Will We Recognize Each Other in Heaven?
Art has done a lot to ruin the biblical image of heaven. Most images of heaven depict fat baby-people floating around in the clouds while playing harps. While this concept of heaven is common, it is anything but true. The Bible says nothing about heaven functioning as a place anything remotely like that…and thank the good Lord for that!
But because heaven is seen by many as this sort of ethereal, intangible existence, it has seriously messed up our picture of the place Jesus calls paradise. Though all Christians who die before the second coming of Christ are parted from their earthly bodies, that does not mean they continue on in some kind of completely non-physical or non-visual existence. Scripture says the opposite. Though deceased believers must wait until our bodies are resurrected to enjoy our fully redeemed and restored condition, those who are currently in heaven are still able to see and know each other, despite being separated from their earthly bodies.
A few examples from Scripture:
- Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man were all recognizable to each other after death (Luke 16:19-31). They all maintain their same identities, and are able to remember their past lives.
- When Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of transfiguration, they were recognizable to Jesus, Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:3-4). In fact, this may indicate that we will somehow be able to immediately recognize people we have never even met before, since the disciples lived hundreds of years after these two men had walked the earth.
- A post-death appearance of Samuel the prophet was recognizable to king Saul (1 Samuel 28:8-17).
- Christians who have been martyred were seen by John the apostle during his heavenly vision in Revelation 6:9-11. These “souls” were “crying out”, meaning they could express themselves. They asked God when he would “avenge their blood”, meaning they could remember that they had been killed on earth, and were aware that God had not yet brought judgment on the earth. They were “each given a white robe”, which means they have some sort of out-of-their-earthly-body existence that still makes them visible and able to wear clothing. They were “told to wait a little longer”, which means even in heaven there is some concept of time.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12 says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” When we get to heaven and see Jesus face to face, our knowledge will increase, not decrease. Our awareness of God, ourselves, and each other will be clear, not muddled like it currently is.
All of these and more seem to make it clear that heaven is a place where people keep their earthly identities and memories. We do not transform into different people or become reincarnated. Rather, we are there who we are now, but separated from our earthly bodies (until they are resurrected at Jesus’ second coming, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and away from the curse of sin on the earth. We will know each other and be known by each other, and will only grow in that knowledge for the rest of eternity.