By Terry James (excerpted from the bestselling book God’s Ghostbusters)
Everyone dies, to this point in history. You are going to die unless certain interventions occur. Those you love are going to die, with the same caveat. Each person who has ever lived has died or will die, with the exception of two people I know of in the past and millions of others in the future.
I personally have died three times. But all of the above constitutes a story we will look at as we uncover layer upon layer of relevant factors while exploring these much-mulled-over things that pertain to the mystery called death.
There are many stories about death. Tales of the dead, their location, and their interaction with the living are the stuff of legend. Perhaps the strangest of the stories I’ve encountered comes from a pastor of a large church and president/chief executive officer of a Christian TV network.
He tells of the death of a dear Christian brother—as he puts it—whose body lay in its casket in a mortuary for viewing. As the story goes, a high-powered, evangelist-type preacher was in town to conduct services for the CEO’s church.
They took the evangelist to the place of viewing, and the evangelist stood over the dearly departed for a moment.
The pastor/CEO recounts how the evangelist then said something like: “This dear brother isn’t meant to be dead.” He grabbed the corpse after lifting the closed half of the coffin lid, dragged the body from its resting place, and sat it up against the wall in the sitting-up position, legs straight out.
The evangelist stood back, glared downward at the embalmed dead man, and declared: “In the name of Jesus, I command you to get up and walk!”
According to the pastor/CEO, the body just slumped over with its stiff shoulder on the carpet.
Again, the evangelist reached down and placed the corpse with its back to the wall. And again, he said: “I command you, in the name of Jesus, to get up and walk!”
The body slumped to the carpet.
Once more, the now-agitated evangelist put the body against the wall and shouted mightily: “In the name of Jesus, I command you to get up and walk!”
This time, the pastor/CEO said—and I’ve heard him tell the story as absolute truth on two different occasions—the corpse stood to its feet and walked out of the viewing room. Where the corpse walked, or where the now-walking-around dead man is at present, the pastor/TV executive has never said.
I have not heard of anyone in the huge congregation that the man pastors ever question this account, which I heard by watching him tell the story on his TV network.
Neither Tales from the Crypt nor any other forum that tells of the macabre can top that one, in my estimation of stories of the dead. The reason it is at the top is that it is told as the truth by a supposed man of God.
I’m tempted to say that the pastor was embellishing for the sake of making a point, although I don’t remember his point. Who could remember any of a sermon’s objectives after hearing such a thing? I’m almost certain, though, the telling involved people having enough faith to bring down the prosperity blessings of God on them. It was a prosperity gospel-type preacher who told the story.
I’m also tempted to say that the pastor remembered the story and just got the details mixed up. But, no. His telling is a lie. It is a false teaching. There’s no other way to put it.
Either the preacher is a liar or God is a liar. Jesus, who is God, said: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
If the man had truly been raised from the dead, he would have made medical history and science would be all over the case. If this gentleman—the evangelist in question—could raise the dead (especially a dead person who is embalmed), we would be hearing about it from mainstream news journalists who would be clamoring for interviews with the “miracle worker.” Such a man could not remain unknown.
Jesus of Nazareth did just such miracles, and His name is known the world over and from generation to generation. As a matter of fact, His name, the Bible says, is above every name.
The pastor’s story does go directly to the fascination mankind has with death. More to the point, man’s fascination is with the question of what happens after death. Let’s look at some thoughts on this question down through the centuries.
What Happens after Death?
Perhaps it is the most wondered-over question that runs through the human mind. That is, it is likely the most unspoken question.
Everyone reading this has at one time or the other—perhaps quite frequently, in some cases—asked either, “What happens after I die?” or, “What happens after people die?” Wondering about where people go after death is most often part of the grieving process upon the death of a family member or a friend.
The abode of the dead and what it might entail is a central theme of every religion that has ever been invented. Let’s look at a few of the fascinating fabrications about what comes after death found within some of the religious systems throughout history.
Human beings have always viewed the afterlife in consideration of their own mortality. Thus, religions are born with uniquely tailored life-after-life formulas as key to religious construction. The abode of the dead takes center stage.
Archaeological digs have shown that, beginning with the most primitive cultures (earliest dating), people have left graveside trinkets like stones, flower petals, animal horns, and other items. Arrangements of bones in the graves indicate that corpses have been buried in the fetal position and other positions, facing east or in other directions that show tradition and ritual—all implying religious preparation for the dead as they journey into the afterlife
Egyptian burial history is the most documentable of the ancient peoples. More than three thousand years of history provide a treasury of details about that nation’s cultural evolution in treatment of the dead.
Most important, the archaeology shows, was the perceived need for the individual’s preparation for the trip into the abode of the dead. The body had to be furnished with food and other necessities for the journey into forever. This was done on a regular basis throughout Egypt’s long history.
Elaborate rituals readied the dead for what came after deat
The final step in the transition to the afterlife was the judgment in the Hall of Maat (the god of justice) by Horus (the god of the sky) and Thoth (scribe of the dead) by comparing ab (the conscience) and a feather. The ritual was known as the Weighing of the Heart. Heavy hearts were swallowed by a creature with a crocodile head who was called the Devourer of Souls. The good people were led to the Happy Fields, where they joined Osiris, god of the underworld. Many spells and rituals were designed to ensure a favorable judgment and were written in the papyrus or linen “Book of the Dead.”[i]
Egyptians spent much of their lives getting ready in one way or another for the afterlife. The pharaohs, of course, did the most elaborate prearrangements, with the knowledge that they would be mummified using the most expensive materials and spices available. They built magnificent edifices, in most cases.
All of the ancient Egyptians, regardless of their personal financial status, prepared according to their means for life after their deaths. They expected the afterlife to be just a grander scale of the life they were leaving.
Stories have it that Socrates, the most famous of the ancient Greek philosophers, accepted his death calmly while he drank the hemlock. Ancient Greeks as a whole were, however, not so casual when thinking on the abode of the dead. As a matter of fact, they had a fear of death. That fear was justified, considering what they believed followed death.
The Greeks believed that, upon death, a person journeys into a place called hades. The God of this, they believed, was also called Hades.
The dead first crossed the river Styx in a boat at the helm of which was a boatman named Charon. A coin for the purpose of paying the boatman was placed with the dead body as part of the rituals involved. Following the boat trip, the guardian of the abode of the dead—a hideous, three-headed dog named Cerberus—had to be appeased with honey cake. The strange adventure led to one’s final destiny.
The Underworld offered punishment for the bad and pleasure for the good. On the one hand, the Elysian Fields, a sunny and green paradise, was the home to those who had led a good life. Others were condemned to a torture. Tantalus, for example, was forced to be perpetually hungry and thirsty while next to a fruit tree and lake that he just barely failed to reach. And Sisyphus was forced to roll a rock up a hill, only to have it return to the bottom where he began the task. They provide us with the English words tantalize and Sisyphusian task, both of which describe a frustrating futility. Most were not actually tortured, however. Rather, they went on shadows of their previous selves.[ii]
For those of Rome of antiquity, life was considered death and the afterlife, true life. One had to serve in this prison called life for a short time. During this time, people were to serve family and nation in an honorable way and do all within their power to improve the world around them.
The body was considered only the outer shell of a person, the soul being the immortal. People, thus, were all gods of a sort, their immortal spirits inhabiting the afterlife as deities. The degree to which they had led lives of piety and embellished existence on Earth determined the quality of life throughout their version of eternity.
The Earth was viewed as the lowest of nine spheres throughout which the moon and stars moved. The spirit moved within those orbs in conjunction with how earthly life had been conducted.
Crossing a river was a common strand of belief among those of New Zealand and others of the Polynesian cultures. The Maoris viewed death as a journey in the hope of being reunited with loved ones who had gone on before.
The dead would be greeted with chanting and wailing to commemorate their arrival within the abode of the dead. The trip after death involved passing by monstrous creatures beneath high cliffs full of fearful sights and sounds.
Although the journey was frightening, these believed the end result was worth it, because all would be restful and pleasurable.
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Like the Polynesian cultures, the Aztecs believed that, upon death, the individual went through a terrifying journey. The body of the dead was thus prepared by ritualistic traditions for that trip into the afterlife.
A priest would chant, give a formal speech, and, along with others, wail over the body while trickling water upon the forehead of the corpse to purify and send the spirit of the person to the next level of passage.
The departed would then go through a series of desolate, foreboding places of ravines and deserts, and would face serpents, lizards, scorpions, and other frightening things, including winds that cut like knives. The soul would arrive at a place called Mictlantecuhtli, where it would spend four years. The person’s dog, sacrificed at its owner’s death, would join its master and they, together, could travel across the Ninefold River and enter the eternal house of the dead, Chicomemictlan.
Aborigines believed that the body and spirit were linked to the land in ways that could not be broken. When a person dies, they believed, he or she simply makes the transition to oneness with the land. That individual joins the spirits of his or her ancestors.
Death and afterlife are described in the following from the traditional Aborigine belief system.
The “dreamtime” was the world of creation, of the earliest tribal memories, but also of the continuing abode of all those who could not be immediately seen in the physical world. Some tribes believed that the spirit remained to inhabit the place where the person had died, while others believed that it was carried across the sea to the land of the dead. In some tribes, the spirit was believed to have a chance to be reborn at some future time and live another earthly existence.[iii]
Perhaps the most influential treatment of the things of afterlife is found in the fiction of Dante Alighieri. The fourteenth-century Italian writer penned Inferno as the first part of his epic poem, The Divine Comedy. Inferno, along with parts two and three, Purgatorio and Paradiso, serve as a foundation for the way much of the world views the afterlife. Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general seem to be caught up in Dante’s fascinating views of what comes next.
Readers are taken through many painful, sometimes ecstatic, stages of life after death from the poet’s perspective. Virgil, the Roman poet, in spiritual methodology, guides Dante—thus, the reader—through the medieval concept of hell.
That abode of the dead is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. The odyssey represents in allegorical form the soul’s travel toward God and matters involved in acceptance and rejection of sin.
Dante comes to a gate, above which is inscribed on the ninth and final line: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_(Dante) – cite_note-3#cite_note-3
Before making the entrance through the gate, he sees the soul of a pope, or of Pontius Pilate—the description is unclear—and the souls of people who have made no commitment to either do good or evil. Souls of outcasts are mixed together around the soul of Pope Celestine V or Pilate and those who haven’t committed.
These are spirits (angelic?) who took no side in the rebellion in Lucifer’s fall. These are neither in heaven nor in hell, but reside along the shores of the river Acheron. They are pursued throughout eternity by supernatural wasps and hornets. They are thus doomed because of their pursuit of “self interest” before the punishment was given. The insects and other things, like maggots, drink the doomed ones’ blood and tears.
Dante, accompanied by Virgil, reaches the ferry that will take the pair across the Acheron and into central parts of hell. The boat captain, Charon, doesn’t want to take Dante farther because he is still a living being. Virgil prevails, and the journey becomes unbearable in sights and sounds. Dante faints and doesn’t revive until he reaches the other side.
Each circle of hell that Dante penetrates, encountering three beasts along the way, becomes worse in punishment until the center, where Satan is held as the worst of all purveyors of sin.
Each circle’s sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found not in hell but in purgatory, where they labor to be free of their sins. Those in hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant.
Allegorically, Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is, and the three beasts represent three types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious. These three types of sin also provide the three main divisions of Dante’s hell: upper hell (the first five circles) for the self-indulgent sins; circles 6 and 7 for the violent sins; and circles 8 and 9 for the malicious sins.[iv]
The nine circles and the sins which they encompass/govern are specifically listed as follows:
First Circle (Limbo)
Second Circle (Lust)
Third Circle (Gluttony)
Fourth Circle (Greed)
Fifth Circle (Anger)
Sixth Circle (Heresy)
Seventh Circle (Violence)
Eighth Circle (Fraud)
Ninth Circle (Treachery)[v]
Many believe it is Dante who inspired Christian beliefs in the afterlife. It is the Bible, however, that influenced Dante’s exploration of the afterlife. With today’s emphasis on the supernatural in entertainment, it is understandable that people are confused about is true and what is not. And, it comes down to a matter of faith—but it should be faith founded upon and based in observable facts from historical examination.
Christianity today has a severe short circuit in the continuity of teaching, thus understanding, about death and what comes next. It is not the Bible’s error, however, that causes the disconnect, but misunderstandings caused by lack of study about what the Bible says—and, more troubling, deliberate misinterpretation of the Word of God.
Hell doesn’t exist, in the view of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society (WTS). Hell is interpreted as the “common grave of mankind.” Most people are simply annihilated upon death, according to this view. However, there are a number of JW believers who will spend eternity with God, they teach.
Some are already in the abode of the dead and others will yet be “saved.” Armageddon is scheduled to occur soon, then Christ will return, and all who falsely profess and all others will be dealt with by God in judgment.
Believers who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and survive Armageddon will live in peace during one thousand years of God’s kingdom following the consummation of all wars on Earth.
A person must accept the doctrines formulated by the WTS governing body, be baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness, and follow the program of works as laid out by the governing body in order to have salvation.
Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) put forth that three heavens, not just one, exist. Couples who have been married in Mormon temples have reserved for them places in the highest celestial realm of abode. Their places are sealed forever, according to Mormon dogma. Such men and women eventually will become gods and goddesses within the system, if all other of the Mormon stipulations for attaining such status are followed. The husbands will become rulers in control of entire universes.
Most members of the church will be a part of the terrestrial kingdom. That realm is the place of abode for “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers.”
Hell is a real place, Mormonism says, but few will be there forever. Most will eventually make it to the terrestrial kingdom. All others will be assigned the place within the terrestrial kingdom reserved for the sons of perdition—the people who were once devout Mormons but became apostates, leaving the church. This place will also be for those who have committed the most serious sins and not received forgiveness before death. They will be in the same realm as Satan and his angelic horde that fell from heaven.
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These believe in hell as a literal abode. However, they believe it is not forever. All who go there will eventually be annihilated. They take the Bible’s statement that there will be burning in hell forever as meaning that there will be burning…as long as there is something to burn. All, they believe, will be reduced to ashes in the annihilation process.
All Hindus hope to ultimately escape the time-after-time cycle of rebirth into this world. Salvation is, to them, an end to the constant process of birth, death, and rebirth.
Such a destiny can mean eternal rest for the individual in the arms of a loving, personal deity, but for most it’s the loss of individual personality and being entrapped within the incomprehensible abyss of Brahman.
Salvation from this fate is attempted in four ways, according to Hindu belief.
- Jnana yoga, the way of knowledge, employs philosophy and the mind to comprehend the unreal nature of the universe.
- Bhakti yoga, the way of devotion or love, reaches salvation through ecstatic worship of a divine being.
- Karma yoga, the way of action, strives toward salvation by performing works without regard for personal gain.
- Raja yoga, “the royal road,” makes use of meditative yoga techniques.
The majority of Hindus believe they face many incarnations before they can achieve salvation. Some sects believe, however, that a gracious divinity will move them more quickly along the reincarnation process.
Buddhism proposes that self and ignorance of truth about existence, not sin, constitute the road block to salvation. Only by eliminating these things can the world be made right.
Selfish cravings, this religious system holds, causes suffering, and only ridding one’s self of this self-centeredness will soothe the spirit. The way to cease the cravings, thus attain escape from continual rebirth, is by following Buddhist practice, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.
To blow out this flame of self-centeredness is to reach nirvana, the spiritual condition that the monks of this religion constantly seek to reach through a series of meditative practices.
The abode of the dead was located, as Buddhism has it, to the West, in China, on the other side of Mount T’ai.
This religious system holds that moral behavior and attitudes determine one’s eternal existence in life after death.
There is no saving grace, as in Christianity, but there is the opportunity for repentance for even the most evil of people through the individual’s positive action. The notion of Christian-type redemption for individuals, however, doesn’t exist, in that there is no clear heaven to attain presented in Judaism.
Those who practice this religion still hope for a Messiah who, they believe, will judge and hand out rewards. But, the system holds that this future of judgments and rewards is more communal than individual.
The abode of the dead in Judaism is unclear, the premise being that earthly existence is more important to dwell upon than afterlife. God is to be left to determine that realm.
I never ceased being amazed at the Hollywood filmmakers when it comes to making movies about the supernatural—particularly about death and the abode of the dead. Almost without exception, films of the major box office sort, when they have at their core the supernatural that involves religion, death, and dying, use the Catholic Church in presenting their fiction. This has been the way of movie-making in the modern era.
This wasn’t always the case.
The vampire movies of Bela Lugosi’s time had a cross at the center of their presentations. Count Dracula would take one look at the shining metallic cross and throw his cape-covered arm over his eyes, hiss viciously, turn quickly, and leave. But, the action by Count Dracula’s chief nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing, wasn’t necessarily the action of a Catholic priest in my memory, although I’m certain the Catholic Church had an influence in the screenwriters’ thinking.
The more modern version of Dracula and his nefarious doings almost all included a priest with chains and crucifixes hanging from his backward-collared neck.
My mind leaps next to the great Orson Welles’ film, War of the Worlds. The Catholic priest wanted to approach the Martians to make peace with them, as I recall. He got zapped, of course, so I guess the Catholic Church, in that instant, didn’t fare so well.
Thinking ahead to The Omen, episodes one, two, and three, the Catholic Church was at the center of trying to deal with the up-and-coming Damien and the threat he presented from the Catholic perspective of Bible prophecy.
In The Exorcist, the filmmakers called upon the Catholic Church to remove the demons. There wasn’t a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Assemblies of God minister anywhere around. Same with movies like Salem’s Lot and a dozen other Hollywood offerings that come to mind. The Catholic version is always the version of death, dying, and the afterlife that is preferred for use in movie-making.
The question is: Why not the Protestant version of how things play out following the cessation of the heart’s beating? It is perhaps best to consider the Roman Catholic belief system to search for answers. What is that religion’s premise regarding death, the abode of the dead, et al.?
Catholicism teaches that everyone who dies with unrepented-of sins goes to hell, at least for a time. Hell is a real place of punishment, and if sins aren’t confessed to an authorized priest of the Church, one’s immortal soul is in danger. In hell, the lost soul is separated forever from God in a place of eternal torment. There, a supernatural fire burns and an immortal body is in pain forever.
Sincere repentance of sin by confessing to an authorized priest brings absolution. Usually, some symbolic things are required to satisfy the completion for absolution, such as special prayers and repetitive incantations.
But the Catholic Church belief system about dying and the abode of the dead gets much more complicated.
Souls of those who have died in the state of grace must suffer for a time, the Church dogma says. A purging that prepares the soul to enter heaven is necessary. Purgatory is the abode of the dead until the dead is fully cleansed of imperfections, venial (less serious) sins, etc. The holding place called Purgatory will be terminated at the time the general judgment take place. The punishment’s intensity and duration can be lessened by the dead one’s friends and family, if these offer Masses, prayers, “and other acts of piety and devotion.”[vi]
Babies who die without being baptized enter heaven after staying in limbo for a duration of time.
Perhaps the answer to why the Catholic Church is the religion of choice to fight the vampires and all other evils is that this is proposed as a Christian religious faith—thus is a part of the most prominent religion in America. Catholicism is also the religion that offers the best way to put a human mediator—a holy man, a priest-buffer, between God and man, thus between good and evil.
The other Christian faiths—most—say that Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and man (see 1Timothy 2:5). Hollywood must put a human face on the screen to deal with things involving the abode of the dead. Jesus Christ—who is, He Himself proclaimed, the Son of Man—isn’t human enough for their purposes, it seems.
Yet, it is Jesus who died on the cross so that human beings could be saved from sin, thus reconciled with God the Father. He went into the abode of the dead and led those who were redeemed into heaven, the Bible tells.
At the beginning of this chapter, I wrote: “Everyone dies, to this point in history. You are going to die unless certain interventions occur. Those you love are going to die, with the same caveat. Each person who has ever lived has died, or will die, with the exception of two people I know of in the past and millions of others in the future. I, personally, have died three times.”
I want to explain, as promised.
Death, Up Close and Personal
When I read nonfiction work by writers such as those featured in this series, I like to know the writer’s credentials. I like to know from what authority he speaks. This is important, because whether by study, by experience, or by both, one who delivers his or her thoughts on a given topic should have credibility in order for the thoughts to really matter.
Respectfully, and humbly, I am satisfied that I have such credence in presenting you with this chapter on dying and the abode of the dead. First of all, I have studied the subject in one form or the other for many years. Over forty, actually. But, it is the experience more than the study that made me really want to write for this volume. Hoping that this won’t be taken like I take the story of the embalmed corpse being made to get up from the floor and walk, here goes.
I had just finished my workout on Good Friday, 2011. It was about 1:30 pm. I had done the warm-up, the weights, the push-ups, and the sits-ups in the Body by Jake crunches machine. Next, I proceeded to the aerobic phase of my exercise program, which I have followed carefully three or four days per week for thirty-two years.
I did the rowing machine with the heavy weights for simultaneous upper and lower body work. This I did for twenty minutes or so. On this day, I felt pretty well exercised for the sixty-eight year old I am as of this writing, so I decided to skip the treadmill and go to the recumbent bike. This would be my cool-down, after which the workout would be complete.
Almost at the moment I stopped pedaling, a burning pressure began behind my sternum. I thought it was indigestion, and told myself that it would go away in a minute or two.
I walked around, stretched, and tried to make the increasing burning and pressure go away. It persisted and grew exponentially worse. I was beginning to have a clammy sweat and difficulty breathing. I told my wife she had better call 911 for help.
Now, if you knew me as Margaret does, that very order would astound you. That is the last thing I would ever do for myself. She was sufficiently impressed that I meant what I said, and called.
The ambulance—with its faithful companion, the fire truck—arrived in about ten minutes. The medics began feeling my neck and wrists, and one of them said, “I can’t find a pulse.” Another said, “Let’s get him out.”
That meant to the ambulance.
They asked if I could walk to the gurney, which I did. I felt every bump in the road; ambulances of this variety aren’t made for the patient’s comfort, just for quick transport to the ER.
We stopped, and I felt the guys tugging at the gurney after they got the back of the vehicle opened. The chest pain was now excruciating. I heard a blip sound, like a computer making the transition from one application to another.
I was instantly standing before a large group of young, beautiful people. They glowed, not with some ghostly glow, but with that of the vibrant, perfect health of the young. They were smiling broadly, their hands motioning and arms raising and gesturing for me, I could tell.
I was in a place of perfection…of joy…and I had no thought of where I had just come from, or any thought of anything, except that this was reality like I had never known. I wanted to stay forever.
But then things got dark and nightmarish, and I was feeling my bare chest with my fingertips.
Oh, yeah. I was on my way to the hospital—or was this just a bad dream and I would soon be back to those young people and all of that joy and peace?
No. I remembered then: This was a heart attack, or something; I didn’t know what, at this point.
“I hit him with the paddles!” a man was shouting.
“Paddles?” I said to him. (They said I came back talking.)
“Your heart stopped,” was his comment.
The pain again grew in my chest, and once more I heard the blip.
Again I stood in front of that joyous throng of those in their mid-twenties, or so they appeared. I wanted to join them. The warmth, the love, was incredible…and peaceful.
But I felt the darkness tugging me, and I was again on the gurney, or table, or whatever. The activity over and around me was frantic. My clothes were stripped from me, things were being attached to me, and someone was getting prepared to do something in the right groin area.
“What are you doing?” I naturally asked, strangely calm, clinical with my question.
The man’s voice was foreign. I later learned he was from India—and was one of the top cardiologist interventionists in our state.
The pain grew again, and then the blip sounded. I was among the young people. I could feel them on either side. It was like we were running; all of us were laughing and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Some of them were looking over at me with their bright laughter as we ran. There was no thought of where I had been before I was again in their presence.
This time, I faded from being among them. I was again on the procedure table, having been hit for the third time with the defibrillator to start my heart, which had stopped beating those three times (I was told later).
They had finished with me, and I felt no pain, only hands all over me, doing things to wires and tubes attached to me.
“Now, details…” the doctor said to me. He put his hand on my shoulder from behind. In his accented voice, he begin explaining the angiogram of my heart. He had placed the pictures above me so I could see them.
Only I couldn’t.
“I can’t see them,” I said. “I’m blind. I’ve been blind since 1993 due to a retinal disease.”
“Oh?” he said. “What disease?”
“Ah, yes,” he said.
He put his index finger upon my chest, and traced as he talked. “You had what we call ‘the widow maker.’ It is the left coronary artery—descending,’” I thought he said. “Fifty percent of the people who have this kind of blockage of this artery never make it to the emergency room. Of those who do make it, most don’t live.”
I was impressed. “I’m still here,” I said—to get his assurance, not to boast.
“You are still here,” he confirmed, patting me on the shoulder.
Over the intervening weeks since the “widow maker,” I’ve given much thought to my trip to the abode of the dead. It is really the abode of those who are truly alive, I believe the Lord has shown me. This present, flesh-and-blood life is the shadow through which we see darkly, the Scripture tells us. For me, this is absolutely fact.
My meeting with that group of otherworld young people has been the cause of much cogitation, I assure. My thinking was, for a couple of weeks, that they wanted me to join them, but that the Lord had overruled and I was sent back, although I kept trying to join them, as the hospital records will attest.
I sense in the deepest part of my spirit now, however, that these beautiful young people were part of the group the writer of Hebrews told us about:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
They were a “heavenly cheering section,” I believe the Lord has shown me. They were letting me know that I and others who put forth truth in this strange, hostile-to-the-gospel hour, are not alone. They are running the race with us.
This was a vision from the other side, I have no doubt. I’m very skeptical about ecstatic experiences, I must tell you. I believe they are too often used to embellish. They are lies, for the most part.
But, I can’t deny what I know I saw and experienced. The Lord is my witness.
I believe the encouragement I received from those three death experiences (and I realize I wasn’t truly dead, or else I wouldn’t be writing this) was given particularly because I and others write and speak on prophecy given by God’s Holy Word, the Bible. Prophecy is 27 percent of the Bible, and I believe the Lord wants me to let those who hold fast to the whole Word of God—including the many prophetic teachings—have the Lord’s approval in a profound way.
Pastors, teachers, who name the name of Jesus—listen up: Providing prophetic truth to the people you shepherd and teach in this closing time of the Church Age (Age of Grace) is all-important to Almighty God. We must tell them that Christ’s coming is very near. To neglect doing this is to neglect what He has put you here to do.
Those Who Won’t Die
I wrote that all will die with the exception of two I know of, and millions of others yet future. Who are these?
The two who have not died, according to the Bible, are Enoch and Elijah. There is some question about Ezekiel. These were taken by the Lord while still living.
The millions who will never taste of the abode of the dead are those who could any moment hear Christ’s shout, “Come up hither!” (Revelation 4:1–2). These are those who have accepted Christ as Savior and will be transformed from mortal to immortal in one stunning microsecond. They will accompany their Lord, Jesus Christ, back to God the Father’s house—heaven—where He has been preparing unimaginably beautiful dwelling places, and where those raptured will live dynamic life for eternity (John 14:1–3).
Those who have died during this dispensation (the Age of Grace) will, like the living believers, be changed into glorified bodies at the same stupendous moment in time. Then will be said, regarding the abode of the dead:
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for asmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:54–58)
UP NEXT: What about Ghosts?
[i] Oracle Think Quest Education Foundation, “The Great Unknown: Some Views of the Afterlife,” Thinkquest.org, http://library.thinkquest.org/16665/afterlifeframe.htm.
[iv] Wikipedia contributors, “Inferno (Dante),” Wikipedia, last accessed July 14, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Inferno_(Dante)&oldid=432842379.
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