Over the years several people have asked me the interesting question, “Will we know each other in heaven?” I’m confident that the answer to that question is yes, for several reasons.
First, consider the fact that God will resurrect us physically at His second coming. There’s plenty of evidence for this in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:51–53 Paul wrote, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”
The word perishable means something that can spoil and decompose. In this life, when we die, it’s our bodies that spoil and decompose. For example, notice Martha’s response to Jesus when He asked that the stone be rolled away from her brother’s tomb: she said that Lazarus stank (John 11:39, KJV). That’s precisely why we bury people after they’ve died! And that’s why, when God raises people from the dead at His second coming, they’ll be imperishable. Why? Because they’ll have bodies that can no longer spoil and decompose. Therefore, why shouldn’t these resurrected saints be recognizable?
And by the way, do you think Martha and her sister Mary recognized Lazarus when Jesus brought him back from the dead? The rest of the crowd certainly did, because “some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (verse 46).
A couple of other texts in the New Testament make it very clear that we’ll be resurrected with physical bodies. First, consider Jesus. When He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, “They were . . . frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.” Jesus responded, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see. A ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:37–39). Then He asked them, “?‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (verses 41, 42). Obviously, after His resurrection Jesus had a physical body.
Then there’s the case of Thomas, who wasn’t present at this first meeting Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection. The next time the ten disciples saw Thomas (remember that Judas wasn’t with them) they said, “We have seen the Lord!” Pay careful attention to those words: these disciples said they had “seen the Lord.” This means they recognized Jesus after His resurrection. So why wouldn’t our friends and loved ones recognize us—“know us”—after we’re raised to life at Christ’s second coming?
The second text I want you to consider is Philippians 3:20, 21. Paul said, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” So at the Second Coming our bodies will be like Christ’s glorified body.
Let’s put everything together that we’ve discussed thus far: We’ll be raised immortal and imperishable—that is, we’ll no longer have bodies that can spoil and decompose. Instead, our bodies will be like Jesus’ body after He was resurrected. His resurrection body was clearly physical, and His disciples recognized Him in that glorified body. Therefore, we too will recognize our friends and loved ones in their resurrected bodies, and they’ll recognize us in ours.
Broken tombs, resurrected saints
Here’s another bit of evidence about resurrected bodies. Matthew informs us that when Jesus died, “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matthew 27:52, 53).
First, notice that it was “the bodies of many holy people” that were raised to life, and they “went into the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many people.” They obviously appeared as physical beings with faces and voices, and it makes sense that their faces and voices would have been the same as those they had when they died.
Many of these resurrected saints probably died before the people in Jerusalem had even been born, so Jerusalem’s inhabitants would not have recognized them in the sense of knowing their names and saying, “So good to see you again, Bruce and Harriet!”
However, what if John the Baptist was among these resurrected saints? Matthew said that during the time John preached and baptized, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” (Matthew 3:5). So if John was among those who came back to life when Jesus was resurrected, then there had to have been people in Jerusalem who recognized him in his resurrected body. I can just hear their shocked voices: “John, I thought you’d died!”
All of this evidence leads me to the conclusion that we will recognize our friends and loved ones when we reach heaven in our resurrected and transformed bodies.
what happens when we die?
I teach a Bible class at my church in Caldwell, Idaho, and one day one of the people in the class raised an interesting question about the resurrection. He (or she, I don’t remember which) said, “When we’re resurrected, will God use the same material that we had when we died?”
I said, “Are you asking whether God will put us back together using the exact same atoms and molecules we had when we died?”
And he (or she) said, “Yes.”
My answer was that God is certainly capable of doing that, but I doubt that He will.
To begin with, most people have numerous defects when they die—wrinkled skin, cancer, tuberculosis, missing an arm or leg, etc. If God were to put us back together using the exact same atoms and molecules we had when we died, our resurrected bodies would have these same defects. But, as Paul said in a quote I shared with you a moment ago, we’ll be raised imperishable. So God is going to have to use atoms and molecules that are different from the ones we had when we died, or we’d be raised to life perishable and with all our diseases and missing body parts. Then think of this: when someone dies and donates his heart, who’s going to get it back if God has to use the same atoms and molecules in the resurrection—the donor or the recipient?
And this brings us back to the question that I began this article with: Will we recognize each other in heaven?
Two things will be necessary for that to happen. First, we’ll have to have the same appearance we had when we knew each other on this earth, with the exception that the old folks who died will be raised looking like they did in their youth. And second, all of us have unique personalities and character traits that are part of “knowing” someone.
Let’s say two people have exactly the same appearance, which does happen now and then. So if one of them is your friend and you should happen to meet both him and his look-alike in heaven, it would probably take you less than a minute’s conversation to tell which one was your friend—not by their appearances but by their differing voices and personalities.
God knows what our faces and bodies look like on this earth; He knows what our voices sound like; and He knows what our characters and personalities are like. So when He resurrects us, He’s going to remove the wrinkles and diseases we died with, but our voices will be the same as we had in this life, and we’ll have the same personality traits we had while on this earth. But He won’t be obligated to use the same atoms and molecules we had at the moment we died.
So rejoice! You will know your friends and loved ones in God’s eternal kingdom!