This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
The overall topic for this week of my study is “What will our lives be like in Heaven?” I don’t know about you, but this is probably what I have been wanting to know the most about. Although I am sure that we won’t get a complete answer, I also believe that God has given us a good glimpse of these things – enough so that we can add reason and imagination to what He has shown us in His Word and get a good idea of what things will truly be like.
Today’s lesson asked if we should expect to maintain our own identities in the afterlife. Alcorn’s answer is a resounding “Yes!” He says that “individual identity is an essential aspect of personhood. God is the Creator of individual identities and personalities.” In other words, God is who made Adam and Even with individuality, and it was His plan from the beginning. And on top of this, even today in the Present Heaven, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents…” (Luke 15:10). This means that Heaven views each person as an individual. Some other points that aim toward this same idea:
- Jesus maintained His identity. When Jesus died and was resurrected, He did not become someone else. When he appeared to the disciples, he said to them “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” (Luke 24:39, emphasis added).
- Jesus maintained His memories/relationships. When Christ was resurrected, he dealt with Mary Magdalene (see John 20:10-18), his disciple Thomas (see Johns 20:24-29), and his disciple Peter (see John 21:15-22) in ways that showed He knew them, remembered them, and had relationships with them prior to His death.
- Others recognized Jesus. When Thomas (finally) believed, He knew that the Jesus who stood before him was the same Jesus that he had followed – he cried out to him “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). And when Jesus appeared to Peter, John, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, and 2 other disciples at the sea of Galilee, John said to Peter “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7), saying that the man they were seeing was the same Jesus they knew and loved.
- Identity and Accountability. Alcorn reasons that “if we aren’t ourselves in the afterlife, then we can’t be held accountable for what we did in this life.” God’s holiness demands justice – judgment for the wicked as well as reward for the righteous. But it would not be just for a person to be punished for things they didn’t do – if we become someone else in Heaven, we can’t be judged for what we did on earth.
Often people tend to think we will become angels in Heaven, but this isn’t Biblically accurate. If we maintain our identities, then we will be just as human in the afterlife as we are now (minus the curse of sin). Angels are a completely different creation than humans or anything else. And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:3 “…do you not know that we will judge angels?” meaning that humans will govern over them in some way. This seems to distinguish humans from angels based on the roles they play in Heaven.
Another question related to this topic is whether we will keep our present names in Heaven. The answer seems to be that we will, but that we will also be given new names. Revelation 20:15 and 21:27 talk about our names being written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but whether this is our earthly name or a new name given to us, it’s hard to say. Alcorn believes that it is our earthly name written in the Book of Life – God seems to call people in Heaven by their earthly name (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are a good example). But we will also receive new names in Heaven. Isaiah 65:15, speaking to those who God will judge, says “You will leave your name to my chosen ones as a curse; the Sovereign LORD will put you to death, but to his servants he will give another name.” And in Revelation 2:17 it says “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” So it appears that we will get to keep our earthly name as well as receive a new one. Getting a new name does not invalidate our old one – many throughout the Bible were given new names (think about Jacob-Israel, Cephas-Peter, Saul-Paul), yet they retained their identity completely.
This lesson was particularly encouraging for me, because if we were to have to change our identities (who we are) or our creation (what we are), then I would probably still fear going to Heaven. It’s not that I don’t trust God, but I would not be able to comprehend what being someone else or something else would be like, and like all people, I fear what I don’t understand. Thankfully, it appears as if we will still be humans, and we will still be ourselves. We will still have our own appearance, personality, and memories – anything that makes us unique. That’s something I can look forward to.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.