Heaven: Will I Recognize My Loved Ones?
by Daniel A. Brown
In the world to come, will we recognize our loved ones?
God is the God of the living, not of the dead. (Mark 12:27) We do not cease to exist after death on earth; we pass into the realm of spirit—but we retain enough distinctive essence of our true selves to be easily identified by everyone else. At the transfiguration, the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah who had lived hundreds of years prior to Peter, James and John. Though the disciples had never met Moses and Elijah on earth, they were able to recognize them for who they were. This has exciting implications for us. Not only will we recognize our friends and loved ones in Heaven, it seems likely that we will also "know" all the other inhabitants, and everyone else will know us, too.
The Bible speaks of several distinct groups of redeemed people in Heaven, such as the twenty-four elders, (Revelation 4:10) the hundred and forty-four thousand who go through the "Great Ordeal" with the Anti-Christ, (Revelation 14:1-3) and the great multitude that "no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues." (Revelation 7:4-9). Without recognizable bodies, these groups of heavenly residents would be impossible to identify, so it is safe to conclude that we will have features in Heaven to distinguish us from one another. We will recognize others in Heaven.
Here on earth we know one another more than just by our looks. For instance, we converse "over the phone" with a voice—knowing it is our friend or spouse. Just by the sound of their voice, we know who they are, and it does not seem the least bit odd to relate to them without seeing their physical form. Likewise, when we read a letter from a dear friend, we actually read it with their voice echoing in our mind. We mimic the sound of it as we read the letter silently.
We get a feel for people we know, a sense of their personality and humor and presence. When we happen to think of them, we can do so as easily in terms of their personality (what they are like) as we can in terms of their physical features (what they look like). If you were to tell me that one of my golfing buddies went into a rage and broke the Clubhouse window because of a missed putt, I would tell you that there must be some mistake; my friends are not like that.
Our clay bodies are like an old set of clothes. My wife used to wear a blue and white, ankle-length gingham skirt. I loved how it looked on her—just as I love particular outfits she has now. None of her clothes have lasted as long as our marriage. Different ensembles; same wife. When the clothes are bundled up in the bag she takes to the dry cleaners, I can recognize her dresses and blouses, and say they are hers. But just because she is not wearing a particular outfit does not mean I have trouble recognizing her! So it will be when you and I put off our earthly outfit and put on our heavenly one.
When we dress up more than usual—like I did the other day at the office—people can exclaim—as someone did the other day at the office—"Wow! I hardly recognize you." New hairstyles can do wonders for a person's looks. The transformation that takes place as a result of very flattering clothes is akin to the transformation that will take place when we exchange these clothes on earth for the tailor designed outfits in the heavenlies. On the earth only the rich and famous can afford to have personal tailors and clothes designers. When we go to be with the Lord, we will have "custom" clothes.
We will be as distinctive in the heavenlies as we have been on earth. The "cloud of witnesses" are called by name. They are not indistinguishable wisps of some ethereal, gaseous cloud. One of the biggest misconceptions about life after death is that we will simply fade into an impersonal cosmic whole, and become one with a primal life force. Nothing could be further from what the Bible teaches. Jesus' heavenly state enabled Him to be recognized—though somewhat belatedly—by Mary, Peter and the others who knew Him before He was crucified. (Luke 24, John 20, John 21) The Apostle Paul, who calls himself "untimely born" because he never met Jesus physically, says that the Lord [Jesus] appeared to him. (1 Corinthians 15:8) He knew it was the Lord when he saw Him.
Jesus' afterlife is the prototype and the pattern for ours. Though He left His physical body, He was not in a state of unconscious suspended animation after death. He was identified after His death even though His body was transformed and transfigured enough to be somewhat different than what it had been before. We, too, will be changed enough to enable us to join the cloud of witnesses, but no so changed as to become unrecognizable or to lose our essential identity. At 25-year high school reunions, friends can still recognize one another despite the ravages of time gone by. If the decaying influence of this broken world cannot erase the uniqueness of who God made us as individuals, then we should rest in the absolute assurance that our personhood will be enhanced and accentuated all the more by God when we live in the new world to come.
By Daniel A. Brown, Ph.D. From www.coastlands.org. Used with permission of the author.
Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by Todd H.