At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke shared on What’s After Life?
One out of 25 people in America has had a near-death experience. Their heart stopped beating, their brain waves ceased, yet they claim they were more alive than ever. With improved medical resuscitation, more and more verifiable evidence indicates that life doesn’t end with our last breath— it’s just beginning. So, what really happens after death?
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.
Message Video from John Burke:
Message Notes from John Burke:
Three guys were playing poker one night, and one asked “What do you want people to say at your funeral?”
- One said, “I want them to say I was a brilliant doctor saved many lives.”
- The other said, “I want them to say I was a devoted, loving father to my kids.”
- The third one said, “I want them to say ‘Look—he’s moving’”!
Believe it or not, more and more are saying: “Look he’s moving”.
A Gallup poll and other studies estimate 13 million Americans (1/25) have had a Near Death Experience (NDE)—where there was no heartbeat, no brain waves—yet modern medicine brought them back. Which is not new, Jesus brought Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter back.
If we’re willing to consider what the Bible says, and now what modern medical evidence says, you’ll discover this life does not end, it’s just the beginning to the real story and the real life more exhilarating than anything we’ve imagined.
Nearly 35 years ago, my dad was dying of cancer, and I picked up a book someone had given him called Life After Life—the book that coined the term Near Death Experience (NDE). I read it cover to cover that night. At the time, I didn’t really believe in God, Jesus, the afterlife—I only believed in the next party. But death was knocking on our door, so I read it, and said, “Whoa, maybe God is real—if so, I’ve got to find out.” The next year I started studying the scriptures with a small group of people, and I found faith. While studying engineering at the University of Texas, I also studied reasons to believe and found incredible historical evidence that God really has been revealing himself. Since then, I eventually left my career in engineering to start Gateway for skeptics and doubters like me to “Come as you are” and explore faith. I’ve also studied close to 1000 accounts of near-death experiences over the years, and I’ve come to the conclusion they reveal what the scriptures already say—but in a way that helps us Imagine how great it’s going to be. That’s why I wrote Imagine Heaven—if you’re still skeptical, I think you’ll see incredible evidence that Heaven is Real.
And if you’re a Christian, I hope you’ll see HOW REAL it is and live for it.
An Overview of Imagine Heaven
Let me say, I’m skeptical of any one story—some say bizzare things. Each is interpreting something that is hard to describe, it’s dangerous to take a few stories to form your view of the Afterlife. I tried to look at the common elements across 1000s of stories (I include 120 in Imagine Heaven) and show how they line up with the scriptures; it’s remarkable!
God’s been telling us that all along—that His Kingdom is coming—a Kingdom is the realm where the King’s will and ways are done.
Jesus taught us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done—on earth as in Heaven.” But what’s it going to be like to live in His Kingdom? Today you’ll hear from very credible people who died: a Doctor, College Professor, Commercial Airline pilot, and a Pastor, who claim they’ve seen a glimpse of Heaven—God’s Kingdom to come.
Out of Body In a New Body
So Imagine for a second—it’s that point of life you most feared, you breath your last breathe. What people report is that to their surprise, they leave their body but many remain in the same vicinity, looking down on their lifeless body. They’re Out of body in a new body. And to their surprise, they can’t tell if they’re dead because they feel more alive and more themselves than ever. What they thought would be scary is exhilarating—not just 5 senses, more like 50 senses. This is what people described to skeptical Cardiologists, Oncologists, and other Doctors who revived them. It began to convince many skeptical doctors that there is an Afterlife.
Cardiologist Dr. Michael Sabom describes what changed his mind:
“Before talking with Pete, and scores like him, I didn’t believe there was such a thing as a near-death experience… [Pete] told me he had left his body during his first cardiac arrest and had watched the resuscitation. When I asked him to tell me what exactly he saw, he described the resuscitation with such detail and accuracy that I could have later used the tape to teach physicians. These people, like Pete Morton, 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.”
I talked to Dr. Sabom, he said he studied NDEs to refute them, and see if they would pass scientific muster. They did. After five years of research, he published his findings in the book Recollections of Death. He also published his findings in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). Dr. Sabom is a Christian—not all researchers are.
A radiation Oncologist, Dr. Long, read his findings in JAMA. He found it hard to believe, until one night at dinner with friends, Sheila mentioned a food allergy that made her code once (her heart stopped). Dr. Long decided to probe “Did anything happen to you when you coded?’
Hesitantly Sheila said:
“Yes, I found myself at ceiling level. I could see the EKG machine I was hooked to. The EKG was flatlined. The doctors and nurses were frantically trying to bring me back to life. The scene below me was a near-panic situation. In contrast to the chaos below, I felt a profound sense of peace. I was completely free of any pain.”
She describes going through a dark tunnel to an area of beautiful, mystical light where she met relatives who had previously died.
Since then, Dr. Long has collected and scientifically studied thousands of accounts from around the world, some of which I explore in Imagine Heaven. He concludes:
“By studying thousands of detailed accounts of NDErs, I found the evidence that led to this astounding conclusion: NDEs provide such powerful scientific evidence that it is reasonable to accept the existence of an afterlife.”
In the book I report many more skeptical doctors who were convinced by people reporting things they could not have seen while dead.
The Lancet, Europe’s most prestigious medical journal, published an account of a patient having a cardiac arrest and not breathing. “At the time that a tube was being placed in the airway to ventilate [the patient], it was noted he had upper dentures. The dentures were removed and placed in a crash-cart drawer while the patient was deeply comatose. Over a week later the patient reported having an [out-of-body experience] and accurately described the room he was resuscitated in and the people present. Remarkably, he declared that his lost dentures could be found in the crash-cart drawer.” Right where the nurse put them—yet he’d never been awake to see that.
M. Holden, a professor of psychology, studied ninety-three NDE patients who claimed to make verifiable observations while out of their physical bodies.
“Of these out-of-body perceptions, 92 percent were completely accurate, 6 percent contained some error, and only 1 percent was completely erroneous.”
When you die, you leave this body behind, but you are still you—in a new spiritual body.
Science tells us single skin cell of your physical body dies and gets replaced every 2 weeks—you’re not the same physical body this month you were last month (so whatever “you” are is not just physical). That’s what the Bible has told us for 1000s of years.
The apostle Paul, was a Jewish Pharisee who was killing Christians for claiming Jesus was the Messiah—until on the Damascus road he encountered a Man of Blinding Light (just like many NDErs report), he realized Jesus was the Messiah.
But seeing is NOT believing—Paul still had to decide if he would follow Jesus, which is true of NDE people-they still have a choice. But Paul goes on to start churches across the Roman empire, and in Acts 14 it appears Paul may have had a near-death experience when he got stoned [to death].
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. – Acts 14:19-20
Listen to what Paul later says:
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 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
Paul later explains when we die, we get new bodies—an upgrade, version 2.0.
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. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:43-44
I explore more about our bodies in Imagine Heaven—but we will be ourselves, in fact, you’ll be more yourself than ever.
People consistently say they felt more alive than ever. We have these horrible views of Heaven—people picture an endless church service—that sounds bad to me. The truth is, this life gets boring and frustrating it’s not what we were created for. It’s the shadow of the real life to come.
They serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.
– Hebrews 8:5
So if this is just a copy, a shadow, think of all the beauty of earth—Imagine Heaven.
Beauty in New Dimensions
After observing their lifeless body on earth, many move at great speed through a tunnel, or down a path that seems to take them to another world. A passage people describe in different ways. Dr. Mary Neal went down a pathway of great beauty. Some feel it’s a path through outer space in a hidden dimension. In Imagine Heaven I postulate that maybe this tunnel or path is like a wormhole leading from our earthly time-space dimension to Heaven’s expanded dimensions—it leads to a world of exquisite beauty.
“’No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.
– 1 Corinthians 2:9
Don Piper—pronounced dead for 90 minutes by EMS after an 18 wheeler ran over the top of his car, said immediately at gates of Heaven large crowd of relatives and friends coming to greet him:
“As I looked around, I could hardly grasp the vivid, dazzling colors. Every hue and tone surpassed anything I had ever seen. With all the heightened awareness of my senses, I felt as if I had never seen, heard, or felt anything so real before.”
Imagine that day you leave this earth, suddenly you find yourself with not just 5 senses, but many more senses—all heightened in experience. It’s so thrilling, you don’t ever want to stop the adventure and exploration of this new world. Enhanced vision—you can see up close or very far away, new vibrant colors, and a light unlike any on earth. Listen as Don and Mary describe Heaven’s beauty
Heaven Is Meant for Relationship
Those who get a glimpse of Heaven agree on one thing more than anything—love is the point of it all. To love God and love people is what the prophets and Jesus taught sums up the Bible.
So if love and relationship is the goal of life on earth, why would we think God wants to tear that apart or take relationship from us in Heaven? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Don and Mary had a welcoming committee—family, friends, you recognize each other.
Jesus said to his friends the night before his crucifixion:
“There is more than enough room in my Father’s home…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 14:2-3
Marv Besteman, a Bank President, died in the hospital and recalls a welcome party consisting friends and relatives:
“Both of my friends were prayer warriors, and we had spent many hours praying together. I’m not sure if this is why God chose these two guys for me to see—they were significant to me and my spiritual life. Everyone I saw had been influential in shaping my life in some way.”
A woman who died giving birth said:
“I recognized my grandmother and a girl I had known when I was in school, and many other relatives and friends. . . . It was a very happy occasion, and I felt that they had come to protect or to guide me. It was almost as if I were coming home, and they were there to greet or to welcome me.”
A word of warning. Don’t take a few people’s experiences and develop a view of the Afterlife because God’s given us a bigger understanding from Scripture. Many talk about people there to protect, as we’ll see, just because people get a peek into the Afterlife—it doesn’t mean it’s all good or that’s the whole picture—you’re just seeing a small glimpse of a vast world.
In Imagine Heaven I point out people say there is a border or barrier you can not cross. All came back.
We can’t learn from NDEs what’s beyond the border they couldn’t cross.
But Jesus said:
“Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home” – Luke 16:9
God intended Relationships to last—to go to new depths with each other in Heaven—He created us for relationship, first with Himself.
The God of Light
What’s amazing is how people around the globe, young and old, consistently describe this Being of Light who they know to be God—those who follow Jesus know He’s Jesus, some don’t know who He is, but it’s who they describe. Even blind people!
Vicki, who was blind from birth, flatlined after a bad car accident. She had a hard time adjusting to visual perception, but realized she was looking down at the doctors working on her body:
“Then I finally recognized my wedding ring and my hair.”
Her hair was down to her waist and her wedding ring had orange blossoms on it, so she identified both.
“And I thought: Is this my body down there? And am I dead or what? They were trying to frantically work on this thing that I discovered was my body, and I felt very detached from it and I thought, I’m out of here, I can’t get these people to listen to me. As soon as I thought that, I went up through the ceiling as if it were nothing. And it was wonderful to be out there and be free, not worry about bumping into anything, and I knew where I was going. And I heard this sound of wind chimes that was the most incredible sound that I can describe.”
Vicki noticed that she was fully herself, and had a distinct form and a non-physical body she said “was made of light.” Then she found herself going up through a dark enclosure “like a tube.” She heard sublimely beautiful and exquisitely harmonious music she said transitioned into songs of praise to God. As she reached the opening of the tube, she found herself on grass. Trees and flowers and a vast number of people surrounded her in a place of tremendous light, and the light, Vicki said: “was something you could feel as well as see.”
Even the people she saw were bright.
“Everybody there was made of light. And I was made of light. What the light conveyed was love. There was love everywhere. It was like love came from the grass, love came from the birds, love came from the trees. It was incredible, really beautiful, and I was overwhelmed by that experience because I couldn’t really imagine what light was like. It’s still . . . a very emotional thing when I talk about this.”
What’s amazing is Vicki and other blind people describe light coming out of things rather than shining on things—it’s what the Bible teaches, but how would blind people get that idea?
Jesus said “I am the Light of the world.”
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
In the Old Testament, an angel told the prophet Daniel:
[The dead] will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace…and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. – Daniel 12:2-3
Vicki and others describe this Light that is life and love—how would blind people come to describe light that is love coming out of everything—that’s not how light works on earth?
Then Vicki encounters Diane and Debbie, her two best friends growing up, also blind and mentally challenged who died at age 9 and 11. Yet in Heaven Vicki saw them as in their prime, healthy, whole, beautiful. Then she sees a Man of Light, w beard in a robe, more brilliant than any others—she immediately recognizes him as Jesus—never wanted to leave him. In his presence she has a Life Review. From the Life Review, she sees her friends growing up and is able to describe things about them—how they walked, looked, that checked out with the House Mother who raised all 3 girls.
A Life Review
What’s amazing is how consistent this is—this life review in the presence of this Man of Light, who is unconditional love, yet who knows everything—every thought, every motive, every deed. Across the globe, 1000s report this Life Review with this Being of Light who IS love. But it’s just exactly what we should expect. “God is love” said the Apostle John. Jesus claimed to demonstrate the love of God is for all humanity—to enter our suffering and pay for our wrongs.
Jesus also said:
There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.
– Matthew 10:26
Therefore 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
God wants to reward us. He wants it to be a time of great celebration and reward for a life lived in loving faithfulness to him and our fellow man. And it’s not too late for any of us—God is the God of compassion, mercy and grace—he’s the God of the second chance. And No one loves you more! But don’t reject him—if you don’t want God, he’ll give you what you want.
Howard Storm was a tenured college professor, and an atheist, when his duodenum ruptured in Paris. After 5 hours you’re usually dead. Unable to get a surgeon on the weekend, after 9 hours he died. He was sure death just meant the end of life—lights out—yet he found himself more alive than ever, heightened senses, he didn’t know he was dead. He too had a welcoming committee of nice people telling him to follow them and they’d help him. But they led into an outer darkness that Jesus also warned about, turned on him, and began to attack him. 23% of Near Death Experiences reported are hellish in nature. Because Howard had not crossed that border or boundary into eternity (full biological death), he was still able to cry out to God. He remembered 3 words from a song when his neighbors took him to Sunday school “Jesus loves me, blah, blah, blah—couldn’t remember rest.” He cried out, Jesus save me. In this outer darkness came a brilliant Man of Light who picked him up, took him out, and there in the midst of Angels—with Jesus holding him, Howard got a Life Review.
If you don’t think these stories are real, Howard went from being an atheist tenured college professor to becoming a Christian pastor—his wife left him because she was an atheist. What would motivate that? Jesus!
Above all else, Jesus is the Highlight of Heaven for all who experience him. I
n Imagine Heaven I show how people across the globe are describing the God of the Bible. Old Testament prophet Daniel saw I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches…and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people. – Daniel 10:5-6
It’s uncanny how many NDErs see this same Man of Light, hear the same voice, yet all these prophets wrote this before Jesus was born. Then Paul and others saw the risen Jesus after the crucifixion:
As [Paul] was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” – Acts 9:3-5
Friends, this Being of Light and love, is Jesus—the Highlight of Heaven. In Revelation John describes Heaven proclaiming of Jesus:
“You were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9
He is the Highlight of Heaven. Captain Dale Black was a TWA airline pilot, and engineer with master’s degrees, has led successful multi-million dollar businesses. Think about this—why would a Dr, College Professor, Bank President, Airline Pilot make up wild stories like this—they don’t need money and it hurts their professional credibility. I show 120 more stories like theirs in Imagine Heaven lining up with the Bible. Not person I interviewed could talk about it without deep emotion. Howard, Mary, Dale were all brought to tears trying to describe the beauty of Jesus.
“Do you love me?” It’s really the most important question you can answer. Accepting God’s love offered through Christ is your ticket to Heaven—it’s a free gift. And if you have your ticket in—live for the rewards that last. Live for the Kingdom to come by letting His will be done in your life, as it is in Heaven.