly, God drew a boundary around this 24-hour period and designated it as a day to be wholly dedicated to pursuing a relationship with Him.
If one takes every verse in the Bible on the Sabbath they discover some amazing things: all the Old Testament people of God enjoyed its blessing—remember, that until Abraham they were not Jewish (Genesis 11:26), Jesus honored the Sabbath by keeping it every week (Luke 4:16), the disciples kept it (Acts 18:4, 11; 16:13), and it will be kept in heaven and the new earth (Isaiah 66:22, 23). The Bible presents an unbroken cycle of Sabbath observance from man’s creation to the earth made new.
So why do most Christian churches worship on Sunday? The answer—tradition. You see, the Bible never records God changing the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first. The only change of God’s law mentioned in Scripture is attempted by a clever inside attack on the church (See Daniel 7:25).
This change came in long after the disciples died. By the third and fourth centuries, history records some Christians kept the pagan worship day of Sunday in Rome and other places where the church was compromising to escape persecution. As the church at Rome grew in political power and developed into the Roman Catholic Church, it officially sanctioned Sunday keeping instead of the Sabbath. Today, it points to this fact of history as proof that its authority and tradition is superior to the plain teaching of Scripture.*
Reason Two – Love
Sabbath keeping is not legalism. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Since the Sabbath is the Bible day for weekly worship, is the fourth commandment, has never been changed by God—only by man, and since Jesus kept it Himself, I observe the Sabbath out of love for Him.
There are many reasons why I love and obey Jesus. Two primary ones are that He is my creator and redeemer (John 1:1-3; Titus 2:14). Jesus created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. The Sabbath is God’s official memorial or “sign between” Him and His people that He is our Creator (Exodus 31:17). And just prior to Jesus’ return, a message from God calls everyone to “worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Revelation 14:6, 7). Every time I “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” I honor my Creator as the one who holds my life in His hand (Exodus 20:8-11).
Not only did Jesus create humans, He also redeems us from sin. The Sabbath is a special sign of this salvation—“a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (Ezekiel 20:12). Refraining once a week from secular employment to support ourselves reminds us that we can’t work to earn our eternal salvation—it is a gift of God and we are wholly dependent upon Him (Hebrews 4:4-10). For if I can’t trust God to care for my earthly livelihood one day a week, how can I truly say that I trust Him for my eternal life?
Every Sabbath reminds me of the love Jesus has given us through creation and redemption. Just as anniversaries are memorials designed to refresh our love for those closest to us, so the seventh day Sabbath reminds us of God’s love and our utter dependence on Him for life in this world and the next.
Reason Three – Experience
The third reason I keep the Sabbath is because I’ve responded to Jesus’ invitation to try it and see if His Word is true. God often invites us to test Him. One such occasion is in Malachi 3 where He challenges us to give Him one-tenth of our income. To those who accept, He promises to pour out a blessing.
The Sabbath also contains a challenge. God invites us to give Him one-seventh of our time. If we do, He promises to bless us. “If you…call the Sabbath a delight…then shall you delight yourself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:13, 14). I experience this Sabbath blessing every week.
Resting on the Sabbath restores me physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. It de-stresses me from the burdens of life. I enjoy uninterrupted time with family and friends that keeps our relationships alive. Worshiping with fellow believers energizes me. I gain insight and inspiration from Bible study and sermons on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath gives me a reason to stop all earthly pursuits every week. Since it is God’s command, it leaves no room to compromise for a pressing project at work, or any other thing that might come up. This protects the Sabbath rest from simply becoming a good intention that I will get to one day. It is God’s command— no questions asked—so I happily do it and leave everything else to the other six days as God says.
I found Jesus’ words to be true—He made the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:28). That is, the Sabbath is not something that God does to us, but is something wonderful He does for us. In this busy age in which we live, I treasure all of the positive blessings that I get to experience because God has kindly given us the Sabbath. I understand that my going to church on Saturday may appear strange. But now you know that I do it because I am committed to following the Bible, I love Jesus as my creator and savior, and I have discovered God’s Sabbath blessing. You can also enjoy this wonderful experience.