Question: "Is Angelica Zambrano's testimony of experiencing heaven and hell biblically sound?"

Angelica Zambrano, an Ecuadorian teenage girl, claims that she was dead for 23 hours, during which she met Jesus Christ and was led through hell and heaven so that she would be able to come back and warn people about the realities of the next life.

Angelica says that Jesus took her through hell first, and then gave her a glimpse of paradise. In the vision, Jesus told her, as they prepared to visit hell, "'Daughter, I will be with you. I will not leave you in that place and I am going to show you that place because there are many who know that hell exists, but they have no fear. They believe it's a game, that hell is a joke, and many don't know about it. That is why I am going to show you that place, because there are more that perish than those that are entering My glory.' When He said that, I could see tears streaming down to His garments. I asked Him, 'Lord, why are you crying?' He replied, 'Daughter, because there are more that perish, and I will show you this, so that you will go and tell the truth and so that you will not return to that place.'"

It is absolutely true that hell is real, and not a game or a joke, and it is also true that many people are going there (Matthew 7:13; 25:46). It is true that Jesus laments over lost people (Matthew 23:37). We know that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). We also know that, in the last days, “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions” (Acts 2:17), so the idea of Jesus weeping over those in hell is believable, and the possibility of a young person having an experience like Angelica’s is not outside the bounds of Scripture.

That said, some of the elements of Angelica’s account are unbiblical, or at least not sufficiently clear. For example, Angelica says that in the vision “I asked Him, 'Lord, why is my great-grandmother here? I don't know if she ever knew you. Why is she here in hell, Lord?' He replied, 'Daughter, she is here because she failed to forgive. . . . Daughter, he who does not forgive, neither will I forgive him.'” There are many other sins that, in Angelica’s account, Jesus named as responsible for sending people to hell. It is true that sin is a symptom of an unsaved heart. But the account does not adequately explain the remedy: the grace of God through Jesus Christ is what saves us from the power and penalty of sin; justification and sanctification are accomplished for us, once for all, on the cross (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

In the vision, Jesus also told Angelica that He is “coming for a holy people” and that “only the holy ones will see Me!” This is true – only those who have been made righteous by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21) will be with Him in heaven (Hebrews 12:23). But Angelica’s account makes it sound as if holiness is a result of human effort. As Christians, we will pursue purity, obedience, and holiness, but we will do all those things as a result of what God has done for us – as a result of His grace, and the changed heart He has put within us (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Angelica’s testimony does not say anything that is explicitly against Scripture, but it neglects the idea of dependence on God for holiness, and it does not put enough emphasis on the assurance of salvation we have in Christ.

If we believe in the frightening vision of hell that is presented by this purported vision (and supported by Scripture), we will want to obey the Lord and live a holy life. But we will easily despair when we realize that we are unable to live a holy life. Thankfully, the Lord has made it clear that we are to always depend on Him (John 15:4) to be able to bear the necessary fruit of salvation. He has also made it evident that He will forgive us when we sin (1 John 1:9). Angelica’s testimony leaves the reader with the feeling that if you commit a sin just before being hit by a bus, you will wind up in hell. This is not biblical. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

It is important to note that Angelica Zambrano’s testimony is only a human experience, and though much of her testimony does not contradict the Bible, the vision is not Scripture itself. It may be entirely a fabrication. There is really no way to know. Ultimately, with all purported visions and revelations, we must always "test everything" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), only holding onto the good. It is only the Word of God that is inerrantly and authoritatively inspired. The fact that Angelica Zambrano's vision contains statements that are borderline unbiblical should give us serious caution against accepting any of it as being from God. What we can draw from it, however, is this crucial reality: a life of unrepentant sin, or a religious life of false holiness produced in our own efforts, without Jesus Christ to save us, will result in an eternity in hell – and hell is a very terrible place.