In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John relates being taken to different afterlife locations.
In the chapter that follows, I have been careful to differentiate between Heaven and Paradise. Paradise is often misidentified as Heaven by NDErs. Heaven as used in the Bible refers to where God dwells, which includes the heavenly city, while Paradise is the pleasant garden section of Hades outside the heavenly city where spirits remain before the final Judgement.
Who Is In True Heaven?
How can we be certain – it’s God’s turf! It’s interesting to conjecture though.
Scripture teaches that ‘The LORD brings death and gives life; He sends some to Sheol, and He raises others up.’ (1Samuel 2:6, Holman Christian Standard Bible). We see from this and in other scriptures that God is in control of life and death despite some free choices made by man in both respects. God decides who goes where at the end of human life. And Sheol (Hades) is the likely destination of people when they die.
God the Father is certainly in Heaven – while he was on Earth, Jesus taught his disciples to pray to ‘Our Father in Heaven’. God may also be found walking in his garden (Paradise) outside the walls of his city.
After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to Heaven and many NDErs affirm that they have seen him in the heavenly city in recent times.
Children who have died too young to understand the implications of some life choices are certainly seen by NDErs in the heavenly city in droves. Some NDErs, on return to Earth, tell of adult carers there. Some carers are angels but other descriptions suggest deceased humans act in this capacity too. We await more reports before accepting this.
As might be expected of a loving God, he sometimes allows significant adults to visit children in Heaven, presumably to put them at ease, and children describe these encounters. For example, Colton Burpo 1 describes meeting his ‘Pop’ (deceased grandfather) in Heaven whom he knew nothing about previously and whom he identified on return to Earth from a photograph. However, these adults do not appear to remain in Heaven. Might they return to Hades – mission accomplished?
Colton also says Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is there, and so is Jesus’ mother, Mary. This would be in keeping with God’s character and the fact that he has made family relationships pre-eminently important; family groupings would appear from NDEs to continue in the afterlife. Perhaps Jesus’ own family group remains together as a special arrangement for him in Heaven? Descriptions given by children, however, are best held lightly, because with the most sincere will in the world, they lack adult discernment. It is only when many independent child reports say the same thing that we should accord it a high level of likelihood –which applies to adult reports too, of course.
Speaking of adults, we must keep in mind that returnees have consistently described being met in Paradise, not Heaven, by a welcoming committee of deceased ancestors and occasional friends, all in spirit bodies. When the Apostle John wrote his gospel, he noted that: ‘No one has ever gone into Heaven except the one who came from Heaven – the Son of Man’ (John 3:13). He may have been referring to the living not entering Heaven in their physical bodies rather than the dead doing so in spiritual bodies. Nonetheless, it seems consistent and likely that all our deceased relatives are in spiritual bodies in Hades awaiting Judgement, and are not domiciled in the heavenly city.
And what of Enoch and Elijah? They appear to have been translated from Earth to Heaven as special cases. In the case of Elijah, the Bible specifies that he was taken up to Heaven (2Kings 2:11). It would not be surprising to find either or both of them there, or certainly in Paradise. Joseph C, NDE number 4023 on the NDERF website, says as an 8-year-old that he saw Enoch – ‘I mistook him for Moses as I had not learned about him then.’ And there may even be other adults who God has decided to admit to Heaven for whatever reasons. A small number of descriptions of returnees suggest this could be the case. As noted previously, it may be fun to think about who might be in Heaven today, but only God knows for sure.
Adult Heavenly Encounters
Just as spirits in spirit bodies can remain Earth-bound for a while at least and observe activities on Earth, even though the Earth is a physical environment, spirits in spirit bodies can observe the heavenly city for a time – but are unlikely to remain in those physical buildings for long.
We have examples in scripture of visitors to Heaven in spirit bodies. For example, the Apostle John was chained up on the island of Patmos and his body remained there, but in Revelation 4:2 (King James Bible) he says: ‘And immediately I was in the spirit, and behold, a throne was set in Heaven, and One [God] sat on the throne.’ When Paul visited Heaven (2Corinthians 12:2-4) he was not even sure what kind of body he was in – his physical or his spirit body! Some NDErs in modern times have experienced similar confusion. A handful of NDE adults say they have visited inside the heavenly city walls while in their spirit bodies, while others have met with Jesus at the gates of the heavenly city.
NDErs describe more than one gate into the city, and all descriptions depict the gates as strikingly ornate. Dale Black 2 gives a description of one such gate:
The ornamentation around the entrance included phenomenal detail. It was the most astounding sight I had ever seen. As I basked in the beauty that adorned the gateway, I noticed large gold letters emblazoned above the opening. They seemed to quiver with life. The single line of letters formed an arch over the entrance. I didn’t recognise the letters but knew the words were as important as any words could be. Other letters were written in honey-coloured gemstones on the ground in front of the entrance and included several lines. The entrance through the thick wall was breathtaking. The opening seemed filled with light that was the purest of white, yet it seemed to have countless hues that changed with even my slightest movement.
Several other NDErs also describe this extraordinary light radiating outwards through the translucent gates. Simon Mackrell 3 visited Heaven after dying in a road accident in 1990 in New Zealand. He noted: ‘The same light that I was moving in was also radiating out from within the city, and also contained the same love, peace, joy and warmth. As I stood at the gates, I heard amazing singing coming from within the city, voices that sang in beautiful harmony.’
As with most similar accounts by adults, Simon returned to Earth without actually going through the gate and into the heavenly city.
Here are two accounts given by Dr Maurice Rawlings 4 describing the visits into Heaven by adult patients. How can we surmise that these people went to Heaven? Because of the buildings described as being there – they were not in the garden idyll of Paradise.
In this first account by Rawlings 5, the man involved had turned away from God years earlier when he had prayed for his mother to be healed; instead, her leg had been amputated and she had died. He concluded that ‘God is as deaf as a stone idol. He has no use for me, nor I for Him.’ Then the man died and experienced an NDE.
I was amazed to find a brilliantly lit city, reflecting what looked like the rays of the sun, only diffused and suspended with particles of radiance. The roads were all made of gold. Some sort of shining metal covered the domes and steeples in beautiful array and the walls were strangely smooth, not quite like marble, but made of something I had not seen before. Even the air smelled good, and faint music was there.
Then I saw two figures walking toward me and I knew immediately who they were – my mother and father who had died years ago. My mother was an amputee at the time of her death, but now she had two legs and was walking!
‘You and father are beautiful,’ I said.
Isn’t it like God to assure the NDEr that his mother was in good health and her leg restored, although in the afterlife and not on Earth as the man had been expecting! That she was walking the streets of Heaven itself suggests she had been granted a new leg in a physically recognisable body, which impacted her son. We do not know why this meeting took place in Heaven and not in Paradise, as is much more common.
Rawlings’ 4 second patient was a woman.
I was floating into an area that looked like Heaven. It was wonderfully bright with buildings and streets of gold, and I saw a figure with long hair in a brilliant white robe. A light radiated all about him. I didn’t talk to him. I am sure that it was Jesus. As he took hold of my hand, the next thing I remember was a jerking on my body – you were shaking me and then the pain came back!
We find from NDErs and scripture that Christ is in his resurrected bodily form nowadays and resides amongst the buildings of Heaven, which returnees describe as prolific. He is also often found in his Paradise (garden) where he generally meets newcomers. It is interesting that he stated he would be going to prepare a ‘place’ for his disciples (John 14:2), assumed by many to be a room or building in the present heavenly city, or perhaps in a future heavenly abode to be occupied after Judgement – possibly in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21: 2 and 10). Meanwhile his followers would be on Earth building the Kingdom of God.
An adult who viewed Heaven briefly from a distance, but did not enter and walk its streets, was Dr George Ritchie 6. He says Jesus was acting as his tour guide and whisked him from venue to venue.
And then I saw, infinitely far off, far too distant to be visible with any kind of sight I knew of – a city! A glowing, seemingly endless city, bright enough to be seen over all the unimaginable distance between us. The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from beings that I could now discern moving about within it. In fact, the city and everything in it seemed to be made of light, even as the figure at my side was made of light.
At this time I had not yet read the Book of Revelation.
The significance of the biblical Book of Revelation that Ritchie refers to is that what he saw accords with descriptions of Heaven by the Apostle John in that book.
Baptist minister Don Piper 7 approached a gate in the walls of the heavenly city. He caught a glimpse of what was inside, but did not enter before returning to Earth. Here is some of what he saw:
Looming just over the heads of my reception committee stood an awesome gate interrupting a wall that faded out of sight in both directions. It struck me that the actual entrance was small in comparison to the massive gate itself. I stared, but I couldn’t see the end of the walls in either direction. As I gazed upward, I couldn’t see the top either. One thing did surprise me: On Earth, whenever I thought of Heaven, I anticipated that one day I’d see a gate made of pearls, because the Bible refers to the gates of pearl. The gate wasn’t made of pearls, but was pearlescent [as others have also described it] – perhaps iridescent may be more descriptive. To me, it looked as if someone had spread pearl icing on a cake. The gate glowed and shimmered…
I paused just outside the gate, and I could see inside. It was like a city with paved streets. To my amazement, they had been constructed of literal gold. If you imagine a street paved with gold bricks, that’s as close as I can come to describing what lay inside the gate.
Dale Black 2 describes how he was flown towards the celestial city by two angels:
I was fast approaching a magnificent city, golden and gleaming among a myriad of resplendent colours. The light I saw was the purest I had ever seen. And the music was the most majestic, enchanting and glorious I had ever heard.
I was still approaching the city, but now I was slowing down, like a plane making its final approach for landing. I knew instantly that this place was entirely and utterly holy. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just knew.
I was overwhelmed by its beauty. It was breathtaking. And a strong sense of belonging filled my heart; I never wanted to leave. Somehow I knew I was made for this place and this place was made for me. Never had I felt so ‘right’ anywhere. For the first time in my life, I was completely ‘whole’.
The entire city was bathed in light, an opaque whiteness in which the light was intense but diffused…
The closer I got to the city, the more distinct the illumination became. The magnificent light I was experiencing emanated from about forty to fifty miles within the city wall. [Pilots frequently estimate distances like this.] I saw a great phosphorescent display of light that narrowed to a focal point that was brighter than the sun. Oddly, it didn’t make me squint to look at it, and all I wanted to do was to look at it…
In his book, Dale provides further details of the city such as the nature of its walls and a river that flows inside. He also describes the outstanding architecture seen in Heaven, which is different from what we have on Earth.
Between the central part of the city and the city walls were groupings of brightly coloured picture-perfect homes in small, quaint towns. I’ll call them townships, because I can’t think of a better word for them. I focused on only three townships, but certainly there were more. A lot more, no doubt.
The dwellings in these townships were not arranged in a uniform or symmetrical manner but appeared perfectly balanced somehow. Each home was customised and unique from the others, yet blended harmoniously. Some were three or four stories, some were even higher. There were no two the same. If music could become homes, it would look like these, beautifully built and perfectly balanced.
Heaven through a Child’s Eyes
It will not be surprising that many of our modern descriptions of Heaven itself come from children. Before the age of their accountability, which I believe likely to vary between children, God does not credit sin to them, which may be why they can enter Heaven itself at death, while adults typically pass into the more general venue – Hades. From their NDE descriptions, they encounter many other children already there, but no ancestors or adults from their lives greet them there on arrival as a welcoming committee. These ancestors reside outside, in the gardens of Paradise.
As mentioned previously, NDEs are not terrifying for children, who are led through the experience gently and sensitively. More often than not, God sends a guide such as an angel or relative to allay their fears and accompany the children to Heaven. A nine-year-old girl described an NDE she had on dying during surgery, recorded by Raymond Moody 8.
I heard them say my heart had stopped but I was up on the ceiling watching. I could see everything from up there. I went out in the hall and I saw my mother crying. I asked her why she was crying but she couldn’t hear me. The doctors thought I was dead. Then a pretty lady came up and helped me because she knew I was scared. We went through this tunnel and went into Heaven.
Some children report they were provided with new bodies for the duration of their stay in the buildings of Heaven. It is their spirits that returned to Earth at the completion of their NDE. Others who spent a short time there apparently remained in their spirit bodies for the duration.
So what is it like inside Heaven itself? Children describe a material world with buildings, pretty flooring, staircases, chairs, tables, writing and drawing materials, walls and gates – quite unlike the garden idyll of Paradise.
First-hand accounts are important to get a feel for the overall ambience. Here is one of many available. It is Atwater’s 9 report of Clara’s NDE, which she had age 10, although these memories were written down much later:
Suddenly I heard what sounded like a city-sized playground full of kids, laughing and playing. Hearing them calmed me…
I was led up a sidewalk to a large building with large doors. I walked inside and saw people all around working and doing things.
I was taken to a huge iridescent white room and told to sit down on some steps that led up to a large white chair, and wait there for someone who was to talk to me.
He came out a door at the other end of the steps, walked to the chair above me, and sat down. He was dressed in a white, long-sleeved, floor-length robe with a wide gold band around the mid-section. He wore sandals. His dark brown hair was shoulder length; he had a long face, broad chin, dark eyes with black around both eyelids, like eyeliner pencil, but it wasn’t. His skin was olive coloured and his eyes were as liquid love.
He communicated by looking at me. No words had to be spoken, as we could hear each other’s thoughts. He told me what I had to do in life and had me go to the other side of the room and look down into something like a TV set so I could see my future. What I saw made me very happy. This man, who I believe is Jesus Christ, said that once I woke up in the hospital I would forget what I was supposed to do in life.
‘Nothing can happen before its time,’ he cautioned.
As I was leaving the room he said I must obey his commandments if I wanted to come back.
When I revived, a nurse was sitting beside my bed and she said, ‘Thank God you finally woke up.’
I told the doctor that I had watched him work on me and the colour of the machine brought into the surgery room. He didn’t know what to say.
Did Jesus wipe her specific memory regarding future events because he did not want her to try to do those things she had seen on the screen before their time? Might this provide a clue as to why most adult NDErs are not shown precisely what their ‘mission’ will be on their return, which causes concern for them? Or might returnees become so fascinated as to encourage those around them to dabble in clairvoyance, which could be harmful?
Besides children, whom else might we find in Heaven? Colton Burpo 1 experienced both angels and Jesus. Here is the conversation, at just four-years-old, that he had with his parents – he had been three when the NDE showing him Heaven occurred:
‘Dad, Jesus had the angels sing to me because I was so scared. They made me feel better.’
I glanced at Sonja again and saw that her mouth had dropped open. I turned back to Colton. ‘You mean Jesus was there?’
My boy nodded as though reporting nothing more remarkable than seeing a ladybug in the front yard. ‘Yeah, Jesus was there.’
‘Well, where was Jesus?’
Colton looked me right in the eye. ‘I was sitting in Jesus’ lap.’
While it is not ideal for parents to report afterlife experiences because with the best will in the world, in clarifying their child’s account, their own personal interpretation must creep in, it became unavoidable because Colton was far too young to describe all he had experienced. His parents say they tried to extricate information from him without giving him prior information and cues, a slow process taking many months, mainly while Colton was aged four, but continuing as he got older. Colton mentioned fascinating details regarding Heaven, including the clothes worn: Jesus is the only one he saw ever wearing purple. There was no darkness there but instead bright light and colours. He described the impressive throne room of God in Heaven. Besides playing together, Colton says children continue learning in Heaven, and that Jesus personally taught him things.
Colton reported that he met many children in Heaven, including his stillborn sister about whom he had not been told. She rushed up and hugged him and they spent a happy time together. Even when he was six-years-old, his babysitter found Colton crying one night because he missed his sister so much – they had apparently bonded to that extent during his short time in Heaven. This account, and further similar NDE reports I have read, must give all parents who have lost unborn or young children great comfort.
Another child with a similar story of meeting siblings previously unknown to him was Landon Whitley 10, who died in a terrible car accident in 1997. Landon was 8-years-old at the time. He says he vividly remembers going to heaven and seeing “streets of gold” as well as Jesus and angels. ‘My mom had two miscarriages before me that I had never known about, never heard about,’ Landon said. ‘I was able to see them.’
Landon and Colton experienced a deep truth – each stillborn child is an individual in God’s eyes, a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ and not an ‘it’, and has a family heritage. Abortionists take note.
It became a daily theme of Colton’s until his parents were tired of hearing it, that ‘Jesus loves the children’. Many other children tell a similar story of Jesus’ individual concern for them while in Heaven. For example, when Jamie Untinen 11 was only five years old, she died from meningitis. Later she drew what she saw during her NDE – three angels and Jesus himself sitting on a log. ‘He was very nice. He told me it was not my turn to die.’
Many accounts of NDEs given by children speak of the loving angels, friendly beings of light, pretty women, ancestors or even deceased pets who meet, comfort and accompany them to Heaven. Atwater 12 states that 70% of child NDEs feature angelic visitations at some point.
Children also describe the variety of angels in Heaven itself. Scripture supports this, and describes a diversity of angels in Heaven including archangels, cherubim and seraphim.
Why may we suppose that angels dwell in Heaven unless they are away on assignment? A ‘heavenly host’ of angels announced the birth of Jesus, and when they left they went back ‘into Heaven’ (Luke 2:13-15). Jesus spoke of the angels ‘in Heaven’ (Matthew 18:10, Mark 13:32). It appears from these and other verses that they are likely to be inhabitants there, and we know from encounters on Earth that they can take different physical forms such that Heaven may have a varied populace already. Looked at from a distance, as different adult observers hovering overhead have done, this busy society might even be mistaken for people.
Interactions with children may extend our expectations of Heaven, but we must remember that the reports are given by children whose language skills and conceptual development may not extend to accurate descriptions nor to being able to answer precisely many of the adult questions asked. What comes across very strongly from numerous accounts, though, is that we are being told about a real place comprising real buildings and populated by a real God the Father, a real Jesus, and real associates. It is also a place that accords well with scriptural descriptions.
In case I have caused confusion, I must affirm that while children seem to qualify to go directly to Heaven at death, a number of those who have had NDEs report meeting ancestors or angels in Paradise instead. Perhaps for these individual children, meeting with ancestors in Paradise is more important for whatever reason than going to Heaven first? Or perhaps it is because they are only visitors in the afterlife and will be returning to Earth? Since NDEs are intended to facilitate helpful changes once a child returns, I would not be surprised to read reliable reports in the future that some children have had an experience that is unpleasant. I have only come across one report to date making such a claim, that of Richard Bonenfant 13 which describes six-year-old Scott’s NDE, which began badly but ended happily with an interaction with God as a Being of Light. We await further reports.
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