Robert Jeffress - Have Some People Already Visited Heaven?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Many of today's bestselling books features suspicious accounts of people who died, went to heaven and supposedly came back to share what they had seen in the next world. Do these sensational stories provide reliable information about our eternal home? And if not, are those who claim to have these amazing experiences dishonest or deluded? Well, on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory", we're going to look at the Bible's answer to this important question. Have some people already visited heaven?
"God is calling me". Those were among the final words, spoken by the great evangelist, Dwight L. Moody on December 22nd, 1899 when he died in his home in East northfield, Massachusetts. Now the fact that D. L. Moody died is really nothing unusual. We all die, don't we? But what was interesting about Moody's experience is what happened immediately before his death. According to an article in the "New York Times", Moody said, right before he died, quote, "I see earth receding, heaven is opening, God is calling me". Did D. L. Moody have what we call today a near-death experience? Well, his great nephew, Raymond Moody certainly thinks so. Raymond Moody is the father of the modern craze, called the near-death experience fad. He's written a bestselling book that really has been the foundation of the near-death experience craze, it was called "Life After Life" and it was published in 1975.
And in this bestselling book, Raymond Moody describes countless people who have had some out of body experience when they were near-death or they said actually had died in which they visited the other side and were able to come back and relate what they had seen. Of course, the experiences we hear today differ from the experience of D. L. Moody in two significant ways. First of all, D. L. Moody actually died. He didn't kinda die, he actually died. And secondly he never came back to share what he saw on the other side. And of course that brings up the question today. And the question is simply this, have some people, who are alive right now, already visited heaven? Have you ever wondered about that? How do you make sense of all of these books and experiences of people who say we died, we went to the other side, we saw what God has prepared for us and we've come back to tell you all about it.
Well, that's what we're going to talk about today. Have some people already experienced heaven? Now, first of all, we need to begin by defining by what we mean by a near-death experience. The international association for near-death studies, can you believe such a group exists? But there is an international association of near-death studies defines a near-death experience this way, it is quote "A profound psychological event that may occur to a person close to death or if not near-death in a situation of physical or emotional crisis. And it includes transcendental and mystical elements". Many people claim to have had these experiences. But whether they are valid or not, nobody can deny their popularity. People buy these books by the millions.
Why are these books so popular? Why are we so fascinated with people who claim to have had a near-death experience? I think there's two reasons for the popularity of this movement. First of all, our natural curiosity about the unknown. There is a dark curtain that is drawn between this life and the next life. It's a mystery to us in many ways, what awaits us on the other side. And it's only natural that we would wanna know what happens after our brief few years here on earth. What awaits us on the other side?
In 2004, Don Piper renewed this interest in the near-death experiences with his bestselling book, "90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life". That book was followed in 2006 by another man's experience, it was titled "23 Minutes in Hell", I'd rather have the 90 minutes in heaven, but he had 23 minutes in hell. "One man's story about what he saw, heard and felt in that place in torment". And on and on the books came. But none of these books comes close to matching the popularity of a book released in 2010. It was written by Todd Burpo, and it's titled, "Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven". Perhaps you've read the book or you saw the movie. In the book Todd Burpo tells the story of his four-year old son Colton, who died during an emergency room surgery, he came back to life and he told his family about his three minute trip to heaven. The book has sold over 10 million copies and it continues to sell today.
I think one reason for the popularity of these books is the fact that we all have a natural curiosity about the unknown. But secondly, the popularity is partly due to our longing for heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed in every one of us eternity in our hearts we have a desire to know what God is preparing for us. We know there's more to life than what we're experiencing right now. The question is where do we turn to find answers about what God has prepared for us. Whenever we come to think about near-death experiences, whether ones we've had or ones somebody else has had, we need to examine it in light of what the Bible says. And that leads to the question, are near-death experiences biblical? And so today in the few moments we have left, I would like to share with you seven principles for evaluating near-death experiences. And along the way we're going to learn something real about heaven as well. Seven principles for evaluation near-death experiences.
Principle number one. Remember, near-death is not death. Near-death is not dead. Nearly dead people aren't dead people. The Bible is very clear on this point. You only die once. Hebrews 9:27 says, "Each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment". What about those cases where God raised people from the dead? Well, we have a word to describe those events. Miracles. We don't call them usuals, we call them miracles. And the reason we call them miracles is because they are the exception to the rule, they're not the rule. But in everyone of those cases where God raise up somebody from the dead, in not one of those cases did they ever tell about what they saw on the other side. Not one, single time. Nearly dead is not dead. The only people who get to go to heaven are those who had actually died, not nearly died. The only people who can tell you with accuracy what is in heaven, are only those who have been to heaven and you have to be dead to get to heaven. The only other way you know about heaven is from what God has recorded in his book.
Second principle, the Bible is sufficient. The Bible is sufficient. You know the presupposition behind books like "Heaven is For Real" or "To Heaven and Back" and so many of these other books, written by Christians, the basic presupposition is, the Bible is good, but it's not sufficient. There is more information out there God wants us to have about heaven and he's given me that information to share with you for 22.95. That's the basic presupposition behind all of these accounts. But listen to what the apostle Paul said about the sufficiency of God's word. Turn over to I Thessalonians 4:13. "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren about those who are asleep, so that you may not grieve as the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus".
God's not forgetting about your loved ones who had died. "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, we will not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep". And then he gives the order of what's going to happen at the rapture when the dead in Christ will rise first and we who are alive and remained should be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. Paul said, here's everything you need to know about the future God has for you and your loved ones. God's word is sufficient. We don't need any so-called extra biblical revelation.
Number three and this is key. Adding to or taking away from the Bible is condemned by God. Adding to or taking away from the Bible is condemned by God. The best explanation of what heaven is going to be like and what our future is going to be like is found in the book of the Revelation. Remember it was given to John, it was a revealing, an unveiling of Jesus Christ given to John when he was on the Island of Patmos. But after John received the Revelation, notice the closing words of this book in verses 18 to 19 of Revelation 22. "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, from the holy city which are written in this book". Anyone who says, God has given me a revelation about what heaven is like is treading on dangerous ground. By adding to what God has revealed in his book.
Number four. Question the identity of any being of light. Question the identity of any being of light. So many people who have had a near-death experience claim that they have met God or angels. Or some undefined deity. In many cases they claim to have seen Jesus Christ. But the messages that Jesus supposedly gave them, is completely contradictory to scripture. Ii Corinthians 11:14 says, "Even satan disguises himself as an angel of light". He is a deceiver, he is deceiving people into what awaits them on the other side. That's why we need to be careful of any so-called being of light who preaches a message that contradicts scripture.
And that leads to a fifth principle when you talk about near-death experiences, beware of the occult. It is amazing when you read these accounts of near-death experiences, how similar they are to experiences people have with the occult. For example, both the occult and near-death experiences share in common out of body experiences and contacts with those on the other side. And in both cases, both the occult and near-death experiences, people who have these experiences claim psychic powers. Any claims of psychic powers, or unusual abilities like clairvoyance and telepathy, those are associated with satan himself.
A sixth consideration that is Jesus' death and resurrection are central to any revelation from God. Anybody who claims to have a revelation from God, if it's true Jesus' death and resurrection will be central to his revelation. Turn over to Acts, chapter 9 for just a moment. Did you know some people today think the apostle Paul had a near-death experience on the road to Damascus? Look at Acts 9:3. "And it came about that as Paul or Saul journeyed, he was approaching Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and he heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise and enter the city and it shall be told you what you must do".
Now some people say that, that's a near-death experience. Big light, life change, that's a near-death experience. Four reasons this was not a near-death experience. First of all, Paul was very much alive and nowhere near death when this happened to him. And secondly, this light that Paul saw was not just some metaphysical light, it was a real light that literally blinded him for days. Third, when he told this account to King Agrippa, he never once remotely gave anything any description that resembled a near-death experience.
And finally and most importantly, the Jesus Paul encountered is the Jesus who told him, your mission, should you choose to accept it is to go into all the world and preach that salvation is available only through faith in me. He gave Paul the mission of preaching the exclusive message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Not some general feel good message that says God loves everybody and everybody's going to heaven. It was a very specific message that there is only salvation through Jesus Christ.
And that leads to our seventh and most important consideration about near-death experiences and that is, the Bible doesn't record any near-death experiences. Not once, Nada, no record whatsoever of near-death experiences. As I mentioned, there are accounts of God raising people from the dead in the Bible. But none of these people who were raised from the dead told about what they saw on the other side of the grave. Let's look at a couple of these for just a moment.
Take the case of Lazarus. Lazarus died, he was dead for four days until Jesus came, stood in front of the sepulchre and said, "Rise oh, Lazarus, rise oh Lazarus from the dead" and as you know Lazarus stumbled out of that sepulchre and they unbound him and he was joyous and the people couldn't believe what they saw, but not once, not once, did Lazarus preach to the assembled crowd or ever tell his sisters what he saw on the other side of death. You find no record of that. Or look at the example of Jesus. Did Jesus have a near-death experience? He was on the cross, but in all of his utterings on the cross, he gave no indication that he was going down a tunnel and seeing a bright light. There was no other worldly experience whatsoever.
After he died, he was buried in the tomb, on Sunday morning, he was raised from the dead. He was in his new resurrection body, he spent 40 days on the earth, preaching, ministering to people. Not once in those post resurrection appearances did Jesus say a word about what he saw on the other side. The only other consideration, and I think perhaps the most interesting one is the apostle, Paul himself. Didn't the apostle Paul have a near-death experience in which he was taken up to heaven? Well, listen to the words of 2 Corinthians 12:2. Paul said, "I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago, whether in the body, I don't know or out of the body, I don't know, only God knows, but such a man was caught up to the third heaven".
Remember we saw last time, the third heaven is where God is right now, it's the abode of God. And Paul said, I had an experience. I had an experience in which I was caught up into the presence of God. I don't know if it was my actual, literal body that was taken up to heaven or it was a metaphysical, out of body experience, only God knows that. But I was taken up to heaven and what did Paul see? He goes on to say in that chapter, God told me not to utter a word about what I saw.
Now, think about that. Here is Paul, who wrote over half of the New Testament. Paul, the greatest theologian the world has ever known and God says to him, don't you write a word of it down. Why has God restricted the information we have about heaven? I think there may be two reasons. I think first of all, God knows that heaven is so far beyond our imagination, what God has in store for us is so glorious, human words can only diminish the glory of heaven. There is no human vocabulary to describe what God is preparing for you and me. It's the same reason God says, don't make any graven images of me, don't make any molding or sculpting or don't draw any pictures of me, because all that does is diminish who I really am.
And I think the second reason God doesn't want us to really know what awaits us in heaven is, he knows that if we knew what was awaiting us, we couldn't wait to get outta here. If we really knew what was up there, I think that's why Paul said in Philippians, because he saw it, he said I'm really torn. For me to live is Christ, but to die is great gain and I'm hard pressed to know whether I really wanna stay or I wanna go. He said the only motivation for staying is to fulfill the purpose God has for us these brief few years on life.
What does all of this mean? What does it all mean? Well, very simply, there are no biblical accounts of near-death experiences. Am I saying that God could never allow somebody to have an experience like this? Look, I don't wanna put God in a box, God can do whatever he wants to do, but as you look at scripture, the weight of evidence is against these near-death experiences. Everything we need to know about our eternal home is found in this book. The Bible is sufficient. And in the days ahead, we're going to discover some stirring and surprising truths about that place God is preparing for you right now. It's that place called heaven.
Let's bow together in a word of prayer. Although there are many mysteries about heaven, one thing God has made abundantly clear and that is there's only one way to get to heaven. Not many roads lead to heaven, there is one way to heaven. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father, except by me". The only people who enter heaven are forgiven people. And only Jesus can forgive us of our sins. I don't believe it's an accident some of you are here right now in this worship center. Others are watching or listening to this broadcast. God has brought you to this point so that you can be sure you'll be welcomed into heaven one day. Do you know that with certainty? Are you absolutely sure that if you were to die right now you would awaken in God's presence? If you're not sure and would like to be sure, I want to encourage you wherever you are, to pray this simple prayer in your heart to God, knowing that he's listening to you right now.
Dear God, thank you for loving me. I realize I have failed you in so many ways. And I'm truly sorry for the sin in my life. But I believe what I've heard today. That you loved me so much, you sent your son, Jesus to die on the cross for me. To take the punishment I deserve to take for my sins. And right now I'm trusting in what Jesus did for me. Not my good works, but in what Jesus did for me to save me from my sins. Thank you for forgiving me. And help me to start living the rest of my life for you. And I pray this in Jesus's name, amen.