Most people these days know something about Pocahontas. Some even know the true story of her conversion to Christianity, and perhaps of the catechetical instruction she went through.
But most people don’t know what happened to Pocahontas when she got to heaven—what she saw and experienced.
Here is the story from my book, Jesus and Pocahontas:
Pocahontas died in 1617. What happened next? Can we imagine Pocahontas in heaven?
We can visualize Pocahontas experiencing heaven in two quite different ways. Two contrasting scenes. One reflects the traditional Christian conception, which Pocahontas would have learned from Alexander Whitaker. The other is the vision of creation healed, the full biblical promise.
Pocahontas: The Beatific Vision
Pocahontas’ spirit left her body on March 21, 1617, in Gravesend, England. Instantly Pocahontas knew she was in God’s presence. Brilliant light; a sense of angels hovering, a feeling of flying away from earth.
Whether her spirit had slept for many, many years before entering the immediate presence of God, or whether her physical death brought her instantly into Paradise, she couldn’t tell. The question never came to mind. Now, Pocahontas knew, she was living in a new, endless reality, a realm where space and time were no more.
Pocahontas sensed she was drawing near the brilliant throne of the Lord God, the Ever-Living One. What seemed to be clouds colored by the rising sun began to fade, melting away. The light was dazzling, yet not fearsome. Now she saw a great throne, and she knew it was the Lord God, the Almighty, seated there.
Her impressions were of light, and color, and brilliance, and joy, and love. The sparkling light looked like a spray of bright jewels. All around was a wonderful luminous, glowing rainbow.
Pocahontas knew she was in the awesome presence of the holy Triune God—the very presence of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. Many other spirits were present all around. The great throne was encircled by other thrones, and glorious beings dressed in white, crowned with golden crowns, were seated there.
Light, color, more light, and a sense of awe, yet of joy and peace. Sounds like those of a great choir, accompanied by a timpani of rumbling thunder. Somehow Pocahontas sensed that God’s very Spirit was around and above and within her, and Jesus was her comfort.
Flaming, flying creatures were all about. Pocahontas didn’t know what they were, but they seemed to be angels. She had the impression of moving wings and myriad seeing eyes. The air was full of the sound of praise from millions of voices, and she understood the song: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
The song praised God for the glorious work of creation and salvation. The song praised Jesus Christ, the One who was slain and now lives forever. The song continued: “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” It seemed to rise from every creature, every voice in all creation (Rev 5:13).
Looking around, Pocahontas now saw a great multitude of people, way beyond counting. She could see they came from many different tribes and peoples. They raised their hands and voices in praise to God. Pocahontas quickly and gladly joined in. She found herself singing, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God! Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty One, reigns forever and ever” (Rev 19:1, 6).
Gradually the sea of faces became clearer, and Pocahontas began to recognize some people. There was her son Thomas! There was her beloved husband John! Now she recognized some of her own kinsmen, many Powhatan who had come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. She felt a bond of love and communion with each and all.
And together they all joined in praising Almighty God forever and ever. A great and mighty choir of praise.
Perhaps this was Pocahontas’ experience.
Or maybe not. Maybe we have it wrong. Perhaps rather it was like this:
Pocahontas: Creation Healed
When Pocahontas’ spirit left her body on March 21, 1617, she saw light and felt herself in the immediate presence of God. At first all she could see was light in brilliant colors, and she heard music. She didn’t know whether her spirit had slept for many, many years as her body lay in the Gravesend cemetery, or whether her physical death had brought her instantly into Paradise. The question never came to mind. Now she was living in wide dimensions of reality where space and time no longer mattered.
Pocahontas watched fascinated as the brilliant light resolved gradually into rainbow colors—brilliant blues and greens and yellows; softer shades, changing; shining cloud-like mists dissolving into a new emerging reality. And Jesus was there. She had sensed his presence from the first instant. Now she began to see his form. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. And it seemed his Spirit was all around, and within her.
She had a feeling of air and space, vastness. But the colors started to change, and she began to see what looked like a blue haze. Then the haze began melting away, and she could see blue skies above and blue, gentle ocean waves below. She seemed to be moving forward, sky above, waves below. Now birds appeared in the sky, white and black and brown, like gulls.
Pocahontas looked ahead and thought she saw trees, and a shoreline. She was moving closer. She seemed to float above the water.
Yes, she could see clearly now—the shore, trees, a vast forest, rocks, sand, grass, ferns and flowers. The shore shone with God’s glory.
It all looked new, and yet familiar. These were trees and flowers she knew. As she drew nearer, she recognized the place.
This was home, the place of her birth—Tsenacomoco, the land the English had called Virginia.
Now she was walking along the shore. She reached down and picked up a handful of damp sand; let it run gently through her fingers. Some grains stuck to her skin. She looked around at the trees. Oaks, birches, some pines and hickories—she remembered all their Powhatan names. Nuts were growing large on the hickories; acorns on the oaks.
Something moved along the ground at the edge of the trees. It was a fat raccoon, and it showed no fear. Pocahontas walked closer and laughed as she saw the raccoon glance her way, then waddle by and move on.
Pocahontas knew she was not alone. She could sense people around her. Her husband John and son Thomas ran up to her, with big hugs. How Thomas had grown! But she knew him instantly. Now others were joining them.
“Who are these?” Pocahontas asked John.
“Grandchildren! Great grandchildren!” John smiled back. “Let me introduce them . . . .”
A little later as Pocahontas started walking into the forest, she saw that Jesus was now ahead of her, standing there, Jesus alone, leaning against a great oak, his hand flat against the rough bark. He was looking directly at her. His quiet expression and eyes seemed to say, “Welcome home! Do not be afraid!”
Now they were walking together through the forest and into an open meadow in the cool of the day. Pocahontas, John, Thomas, others, walking slowly with Jesus. Tiny child’s hands grasped hers. Pocahontas felt the grass under her feet. The slanting rays of the sun caught orange, yellow, and multicolored butterflies and dragonflies hovering above the grasses and flowers.
“Come,” Jesus said. He led them on. Now they heard the sound of singing. As they walked it grew louder, sounding like a great choir.
They passed again through a stand of trees, filled with birds and squirrels, and saw other living creatures. Some large elk passed slowly—a huge buck, and some does and fawns. Beautiful, stately, unhurried.
Pocahontas could see they were approaching a large clearing. The singing grew louder. She saw the clearing was full of people. Who were they? Some Powhatan, she recognized. Also English, and some dressed in clothing and costumes she didn’t know. She saw Indians of other tribes, including Susquehannock and Monacan, once mortal enemies of the Powhatan.
A great multitude of people. Men, women, children. Different, but all singing the same song. All singing praise to Jesus, the unparalleled Savior, Healer, and Re-creator. Light shone all about, and God in all his glory—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—was praised, and she heard the sound of the rushing of mighty waters. Animals—she saw a bear and a panther—were standing or walking about, seemingly attentive to the music.
Pocahontas and her family joined in the music, gladly yet almost involuntarily.
But after some time Jesus led them further into the woods, and along the river. Soon Pocahontas saw that this was the Pamunkey River, the river the English call York, the very river on whose shores she had played as a child. Children even now were playing in the shallow water at the river’s edge, a mix of children—some black, some white, some of other hues. They were laughing and splashing.
Further on Pocahontas saw a young woman standing under a huge Shagbark Hickory. She was doing something; Pocahontas couldn’t see what. The woman reminded her of herself years and years ago. Pocahontas drew nearer and saw that the woman was painting a beautiful picture of the trees and flowers at the sunlit edge of a meadow.
Walking further, Pocahontas saw a mixed group of adults, men and women, sitting about in a circle, though some were standing. They seemed engaged in intense conversation, stretching their minds and wits.
Suddenly—pondering all she had just seen—words arose in Pocahontas’ mind. She recalled a passage from Isaiah:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:6–9).
As Pocahontas and Jesus and the others walked on, another Scripture came to mind. Alexander Whitaker had pointed it out to her long, long ago: “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken” (Mic 4:4). “That’s a picture of God’s kingdom promises fulfilled,” Rev. Whitaker had said.
They walked on in silence. Then Jesus said, “This is the new earth and heaven. I am making all things new, as promised.”
Jesus continued, “You remember what you were taught from the Scriptures. It was necessary that I should suffer and then enter into my glory.” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to Pocahontas all the things about himself in all the Scriptures.
Jesus said to Pocahontas, “Touch me and see. I am not a ghost, not a mere spirit! I have flesh and bones, as you can see.”
“It is just as I said at the beginning,” Jesus continued. “Everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms has now been fulfilled. I had to suffer and to rise again from the dead, so that repentance and forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed in my name to every nation on earth. Now I’ve come back to live on earth, just as I promised.”
“You see there is plenty of room here,” Jesus said. “If it were not so, I would have told you. I have prepared a place for you, just as I said. No one need steal another’s land or name now, Matoaka.”
Pocahontas stopped, stunned. “You spoke my real name!”
“Yes, of course. Your old name, your secret name, Matoaka, restored. Healed. Now it’s your New Name. No one will ever take it from you.
“I am pleased with you, Matoaka, and I know your name. Before you were formed in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I had a purpose for you.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” he said. “I was faithful to you when you didn’t know it.”
Pocahontas thought. “And I have loved you, hardly knowing you, since John Rolfe and Mr. Whitaker first showed me your love,” she said.
Jesus smiled. “I call all my sheep by name, and lead them in pleasant paths,” he said. “I give names as well to all the stars and planets and plants and birds and butterflies, and the whales in the sea. Until now you have seen dimly, as in a looking glass, or at a distance. Now you will know fully, just as I fully know you.”
Pocahontas felt her mind wondrously opening to new vistas of truth and glory. She recalled the words from long ago: “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Joy overwhelmed her, yet completely satisfied her deepest soul.
As Pocahontas walked on through creation restored, she thought again of Jesus words: “See, I make all things new.”
(See Ps 23; Isa 54:48, 61:2; Jer 1:4–5, 31:3; Luke 24:25–47; John 10, 15; 1 Cor 13; Rev 2:17, 3:12, 21–22.)
SOURCE: This is Chapter 17, “Pocahontas in Heaven,” from Howard A. Snyder, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth (Eugene Ore: Cascade Books, 2015, with Foreword by Randy Woodley).