What’s After Life? – The Great Reunion with John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke shared on What’s After Life?

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmas, and single dads raising kids alone — we see you! The relationships you have with your children and those around you are important to Jesus. In fact, loving relationships are truly meant to last forever. Those who have experienced heaven speak of great reunions and a love that matters more than we can imagine. Knowing this can propel us to be better parents, spouses, and friends!

There is an extended interview at the bottom of this post.

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To Join an Online Conversation on What’s After Life?


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.

The Great Reunion – Next Steps



Today we’re talking about how Relationships were made to last forever. If you’re just joining us, go back and watch the messages on Gatewaychurch.com as we’ve looked at Scientific Evidence for the Afterlife from 1000 clinical deaths and resuscitations I’ve studied, we heard about the Beauty of Heaven, the God of Light and Love, the Life Review, but one of the biggest questions people have is—will I know and see my loved ones (and my pets)—will we just be ethereal spirits, or real people? And do all the relational struggles of this life resolve?

Like Ben used to come spend the night at our house, because he had a heart condition, we had to keep the boys from playing too rough but Ben just loved life—we’d hear pounding on the floor above the kitchen and go up to find my son and Ben jumping off the bed to slam dunk the nerf basketball.  At 18, Ben had 2 Near Death Experiences, and he recorded the second one the week before Christmas. He died Christmas day. I did Ben’s funeral on this stage broadcast by CNN, MSNBC, FOX—the video of his near-death experience went viral (millions of views across the globe), in people mag [Pics @p.5], Kardashians were tweeting about it, and people came to faith from Ireland to Tazmania—But why? Why would a kid so full of life, have to be held back due to his heart condition? Why would such a loving family, so many close friends, why would all those relationships ripped apart at 18? It just feels tragic and makes you question God—why? It makes no sense. Ben missed out on so much life, his family was robbed of life with him.

Unless…unless that’s not the whole story.  Unless what the scriptures declare is true—that this life is not the end, but just the beginning—and in fact, a very muted, black and white, 2 dimensional comparison to the real, vibrant, multidimensional, Life to come. A life than makes children not want to come back:

Jesus said children have a special place in God’s Kingdom:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

Could it really be–relationships do not end? They become what they were always intended to be?  And all that’s unfair and tragic about this life—is made so good in the Life to come—even a child would not want to return? That’s what scripture has declared for 4000 years, and now modern medicine is bringing millions back from clinical death to declare the relational truth of the Bible. So today, I want to look closer at what scripture says about life relationally on the other side and how NDEs (near death experiences) confirm it, and how we can bring Heaven’s relating patterns to earth.

NDErs experience A Great Reunion like no other. In the Old Testament, when someone died, they’d say he/she was gathered to his people—not just buried together, because many were not buried in an ancestral grave—yet it says they were gathered together–families are reunited. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus gathered to eat his last meal with his closest friends—he told them he was going to die, but said

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:1-3

Jesus indicated Heaven is relational, where real people are together again—friends and loved ones who love God are reunited forever as part of God’s big, loving family! And NDErs around the globe confirm this—they commonly say they had a welcoming committee, there to greet them—and it’s a great reunion. Jesus told us about this welcoming committee—family, friends, and those who invest each other in during this life:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. – Luke 16:9

Funny, people ask me more about whether their Pets are going to be Heaven than their family members–Not sure what that says–but yes, pets will be there. Isaiah, the Jewish Prophet said in 780BC

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. – Isaiah 11:6

This is a place where all God’s creatures live in shalom, God’s perfect peace, even Republicans and Democrats get along there. The book of Revelation tells us animals are there, why wouldn’t we see our beloved pets? And people do—mostly children who have NDEs are greeted by pets, as they don’t have people they know who have died yet. God welcomes them with whoever means most to them.

But I find many people think of Heaven, as ghosty, misty, ethereal people—so it sounds less tangible, less real than this life. And yet Jesus taught nothing could be farther from the truth. He said,

People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Luke 13:29

Remember, the risen Jesus could be touched, embraced, he ate fish—he was physical. Though he had a resurrected body, our spiritual bodies also can embrace and eat and drink. Jesus’ last night, when he instituted what Christians call communion—look what else he said:

26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many. 29 Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Matthew 26:26-29

Wow-Eating and drinking and feasting together in God’s Kingdom?—but that sounds like normal Life—exactly! It’s not everlasting death, it’s everlasting Life. Jesus called it Abundant Life. He came to give Abundant Life. God gave us this life, and yes, we can abuse His good gifts–we can overindulge in wine, we can use people instead of treasure them–but everything you love about this life is from God, and we were meant to enjoy it together in relationship forever.  Hugs will be real hugs, memories will be real memories, the people we invest in here will be the people most valuable to us there.

And this is important to understand. This life is way more continuous into the next life than we often think. How we invest our lives in people, how we treat people, how we love God by loving people and helping them—all that continues on into the next life. 

So who will you welcome into God’s Kingdom? Daniel, the Jewish Prophet wrote in 500 BC, that in Heaven:

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.  Daniel 12:3

Those who lead others to follow God, will shine like the stars. You know, it seems we can appear to each other however we want—we seem to be either ageless, some say, or around 29-30 others say, but some saw their grandparents like they remembered them last—others saw them younger. So how will we look? I think Jesus gives us a clue—He was seen and recognized in his resurrected state, but at one point, he was walking with 2 disciples along the Emmaus road and they didn’t recognize him until he broke bread. So he could appear different in different circumstances. I think we possibly can too in heaven. And just like earth—we don’t always appear the same or wear the same clothes. It’s true in the next life also. It’s Life!

Marv Besteman, a bank President, said during his NDE, he was wearing his golf slacks and shirt he feels most comfortable in. And he saw people of different nationalities in African togas and Indian Saris and their local dress. Yet others see the people of heaven in white robes—like Dr. Mary Neal said her Welcoming Committee wore robes–bursting with light and love. NDErs commonly see this. John in Revelation says:

there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes…” – Revelation 7:9 

People don’t always wear these robes—but I believe they’re not white, but translucent—they let the glory of God shine through. The more you lead people to follow God, as Daniel said, the more you build into people here on earth, the more you share the Light nad love of God here, the more you experience it there. Jesus said that too:

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear. – Matthew 13:43

Different people had different brilliances.

But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. – Romans 8:17

Imagine experiencing the very light, life, love, joy of God flowing through you? Nothing on earth could compare.

So it’s an important question—Jesus loved us sacrificially. How will you sacrificially love, serve, invest in people? When you lead and teach others—God promises it lasts. For those of you leading groups of people, investing spiritually, or teachers teaching children—it may require sacrifice now, but one day you’ll see what it’s worth:

Care for the flock [of people] that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when [Jesus] the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-5

Relationships last—people last—invest in them. 

But this may bring up some troubling questions. My wife, Kathy, used to not like to think about Heaven—she would say, “Yeah, but we’re not going to be married in Heaven.” And that made her sad—which is good. It’s not good if she said, “You mean we’re not going to be married in Heaven?” [it’s all in the tone]. That idea we won’t be married comes from a time Jesus was asked a trick question by Sadducees, who didn’t believe in afterlife: “If a woman’s married and her husband dies, she remarries and it happens again . . . seven times, which of the seven will she be married to in Heaven?” Some of you have been asking the same question—All your Exes may live in Texas, but not sure you want them living next door forever—right, be honest. Jesus replied to the Sadducees,

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. – Matt. 22:29

The power of God can unite people in ways that overcome our relational squabbles and concerns, and that’s what he will do for all his children. Then Jesus says,

“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” – Matt. 22:30

Jesus did not say we will not be with our spouse or loved ones—those closest to us–He said there won’t be new individual marriages—there won’t need to be because there will be no procreation or new families. But our family relationships will not be less special or less close in eternity, they will be closer and deeper. We might love all our new brothers and sisters, but that does not mean we will have the same special relationship, history, memories, or bonds with all people equally.  Many NDEs saw their grandparents together in Heaven. And I don’t know how God works out multiple healthy, loving marriages, except that bathed in God’s love—there’s nothing wrong, period.

And just think, the reason relationships will be so different, so much deeper, is nothing will be hidden, communication will be perfect in Heaven, and God-centeredness will replace self-centeredness. Although we will be able to talk and sing with our voices in Heaven, most indicate the preferred way of communicating with God, angels, and people is directly heart to heart. God tells the prophet Isaiah about Heaven’s communication saying,

“Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” Isaiah 65:24

Imagine—relationships united by the love of God, with perfect communication, nothing hidden. It’s a great way to try to live now. That’s the goal—to grow together in God’s love, God’s Grace, God’s Forgiveness—so we can give that to others—be more transparent, not hide (NPPA), and seek to understand. That’s another commonality—in Heaven NDErs feel a sense of connectedness and unity unlike anything on earth. If I understand your history, all that you’ve been through, your motives, your heart—I can have a lot more patience and compassion. That’s the Oneness of Heaven Jesus prayed we’d have more of on earth:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21

We bring Heaven to earth as we seek to listen and understand the other person, more than trying to be heard or understood—that’s how we bring this Oneness of Heaven to earth—as Jesus prayed.

Imagine being reunited not only with current family, loved ones, but ancestors we never knew. Imagine meeting people you’re related to, but never knew them—I had the chance to sit down with Christy Beam, from the movie Miracles from Heaven (starring Jennifer Garner). Christy is Annabelle’s mother–Listen to who Annabelle met in Heaven during her NDE.

Annabelle is proof that God is real, but also that relationship lasts. She met her great Grandmother and sister who was miscarried in Heaven—which convinced her mother it was real.  And today is Mother’s day, and some of you are grieving children you could not have (know that God grieves this with you)—but also don’t miss investing in children even if you don’t have your own. I think about Logan and Erica, who have been like parents to so many students—many who don’t have strong parental relationships—but even to my kids as they grew up. They have a tremendous legacy investing in the next generation. Don’t miss that.

And for those grieving miscarriages, those children live on.  David, who wrote most of the Psalms in the Bible, lost a child in birth. He said:

Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:23

If you’ve had a miscarriage—you will go to your child again. Megan, who had the NDE as a child, lost her first child due to miscarriage in the first trimester—she was bleeding profusely and had another NDE—but with a message she greatly needed to hear.

One day, all will be made right relationally—all the relational losses, all the relational mistakes, all the relational misses will be replaced with the Perfect Love of God, guiding perfect communication, Perfect unity of Heaven–and we will experience relationship as it was meant to be. 

We can bring Heaven to Earth Relationally today. Here are some ways

  1. Bless your mother today—whether she’s still on earth, or in Heaven like mine—thank her for giving you life, investing in you, doing her best—none were perfect, but all deserve our gratitude.
  2. Look for the opportunity to point a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker towards God’s love. Pray for an opportunity to have a spiritual conversation with someone you know may be searching. Just listen to their story, and share your own Journey of faith. Bring the light and love of heaven to those around you.
  3. Make things right with any broken relationships. Apologize for anything you may have done. Forgive anything they may have done – even if they don’t want forgiveness. Forgiveness sets you free from being Held Hostage to past hurts. Ask God for the strength to forgive. Join a life group or one of our Restore and Recovery groups for help in that journey of relational healing.
  4. Invest in the future generation. If you have kids take advantage of the beautiful opportunity we have in this unusual season. Use the fantastic online kids curriculum with your children. Spend time praying together, reading the Bible together, and talking about God’s ways in your home. If you don’t have kids, reach out to our kids directors and student pastors and ask how you can serve with them.


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