What Heaven Will Be Like: Colton Burpo’s Experience

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Heaven Is For Real" by Todd Burpo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What will Heaven be like according to Colton Burpo? Is it how the Bible describes it?

If you’ve ever wondered what Heaven will be like, Colton Burpo describes it in detail in Heaven Is for Real. Colton’s father, Pastor Todd Burpo, said that three-year-old Colton somehow knew details about Heaven from the Bible that he had never told him about.

Keep reading for the answer to “what will Heaven be like?” as told by Colton Burpo.

Colton’s Heaven

In July 2003, three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience with a case of misdiagnosed appendicitis. He underwent two surgeries and the doctors didn’t know if he would survive. Against all odds, Colton made a miraculous recovery. He also learned what Heaven will be like.

Almost as soon as the Burpos returned home from the hospital, Todd and Sonja noticed that their son seemed to have a new-found preoccupation with Jesus. Three notable incidents attracted their attention:

Incident #1: Around a week after Colton’s discharge, the bills for his hospital stay began to arrive. The Burpos were in financial trouble even before Colton got sick, so there was no way they’d cover all the bills due that month. 

As Todd and Sonja discussed which bills to pay and which to defer, Todd stated that they should prioritize paying their tithes: Doing so was a way to thank God for saving their son. They could pay the hospital bills later. However, Colton apparently disagreed. He piped up that the family needed to pay the hospital doctor since Jesus “used” him to make Colton better. 

Incident #2: Shortly after the tithes incident, Colton got into trouble at a playdate because he refused to share toys with his friend. When Todd sat Colton down to discuss what had happened, he found that Colton already knew that what he’d done was wrong. Colton stated that Jesus himself had instructed him to be kind to people. 

Incident #3: A couple of weeks later, Todd was preparing to minister at a funeral. When Colton heard about this, he questioned Todd about whether the dead man “had Jesus in his heart.” When Colton learned that the man might not have been Christian, he became distraught, claiming that this meant the man wouldn’t be able to find out what Heaven will be like. On the day of the funeral, Colton had to be removed from the church because he wouldn’t stop shouting about whether or not the dead man had “known Jesus.”

These three incidents confused Todd. Why was Colton acting as if he’d spoken to Jesus personally? Why was Colton suddenly so obsessed with whether people went to heaven or not? However, Todd didn’t give too much thought to these issues—he figured that Colton must have just heard about Jesus, his teachings, and heaven at Sunday school.

What Heaven Will Be Like

In early July 2003, the Burpos took a trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to visit Sonja’s brother and newborn nephew. It was the first trip the family had taken since the one that ended in Colton’s hospitalization, and they hoped that this one would be somewhat less eventful.

During the journey, the Burpos drove past the turn to Great Plains Regional Medical Center. Sonja decided to ask Colton—now aged 4—if he remembered the hospital. Colton replied that he did: It was the place where the angels had sung to him. 

Todd and Sonja were stunned by this revelation. Colton had never mentioned angels singing to him before. They decided to press the issue further, so Todd pulled into the parking lot of a nearby Arby’s restaurant and turned off the car’s engine.

After a few minutes of gentle questioning, Colton revealed that:

  • The angels had sung two songs: “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” (Colton had asked them to sing “We Will Rock You” by Queen, but they refused.)
  • The angels had sung to calm him down, as he was feeling scared.
  • The angels had been asked to sing by Jesus, whose lap Colton had been sitting in at the time.

Astonished by the idea that Colton had met Jesus, Todd pressed Colton further and asked where he’d been when he’d met the son of God. Colton replied that it had been during his first operation at Great Plains. He’d been with Jesus and the angels while Sonja had been on the phone in the waiting room, and while Todd had been praying alone in a room.

In the wake of this revelation, Todd had more questions than answers. How had Colton known what his parents were doing during the operation? Todd and Sonja hadn’t told him—had someone else? Most importantly, was the experience Colton described a dream, or had Jesus and the angels really visited him?

Todd Questions Colton Further

Once the Burpos had returned home from their trip, Todd decided to ask Colton more about his experience with Jesus and the angels. He started with an open question: What else happened when Colton was with Jesus? 

First, Colton revealed that he’d met not only Jesus, but also Jesus’s cousin. Jesus told Colton that his cousin had baptized him. (Colton said that he didn’t know the cousin’s name, but Todd identified him as John the Baptist.) Then, Colton blurted out that Jesus owned a rainbow-colored horse. Finally, he stated that there had been lots of colors in the place he’d been. Todd asked where exactly that place was. Colton responded that it was heaven.

This information floored Todd. Until then, he’d assumed that if Colton’s experience was real, it had been an example of divine visitation: Jesus and the angels appearing to someone on Earth. However, it now seemed that Colton had traveled to heaven. Did Colton know what Heaven will be like?

Jesus’s Appearance

Next, Todd decided to question Colton on Jesus’s appearance. Colton responded that:

  • Jesus had brown hair, a beard, and “pretty eyes.”
  • Jesus had been wearing white, with a purple line across his clothing (which Todd presumed to be a sash).
  • Jesus had been wearing a golden crown with a pink jewel in the center.
  • Jesus had what Colton called red “markers” on the palms of his hands and the bottoms of his feet. Todd interpreted these markers to be the wounds from Christ’s crucifixion.

Todd realized that the description of Jesus that his son had given matched those in the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation. Likewise, Jesus’s apparent wounds reflected those presented in images of the crucifixion. However, Colton hadn’t been introduced to those Bible passages yet, nor had he been shown a picture of the crucifixion. How did he know all of these details? Todd began to seriously contemplate the idea that his son was describing a real experience of what Heaven will be like. 

What Heaven Will Be Like: Colton Burpo’s Experience

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Todd Burpo's "Heaven Is For Real" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Heaven Is For Real summary:

  • Why 4-year-old Colton Burpo believed he had visited Heaven
  • What Burpo saw during his time in Heaven, including proof it was real
  • How the experience strengthened the faith of the Burpo family

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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