Will We Recognize Our Loved Ones in Heaven?
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs
by Dillon Burroughs
One of our most anticipated desires for heaven is the ability to reunite with loved ones in Christ who have gone before us. What does the Bible say about our ability to recognize our loved ones in heaven?
A look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is helpful in answering this question. The apostle Paul addresses what will happen when Jesus returns for his followers. He begins with stating, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13). The believer can look at the afterlife with hope.
Paul clearly expresses believers will reunite with those who have preceded us in death: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17). There would be little reason for joy at this time if we could not recognize one another in our heavenly bodies. Paul encourages believers with the rapture, the resurrection, and the reunion of believers.
Other biblical passages complement this concept of recognizing our loved ones in heaven. First, Elijah and Moses were clearly recognized by Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:4-5). We are not told how, but this example suggests we will recognize past saints in the next life.
In addition, Luke 16:19-31, Jesus gives an account of a rich man and Lazarus. Both men died, with Lazarus in heaven (“Abraham’s side,” v. 23) and the rich man was, “n Hades, where he was in torment” (v. 23. We are told, “He looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (v. 23b). Notice, however, that the rich man could still recognize Lazarus. Abraham even recognized the rich man, though he was in torment.
In the Old Testament, David offered words of comfort regarding the loss of his own infant son. David responded, “But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David expected to see his son in heaven and be able to recognize him. The Old Testament often spoke of the dead being “gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8; 35:29; 49:29; Numbers 20:24; Judges 2:10). Those who leave this world will be recognizable and known in the next.
Jesus also taught, “ I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). In the future kingdom, these Old Testament saints will be known and recognizable. We can expect other believers will be known and recognized as well.
Further, Jesus was recognizable following his resurrection. Though he had the ability to disguise himself (Luke 24:13-16), he was clearly recognized at other times. When Thomas saw Jesus, he immediately responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Since believers will have a glorified body like the one Jesus has (Philippians 3:21), we can expect we will have the ability to recognize one another in heaven.
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Dr. Dillon Burroughs
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.