Sheol in the New Testament
- 1 Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Appearance of Moses & Elijah
- 2 An Objection to Elijah & Moses Going to Heaven
- 3 The Resurrection of Old Testament Saints from Sheol
- 4 “To Him (God) all are Alive”
- 5 “You’ll be with Me in Paradise”
- 6 “You will go down to Hades”
- 7 Understanding the Three Realms – Heaven, Earth and the Underworld
- 8 Sheol: “The Heart of the Earth” and “the Earth Below”
- 9 “The Spirits in Prison”
- 10 How Can Sheol Be a State of Torment if Men seek it During the Tribulation?
- 11 Jesus Christ DIED
- 12 Near Death Experiences and Ghostly Phenomena
In this chapter we will examine New Testament references to Sheol (Hades) other than Jesus’ Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, which we addressed in the previous chapter. We’ll look at direct and indirect references to Hades and also every passage that people cite to argue Sheol is a state of conscious existence for human souls.
Let’s start with…
Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Appearance of Moses & Elijah
The transfiguration refers to the time when Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. The Lord was then gloriously transfigured before them whereupon Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Jesus. Let’s read the passage:
Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
Did Moses and Elijah actually appear to Jesus on the mountain and talk to him? If so, how was this possible? There are two general explanations:
1. After his spectacular transfiguration, Jesus said to his disciples, “Tell the vision to no man” (Matthew 17:9). The Lord referred to what they saw as a vision. A vision is not a material reality, but a supernatural picture seen in the mind or eyes. This same Greek word for “vision” was used in reference to Peter’s vision of the unclean beasts being made clean (Acts 10:3,17,19 &11:5). This leads to the possibility that Elijah and Moses were not real but a supernatural picture. If this was the case, the transfiguration was perhaps a prophetic vision of that which would take place in the distant future. Peter, James and John saw the Son of Man glorified in the Kingdom and communing with Moses & Elijah in this prophetic vision.
Although this is a plausible explanation since Jesus himself specifically called it a vision, it’s weak in that Jesus was seen talking to Moses and Elijah. If these two figures were, in fact, a vision why would Jesus – who is real in this situation, not a vision – talk with “them”? It makes no sense.
There’s a better explanation and this is the one I embrace:
2. Elijah & Moses literally came “down” from heaven and visited Jesus on the mountain. The evidence for this position is that Elijah escaped Sheol – death – altogether and was spectacularly translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11). This is apparently what happened to Enoch as well (Genesis 5:24). As for Moses, we know he wasn’t translated to heaven like Elijah because the Bible shows that he died and the LORD kept his gravesite hidden, but there’s evidence that he also escaped Sheol and went straight to heaven. To explain, consider something discussed in Chapter Six’ Samuel, Saul & the Witch of Endor (and Elijah & Moses):
In the Old Testament period, people’s souls went to Sheol at the point of physical death and the animating breath of life returned to the Almighty. They thus ‘sleep’ in death until their resurrection; this included both the righteous and the unrighteous in periods preceding the ascension of Christ. Elijah and Enoch are exceptions (2 Kings 2:11 & Genesis 5:24). They bypassed death – Sheol – and were supernaturally translated to heaven in the same manner that believers will be during the Rapture of the church. God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Sovereign Creator of the universe who occasionally chooses to treat some differently; and he chose to spare these two from death – Sheol – for His own purposes. Moses was also an exception in that the evidence shows that he ascended to heaven after he died, like believers in the New Testament era. What was God’s purpose for making these exceptions? To offer Old Testament examples of (1.) living people translated to heaven, like believers at the Rapture and (2.) dead people ascending to heaven, like genuine Christians in the age of grace.
Since Elijah was already alive in heaven it wouldn’t be a problem for him to appear to Jesus on the Mountain and speak with him. As noted above, the Scriptures offer evidence that Moses was in heaven as well, along with Elijah and Enoch; in other words, although Moses certainly died and his body was buried, he too ascended to heaven bypassing Sheol. What proof is there of this?
Deuteronomy 34:6-7 shows that Moses physically died and his body was buried in Moab, but no one knows exactly where because the LORD – who buried him – intentionally wanted it kept hidden, likely to keep his gravesite from becoming a shrine, a stumbling block to the Israelites. With this understanding, there’s a curious passage about Moses’ body in the New Testament:
But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
This is a curious passage that leaves you scratching your head. Why would Michael be arguing with Satan over Moses’ body after his death? Obviously the LORD did something extraordinary with Moses.
As you can see in the text, Michael is described as an “archangel,” literally meaning an angel of the highest order. The Greek word for “archangel” is only used twice in the New Testament – here and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – the latter addressing the bodily resurrection of believers. Michael is also associated with the resurrection of the dead in Daniel 12:1-2. This offers evidence that Michael is God’s chief servant in the process of the resurrection of the dead. With this in mind, Michael was arguing with the devil about Moses’ body, which suggests that Moses was resurrected from the dead at some point after his death, and since Michael was arguing with Satan over Moses’ body it was likely a bodily resurrection and not just a soul-ish resurrection.
The Scriptures are like a puzzle when it comes to topics like this and we have to put the pieces together based on the evidence God provides in his Word. From this evidence – even if it’s scant – we can draw possible conclusions; and the evidence at hand points to Moses being bodily resurrected after his death and going to heaven.
After Jesus’ transfiguration, he told his three closest disciples not to mention the supernatural event to anyone else until he was resurrected from the dead (Matthew 17:9 & Mark 9:9). Why? Because they didn’t yet understand the resurrection unto eternal life, which includes three general types:
1. Believers going straight to heaven when they die and their later bodily resurrection at the time of the Rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17); this includes people who become believers during the Tribulation (Revelation 20:4-6) and mortal believers during the millennium; the latter two will be similar to the time of the Rapture in which dead believers will be resurrected and living believers will be transformed from mortal to immortal.
2. The translation of living believers at the Rapture, which includes the miraculous transformation of their bodies from mortal to immortal (1 Corinthians 15:51-54 & 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
3. The resurrection of the righteous from periods preceding the resurrection of Christ, which will take place at the time of Christ’s second coming after the Tribulation and before Christ’s millennial reign (Daniel 12:1-2 & Matthew 19:28-30); keep in mind, however, that there may be an earlier soul-ish resurrection of these Old Testament saints, which we’ll consider in the next section.
What Peter, James and John saw on the mountain at Jesus’ transfiguration were examples of all three types of resurrections. Think about it: Moses was bodily resurrected after his physical decease while Elijah was supernaturally translated to heaven and Jesus was resurrected from Sheol after three days with a glorified, immortal body. As such, Moses represents the “type 1” resurrection, Elijah represents “type 2” and Jesus represents “type 3.”
Amazing, isn’t it?
An Objection to Elijah & Moses Going to Heaven
Some object to the idea that Elijah & Moses (and Enoch) went to heaven based on a statement Jesus made:
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.
This statement seems to contradict the scriptural evidence above, that Elijah and Moses ascended to heaven as examples of the forthcoming resurrections of the righteous. But since God’s Word is truth and cannot contradict itself we must apply the hermeneutical rules (1.) Scripture interprets Scripture and (2.) context is king. When we do this all will make sense and the passages will harmonize with each other.
Let’s first establish what the Bible clearly says about Elijah’s last moments on earth:
2 KINGS 2:11
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
As you can see, there’s no getting around the fact that Elijah was supernaturally translated to heaven at the end of his earthly life because that’s explicitly what God’s Word says. This explains how he was available to talk to Jesus at the transfiguration and also how he was one of the two prophets from Revelation 11:1-14, the other being Moses, which is clear in the passage (we’ll look at this further in the next section).
As detailed in the previous section, Elijah and Moses went to heaven as respective types of (1.) translated New Testament believers, i.e. the Rapture, and (2.) believers during the church age.
Since we know for a fact that Elijah did ascend to heaven as a type of raptured believers, how are we to interpret John 3:13? Again, Scripture interprets Scripture and context is king. Let’s read the passage with the surrounding verses, which is the context:
I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
The Messiah was contextually talking to Nicodemus, a leading Bible scholar of his day, and Jesus was answering the question of Proverbs 30:4: “Who has gone up to heaven and come down?” The answer, of course, is Jesus himself — he both came down from heaven to become a man and later ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection. And then verse 14 is a presentation of the gospel message to Nicodemus of whom the Bible implies later received the Lord (see John 7:50-51 & 19:38-42); as you can see, the gospel message is rooted in believing in the One the Father lifted up — Jesus Christ who ascended to heaven.
So the context of John 3:13 is that of a person who both came from heaven and ascended to heaven and only one person fits that description, Jesus Christ. Elijah didn’t come from heaven, he was only translated to heaven as an Old Testament example of the translated (i.e. raptured) believer in the New Testament. Neither did Moses come from heaven; he died and went to Sheol but was later resurrected as an example of the resurrection of Old Testament saints.
People have to be careful not to take one passage out of its context, like John 3:13, and disregard clear scriptural evidence stated elsewhere, like the fact that Elijah was indeed translated to heaven (Enoch too); as well as the evidence that Moses went to heaven and had a bodily resurrection.
The Resurrection of Old Testament Saints from Sheol
NOTE: This section involves a technical issue and is therefore recommended only for detail-oriented readers. All others are encouraged to jump to the next section.
In regards to the resurrection of holy people from periods preceding the resurrection of Christ, what evidence is there that righteous people of the Old Testament era were — or will be — resurrected from Sheol and when will their bodily resurrection take place? Or does their soul-ish resurrection from Sheol take place at the same time as their bodily resurrection? Amazingly, “many” were resurrected from Sheol the moment after Jesus said “It is finished” and died:
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
These holy people were “raised to life” and came out of their tombs, just like Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:11-44). These saints were raised from Sheol – death – which is why it says that they were “raised to life” and not “they were raised from life with father Abraham in the paradise compartment of Sheol.” As you can see, this bizarre belief that righteous people hanged out with Abraham in a pleasant section of Sheol makes utter nonsense of the Scriptures, which shows that Jesus’ tale of the Rich man and Lazarus is a parable – a figurative story – and not a literal description of the nature of Sheol (see The Rich Man and Lazarus).
I bring up Matthew 27:52-53 to plainly show that “many” Old Testament saints were resurrected from Sheol the moment Jesus died. This was a temporary resurrection, of course, in that they’d have to sooner or later physically die again, but they would never again have to go to Sheol since Jesus was going to be resurrected for our justification in three days and ascend to heaven forty days later. Since these holy people were resurrected from Sheol and went to heaven when they later physically died, like all new covenant believers, what about the rest of the Old Testament saints held captive to death in Sheol? If Jesus delivered “many” righteous people from Sheol when he died what about when he was resurrected and ascended? Would he deliver the rest when he ascended – taking their souls directly to heaven with him (like believer’s souls go straight to heaven when they die, as shall be proven in the next chapter)?
This is why I entertain the possibility that Jesus resurrected the Old Testament Saints from Sheol when he ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection. Here’s potential support for this:
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Although this passage might refer to Jesus resurrecting righteous “captives” of Sheol when he ascended, there are a couple of other possibilities. The “captives” in verse 8 could be referring to vanquished evil spirits whom Jesus brought to heaven in a victory parade. To explain, generals back then would bring their defeated enemies to Rome and parade them around the streets as the people cheered and mocked. This is the visual we get from Colossians 2:15 with Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness through his crucifixion and resurrection. With this in mind, observe the Amplified Bible’s rendering of verse 8: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive [He led a train of vanquished foes]”. Please keep in mind, however, that when words appear in brackets in the Amplified version it’s the author’s opinion and not the Word of God; as such, the Amplified Bible is essentially a paraphrase. Regardless, this is a possibility we need to keep in mind.
Another possibility is that the captives in this passage simply refer to all believers who die after Jesus ascends to heaven and essentially “follow him up,” which corresponds to the biblical evidence contained in the next chapter.
If the souls of Old Testament saints were not resurrected to heaven when Jesus ascended and aren’t resurrected at some other point, we can be sure that they’ll be resurrected at the time of their bodily resurrection at the second coming of Jesus Christ, which takes place at the end of the Tribulation period and before Jesus’ millennial reign (Daniel 12:1-2 & Matthew 19:28-30). Some might inquire why they’re not bodily resurrected at the time of Jesus’ return for his church – i.e. the Rapture – which is when believers are bodily resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17), but this idea is negated by the obvious fact that the Rapture concerns the Lord’s return for his church – his bride – and not his return for holy people of the Old Testament period.
If Ephesians 4:8 is referring to Jesus delivering holy souls from Sheol when he ascended, some people inevitably argue that they’re not shown ascending with Jesus, as seen in this passage:
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
If, in fact, holy people were rescued from Sheol when Jesus ascended, the reason they wouldn’t be seen by witnesses in this passage is because it wasn’t a bodily resurrection, but rather a soul-ish one. As such, they naturally couldn’t be seen by people on earth. Their souls would’ve been resurrected from Sheol and gone straight to heaven just like the many holy people who were resurrected when Jesus was resurrected would also go to heaven when they eventually physically died.
Now, notice something interesting about the above passage: Verse 10 shows “two men” suddenly appearing to the disciples and speaking to them. Who were these two men? I suppose this could be a reference to two non-descript angels but, if this were so, they wouldn’t likely be designated as “men.” Who were they? Perhaps Moses & Elijah who appeared to Jesus and the three disciples on the mountain.
Incidentally, Moses & Elijah are almost certainly the two prophets who will appear during the second half of the 7-year Tribulation period that’s coming upon the earth after the church is raptured, detailed in Revelation 11:1-14. What evidence is there that these two witnesses were Moses & Elijah? Verse 6 plainly says that these prophets “have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” This is evidence that these prophets were Elijah & Moses since it was Elijah who miraculously stopped the rain (James 5:17) and Moses who turned the Nile River into blood (Exodus 7:20), not to mention the other 10 plagues. For further evidence, Elijah stopped the rain for three and a half years and this was the same amount of time the two prophets will be functioning during the Tribulation.
Another objection to the possibility that the souls of Old Testament saints were resurrected when Jesus ascended is this passage where Peter addresses a crowd in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s ascension:
ACTS 2:29, 34
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day… (34) For David did not ascend to heaven… “
All this passage says is that David died and was buried in a tomb and that he did not ascend to heaven, but Peter was technically referring to the general time of David’s death and not to the time of Christ’s ascension. As for David’s tomb, it would remain unchanged even if his soul ascended to heaven at the time of Jesus’ ascension.
Regardless, the theory that Old Testament saints were resurrected from Sheol at the time of the ascension of Christ is just that — a theory — a possibility based on scant evidence (e.g. Ephesians 4:8). Please keep this in mind.
(If anyone has insights on this subject be sure to write me at email@example.com).
“To Him (God) all are Alive”
Let’s now examine a passage of Scripture sometimes cited to argue that Jesus taught souls in Sheol are alive and conscious:
Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. (28) “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. (29) Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. (30) The second (31) and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. (32) Finally, the woman died too. (33) Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
(34) Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. (35) But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, (36) and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. (37) But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ (38) He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all [of these] are alive.”
The topic here is the resurrection of the dead, not whether or not souls are conscious in Sheol awaiting their resurrection. Any honest reader who has read the previous chapters of Sheol Know realizes that God’s Word makes it clear that souls in Sheol are unconscious because they’re dead and know nothing. The remains of their souls in Sheol await resurrection. In this passage the resurrection of the dead was the subject and this was something that the Sadducees – a sect of Judaism at the time – didn’t believe in. So Jesus was not arguing for the immortality of the soul apart from Christ in this text, but rather that the righteous dead would be resurrected to eternal life and will achieve a full state of immortality. This is why Jesus said “and they can no longer die” in verse 36, which of course indicates that they could die previously.
Let’s now consider verse 37. Jesus said that Moses showed at the burning bush that “the dead rise…”. Again we observe that the topic is the resurrection of the dead, not whether or not people are conscious in Sheol. Jesus points out that Moses referred to the LORD at the burning bush as “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” To which Jesus points out: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all [of these] are alive.” The meaning is obvious within the context of the resurrection of the dead, which the Sadducees didn’t believe in: As far as God is concerned, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all alive because they were to be resurrected from the dead, as covered in the previous section. Just the same, the New Testament refers to unbelievers as “dead in their transgressions” even while they’re fully alive at present (Ephesians 2:5). In other words, they’re alive now, but God sees them as dead because he views reality from an eternal perspective and not a temporal one.
As you can see, Jesus’ statement was a correction to the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.
“You’ll be with Me in Paradise”
Some claim that righteous people of the Old Testament era experienced “paradise” in the compartment of Sheol they call “Abraham’s Bosom,” based on a literal reading of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. They cite Jesus’ statement to the repentant thief on the cross as proof of this:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
(40) But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? (41) We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
(42) Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
(43) Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus obviously discerned a repentant spirit in this thief and faith for salvation (Acts 20:21). As such, he was promising this former criminal paradise when he was resurrected, possibly when Jesus later ascended (Ephesians 4:8); if not, at his second coming (Daniel 12:1-2 & Matthew 19:28-30). Some argue that Jesus told the man he’d be with him in paradise that very day. We know, of course, that the Lord said no such thing because Christ didn’t go to “paradise” the day he died; he literally died and his dead soul laid in Sheol for three days until he was resurrected. This obviously was not “paradise,” but rather the penalty of sin – death – which Jesus experienced in our place as our substitutionary death.
So what “paradise” was Jesus referring to and when would he and this repentant thief experience it? The Greek word is only used three times in Scripture. Other than Jesus’ statement in Luke 23:43, Paul referred to “paradise” as currently being in heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:4, which is substantiated by Revelation 2:7. Since the latter verse states that the tree of life is in this paradise, it’s likely a reference to the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:9 & 3:22-24), which was evidently removed from this fallen earth after Adam’s banishment, to be replaced one day when God makes the earth and universe new – new in the sense of removing the stain of evil and death, as well as other changes, like making worthless desert landscapes blossom and bloom (Revelation 21:1-4). Again, we know Jesus didn’t go to paradise that day, but to Sheol. He was dead and resurrected three days later. Forty days later Jesus ascended to heaven where this paradise is located.
As noted in an earlier section, Jesus may have resurrected Old Testament saints from Sheol at this time — including this ex-thief who was crucified with him. If so, this passage seems to support this possibility:
“When he [Jesus] ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
When Jesus was crucified & resurrected he triumphed over the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:15). Paul said of this, “he was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The apostle was referring to the justification of all those who believe according to the new covenant, of course, but also to the holy people of the Old Testament period who had already passed away. In the new covenant believers don’t go to Sheol when they die because they’ve been born-again of the imperishable seed of Christ (1 Peter 1:3, 23); as such, they bypass Sheol and go straight to heaven to await their forthcoming bodily resurrection (Philippians 1:21-24 & 2 Corinthians 5:8). Death – Sheol – has no power over believers who are born-again of the seed of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Old Testament saints, on the other hand, had to go to Sheol when they physically died because Jesus hadn’t yet died for their sins and raised to life for their justification. This includes the repentant thief whom Jesus informed would be with him in paradise, which – as we’ve seen – is located in heaven, not Sheol. As covered above, Enoch, Elijah and Moses were the only exceptions in the Old Testament period because they were types and shadows of the resurrection of the righteous. After Jesus was resurrected righteous souls no longer had to go to Sheol because justification was made available.
All this renders Luke 23:43 nonsensical because Jesus said to the ex-thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The idea that Jesus went straight to paradise when he died – whether in heaven or anywhere else – simply isn’t supported by the rest of Scripture. This violates the hermeneutical law “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This contradiction is easily solved, however, by simply placing a comma in the appropriate spot in the text. Keep in mind that there was no punctuation in the original Greek text; consequently, translators have to determine where punctuation marks go, like commas and so forth. With this understanding, the passage makes perfect sense simply by changing the placement of one comma in the English text like so: “Assuredly, I tell you this day, you will be with me in paradise.”
So Jesus wasn’t telling the ex-thief that he’d be with him in paradise that very day; no, he was telling him that day that he’d be with him in paradise, meaning that the ex-thief would be with Jesus in paradise in heaven when his soul was resurrected from Sheol, whether that occurred 43 days later when Jesus ascended or much later at Christ’ second coming is regardless. Keep in mind that time is of no significance when you’re dead in Sheol.
Those who disagree have to find scriptural support that Jesus went straight to some paradise upon physical death, which they can’t do; so this is the appropriate way to read the passage.
“You will go down to Hades”
Jesus condemned three villages of northern Israel on the grounds that the wicked pagan cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom would have all repented if they experienced the miraculous ministry of Jesus Christ:
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Jesus says that it will be “more bearable… on the day of judgment” for the wicked cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom than for the three Israelite towns. As such, he’s talking about the great white throne judgment where people will be resurrected from Sheol (Hades) nation by nation and judged, as shown here:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice the sequence of events: Unredeemed souls are resurrected from Hades (Sheol) and judged according to what they had done; then death and Hades (Sheol) are cast into the lake of fire, which is defined as the “second death.” Then anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire.
This massive judgment takes place right before the establishment of the “new heaven and new earth,” the eternal home of righteousness where “there will be no more death” (Revelation 21:1-5 & 2 Peter 3:13). Why? Because, as you can see above, Revelation 20:14 says that death and Hades (Sheol) will be thrown into the lake of fire. As we’ve seen throughout this study, death and Sheol go hand in hand because when an unredeemed person dies their body goes to the grave (death) and their soul to Sheol. Both are cast into the lake of fire – probably symbolically — in that “there will be no more death” in the eternal age of the new heaven and new earth.
It’s important to understand this so that we understand Jesus’ condemnation of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum in Matthew 11:20-24 (and Luke 10:12-16). Notice again what Jesus says to Capernaum:
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
The phrase “will you be lifted up to the heavens?” is figurative since this judgment takes place in God’s throne room in heaven and immediately after this judgment the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem will come “down out of heaven from God” to rest on the new earth (see Revelation 21:2,10 & 3:12) and thus the eternal age of the new heaven (universe) and new earth will begin. Just the same, the phrase “you will go down to Hades” is also figurative because Hades (Sheol) will no longer exist at this time. The dead souls of Hades will have been resurrected to face this judgment and then Hades itself is cast into the lake of fire. It would have been more accurate if Jesus said, “you will go down to the lake of fire (or Gehenna),” so why didn’t he? Because both Hades and the Lake of Fire (Gehenna) refer to the condition of death, the state of utter non-being. They’re one and the same; the difference being that Hades is the first death and the lake of fire is the second death. Everyone will be resurrected from the Hades, the first death, but no one will be resurrected from the lake of fire, the second death. In other words, those unredeemed souls who are resurrected from Hades to face judgment — if their names are not written in the book of life — they will be thrown into the lake of fire to suffer death forever and ever. As the Bible says “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In short, for human beings Hades and the Lake of fire are one in the same in that they both involve the condition of death.
Now what about Jesus’ statement that it would be “more bearable” on the day of judgment for some towns than for others? The whole point Jesus is making in this section of Scripture (Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 10:12-15) is that the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, where he preached and performed great miracles, are guilty of even greater sins than the infamous cities of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. Because of this, Jesus states that it’s going to be “more bearable… on the day of judgment” for Sodom than those unrepentant cities. Please note that Jesus said it would be more bearable on the day of judgment and not more bearable for all eternity experiencing fiery conscious torment in the lake of fire. Jesus is simply pointing out that, on the day of judgment, the second death will be more bearable for the people of Sodom than for the people of Capernaum according to divine justice. Why? Because the people of Capernaum are guilty of a greater degree of sin. That’s simple enough to understand. We should just allow Scripture to say what it literally says and not feel compelled to add to it or take away (Revelation 22:18-19). In this case, adherents of eternal torment read way too much into this simple statement, no doubt because they’re desperate for biblical support of their position. For more details on this issue go here.
Understanding the Three Realms – Heaven, Earth and the Underworld
Scripture reveals that there are three basic realms or universes:
Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The three realms or universes are:
- Heaven, the spiritual realm where God’s throne is located, also called the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).
- The earth, which naturally includes the physical universe that encompasses it and, as such, refers to the entire physical realm.
- The underworld, which is the “dark heavenlies” as described in Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Lending further support to the idea that there are three basic realms is that, again, God’s heaven is described as the “third heaven” in Scripture (2 Corinthians 12:2). Since God’s heaven is the highest dimension where the LORD’s throne is located (Psalm 115:16) and is called the third heaven we must naturally conclude that there are two other heavens; that is, two other realms or universes. These other realms are the earth & universe and the underworld, as shown in Philippians 2:10 above.
There was no underworld – dark heavenlies – until satan and his band of rogue angels started a war in heaven and were subsequently booted out of heaven and fell to the earth (Luke 10:18, Isaiah 14:12 & Revelation 12:9). The devil and his minions are spiritual beings and so they obviously didn’t enter into the physical earth & universe when they fell from heaven, but rather fell to the spiritual dimension that parallels or underpins the earth and universe. This is the underworld.
The dark heavenlies exist between the earth & universe and the third heaven. This can be observed in Daniel 10:10-14 where an angel explains to Daniel that he was the messenger who came with a response from the Almighty to Daniel’s prayer, but he was hindered by a demonic entity in the dark heavenlies — “the prince of Persia” — and needed Michael the archangel’s help to get through to the physical realm. There’s more Scriptural evidence, but it’s scant and you have to read in between the lines. “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” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV).
In the above passage, Philippians 2:10, the Greek word translated as “under the earth” is one word — katachthonios (kat-akh-THON-ee-os), which means “subterranean” or “infernal.” This is the underworld – the dark spiritual dimension that underpins the earth & universe, which is why it’s called the underworld. Notice that this passage doesn’t define the underworld as Hades. Why? Because Hades – that is, Sheol – is not the underworld; it’s merely a pit in the underworld where dead souls are kept.
Sheol: “The Heart of the Earth” and “the Earth Below”
The fact that Sheol is a “pit” in the underworld and is not the underworld can be seen in it’s biblical description as “the heart of the earth” and “the earth below”:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
“Son of man, wail for the hordes of Egypt and consign to the earth below both her and the daughters of mighty nations, along with those who go down to the pit.”
Since we know that Jesus’ soul went to Sheol for three days and nights when he died we know that “the heart of the earth” is a description of Sheol; “the earth below” in the second passage is also a reference to Sheol since “the pit” is a biblical description to Sheol, as shown in Chapter Three’s Sheol: “The Pit” or “Well of Souls”, not to mention “the earth below” is referred to as Sheol in verses 21 and 27.
These descriptions of Sheol tell us where Sheol is located — in the nether regions of the earth, not in the physical realm, but the spiritual. The Hebrew word translated as “the pit” is bowr (borr), which means “pit, well or dungeon;” and Proverbs 7:27 suggests that there are “chambers” or orderly sections to Sheol. As such, Sheol is a pit or dungeon in the underworld where dead souls are housed until their resurrection. Sheol has levels and chambers where dead souls are “laid to rest” in an orderly fashion, according to nation, clan and family, much the way that bodies are buried in earthly graveyards in an orderly fashion according to citizenship, family, purchaser and sometimes even religious faith (for instance, there are Catholic cemeteries and church cemeteries where only those of that specific faith can be buried). Why would we think it would be any different for dead souls in Sheol? For more info on this see Chapter Six’ The Longest and Most Detailed Passage on Sheol.
So Sheol is not the underworld — the dark heavenlies — it’s a dungeon in the underworld located in the nether regions of the earth. This is where Jesus’ dead soul was housed for three days an nights until his mighty resurrection.
With the understanding that Sheol is the graveyard of souls in the core of the earth, let’s examine an Old Testament passage that also shows Sheol as being located in the heart of the earth. This text has to do with God’s astonishing judgment on rebellious Korah and his followers:
Then Moses said, “This is how you will know that the Lord has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29 If these men die a natural death and suffer the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the realm of the dead, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.”
31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34 At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, “The earth is going to swallow us too!”
As you can see, the earth literally opened up and swallowed Korah and his followers and “they went down alive into the realm of the dead.” This doesn’t mean that they stayed alive for long because the latter part of verse 33 clearly says that “the earth closed over them, and they perished.” Physical bodies can’t go to Sheol anyway since it’s in the spiritual realm — the dark heavenlies — and not the physical realm.
“The Spirits in Prison”
First Peter 3:18-20 is a particularly weak “proof text” for those who say that Sheol is a place of consciousness because anyone making this argument didn’t bother to really read the passage. Let’s read it:
1 PETER 3:18-20
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. (19) After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — (20) to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
Verse 18 says that Jesus “was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” Of course, we know that Jesus wasn’t “made alive by the Spirit,” i.e. resurrected, until 3 full days after his crucifixion. In the original New International Version verses 19-20 read like so: “through whom also he [Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison (20) who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built…” As you can see above, the newer edition of the NIV cites these verses as such: “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — (20) to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” With this in mind, let me stress five things about this passage:
1. Clearly, Jesus didn’t preach to these “spirits in prison” until after his resurrection and likely before his appearance to his disciples, but certainly before his ascension.
2. The “imprisoned spirits” spoken of in this passage refer to fallen angels or demons that were permanently bound due to their extraordinary vile nature. We observe elsewhere in the Scriptures that unclean spirits resist such an imprisonment (Luke 8:31). Ultimately, they will be cast into the lake of fire as their eternal abode and punishment (Matthew 25:41 & Revelation 20:10).
3. What is this “prison”? Most likely what the NT describes as “the abyss,” the furnace-like pit where evil spiritsare imprisoned, not human beings. See Luke 8:31, Revelation 9:1-2 and 20:1-3 for verification. As noted in the previous point, the mass of unclean spirits known as Legion begged Jesus not to sentence them to the abyss (Luke 8:31). Jude 6 also refers to this prison for fallen angels.
4. What did Jesus preach to these spirits in prison after his resurrection? Jesus’ resurrection was an incredible moment of victory where Jesus “made a public spectacle of” the powers of darkness, which is illustrative of a Roman general parading his enemies through the streets of Rome (Colossians 2:15 & Ephesians 1:19-22). The Lord no doubt proclaimed this crushing victory to these wicked losers and reminded them of their impending judgment and condemnation to the lake of fire.
5. Verse 20 shows that these unclean spirits have been captive to the abyss since the time of Noah, which coincides with 2 Peter 2:4. They were sentenced to this prison because their wickedness overstepped the parameters of the Sovereign LORD’s tolerance, which helps explain why, after 120 years of Noah’s preaching while building the ark, only seven of his family members believed in the LORD. No one else in the human race could be convinced because of the vile anti-God activity of these spirits (not that this discounts human will, of course). Therefore God bound these wicked spirits in the abyss until their final judgment.
As you can see, 1 Peter 3:18-20 in no way supports the idea that people are conscious in Sheol, including Jesus Christ who spent three days there – dead – until his awesome resurrection and victory over the kingdom of darkness.
How Can Sheol Be a State of Torment if Men seek it During the Tribulation?
Let’s look at an interesting indirect reference to Sheol in Revelation 9. The first part of this chapter has to do with the fifth trumpet judgment during the Tribulation. “Locusts” are released from the Abyss to torment people on the earth who don’t have the seal of God. We know from other passages that the “Abyss” is the furnace-like pit where particularly malevolent evil spirits are imprisoned (see Luke 8:31, Revelation 9:1-2 and 20:1-3). As such, we can confidently conclude that the “locusts” are wicked spirits who are given the power to torture people for five months, but not to kill:
[The locusts] were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. 6 During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
As you can see, the agony of these stubborn, unrepentant people will be so great that they’ll seek death but it will elude them.
This passage indirectly addresses the nature of Sheol for two reasons: (1.) These unbelievers are seeking death and, if they die, they automatically go to Sheol; and (2.) death and Hades (Sheol) are spoken of in the same breath in Scripture; for instance:
I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
…and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
Why is it significant that these horribly tormented people will literally seek death? Because such a statement only makes since if Sheol is the condition of death where dead souls ‘sleep’ in death. In other words, Revelation 9:6 makes no sense if Sheol were a torture chamber in the heart of the earth where unredeemed souls suffer constant fiery torment until their resurrection. Let’s go ahead and read this verse as if this doctrine were true:
During those days people will seek death [and go to Sheol to suffer constant roasting torment] but will not find it; they will long to die [and be tortured in flames in Sheol], but death will elude them.
As you can see, the idea that Sheol is a condition of constant fiery torment for unredeemed souls doesn’t fit this passage or any other passage in Scripture. It’s a false doctrine that makes utter nonsense of God’s Word. However, when we have a biblical understanding of the nature of Sheol – that it’s the soulish graveyard in the underworld where dead souls “rest” in death – then the passage makes perfect sense. No wonder these people wanted to die.
Now someone might argue that it’s not necessary for these people to know what death actually entails – i.e. suffering constant roasting torture in Sheol. In other words, they’re deceived in thinking that death will offer them relief from the torture of the “locusts” when it will actually bring them worse agony. Supposing this is true, let’s read the passage the way eternal torturists actually interpret it:
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them [little knowing that death will not bring them the non-existence they crave as they will suffer perpetual flaming torment in Hades only to be resurrected on the day of judgment and cast into the lake of fire where they will suffer never-ending roasting torture forever and ever].
Again, the eternal torture belief makes utter nonsense of the Scriptures.
For further commentary on this topic see Job’s View of Sheol.
Jesus Christ DIED
A central doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification:
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Moreover, the Bible explicitly says that Father God did not spare his Son but delivered him over to death for our sakes:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Jesus himself plainly declared that he was going to be killed:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
My point is that all three passages literally say in one way or another that Jesus died for our sins and two of them that he was raised to life. How can you be “raised to life” if you didn’t actually die? Amazingly, whole segments of Christendom don’t believe that Jesus really died; they only believe he died physically and then went to Sheol to either roast in torment for three days or hang out with Abraham in some paradise compartment of Sheol and maybe minister to spirits in his spare time. Either way, they don’t really believe he died, nor do they believe he was raised to life since he was already very much alive in Sheol.
Despite this, the Bible over and over stresses that Jesus Christ died as our substitutionary death. In fact, it’s often hard to get through one chapter of the New Testament without reading some reference to Jesus dying for our sins, as well as being raised to life. Let’s look at a smattering of examples from the epistle of Romans:
and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.
This is just one book of the New Testament and I’m skipping some examples.
Here are more examples from a handful of other New Testament books:
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,
1 PETER 1:3
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1 PETER 1:23
Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
This is just a quick smattering of these types of passages. You’ll find such statements in most of the books of the New Testament and, again, sometimes every chapter. If words mean anything at all we have to conclude that Jesus Christ literally died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. This is a central truth of Christianity.
Yet most adherents of eternal torture don’t believe this; they only believe Jesus died physically and then ministered to spirits in subterranean prisons for three days or hanged out with father Abraham or was tortured in flames. Whatever the case, they don’t believe he really died; and they don’t believe he was raised to life either because they don’t actually believe he died.
True Christianity, however, is rooted in the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave up his deity to become a human being and became “obedient to death”:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus Christ literally died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. When he was crucified he “gave up his spirt” (John 19:30) and the breath of life returned to the Father in heaven while Jesus’ dead soul was laid to rest in Sheol — the “world of the dead,” as scholar James Strong defines it — which is the graveyard of souls in the heart of the earth.
Think about that for a moment because it’s a mind-blowing statement: One part of the Godhead (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) DIED for you and me so that we may be reconciled to the Creator and have eternal life – God DIED. How could God possibly die, that is, cease to exist for three full days and nights? I don’t know, but that’s precisely what happened: The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, became “obedient to death” and ceased to exist for three days; and was raised to life so that we may be justified and inherit eternal life.
What an incredible price to pay; it’s awe-inspiring!
Near Death Experiences and Ghostly Phenomena
What about “near-death experiences” – NDEs – where people who claim to have died either “see the light” of heaven or suffer torments in some hellish torture chamber or some variation of either?
NDEs can be chalked up to one of four things:
1. Activity of the mind after temporarily dying, i.e. dreams, imaginations.
2. The person had a real after-death experience. This could be a child or spiritually regenerated person, like the kid in the book Heaven is Real, or an unbeliever whose soul and breath of life haven’t separated yet.
3. We cannot discount what the Bible calls deceiving spirits.
4. Another possibility is that the person is lying.
As for apparitions/ghosts, they could be one of four things:
1. Flashes from the past, i.e. residual effect of former events.
2. Demonic activity.
3. A person who has delayed entry to heaven or Sheol for whatever reason. In the event of a delayed entry to Sheol – if indeed such a thing even occurs – the soul and breath of life obviously haven’t separated yet since the spirit of life gives consciousness to the mind. As such, the person would be temporarily stuck on this plane in a disembodied state. If this doesn’t make sense see the appendix Understanding Human Nature: Spirit, Mind & Body.
4. Like above, the person may be lying.
This covers the spectrum of possibilities, although I’m sure there are minor or mixed variants. Even if one discovers evidence that most cases can be pinpointed to one reason, that doesn’t discount that some cases can be attributed to others. I think it’s pointless and possibly even unhealthy to pursue the topic further since the Torah expressly forbids contact with the dead (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:9-14) and therefore people who are overly interested with the subject are treading the borders. Paul gave a rule in the New Testament: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). So, with subjects like this, my advice is to stay within the wise parameters of God’s Word.
My main problems with NDEs are:
1. These people didn’t actually die, despite what they say, since – if they were dead – they wouldn’t be here, which is why these experiences are called near-death experiences.
2. We all know the crazy imaginations that the mind can come up with practically every night when we sleep, how much more so when we almost die? Since this is so, how can we trust these stories as anything more concrete than dreams or nightmares? Even if many of them agree too many of them contradict; so we can’t trust them.
3. We can’t discount lying spirits. After all, the devil is the “god of this world” and his spiritual minions carry out his orders. He’s the “father of lies” and is fittingly called “the deceiver” in Scripture. Consequently, his modus operandi is to deceive.
In light of all this, if you were the devil wouldn’t you want spiritually unregenerate people to think they have an immortal soul apart from Christ and that they’ll automatically see a bright light and feeling of warm love when they die, being ushered into heavenly bliss? Of course you would. Why? Because it would steer them away from the gospel, spiritual rebirth and their Creator. For these reasons I choose to stick with what God’s Word says on the subject and not go beyond it. I encourage you to do the same.