At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke shared on What’s After Life?
What will heaven be like? Does it even exist? Scripture tells us that heaven is going to be more beautiful, more alive, more exciting, and more real than anything we’ve ever experienced. That can be hard to fathom, but God is trying to get our attention and help us understand that He’s prepared a place. Heaven is not unlike what we can see, smell, and touch here on earth, but is exponentially more intense, breaking into new dimensions of time and space.
An extended interview is at the bottom of this post.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
This is a 2 dimensional Black and White photo from the Oasis overlooking Lake Travis—here in Austin. This gives a limited experience of Lake Travis’ Beauty. It’s much better in color, and in 3 dimensions—it’s gorgeous, hills and mansions, trees and lake surrounding you in 3 dimensions. But that too is a limited experience—there’s a 4th dimension, which is Time. I have so many amazing memories in this place. I came here in college, my family enjoyed many days on the lake, followed by dinner, music and dancing and laughter. My daughter got engaged here. See this 2 dimensional black and white is a limited representation of a 3-dimensional landscape of color, which is just a point in time representation of a 4th Dimensional experience of beauty, joy, music, laughter, & love experienced through time.
Now imagine this: Imagine if all our 4D experiences of earth—All the beauty and wonder, love and life experience through time are only a flat, black & white experience, like this picture, compared to a more Real 5th, 6th, 7th-dimensional Beauty, love, and eternal experience of Heaven! What the scriptures have always told us is that Heaven is going to be more beautiful and alive and exciting—more Real than anything we’ve ever experienced. And understanding this changes how we live, and love, and care for God’s creation today. For me, studying what the Scriptures said about what’s after life and comparing it with what science and the medical community describes in near death experiences helped me discover faith in God and helped me grow in my faith. And that’s what I want for you! We have been planning towards this series for several years, and it just happened fall during this challenging and difficult Covid-19 time. I don’t think it’s coincidence. People need hope now more than ever! Not just hope in Heaven, but a bigger perspective of this life–that God created us with a purpose! This series will help us understand this life, and how to bring more of Heaven to Earth now. God wants us to know He’s prepared a place for us, not unlike the beauty of earth, yet so much more, Beauty experienced in new dimensions of time and space. Listen to how some of my NDE interviews describe the beauty of the life to come.
As part of my research over the last 30 years, I not only studied over 1000 NDE cases and the science associated with them, but it led me to also compare different historical and religious writings about the afterlife. In the 1000 NDEs I studied, I found 40 specific descriptions of the Life to come made by NDErs. I compared how many line up with various religious texts descriptions of the afterlife, like the Buddhist Tibetan book of the dead, Islamic scriptures had a few correlations with NDEs, some aspects of oneness described in the Hindu scriptures correlate, Zoroastrian scripture had 5/40 correlate, yet I found as many or more discrepancies in what they said of life after death. With the Jewish/Christian scriptures, I found an overwhelming 38 out of 40 descriptions correlate with what NDErs are reporting globally. So I’ll share what I found in the next several weeks, because God has told us for 1000s of years what these NDE accounts simply validate more.
For instance, John, one of Jesus’ disciples claimed he was given a vision of Heaven which he wrote about in Revelation. Look at the earthlike beauty he observed:
“After this I looked, and [people] from every nation, tribe, people and language . . . were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. . . . He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. . . . He took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem. . . . It shone with the glory of God. . . . Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit.” – Rev. 7:9, 17; 21:10; 22:1–2 NLT
The earthlike beauty that John describes is what NDErs see, yet John also describes some things I used to think were kind of cheesy, gaudy—streets of gold, pearl gates—it sounded like a bad televangelist tv show. Yet the more NDErs I heard describe similar things—I realized—it’s otherworldly materials—gold that’s transparent, walls built of stone made of light and love, a pearlescent material unlike anything on earth—truly an experience as hard to describe in earthly terms as it would be to describe 3 dimensions of color to a flat, black and white world.
Now, I know some people will be skeptical even after hearing from Doctors, nurses, professors, commercial airline pilots and pastors. How can there be this invisible place called Heaven? But here’s the irony of it—Heaven is often rebuffed in the name of science—yet science is pointing toward Heaven’s probability. In physics, Kaluza–Klein theory is a unified field theory of gravitation and electromagnetism built around the idea of an unseen fifth dimension.
In The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene discusses how quantum mechanics and general relativity only reconcile if there are six more “hidden” dimensions, so why can’t we conceive of Heaven existing in a higher dimensional space if science points that way? Jesus said, I came to give them abundant life. A life beyond this flat, black and white world.
But how do we know? Where’s the proof?
Well, after these people die, they say they leave their bodies, but they still have a body—it’s a spiritual body—and before they travel to this place of great beauty, they see their resuscitation and make observations that can later be verified. 900 scholarly articles have been written by doctors and professors, in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, the Lancet—Europe’s most prestigious medical Journal. Cases like the woman in London, that Dr. Jeff Long reports, who clinically died giving birth—she was above her body watching them work on her, she noticed a red sticker on the ceiling side of the fan. She travels to a place of great beauty, God tells her that her son will live (she didn’t know it was a boy), and she must go back to take care of him. When she resuscitates, she tried to describe this amazing place to the nurses and doctors who told her it was the drugs—but she insisted it was the most real thing ever. Finally she convinced a nurse and orderly to get a ladder and go see if there’s not a red sticker on the top of the fan. They confirmed it was there.
Okay, but how do you know these stories aren’t just urban myth?
I talked to Dr. Michael Sabom who set out to disprove NDEs as myth, and after 5 years of research, he found so much verifiable scientific evidence that he changed his mind and published his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Sabom said, “These people…saw details of their resuscitation that they could not otherwise have seen. One patient noticed the physician who failed to wear scuffs over his white shoes during open-heart surgery. In many cases I was able to confirm the patient’s testimony with medical records and with hospital staff.”
Dr. Janice Holden is a university professor who studied 93 NDEs who made verifiable observations of resuscitation. Each could make many observations, yet she found 92% of observations were completely accurate. 6% had 1-2 slight discrepancies, only 1 of the 93 was inaccurate.
Radiation Oncologist, Dr. Jeff Long was a skeptic when he read Dr. Sabom’s JAMA article, Yet after doing his own research he became convinced —he’s now done the broadest study of NDEs in 31 languages around the globe,. Listen
So science now validates the idea that we live on after this life, many experience a place of great beauty, but they experience time and space differently—their experience is in a 5th or 6th—who knows how many higher dimensions—in a spiritual body with new abilities—almost superpowers.
That’s what the Bible has been telling us. Paul, who was a Pharisee of the group that had Jesus crucified, encounters a blinding God of light (like NDEs do) and discovers he’s Jesus. Paul later wrote many of the books of the New Testament, but I believe Paul had an NDE. In Acts 14 it says in the Greek city of Lystra, a mob turned on Paul
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. 20 But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. – Acts 13:19-20
That’s crazy, did he go back into the town and say “I double-dog dare you to stone me again.” But Paul later writes this:
I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows…But I do know 4 that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. – 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
Several fascinating things—Paul felt like himself, he had a body, he saw and heard things that human words cannot express, and heard things he wasn’t allowed to tell. And NDErs commonly say they were given insight and knowledge—all questions answered, yet when they came back—that knowledge was no longer accessible. They knew they had it, but they couldn’t tell it.
Just like Paul wrote:
2 For now we see only a reflection…then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Imagine the day we are fully ourselves—that’s what one person I interviewed said—you’re more yourself than you’ve ever been, fully known, fully loved, fully accepted, you perfectly fit…you’re home! And you’re home in a body with no more disabilities, no more aches or pains, but new powers to explore and enjoy all of God’s beautiful creation with family and friends who love God. That’s what Paul explains
43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength [power]. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. -1 Corinthians 15:43-44
Paul tells us exactly what NDEs describe—they are themselves fully, yet they have a spiritual body, arms, legs, hands and feet. We’re ourselves, we hug, kiss, remember each other—recognize each other. This new Spiritual body is not less experiential or tangible—it has new abilities, not just 5 senses, 50 senses, blended senses—raised in power like Bible says. For instance, John in the book of Revelation says
[An angel] took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem… The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. – Revelation 21:10, 14
How could John read what was written on the foundation stones from way up on a very high mountain? Unless…Our bodies are buried in weakness but raise in power—new powers of sight, smell, and sound.
Imagine the thrill of Life abundant like Jesus promised—sights, sounds, fragrances, abilities we’ve only imagined in our fantasies—but maybe all our fantasies and all our magical kingdoms are pointing to something–like a homing pigeon’s internal sense that points to home. And imagine all the time in the world to enjoy, experience, play, explore all of God’s creation. Did you notice Dr. Mary Neal said her experience of heaven felt like hours and hours, yet she was only dead 30 minutes? This is what the scriptures tell us as well. Peter, one of Jesus disciples says
A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. – 2 Peter 3:8
It’s what NDErs say “time worked differently over there.” Some felt like there was no time, others felt like there was time but nothing was hurried, there was always enough time.
And here’s another bizzare thing they say, distance isn’t the same. Because travel can be instantaneous, with a thought, or you can slowly float or fly along. Which sounds…I know…I was an engineer, science and math, logic and reason—this just sounds nuts to me too–like a crazy fantasy. Why do you think it took me 30 years to write Imagine Heaven? Yet hearing 1000s around the globe, in many languages, say the same thing—how do you explain it?
The Bible taught this all along. Jesus was crucified, and 500 people claimed to see him resurrected, Thomas, one of his disciples didn’t believe their reports said:
“I won’t believe until I stick my hand in his wounds.”
That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said…Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” – John 20:19, 27
Jesus was solid, physical, they touched him, he ate fish with them…yet he could come and go at will—into a locked room with a thought. NDErs say travel on the other side can be instantaneous—with a thought.
Or, NDErs say you can travel slower by floating or flying. Which Jesus’ did after the resurrection:
After saying this, [Jesus] was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9
He floats up and away. All these things NDErs say, God already told us in the scriptures so we would have Hope—hope for a life to come that makes all the FOMO (fear of missing out in this world) fade away. Isn’t that encouraging—when you start to feel like you’re going to miss out, there’s not enough time, when you panic and worry that you won’t get to experience something—RELAX, trust God—you’ll never miss a thing.
As I was writing the chapter on Heaven’s beauty in Imagine Heaven, I was at a conference in the Sierra’s sitting in this lush valley with steep purple and green mountains towering up around me—invigorating mountain air, perfect temperature—and I thought “I wish my son was here—we’d go exploring—marveling at God’s glory together—it would be so fun.” Then I thought—one day my whole family, can explore ALL of God’s Creation together. My Father in Law died in 2015—He was Head of Nasa’s Space station project, devout follower of Jesus. What if the reason our Universe is so vast is because it’s just one of God’s playgrounds we get to explore and enjoy with Him forever? Seems impossible, until you realize that time and space and travel will be different in Heaven.
Tonight at 7:30 I’m doing an extended interview with Heidi—raised in a home that taught Jesus was a hoax and God a myth. Yet she believed in God. When she died at 16, she discovered Jesus and God were the same.
Imagine the thrill of experiencing all this beauty—in new ways. It’s the promise God gave to all who love and trust Him:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them…they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. – Hebrews 11:13-16
That passage goes on to say that knowing what God has prepared for us allows us to live without fear, without worry that Life will pass you by, to live Trusting God’s Word fully. You’ll never miss out by following and trusting God—this life is a test—it’s a test to prepare us for the real Life.
And if you find it still hard to believe, one of the most striking threads of evidence is blind people who have NDEs. Dr. Ken Ring studied 21 blind people and found they had the same experiences as sighted people. I report 3 of them in Imagine Heaven. 8 year-old Brad who found himself in an “immense field” with huge palm trees. “I was walking up this field, it seemed as if I was so exhilarated and so unbelievably renewed…I wanted to stay forever. . . [The] weather was absolutely perfect…There was tremendous light up there. It seemed to come from every direction. . . . It was all around . . . It seemed like everything, even the grass I had been stepping on seemed to soak in that light. It seemed like the light could actually penetrate through everything, even the leaves on the trees. Vicky, blind from birth, had an NDE and said, “[the Light] was something you could feel as well as see…Everybody there was made of light…
Jesus said, the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom” Matthew 13:43]
Vicky continues, “What the light conveyed was love…It was like love came from the grass, love came from the birds, love came from the trees. It was incredible, really beautiful.” How did Vicki and other blind people come to describe Heaven’s light coming out of things, rather than shining on things, and the light is Love and Life?
It’s the Light of God—it’s what the Jewish Prophet Isaiah wrote in 780BC
You will know at last that I, the Lord, am your Savior…No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. – Isaiah 60:16, 19
John sees in Heaven the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its light. The nations will walk in its light. – Revelation 21:23-24
Vicki, Brad and other blind people describe Light that is Life and Love coming out of everything—how would blind people know that—they would have heard light shines on things, not out of them. It’s the Glory of God, the Light of God who is Love. And that’s why people see colors far beyond our color spectrum. Our colors are the spectrum of the sun, the colors of Heaven are the color spectrum of the light of God.
What do we do with this knowledge?
Jesus taught us to pray
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:9-10.
We need to understand Heaven so we can better bring Heaven to earth while we’re here.
So let me give you for Practical things to do:
1). Trust God’s Goodness.
Earth’s beauty also reveals God’s glory the Bible says—earth is a shadow of it—look at all the beauty and good gifts of life, and realize God is good—all the temptations that turn us from God’s will—fear of missing out on something good—realize you’ll never miss any good thing if you follow God, so Ask Him: How can I trust You more?
2). Care for Creation.
Genesis 1 says God wants us to watch over and care for this earth. Understanding Heaven shouldn’t make us care less about earth—God’s will done on earth as in Heaven is recognizing our stewardship over earth. Ask God: “What can I do to better care for Your creation on earth as in Heaven?”
3). Give Grace More.
Life on earth is hard.
18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:18, 22.
Earth is birthing eternal children—but it’s painful. Right now, many of us losing jobs, struggling to hold onto businesses, homeschooling, uncertainty, it’s easy to feel tensions with roommates, siblings, parents, children… Ask God: how can I give grace this week?
4). Create beauty.
Every night at 6 PM in downtown Austin, people applaud and cheer the doctors, nurses, and medical professionals that are serving us during this pandemic. It is moving and beautiful! Bringing the beauty of heaven to earth means using your God-given gifts and imagination to create something beautiful for others! Ask God: how can I bring more beauty to those around me this week?
Next week God of Light and Love—don’t miss the Highlight of Heaven. This God of Light and Love told Moses to Bless people with a blessing I want to close with: Now…
The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26