Visions, Near-Death & Out-of-Body Experiences
Throughout the world, many have described personal visions and near-death experiences, including conversations with Jesus, meetings with deceased loved ones, and even tours of heaven or hell. Such experiences are possible, but subject to deception and wishful delusions.
God did utilize visions in the Old Testament (Genesis 46:2; Numbers 12:6, 24:16; Psalm 89:19; Daniel 7:1-15; Isaiah 6:1-8), and the New Testament is abundant with examples as well (Acts 11:5, 16:9, 18:9; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). The prophet Joel even speaks of the expanding frequency of visions in relation to the Day of the Lord (Joel 2:28-32). But visions were not to be uncritically accepted, as prophets inadvertently or intentionally supplanted the truth with lies (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:16).
The following criteria will help us to apply the teaching and wisdom of the Scriptures to this matter:
We must be cautious and realize that it is possible for a vision’s source to be demonic (1 Kings 22:1-38). False prophets often confuse God’s revelation with their own visions and words (Jeremiah 23:16). Clearly some out-of-body or near-death experiences are demonic, such as those where people tell us that they spoke with Jesus and He told them that all people are welcome in heaven, no matter what religion or creed. Those who have such experiences are so deluded they do not fear death because they falsely believe that they are ready to die. Thus to treat these experiences as representing reality is a great deception. No wonder we are warned that Satan is transformed into “an angel of light.”
Any believer who claims a vision but who exhibits a worldly, syncretistic lifestyle ought to be treated with skepticism. The vast majority of divine visions were dispensed through godly vessels (though Balaam and Nebuchadnezzar do exist as exceptions).
Any teaching which conflicts with the revealed Word of God is false. Those who claim they have visited heaven and then describe scenes which are quite different from the biblical revelation of heaven (for example, Revelation 4), are evidently deceived or deceiving. While the stories of Stephen (Acts 7:56) and perhaps Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-5; Acts 14:19-20) may provide a modest biblical precedent for the validity of visits to heaven, we must remember that the deceptions of Satan are numerous and complex. We are not doubting that the people had the experience they described, but it may not have been an experience of heaven as alleged.
In matters of discernment, there may be times when we simply do not know whether an experience actually describes the afterlife or not. In such cases we must withhold judgment and our reliance must be placed firmly in the Bible. Yes, God still acts supernaturally in the world, and so, although visions can occur for comfort and guidance, the Word of God is our clear and certain guide in every circumstance.