Will we recognize each other in heaven?

By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica
 A reader asks, Will departed Christians recognize each other in heaven?

 I respond: There are several passages that might imply being able to recognize others in the afterlife.

Luke 16:19-31 is a parable; nevertheless, it is based on what the Jewish hearers would have accepted as a plausible picture of the afterlife. The rich man recognizes Abraham and Lazarus, and he dialogues with Abraham.

Paul in 2 Cor 5 says that after death Christians are “at home with the Lord”. Yet, he says in v. 4, he does not want to be “unclothed”. “Nakedness” = being not clothed with a physical body. Paul speaks of three states of being: clothed in a mortal body; dead and “unclothed”, but with the Lord in heaven; “further clothed” in the resurrection body (v. 4). That is, dead believers exist as spirit beings. This doesn’t necessarily inhibit recognizing each other, although Paul does seem to describe it as transitory.

John 14:1-2 – I’ve only just recently changed my interpretation of this, and now believe that Jesus speaks not of the second coming, but of Christ’s coming to take individuals to his “Father’s house” upon their death. This is the meaning suggested by the context of 13:36, “where I am going you may not follow me now”. They will follow him to the Father’s house upon death.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” uses the Greek monai, which doesn’t meant mansions or even detached dwelling places. One has to think of a large Mediterranean-style house of that day, where the pater familias is the head and adult children live with their families in rooms called monai. This strikes me as saying that one person recognizes another if they live in the same house.

Phil 1:21-24 – Paul talks about being with the Lord, but doesn’t talk about relating to other Christians; same with 2 Tim 4:18

Rev 6:9-11 is probably the best text. It speaks of martyred souls who seem to be congregating together. The same with Rev 7:9-17, where the great multitude is worshiping the Lamb before the throne. The fact that they are crying out and singing together seems to indicate interpersonal communication

Matt 17:3 – Elijah and Moses meet with Jesus and are talking with him. Again, they seem to be able to communicate one with another

Now, these passages are specifically about Christians after they die but before they are physically resurrected. From the evidence of the Lord’s appearances after his resurrection (with the exception of Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on route to Emmaus, both of which deal with people who “knew” they weren’t seeing Jesus), resurrected people look like themselves and are recognizable to each other. This truth is of greater importance than whether we recognize each other in heaven – which existence is only for the relatively short time between our death and the final resurrection.
NOTE: I highly recommend the book on heaven by my friend Rebecca Price Janney, Who Goes There? A Cultural History of Heaven, http://www.amazon.com/Who-Goes-There-Cultural-ebook/dp/B00377150W/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1287021729&sr=8-2


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