Apocalyptic Visitations to the Afterlife
and Visions of the End
but then face to face:
now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
The Apostle Paul
1 Corinthians 13:12
Perhaps no question intrigues the human race more than the question, “Is there life after life?” From time immemorial, people, both within and without the Christian faith, have reported dying (i.e., death experiences, or DEs), or coming close to death (near-death experiences, or NDEs), and in the aftermath of those experiences, reported who or what they encountered in the afterlife.
DEs and NDEs: Ancient
In Plato’s Republic
In his Republic, Plato tells the story of a soldier named Er who,
was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. And on the twelfth day, as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world.
In 1 Enoch (Circa 200 BC to AD 100)
Then too there’s the pseudepigraphal book of 1 Enoch. Genesis tells us that after living three-hundred and sixty-five years during which he “walked with God,” that suddenly Enoch “was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:23). What happened to Enoch? Where did he go after God “took him”? What did he see after God took him? After he went missing, did he leave any report of what he might have encountered? To someone, the gaps in the Genesis narrative proved too tantalizing to be left blank, so they (the pseudepigraphal books of Enoch likely had multiple authors over the centuries taken to compose it) composed and edited the writings of it to fill in the void. Among other things, the book of I Enoch alleges to be a record of Enoch’s “various visions... during a tour of the earth, Sheol, and heaven.” Of that journey, Ladd informs that, “Because Enoch was taken up bodily to heaven, his name became in later Judaism the centre of a large apocalyptic tradition in which he relates the secrets of heavens and of the future which he had seen in visions and journeys through the heavens.”
Enoch is quoted by Jude (Jude 14), the citation of which provides cause for some evangelicals to ascribe a spurious canonicity to the books of Enoch and employ them to construct their own fantastic apocalyptic scenarios. But it should be noted that in his citation of Enoch, Jude neither called Enoch “scripture” nor prefaced his quotation of it with, “it is written.” Clearly, Jude did not view pseudepigraphical Enoch to be Scripture, to be a sacred text, but merely cited a known and surviving prophecy, perhaps authentic to Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, of future judgment that elsewhere was canonically predicted by the Old Testament (“the Lord... will come, and all the holy ones with Him!” Zechariah 14:5, NASB. Compare Deuteronomy 33:2.), confirmed by Jesus (“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works,” Matthew 16:27; Compare also Matthew 25:31, Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26.), and affirmed by the Apostle Paul (“the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8: Compare 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
So why did Jude cite Enoch 1:9? Jude may have quoted 1 Enoch because on the one hand false teachers rejected the authority of Scripture, Jesus and the Apostles, while on the other hand treasured Enoch and other pseudepigraphical books (i.e., the corpus of spurious writings, esp. writings erroneously credited to Biblical characters and times). Pseudo-teachers thrive on pseudo-books. So inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jude told his readers that false teachers were heading for judgment, something that they, in their smug self-righteousness, presumed they were going to avoid! And he did so by citing a writing which the false teachers considered sacred. Take that, Jude tells the false teachers, and from one of your own “sacred” sources!
The Apocalypse of Paul (Circa 200s AD)
Paul too reported of being translated to the third heaven where he, “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). So a few hundred years later someone conceived of giving utterance to what Paul said was not lawful for him to utter, and wrote The Apocalypse of Paul in the 4th century to fill in the details of the apostle being temporarily snatched up into Paradise. In heaven, according to Paul’s Apocalypse (i.e., unveiling), the apostle “sees an old man, whose ‘face shone like the sun’; they embrace and Paul is introduced to (none other than) Enoch, ‘the scribe of righteousness’ [presumably the one whom Genesis reports “God took” and who later authored 1 Enoch].”
Muhammad’s Night Journey (Circa 621 AD)
Muslim poets and writers also retold Muhammad’s round trip “Night Journey” from Mecca to Jerusalem where from the Dome of the Rock the prophet “ascended through seven levels of heaven until he finally met with God.”
So we see that among Greeks, Jews, Christians and Muslims before, during and after Jesus’ life and ministry, reports of extraordinary encounters with the afterlife, modernly labeled DEs (death experiences), NDEs (near-death experiences) or perhaps OBEs (out-of-the-body experiences), exist. This fantastical worldview—something akin to a magic carpet ride—dominated the ancient view of the cycle of life, a worldview which Jesus in His ministry encountered and the early church faced. This was the experiential milieu which served as the backdrop to Jesus’ statement about the afterlife when He told Martha: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
As this age continues to destabilize and a corresponding mania intensifies as people are filled with apocalyptic angst—we have now lived through the Mayan prediction of the world’s end as well as several other predicted endings with more to come—kingdom hopes and experiences, both this and other-worldly, will escalate, we can bank on it. If history provides any indication, there will be more to come. Predictions of the end of the world will multiply. Claimed experiences of tripping to heaven and back will multiply, and many will hitch a ride into the sci-fi of alternate universes. “Far out man, like way far out!” As evidenced both in ancient literature and modern culture, the two aspects of the apocalyptic—visions of the end and visitations thereto—will intensify as the one aspect feeds off the other and vice versa. And amidst this confusion, let’s remember the words that Jesus uttered to His disciples when they asked Him about what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. First thing out of the block He told His follows: TAKE HEED THAT NO MAN DECEIVE YOU! (See Matthew 24:4) And there’s a lot of deception going around today as regards the end of this world, of alien visits from other universes, or of traveling to heaven and back.
DEs and NDEs: Modern
In his consciousness, Dr. Eben Alexander visited a place he called heaven for seven days after the cortex of his brain died. Now he’s back to tell us about what we can expect to experience in our consciousness in the afterlife. Of his experience and his current reporting of it, Alexander informs his readers, “What I have to tell you is as important as anything anyone will ever tell you [even Jesus?], and it’s true.” Alexander appears to claim that the record of his experience trumps all others in that comes from a scientific skeptic who happens to be a renowned neurosurgeon and whose experience converted him into an afterlife believer, and his claim coming amidst a barrage of other reports of visits to and from heaven among evangelical believers—Betty Malz, Don Piper, Todd Burpo, Judy Franklin and Beni Johnson, Dennis and Nolene Prince, Choo Thomas, just to mention some. But now there’s another testimonial.
At the Future Congress 2, to be held this weekend in Dallas, Terry James will give a personal testimony of what he experienced in the afterlife after his heart attack and subsequent defibrillation shocks. The Congress publicizes his presentation as follows:
Heaven Vision: Life after death has been the mesmerizing subject of the ages. Is there an afterlife? If so, can we learn truth about that plane of existence this side of eternity? The answer to both questions is a resounding “yes,” according to thrilling accounts of those who have returned from clinical death to report the amazing things they saw and heard at super-accelerated levels of sensation.
The bio of James’ experience reads:
Terry James, a Christian and author of many books about Bible prophecy, died clinically three times on Good Friday, April 22, 2011. He returned to life after receiving defibrillation shocks to tell what he saw and experienced during his journey to [outside] and from [inside] the very portals of Heaven. In his book, “Heaven Vision: Glimpses into Glory,” he and his co-author, Angie Peters, share the story of his fully medically documented experience on that strange, exhilarating day, and examines many other cases of near-death encounters through the lens of Scripture to present a powerful, detailed case for what awaits us once we leave this world and enter the next.
Note: On this point of the emphasis placed in the above quote, I draw attention to what is fully documented is James’ heart attack and subsequent defibrillation shocks that saved his life. What is not medically documented is James’ afterlife experience on that strange, exhilarating day. The experience was his and his alone. So as worded, the Congress’ description is misleading.
Now I would tell you, if I may, of my NDE and what I have come to make of it.
On November 9, 2006, that’s counting to seven years ago now, I caught a vicious flu while on a teaching mission in Hungary. Dehydration caused blood clots to form and I suffered a major coronary infarction. On a one and one half hour ride to a public hospital in Budapest, my heart had to be defibrillated seven times—yes, 7 times. The only one I remember was the defibrillation shock that levitated me off the gurney brought me into consciousness as I arrived at the emergency section of the hospital. There Dr. Nagybaczoni Béla performed a heart catheterization to break up the blood clot that had clogged up my artery. In the aftermath, I was ably attended in the intensive care unit of that hospital, a public as opposed to a private one, by Doctors, Zámolyi Károly, Csípán Béla and Horyaties Gábor. I offer these details for which there are medical records to authenticate that this really happened to me.
By God’s sovereign intervention I survived. But because my heart attack occurred the “old way” without the administration of needed medications, I developed Dressler’s Syndrome (where excess fluids accumulating around the heart and lungs constrict respiratory function). This required seven subsequent hospitalizations upon returning to the United States. On two of those hospitalizations, my life was also endangered. All of which is to say, I too, like many others in this day of medical marvels, experienced a NDE (near-death experience).
What I Experienced
While recuperating from my heart attack at the Bajcy-Zsilinsky Korhaz (Hospital) in Budapest from November 9-17, 2006, one of my rehabilitation therapists, in her broken English, engaged me in a conversation. She asked me what I saw during my NDE. Without hesitation, I responded, “Nothing.” But then I added, “The only thing I will tell you is, that I saw no darkness.” She smiled and respectfully changed the subject.
About this exchange with the young therapist, I would make an observation and then ask a question. First, she was curious about my NDE because she had, no doubt, been exposed to testimonies of what other people had experienced during their NDEs, and quite naturally was looking for some confirmation of their reports from me. Second, why, to whatever degree, did I not see any extraordinary sights or hear any sounds of heaven during my experience? Did I not have enough faith? Why was my NDE, given the plethora of reports from others about their experiences, experientially unexceptional (other than at the inception of my heart attack I thought I was dying thousands of miles away from home and would never see my wife and sons again in this life)? Those are legitimate questions that I have mused upon and deserve some sort of answer, especially in light of all that’s going on with this dying, death, entering the afterlife, and coming back. So here are my thoughts, thoughts, dear readers, I will share with you.
No Biblical Info!
A Scripture bears upon the question. It says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Emphasis added, Hebrews 11:1). Further, “without faith, it is impossible to please” God (Hebrews 11:6). In my NDE I did not experience heaven because I was at the time of it, and still am, living by faith, and to believe I do not have to see. Jesus Christ’s promises are sufficient. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (Emphasis added, 1 Corinthians 2:9).
So, as far as my personal concern goes, all these reports on NDEs, OBEs and DEs, especially on the part of those who claim to be evangelicals with a biblical orientation, hinge upon the question of faith. On this point I would note that no person whom the Bible records as having been resurrected/returned from the dead ever gave any report of what they saw or heard during the interim between death and return, not Lazarus (John 11:44), not Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-55), no individual resurrected when Jesus died (Matthew 27:52), not the widow of Zarephath’s son (by Elijah, 1 Kings 17:17-23), not the Shunammite’s little boy (by Elisha, 2 Kings 4:32-37), not Dorcas (Acts 9:37-40), and not Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12). In light of all the reports of NDEs and DEs, ancient, medieval and modern, how does one explain the utter silence of Scripture on the afterlife other than what Jesus the Prophet has revealed and promised?
Why We Need Jesus Christ
Though a mystery surrounds the afterlife in the Old Testament, Yahweh promised to raise-up a Prophet who would reveal more about it (See Deuteronomy 18:9-*15). Of course, that Prophet was Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). For true believers, it’s enough to know that in accord with His promises, the resurrected Jesus will care for us in the afterlife. When the crowds that had followed Jesus were deserting Him, He asked the disciples if they, like the rest, were going to desert Him. To this question Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (Emphasis added, John 6:68). And so I ask: To whom else will we go to get the words of eternal life? From eternity and unlike any other human being, Jesus stepped into time. He came from Heaven above to earth below (John 8:23). But He’s now in Heaven, and from there He’s coming back. So any void we might feel regarding our understanding the afterlife should be filled by faith in Jesus’ promises to us (John 10:27-28).
As Jesus told a skeptical disciple who finally, upon seeing His wounds and scars, accepted those marking as proof of His resurrection, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:28). I feel blessed to believe even though I have not seen. And dear reader, because Jesus told His disciples that He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” we can be assured that our Lord delights in those who trust His person and believe His promises. I do, and hope you do too. For the time being, end of story, at least for me.
As Paul explained, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (Emphasis added, 1 Corinthians 13:12).
In the words of Richard Baxter (1615-1691):
As such, Christians should not attempt to fill in any void of knowledge regarding the afterlife by engaging in occult activities (Leviticus 19:31) or paying attention to the reports of the OBE or NDE experiences of others because curiosity can kill the Christian and “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Seeking voices other than the Prophet’s regarding matters of the afterlife betrays a heart of unbelief. By His words and His works, the Prophet (Jesus) has informed us about all we need to know of Heaven and how to go there when we die.
Time for a Faith Check-up
So in conclusion, I would ask us, who name the name of Christ and have put our faith in and given our allegiance to Him, are His promises not enough? If the answer is negative, then maybe we need a heart, or should I say... faith check-up. After all, Jesus counseled His disciples,
ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father’s house are many mansions:
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again, and receive you unto myself;
that where I am, there ye may be also.
So we see that in the face of death, Jesus’ words are sufficient.
1. Plato, “The Myth of Er,” Republic, Book X. Online: (http://www.davidson.edu/academic/classics/neumann/CLA350/ErMyth.html).
2. E. Isaac, “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1, James H. Charlesworth, Editor (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1983): 5.
3. George E. Ladd, “Enoch,” The New Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, Editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962): 378.
4. I agree with Horn that, “The objectives of the occult masters and the very real forces they serve is [sic] overlooked by average citizens, yet according to sacred texts a collaboration exists between such unregenerate social architects and fallen angels.” See Tom Horn, “Behind the Veil in Washington DC—The Rise of Angelic Rule: A Demonologist Looks Into The Heart Of The Whitehouse,” Part II, Paragraph 4, Prison Planet Forum, August 28, 2008. Online: http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=56049.0. But Horn and I part company with his labeling pseudepigraphical texts like Enoch to be sacred. Just because they’re ancient does not make them sacred! For this reason Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Apostolic origin is one of the great tests of canonicity and Enoch was no apostle, and neither did Jesus reference 1 Enoch to be a part of the Old Testament corpus (Luke 24:44).
5. Independent of Matthew Poole (1624-1679), I arrived at this conclusion which resembles his. See Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume III: Matthew – Revelation (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1963 Reprint of 1685 Edition): 946.
6. Lisa Miller, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010): 162.
8. Eben Alexander, M.D., Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012): 171 pages + Acknowledgments, Reading List, Appendices and Index.
9. Ibid. 10.
10. Betty Malz, My Glimpse of Eternity (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, Baker Publishing Group, 1977).
11. Don Piper with Cecil Murphy, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2004).
12. Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2010).
13. Judy Franklin and Beni Johnson, Experiencing the Heavenly Realm: Keys to Accessing Supernatural Experiences (Shippensburgh, PA: Destiny Image, Publishers, Inc., 2011).
14. Dennis and Nolene Prince, Nine Days in Heaven: The Vision of Marietta Davis (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 2006).
15. Choo Thomas, with Foreword by Dr. David Yonggi Cho, Heaven is So Real! (Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 2006).
16. Terry James, “HeavenVision,” advertised to be Presented at the Future Congress 2, January 4-6, 2013, Dallas, Texas (http://futurecongress.com/speakers-3/terry-james/).
Republished with permission. The original article is posted here: http://guardinghisflock.com/2013/01/03/rapture-already/#more-2347
Graphic illustration obtained from: http://www.erowid.org/spirit/death/images/grey_alex_dying.jpg