In the late 1970s a respected judge told me about his youthful, near-death experience (NDE) during surgery. He described a booming voice proclaiming “No, not yet!” as an iron door to the entrance of a fiery furnace slammed shut. It impressed me because his story contrasted with those recounted by a celebrated author who interviewed people who had only ecstatic, heavenly NDEs regardless of spiritual orientation.

Experiences like NDEs seem to most often happen in crisis situations. These encounters can make us aware of unseen spiritual realities, with potential to bring us closer to Jesus or draw us into a web of deceit.

The scripture passage we’ve been exploring this week, John 20:11-18, describes Mary Magdeline’s encounter with Jesus after His resurrection. Even though she conversed with two angels in His tomb who assured her Jesus was risen, Mary remained in a state of intense grief and shock. After all, she witnessed some details of the unfair trials and the excruciatingly cruel execution of her beloved Rabbi. She also observed His lifeless body being placed in that tomb. Her life was in a chaotic crisis.

So it’s understandable that Mary mistook the risen Jesus for a gardener. In the words of Isaiah, the last time she saw him

…many were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness— (Isaiah 52:14 NIV)

So what made her realize the “gardener” was her beloved Rabbi? When He called her by name, the lights went on.

I am the good shepherd and I know My own, and My own know Me. (John 10:14 NASB)

She shifted from being in a confused, emotional state to lucid recognition of the One she knew.

In order to see Jesus clearly, to understand it’s Him in any supernatural encounter, it’s necessary to either know Him intimately like Mary already did or to confirm the experience rings true to His character by comparing it to reliable eyewitness accounts of His life and words – namely New Testament scripture.

Here’s a warning from the apostle John:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (I John 4:1 NASB)

Don’t dismiss the notion that tangible, Holy Spirit originated experiences with the risen Jesus have happened and will happen. Welcome them like Mary, but test them as did the apostle John.

Have you been confused after a supernatural experience of your own or after hearing a testimony of someone who has recounted theirs? Search the scriptures for yourself or ask a discerning Christian friend to help you sort out if it‘s Jesus or a spirit masquerading as an angel of light.