16 Ways The Historical Jesus & Near-Death Experiences Are Similar
By David Sunfellow
No other historical figure embodies that core truths presented by near-death experiences more fully than Jesus.
1. Jesus experienced God as a personal, loving, divine presence (Jesus reportedly referred to God as Abba, which is Aramaic for “papa”). God, in other words, wasn’t just an abstract, impersonal energy field of love. It was sentient. It had personality. It was expressive. It knew every hair on our heads and expressed Its love in tangible, concrete ways.
2. Jesus insisted that God loves EVERYONE. This is one of the things that may have gotten Jesus killed: he refused to obey the cultural, religious, and political “purity systems” of his day.
In the time of Jesus, it was believed that you had to be pure to stay in God’s good graces. The Jewish purity system of first century Palestine was built around a system that elevated the most pure and reviled the most impure. One’s purity depended on one’s birth and lineage. Priests and Levites came first, and were followed by Israelites and then converts to the Jewish faith. Further down the road were bastards. Purity also depended on behavior. Those who carefully obeyed purity codes were regarded as more pure than those who ignored them. People who ignored or downplayed these codes were regarded as outcasts, which typically included tax collectors and shepherds. Physical wholeness was also a purity issue. People who were not whole — who were maimed, chronically ill, lepers, eunuchs, and so on, were considered impure. People who were abjectly poor were also considered impure. Males, who did not menstruate or give birth like females, were considered more pure than women. Finally, Jews were considered more pure than Gentiles.
Jesus scholar Marcus Borg sums it up by saying:
“The effect of the purity system was to create a world with sharp social boundaries: between pure and impure, righteous and sinner, whole and not whole, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile.”
“One of his [Jesus’] most characteristic activities was an open and inclusive table. ‘Table fellowship’ — sharing a meal with somebody — had a significance in Jesus’ social world that is difficult for us to imagine. It was not a casual act, as it can be in the modern world. In a general way, sharing a meal represented mutual acceptance. More specifically, rules surrounding meals were deeply embedded in the purity system. Those rules governed not only what might be eaten and how it should be prepared, but also with whom one might eat. Refusing to share a meal was a form of social ostracism. Pharisees (and others) would not eat with somebody who was impure, and no decent person would share a meal with an outcast. The meal was a microcosm of the social system, table fellowship an embodiment of social vision…
“The inclusive vision incarnated in Jesus’s table fellowship is reflected in the shape of the Jesus movement itself. It was an inclusive movement, negating the boundaries of the purity system. It included women, untouchables, the poor, the maimed, and the marginalized, as well as some people of stature who found his vision attractive. It is difficult for us who live in a world in which we take for granted an attitude (at least as an ideal) of nondiscrimination to appreciate the radical character of this inclusiveness. It is only what we would expect from a reasonably decent person. But in a society ordered by a purity system, the inclusiveness of Jesus’ movement embodied a radically alternative vision…
“In short, there is something boundary shattering about… the center of Jesus’ message and activity: ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate.’ Whereas purity divides and excludes, compassion unites and includes. For Jesus, compassion had a radical sociopolitical meaning. In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion.”
Bottom line: Jesus not only challenged the religious, social, and political order of his day, but he was viewed as a dangerous virus that was infecting others with similar ideas and practices.
To learn more this very important topic, read Chapter 3: Jesus Compassion, and Politics, in Marcus Borg’s book “Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time.”
3. Jesus indicated that God loves everyone wholeheartedly and unconditionally. There is nothing we can do to that can cause God to stop loving us.
4. Jesus saw the imperfections of those he encountered and encouraged people to correct them. The kind of love we see with Jesus, in other words, is the same kind of love we see reflected in near-death experiences. On the one hand, there is unconditional love and acceptance while, on the other, we are all held accountable for our shortcomings and encouraged to do better.
5. While Jesus saw where people fell short and encouraged them to do better, he insisted that we not judge and condemn anyone. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.
6. Jesus indicated that God not only believes everyone is worth saving, but is actively pursuing those who have strayed. The life and parables of Jesus are full of examples of this.
7. The stories we have of Jesus are full of God, and his messengers, intervening in the lives of people. The God that Jesus knew, in other words, did not sit on a cloud somewhere and watch everything from a distance. He, and His messengers, often showed up in dreams, visions, and dramatic real world encounters.
8. Success, according to Jesus, is not measured by material possessions or worldly accomplishments. Instead, success is measured by how lovingly we treat our fellow human beings.
9. Jesus insisted that The Kingdom of God is what’s real while the world is a passing phenomenon.
10. Jesus insisted that The Kingdom of God is here now. It is present everywhere if we have eyes to see.
11. According to Jesus, we are all connected to one another. Everything we do to one another, we do to ourselves — and him.
12. Jesus was a healer (which suggests he was plugged into the same Source that has miraculously healed so many near-death experiencers).
14. Jesus was an exorcist (which suggests he was not only aware of the unseen world that surrounds us, but also aware of and in command of the hellish beings and realms that near-death experiences insist exist).
15. Jesus may have had the ability to control nature and other aspects of the dream world.
16. An encounter with Jesus changed lives, often in very dramatic ways. Relationships ended, careers came to an end, old ways of thinking about things gave rise to new ways, people became less interested in material things and more interested in spiritual things. Near-death experiencers often report that their lives are completely changed after their experience.