an extract from The Triumph of Mercy
Near-death experiences refer to the visions related by those whose souls have left their bodies while being close to death. Although there are records in existence of these experiences since before the time of Christ by individuals of many different religions of the world, they have been much more frequent in the last few decades. In 1981, a survey in the United States revealed that 15% of Americans reported having had near-death experiences. With improved urgent care and life support systems, those figures have increased even more in recent years. In a survey conducted in hospitals by Kenneth Ring, he discovered that a third of those who were close to death or pronounced clinically dead and came back, reported having had a transcendental experience.  Although the majority of these experiences are positive, some had negative experiences where they found themselves in hell or purgatory.
I have read extensively on the subject during the last 20 years. In October of 2013, I was hospitalized for 17 days and for three days I was between life and death. Due to the immune suppressants I take to prevent the rejection of my transplanted liver, an insect bite developed into an abscess and quickly became life threatening. After flying out of the jungle in a small plane I was received by an ambulance in Villavicencio, and after 4 hours on the winding highway I arrived at the hospital in Bogota, where they drained the abscess, removing over a liter of infected material. My blood was poisoned with a bacterium called staphylococcus aurous, which often causes death.
During those three days I left my body three times. Each time I would fall abruptly back into my body and would feel its limitations in my weakened state. While out of body, I floated over beautiful terrains and saw colors I had never seen since my days on LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs during the 1960s, and I saw geometric images that defied the imagination. In one instance I found myself talking to someone dressed in white just before reentering my body. I knew that we had been conversing for some time, but I don’t remember the conversation, except for the last part when I was about to pass through a veil beyond which I could see the hospital with sleeping patients in different beds. I knew it was time to reenter my body and I remember asking the person in white how I would know if I had entered the right body. He said that I would know when I repeated the number “361.”
The next moment I felt myself fall abruptly into a body and startled I lifted my head, looking around the room and at my body in an effort to determine where I was. I couldn’t even recognize my own body and was feeling quite agitated. It was 2:00 a.m. and there was a nurse beside me taking my vital signs. She told me to be still. I looked around the room again but couldn’t tell where I was. When I saw the monitor, I saw several numbers and looked for “361” but they were all different numbers. I looked around the room and at my body once again and then looked back at the monitor just as it registered my temperature. It read 36.1 Centigrade. As soon as I repeated “361” out loud I suddenly recognized my own body.
I confess that that was a very strange experience. I don’t even remember most of the conversation. I just remember that I was in a place where there was much light, and I had a sense of peace and well-being. The person I was with emanated love and wisdom. I would have concluded that I was just hallucinating if it were not for the fact that I was given the sign “361” before returning to my body and seeing it appear later on the monitor.
While I do not discount the authenticity of some of these out of body experiences as encounters with the spiritual realm, I do not believe that we should let these subjective experiences have any influence upon the formation of our doctrines concerning the afterlife when these experiences are not in agreement with the Scriptures, and especially when they go directly against what the Scriptures teach. The fact is that much of what individuals report having seen and heard in near-death experiences directly contradicts the Bible.
Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Though there are many testimonies of both Christians and non-Christians that confirm these words of Jesus, the vast majority of those who have had near-death experiences worldwide are of other religions or even atheists who testify of having gone towards the light and having had ecstatic experiences without any mention whatsoever of Jesus Christ. Because of this, many giving more weight to these subjective experiences than to the words of Jesus Himself, have ceased to believe that it is necessary to come to God through Christ. For them, it is no longer essential to put one’s faith in Jesus Christ, since Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Indigenous animists and even Atheists, have found themselves in heaven in these experiences without the need for repentance and faith in Christ.
The Scriptures are very clear in emphasizing the need of holiness to be in the presence of the Lord:
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21)
“For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 5:5-6)
“Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there)…. 27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.” (Rev 21:25,27)
In spite of these clear declarations of the Scriptures, even some pastors say - based upon the testimonies of persons who have had near-death experiences, that holiness of life is not necessary in order to inherit the kingdom of God at death. I just finished reading a book written by a pastor concerning near-death experiences called: “Revealing Heaven – The Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences” by John W. Price.  Based upon testimonies of pleasant near-death experiences related by homosexuals, he relegates the prohibition of these practices, and many others which are censured in the Scriptures, to “cultural taboos” that have been converted into “religious dogmas.”
We must decide whether we are going to base our convictions upon subjective near-death experiences or by what the word of God says. The Bible is very clear concerning these sins:
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1Cor 6:9-11)
“as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 7)
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)
The present day increase in the frequency of these near-death experiences and visions is in part due to improved urgent care and life support systems, making it possible to revive more individuals from the brink of death. However, another factor that we should take into account is the source of the revelations. They return with revelations from the spirit realm, but are they always true revelations of spiritual realities beyond this life? Paul warns us that “Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14). I am convinced that, at least in part, the increase of these experiences in these last days; especially the revelations which contradict the word of God, are revelations of deceiving spirits of whom we have been warned in Scriptures:
“for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” (2Tim 4:3,4)
Paul says here that they will not endure sound teaching, but rather, according to their own desires, they will seek out teachers for themselves who will tell them myths instead of the truth. And where do these fables originate? From the imagination of the teachers, or is there something more sinister hidden behind their fables? In another passage Paul reveals the true source of many of these teachings:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1Tim 4:1)
Without discounting the reality that many of the near-death experiences are genuine encounters with God and revelations of heaven and hell; as with any revelation, vision, prophecy or miracle, we need discernment so as not to believe every spirit but rather to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1John 4:1). In 1John 4:3 John says that every spirit that doesn’t confess Jesus is not of God, but rather is antichrist. The great majority of revelations of near-death experiences are antichrist because they exclude the need of Christ for salvation. They are very similar to the increasingly frequent revelations from communications given by “extra-terrestrials” and supposed messages received from the dead - phenomenon which are also on the rise in these last days.
In the same way that we need to exercise discernment concerning revelations of heaven, we also need more discernment concerning supposed revelations of hell. We must examine them in the light of the Scriptures. Many of these revelations deceive by taking from the Word, but others deceive by adding many details which are not found in Scripture. I have read or heard many testimonies of visions of hell and the most outstanding characteristic to me is their many conflicting details. They often contain details which are not in Scripture, contradict the Word, or defy all logic.
Jesus said of the eonian fire, that it was prepared for the devil and his angels. The obvious idea expressed here is that it is a place of punishment prepared for them, where they will be tormented along with all of the unjust among mankind who will also be punished there with them. Nevertheless, the typical testimony of hell describes it as if hell belonged to Satan and as though the demons and fallen angels were the tormentors rather than the tormented.
Many give descriptions of worms eating the bodies of the tormented. In the case of the seven Colombian youth who describe what they saw in hell, the worms were giants, although the rest who mention worms describe them as normal in size.  These testimonies which describe worms in hell seem to have been influenced by misapplications of texts which simply speak of corpses being consumed by maggots:
“And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." (Isa 66:24)
This passage is a judgment declared against those who come against Jerusalem. It is not a description of the torments of hell. It simply says that those near Jerusalem will see the corpses of their enemies being eaten by worms in the fire and their stench will be an abhorrence to all who pass by. The worms do not die off and the fire doesn’t go out until the corpses are fully consumed.
“They will all respond, they will say to you, ‘You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.’ 11 All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.” (Isa 14:10-11)
Here, as in Isaiah 66, he is speaking of the decomposition of corpses. Here it refers to the corpse of the king of Babylon. It is saying that all who were awed by his splendor will be amazed to see his despicable death. In verse 18 through 20 it gives more detail saying:
“All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb. 19 But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot, 20 you will not join them in burial.” (Isa 14:18-20 NIV)
It should be obvious that what is being described here is not the king’s soul being tormented in hell, but rather his dead corpse in a heap with others slain in battle, being consumed by maggots. It speaks of him as being deprived of his own royal tomb, which was an important legacy for great kings. Such a despicable death for the mighty king of Babylon would have caused great wonder to all who observed his end. If it caused worldwide astonishment to see the end of dictators like Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Gadhafi, one can just imagine how it would be for a world ruler like the king of one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.
Therefore, the testimonies of hell which describe disembodied souls being eaten by worms is not based upon what the Scriptures actually teach. They were most likely influenced by hellfire sermons which misinterpreted the verses which speak of maggots consuming the corpses of the dead. These descriptions can also be produced by deceiving spirits who are known for misapplying Scriptures to their own advantage in order to malign the character of God.
There is a website where one can read of visions of hell from several different world religions.  On their page that is dedicated to the Christian hell there are some 30 visions of hell within Christianity from 100 years before Christ up to the fifteenth century. The belief in purgatory was promoted and formally adopted by the Catholic Church in the eleventh century. It is interesting to observe that the visions subsequent to that usually included not only a description of hell, but also of purgatory, although today, at least among Protestants, there is no longer mention of purgatory in their testimonies. During the dark ages, most of the visions and near-death experiences were negative, telling of torments, fire and darkness. Nowadays, in a time when hellfire and condemnation is no longer focused upon in most pulpits, the majority relate pleasant experiences of light, peace and love.
One testimony I listened to was of a young girl who attended a legalistic church who said she was shown a place in hell reserved for women who had short hair and wore pants during their lifetime and died without repenting. Knowing that many of those with long hair and long dresses were also gossips and slanderers, I wondered how it would be decided which compartment in hell would be most appropriate for each one.
Others, who attended churches where tithing was imposed, testified to seeing people swimming in a lake of molten lava with signs on their chests which said: “I didn’t tithe.” It is very common to hear testimonies in which sin groups are compartmentalized in hell – one place for those who didn’t tithe, another place for fornicators, another for liars, etc., etc. This would not be logical since most would fall into several different categories. The fornicator most likely didn’t tithe either, and probably lied, slandered and wore pants and makeup as well. Judgment will be according to all
one´s works and not just one predominate category.
This concept of categories does not come from Scripture but from other religions such as the Hindus and Buddhists, and from writers with a morbid imagination like Dante. A woman who sold many copies of her book on her supposed visions of hell, described hell as a lake of fire about the size of a football field. I couldn’t help wondering how all would be able to fit in a lake the size of a football field if 90% of humanity, plus Satan and his angels and the demons are in it. One best-seller said that in hell nobody had any memory of God. On the other hand, many others say that that which most torments those in hell is not being able to stop thinking about God, while knowing that there no longer exists the possibility of being reconciled to Him.
Some testimonies giving details of hell have been exposed as intentional fraud to mock Christians for their gullibility. Others were invented by “evangelists” in order to have more converts. Others have gained a fortune selling their books and videos of their supposed visions of hell.
I think it is worthy of note that nearly all who have had negative near-death experiences of hell were delivered and allowed to come back into their bodies when they cried out to God for mercy. This would be in agreement with Christian Universalism and the Scriptures we have seen thus far:
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. 9 The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Ps 145:8-9)
“For the Lord will not cast off forever. 32 Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” (Lam 3:31-33)
“Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” (2Sam 14:14 NIV)
In my teens, under the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, I had several hellish experiences. Nevertheless, looking back on those experiences now with a clearer perspective and with a personal knowledge of God, I do not attribute those hellish experiences to God, but rather to the enemy. We should not derive our beliefs concerning hell from visions and near-death experiences. Paul said that even if an angel from heaven were to preach another gospel different from the pure good news of Jesus Christ, let him be accursed (Gal 1:8). Neither should our convictions be based upon the imagination of writers like Dante, but solely upon the Word of God. Even then, we need to learn to distinguish between that which is literal and that which is metaphorical.
Most of all, we need our eyes opened to be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3:18-19). Many of God’s people do not comprehend the immensity of His love. Instead of opening up to receive the fullness of God, they open themselves up to fear motivated religion and end up being instead “filled with all the fullness of fear” - fear of a sadistic and angry god. The enemy is not only our accuser, accusing us before God, but he is also God’s accuser, accusing God before us. He does everything within his power to blind our eyes so that we cannot see the good news of the gospel in all its glory. Many of the descriptions of hell discount the salvific work of the cross of Christ and limit the love and mercy of God, which endure forever.
I personally have arrived at the conclusion that the majority of the testimonies of hell do not agree with the testimony of Scripture and do not produce good fruit in the lives of those impacted by them. There are no examples in Scriptures of “evangelizing” lost souls with threats of hell, traumatizing people with graphic details of endless torments in order to motivate them to accept Christ. The threat of hell was used in the dark ages by institutionalized religion in order to keep the masses in line and the coffers full, but that is not what we find in the early Church. Jesus said: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32 NIV).  Think about it; what was it that drew you to Christ – the threat of hell or the love of God in Christ Jesus?
As Christians, what is it that transforms us into the image of Christ? The fear of hell? Many ministers enslave the people of God, using the fear of hell as a whip to drive them to work harder and give more, but does that really make us more like Christ? We can only become like Him through a personal relationship with Him – a relationship based upon love and trust. Fear-based religion often produces dead works, but only a relationship of love can produce the fruits of a life transformed by His presence.
 Kenneth Ring, Life at Death
 John W. Price, Revealing Heaven – A Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences, Kindle format
 The word “men” is not in the Greek text but was added by the translators.