QUESTION: When we get to Heaven will we recognize people?
ANSWER: This is a very common question and can bring much peace at the funeral of a loved one. The answer is yes, and there are several Bible passages that support that conclusion.
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), we see the rich man looking up from Hell into Abraham’s Bosom. The Bible says in verse twenty-three that he saw “Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” The next verse shows him addressing Abraham by name – never having met him before. Not only did he recognize the poor beggar he walked past every day on earth but he also recognized an Old Testament saint who had been dead for over 2,000 years!
Another example is seen in Matthew chapter seventeen. There we see Christ, in His glorified body, on the Mount of Transfiguration along with three of His disciples. Peter was one of them and, as an eyewitness of the event, seems to have immediately recognized both Moses and Elijah. Again, without any introduction he identifies them by name.
A third example applies directly to individual family members. One of many consequences of David’s sin with Bathsheba was the death of the child who was conceived as a result. David’s reaction to the child’s death was strange to his servants and so he explained, “…While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23). There would have been some relief in David knowing that the child was in Heaven. But David was comforted by the fact that he would see the child – and thus recognize him as such. I suspect that when David got to Heaven, one of the first people he wanted to see was this child.
As we get older our earthly families seem to get smaller and smaller. The longer we live the more of our family and friends have gone on before making us look more and more forward to Heaven. Although the glimpse of Heaven we get from Scripture is incomplete, we can be confident that we will recognize not just each other, but our Saviour as well. In fact, He will be the only one in a glorified body with wounds (John 20:27).
Although the Bible is clear that we will recognize each other and maintain a memory of life and associations on earth (Luke 16:25), physical relationships for the sake of procreation will not exist in our glorified bodies (Matt 22:30 and Mark 12:25).
Christian, it is a sobering thought, but we will for a brief time also be aware of the many family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who are not in Heaven. The tears will eventually be wiped away (Rev. 7:17; 21:4) but that is a shameful consolation. My prayer is that everyone you know will be in Heaven, if you have any doubts, do you love that person enough to tell them the truth even though they may hate you for doing so?