A Pastor who went viral on TikTok for claiming he saw hell first-hand during a near-death experience is trying to set the record straight about his “life-altering” event.
Gerald A. Johnson, the lead pastor of Faith Culture Church in Austin, Texas, went viral earlier this month after a video he recorded about his near-death experience (NDE) in 2016 took social media by storm.
The video, which racked up more than fourmillion views on TikTok alone, gained coverage in a number of news articles, including one on Billboard, titled: TikTok Pastor Says He Went to Hell & Demons Tortured Him With Rihanna, Jazmine Sullivan Songs.
While Johnson does believe he was taken to hell, it wasn’t the music of Rihanna or Jazmine Sullivan that he heard during his fleeting glimpse of eternal damnation.
Recounting the episode in full in an exclusive interview with The U.S. Sun, Johnson said he awoke in bed one night in February 2016 suffering sharp pains in his chest.
Believing he was having a heart attack, Johnson said he started praying to God and before he knew it he’d lost consciousness.
The next thing he remembers, he claims, is his spirit floating up out of his body and looking down to see his lifeless form on the bed beneath him.
“In 2015, the year before, I went through a series of people turning on me, people that I’d done a lot for […] who had kind of attacked me,” recounted Johnson.
“That started taking a toll on me. I’d been a minister for five years by that point, so dealing with other people’s hurts and pains, and then dealing with all that betrayal – it was a lot to carry.”
Johnson believes his harbored stress triggered an unknown heart-related event.
As he felt his soul rise from his body, he said at first he believed he was being lifted towards the pearly gates of heaven, but suddenly his essence was pulled downwards.
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“I thought I was going to heaven because I had done so much good and helped so many people, but I ended up going down and I remember going down into the center of the Earth,” he said.
“And what I didn’t say in my video was that I heard people screaming in agony all around me and then I just landed there in hell.
“I did not see fire […] but I could feel heat all around me. Usually, if it’s a dream or something, you wouldn’t feel anything but I could feel it.
“And I started thinking to myself, ‘How did I end up here?’ I knew exactly where I was.”
It was at that point that Johnson said he noticed a person laying back on an “extremely hot” rock.
He then saw another man, whose skin resembled Freddy Kruger’s from Nightmare on Elm Street, naked on all fours with his eyes bulging out of his head, and a chain around his neck.
“It’s almost difficult to talk about […] but I looked behind him and there was a demon holding the chain,” claimed Johnson.
“Nobody said anything but I knew telepathically that the demon holding the man’s chain had been assigned to that man’s life while he was on Earth.
“And the demon had an agenda that if he could stay in the man’s life while he was on Earth, if he could ride him and keep him bound, the goal was that he’ll have the man be his slave in the afterlife – and that’s exactly what that man was.”
Johnson called the encounter “horrifying” and claimed to have been able to feel all of the torment and pain the apparent slave was feeling.
He then looked to his right and noticed another “section” where other sinners were gathered and music was playing.
“Now, I couldn’t tell you exactly what song it was, I just knew it was the same music that we sing on Earth and it was a demon singing the music,” he said.
“But every lyric, whatever it was meant to do on Earth it did the opposite in hell.
“If music was meant to get you over a breakup or whatever, then down there it would be used to torment you about that relationship.”
Johnson said he was disappointed that his original retelling of his NDE was taken out of context.
He said he never heard Rihanna’s music during the surreal event but used her songs as an example of how popular music on Earth may be used against sinners in the afterlife.
“When I referenced her song Umbrella, people tried to make it seem as though I said Rihanna’s music is being used to torture people, but I just said random song titles.”
‘A LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE’
After the demonic music recital, Johnson said he was lifted up out of hell and, for a time, floated above the Earth.
He then fell back down into his room, with his “soul re-entering” his body.
It’s then that he claims Jesus started speaking to him.
“Part of what he said to me it was too profound for my soul to ascertain, but what he was saying was, ‘You have been secretly hoping that I hurt the people that hurt you [but] these are not your people. These are my people.
“He told me, ‘from this point, I only want you to focus on my assignment for you. Because I’m going to do something to you that the world hasn’t seen.’ And he said many more things, but like I said it was too profound and too weighty.
“As he was talking to me, it was the most love I’ve ever experienced in my life and it was so strong that it shook me and everything just ended.”
Johnson said his NDE was so profound he has forever been a changed man since.
He said he was overwhelmed when he awoke in his bed and cried for several days after.
When asked what he thought the troubling visions meant, Johnson said: “First of all, it was two reasons. Number one: to show me what was in my heart that shouldn’t be there.
“Number two: to tell other people that unforgiveness is a big deal.
“Unforgiveness will cause people to go to that place [hell]. A person that can’t forgive is a person who has forgotten how much they’ve been forgiven.
“And it just really made me change the way I treat people who may wrong me or have a vendetta against me.
“And it proved to me that souls exist.
“We’re not fleshy people having spiritual experiences. We are spiritual people that just so happened to be having an experience of the flesh for a short time.”
Written accounts of NDEs date back to at least the middle ages, but there is no widely accepted definition of what an NDE is.
Typically, though, the term refers to the mystical, profound experiences that people report having when they are close to death.
Statistics show they’re most common in patients who survive severe head trauma or cardiac arrest.
In the U.S., an estimated ninemillion people have reported having an NDE, a 2011 study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found.
Such individuals – or NDErs, as they’re collectively known – often report being deeply changed afterward, whether that be a newfound appreciation for life, a diminished fear of death, or a spiritual awakening.
The field of science remains divided on the matter. Some attribute NDEs to hallucinatory flights of imagination, the final gasping breaths of a dying brain.
However, others, such as Dr. Bruce Greyson, believe NDEs may help to unlock the mysteries of human consciousness – and the possibility that it may continue to live on even after our bodies die.
LIFE AFTER DEATH?
Greyson told The U.S. Sun in an interview last year that he believes NDEs are evidence that the brain may not actually create the mind or consciousness, but rather serves as a filter that allows certain states of basic consciousness.
He explained: “It’s more like the brain is receiving and interpreting the mind, kind of like how a television set will receive signals from outside and then flip to the channel you want to watch and translate that for us, so you can see the images in color and sound.
“Now this makes sense because the brain evolved as a physical worker to help us survive in the world,” Greyson said.
“So, it makes sense that the brain would filter out irrelevant stimuli and just let in those stimuli that are relevant to survival, like finding food.
“So, if your mind is communicating with deceased loved ones and with deities, that doesn’t help you survive in the physical world. So, the brain would normally filter those things down and just let in the important stuff.
“But when the brain is shutting down, that filtering function stops and all this other stuff comes flooding in.”
Dr. Greyson, who has been studying NDEs since the 1970s, said he was raised in a materialistic scientific household where he never held any spiritual or religious beliefs.
However, over the last half a century, Greyson said his own beliefs about life and death have changed dramatically.
“Before I started this work, it just didn’t make sense to me that you could live on after death, because when your body dies, of course, you do.
“But I’ve seen so much evidence now strongly suggesting that something about us – our consciousness – does survive so I think that’s what happens.
“I don’t think I have any conception of what an afterlife is like if there is one,” Greyson added.
“But I do think there is one.”