Guest / Limited Access /

As death approaches, he leaves his body behind. Angels usher him out of the only world he's ever known and up into a land filled with beautiful flowers and trees. He arrives at a city whose walls beam with light.

The first person he meets is Jesus, clothed all in white. The Lord's face projects a youthful radiance, and he greets the new arrival with warmth and tenderness. The visitor then encounters a parade of faces from earth. He doesn't know them, but they are all excited to finally meet him.

Eventually, this heavenly expedition ends, and he awakens back on earth. His experience is recorded in a wildly popular book read around the world.

No, this isn't the story of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old boy who supposedly traveled to heaven during an emergency appendectomy. It's the story of Saturus, a third-century Christian martyr. Saturus recorded this ecstatic experience shortly before he was brutalized by wild animals and then killed by gladiators in celebration of Emperor Geta's birthday in A.D. 209. His account is found in The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions, one of the oldest Christian texts.

Most 21st-century Christians have never heard of Saturus. But Colton's experience has become something of a phenomenon. Heaven Is for Real, his father's account of the uncanny event, has become a mainstay of contemporary evangelical apologetics. It's sold over eight million copies and has recently been turned into a hit movie.

Yet Colton's story is hardly unique. Eight million people in America claim to have had a "near-death experience" (NDE), a term coined in 1975 by physician Raymond Moody. NDE patients tell eerily similar tales: a dark tunnel, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueChristianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards
Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.
RecommendedTrump Inauguration’s Bible Reading Is Not in Your Bible
Trump Inauguration’s Bible Reading Is Not in Your Bible
Why it's good for Protestants to hear from the Apocrypha.
TrendingThe Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
The Story Behind Trump’s Controversial Prayer Partner
What Paula White’s Washington moment implies for the prosperity gospel’s future.
Editor's PickThe Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
The Church’s Integrity in the Trump Years
It begins by recognizing the name above every name.
Christianity Today
You Probably Love (or Hate) 'Heaven Is For Real' for All the Wrong ...
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

April 2014

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.