There have been several reports of people who saw or heard things when their hearts had stopped and were then revived again seconds to minutes later. Some of these reports have been admitted to be hoaxes. Others seem to be a more realistic report of what the people had experienced. So, how can we know what was real and what was otherwise?
There are some scientific explanations as to what may have happened: a lack of oxygen made the brain frantically recall preconceptions of death, or perhaps various chemical reactions caused the sensation of going toward a white light. Yet the question remains – how can we know of a surety what is true?
For the Christian, there is one source of truth. This source is above all else, including what we see around us. This source is God's word…the Bible. What do the Scriptures tell us happens when we die? Any experience someone has had would only be believable if it fits the testimony of God's word.
2 Thessalonians 2:9 reads, “Even him (the man of sin in verse 3), whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” Matthew 24:24 again emphasizes deceiving wonders, “For there shall arise false messiahs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
These scriptures, describing our day, foretell the occurrence of deceiving signs and wonders. The verses additionally warn us not to believe them. We need to base our understanding of reality on the Bible. As Jesus said in his prayer to God, “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
So what do the Scriptures say about the condition of the dead? Ecclesiastes 9:5 says “the dead know nothing.” Five verses later (verse 10), Solomon says “for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” Job describes waiting in death until he would be resurrected, “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” (Job 14:14) So when is that “appointed time?” Consider what Martha said to Jesus after Lazarus died, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) The dead wait in death, which Jesus described as sleep in John 11:11-14, until they are resurrected.
Since the Scriptures plainly teach that the dead do not know or feel anything, then we know these descriptions of people’s experiences must be deceiving wonders. Sometimes the reports are a hoax, but other times the reports are the result of deceptions tricking their minds. Yet the one thing we do know to be true is God's word.