Questions & Answers About Heaven
With Randy Alcorn
Once in heaven, will people know and
recognize those they knew on earth?
In heaven, both in the intermediate state and on the New Earth, we will know each other, including those we knew on earth. Here's some evidence:
1. Heaven will not reduce our mental capacities, but sharpen them (1 Cor. 13:12). We will not be dumber in heaven, but smarter. Scripture gives no indication of a "memory wipe" that will cause us not to recognize our loved ones and others we've known. If we wouldn't know our loved ones, the consolation of afterlife reunion in 1 Thes. 4:14-18 would be nonexistent.
2. After his resurrection, Jesus was not recognized at first on a few occasions (John 20:15; Luke 24:15-16), suggesting some change in appearance. After being with him awhile, his disciples suddenly recognized him (John 20:16; Luke 24:31). This suggests that despite any outer appearance change, the inner identity of the person may shine through, especially to eyes enlightened by heaven.
3. In Matt.17:1-4, at the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah were recognized by the disciples, even though they weren't told who they were, and they couldn't have previously known what they looked like. This may suggest we could recognize instantly people we know of but have not previously met, perhaps as a result of individual personality emanating through their physical appearance.
4. Even apart from the direct indications of Scripture cited above and below, it would logically follow that we would know our loved ones in heaven. We will know some we didn't know on earth—but surely we will still know all those we did! We don't lose knowledge in heaven—we gain it! The nature of love itself is abiding in a way that transcends death (1 Cor. 13:13). While we will no doubt lose interest in and choose not to recall many things that attracted us on earth, the shared experience of loving relationships forges a camaraderie parallel to that of soldiers who have served together in the trenches, and who never forget what they experienced together in that foreign land called earth.
1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-18
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away."
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.
Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.
And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
1 Corinthians 13:13
But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.