Imagine Heaven: Rewards That Last by John Burke

Based on the book by John Burke, we concluded our series called Imagine Heaven at Gateway Church in Austin!

Work through the Next Steps for this message with your family or in a small group.

You can watch the message and interviews from John Burke here:

Imagine Heaven – Rewards That Last from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

Here are some notes from the message he shared:

The life review in the presence of God often has the most dramatic impact on the life of a person according to New Death Experience researchers. It clarifies what really matters to God as he shows them that every little action has relational reverberation, person to person, and down through the generations.

Jesus told us very clearly, to love God is the first and greatest commandment. We love Him by putting Him first, giving ourselves back to Him and for His purposes. The second is to love those around us. He told us this! We just still think there are other more important things, but there aren’t!

All those things you’re doing to prove yourself to the world are not important to God. You and I have gifts to use, resources to steward, responsibilities, but what will matter is HOW and WHY we did all we did. Was it to love God and others—or was it to glorify yourself?

So what is this Life Review?

Well, it’s not the Judgment! That’s a great misunderstanding that confuses many people, but there are two judgments talked about in the Bible. Both happen after the history of earth is completed so none have happened yet.

To those who are faithful, God will one day say:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” – Matthew 25:21

Imagine a day when you see the positive ripple effects and the negative ripple effects. The life review makes it really clear that Jesus was telling the truth when he said:

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” – Matthew 10:26

Pim van Lommel notes, “The life review is usually experienced in the presence of the light or a being of light. During a panoramic life review, people experience not just their every action or word but also every thought from their past life, and they . . . experience the effects of their thoughts, words, and actions on other people. . . . People can talk for hours or even days about their life review, even though the cardiac arrest lasted only a couple of minutes.”

Regardless of cultural or religious upbringing, the life review appears consistent around the globe. Steve Miller studied non-western, non-Christian NDEs said: “In my nonwestern sample, I saw no significant difference in life reviews compared to western life reviews.”

Different people have described it differently, one as a “movie of myself and of my entire life,” another as a “panoramic review of my life,” another “like a powerpoint” presentation. All of them were shocked to experience not only a living, three-dimensional observation of their whole lives, but even their secret thoughts and motives.

Such an experience aligns with what Scripture predicts will happen:

“Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God”
– 1 Corinthians 4:5

Jesus promised that it’s not the things people see that matter most, but the unseen things done to please God that will ultimately be rewarded.

“Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven . . . Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you . . . don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them . . . pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:1, 4, 6 NLT

Not everyone can succeed in the world’s eyes. Most will not be rich, famous, or powerful, and the world’s glory will pass away with death; yet every single one of you can succeed in what God put you here to do. He looks at the heart and motives most.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6

The message is clear: Live now for what really matters.

Jesus said it’s the little unseen things that matter:

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:12–14

Jeffery Long observes, “Near-death experiencers generally noted that they were the ones who judged themselves.” Some have used this observation to declare, “see there’s no judgment ever—we only judge ourselves.”

Maybe that’s why Jesus said:

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
– Matthew 12:35–37

The life review is simply a preview of the reality of what Jesus said. What those who experience the life review also realize is that God’s love and compassion for us is not based on our good or bad deeds: it’s unconditional—salvation is there to receive as a free gift.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” – Eph. 2:8–9 NLT

At the end of time, there are two judgments. One determines whether we’ve accepted or rejected God’s free gift of love, forgiveness, adoption, and salvation purchased through Christ—that’s called the Great White Throne judgment; the other Judgment is to reward us. The first Judgment is called the great white throne:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it . . . And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”
– Revelation 20:11–13

People dismiss the idea of judgment; it’s not a popular idea today. But it’s been a common idea in most all cultures for all time. What’s uncanny is how many NDErs refer to the books of Heaven. Heaven seems to have both a panoramic visual replay and books of record. Across the globe, NDEs confirm books in Heaven.

Ephesians chapter 2 continues:

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” – Ephesians 2:10 NLT

God wants us to have confidence that we will never be cast out from his presence. We are safe and secure in Christ.

NDEs confirm what Scripture says that there are books in Heaven recording all our deeds, and the Book of Life which records the names of those who gave their lives to God. God wants us to live free from fear of Judgment and Condemnation. That’s why He wants us to know what He did through Christ. But that doesn’t mean our good or bad deeds don’t matter; they affect our experience of eternity!

At some point after earth’s history concludes, another judgment happens called the bema seat. It’s a judgment for God’s children.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” – 2 Corinthians 5:10 

The word translated “judgment” is the Greek word bema which refers to the judge’s seat at the ancient games—like the Olympic judge’s stand. This was the place where the judges would award the gold or silver medals (crowns in their day) for a race well run. It’s a judgment of rewards. God loves to reward every faithful act, deed, even motives, and that’s what will happen at the bema seat judgment. We don’t earn God’s love or acceptance into Heaven, that’s a gift we receive or reject, but all our deeds determine our experience of Heaven—what we take with us from this life.

God promises to recognize and reward every single person, personally. It’s going to be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever imagined.

Isaiah looked forward to it saying, “See, your Savior comes!See, his reward is with him.” – Isaiah 62:11 

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” – Matthew 16:27 

So let’s imagine that day, and live for the things that God rewards. Imagine that day, when you enter into the most beautiful City imaginable—the pinnacle of your existence. Where True Life finally begins.

John, who called himself “the one Jesus loved” – because that’s how he felt. Like he as the youngest disciple was special to Jesus. But you are special to Jesus, every person is unique and perfectly made for God and for this place. Listen as John, who was given a vision of the City of God which he wrote in Revelation:


And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem…It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel…[The angel] measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia [~1400 miles] in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits [216 feet] thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone…The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it…Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. – Revelation 21:1–27

The apostle John is trying to describe something “other-worldly”—like our world, but beyond our world. This is a real city—with real life—real people—real beauty, and it’s a place of mystical wonder! It’s where those who love God live together forever!

Heaven is a place of overwhelming joy, community, love – Life – we will work, have projects, have houses, property, some will govern cities or nations, some will tend to animals (yes, our pets will be there—of course—we loved them here why would God take them from us there—they are His creatures for us to enjoy forever. We will explore nature’s wonders, there will be culture and dance, art and music—music of another nature. Jesus said it will be Life…abundant. Life as we know, yet so much more. And to share in God’s glory—to be in His presence—it will be the greatest reward of all.

How we live now DOES matter. It doesn’t determine your right-relatedness to God—that’s a decision of faith. That’s a free gift. When you accept God’s gift of forgiveness and adoption as His child—which He paid the fee for all that on the cross—you forever belong to Him. But when I see Christians treating salvation like an insurance policy—living like hell, being unjust, unloving, self-centered, judgmental—don’t think it doesn’t matter–how you live will determine how you experience Heaven.

Jesus said this: what you do here will be rewarded there! I want all of us to be truly successful people in the life to come. So let’s be people who live for the Life that Lasts!

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