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.
Someone once asked me if I thought we would know the people we know now on earth in Heaven. At the time, I couldn’t answer that question because I had no scriptural basis to believe one way or the other. The person who asked said they didn’t see how we could, because if we did and we saw that they weren’t admitted to Heaven, we would be sad. And there’s that verse in Revelation that says there will be no more tears, right? So to recognize our loved ones and to have relationships with them would not be reasonable, right? I disagree, and today’s study discussed this topic and only served to strengthen my belief.
John Calvin, a theologist from the mid-1500s, once said “to be in Paradise and live with God is not to speak to each other and be heard by each other, but is only to enjoy God, to feel his good will, and rest in Him.” To understand why Calvin would say something like this, you have to understand Calvin’s beliefs – he was extremely against anything that took man’s focus off of God. He was even against the creation of statues or images of God (of which the Catholic church had many), believing that they led to idolatry (see here). The fervency behind this belief probably led Calvin to the idea that focus on God’s image-bearers – us, as the followers of Christ – was also a form of idolatry and likely wouldn’t be allowed in Heaven, in the very presence of God. But unlike Calvin, I don’t believe that God is displeased by our relationships with other followers of Christ, but instead, I believe He takes joy in these relationships. He knew that Adam needed a companion in the Garden of Eden, and it pleased God to create Eve. I believe it will be the same in Heaven. Just as when I go to my local church to join in fellowship with other believers my focus shifts to God, my relationships in Heaven will help me shift my focus to God. As Alcorn puts it, “in heaven, no person will distract us from God.”
I believe that part of what we should take comfort in when thinking of Heaven is a reunion with those we love. Paul told the church in Thessalonica “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…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. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14,17, emphasis added). Paul was speaking to them about those in Christ who had already died – he was telling them that they shouldn’t grieve over them like other men who have no hope, but that these would rise again, and that we would meet them again. This was a part of the hope they had in Christ.
“But,” you may say, “just because we are meeting each other again doesn’t mean we’ll recognize each other, right?” True. But the idea that we won’t recognize each other stems from a belief that we will be spiritual beings who have lost our identities and memories. As I wrote about in a previous post, we will maintain our identities in Heaven. Jesus maintained His identity after His death and resurrection – why wouldn’t we do the same? And people were also able to recognize Jesus after His resurrection – Peter, John and others recognized Him when He cooked breakfast for them on the shore of the sea of Galilee (see John 21:1-14), the disciples recognized Him when he appeared to Thomas (see John 20:24-29), and Paul tells of a time when Jesus appeared to a group of more than 500 (see 1 Corinthians 15:6). If all these people could recognize a resurrected Christ, why won’t people be able to recognize us when our bodies have been resurrected and we are living on the New Earth? Of course, some skeptics will use the example of the two men walking on the road to Emmaus not being able to recognize Jesus, but if you look closely at that passage, it says “they were kept from recognizing Him.” (Luke 24:16). Jesus wasn’t ready to be recognized in that situation – but later, when the time was right, the mens’ eyes were opened and they recognized Him (v. 31). I think the same will be true in Heaven – we’ll recognize each other just as we’ll recognize Christ. Perhaps we’ll even recognize people we don’t even know! At the transfiguration of Jesus, Peter, James, and John seemed to recognize Moses and Elijah when they appeared, even though they had never seen them face-to-face (see Mark 9). Maybe in Heaven we’ll be able to instantly recognize people we know but have never met.
One final topic to discuss in this area is that of marriage and families. Jesus directly taught that “at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage…” (Matthew 22:30). This is discouraging to some (like me) who happen to love being married and believe it will be a disappointment to not be married in Heaven. But some of the points Alcorn made helped me to be a little more open to this idea. He said that our marriages here on earth are only a small foretaste of what our true marriage will be like in Heaven – the marriage of Christ and His bride. In Heaven, our marriages “will be assimilated into the one great marriage [our earthly marriages] foreshadowed.” And on top of this, we will probably still have a relationship with our wives/husbands and our families. Just as on earth the closer we are to Christ, the closer we draw to each other, in Heaven we will be the closest we have ever been to Christ, and we will be closer to our families than ever before. Will the relationship be different? Probably. How could they not be different? We’ll be in the presence of our God! Things that seemed important before will seem trivial at that point. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’ll still have relationships, and that those relationship will be an important part of our experience in Heaven.
You may be wondering why I didn’t answer the original question posed at the beginning of this post – if our loved ones aren’t in Heaven, won’t we be sad? And isn’t that in conflict with the idea of there being no sadness in Heaven? The reason I haven’t answered this is because it’s talked about in tomorrow’s lesson, and I didn’t want to ruin it… Tune in tomorrow. Same bat time. Same bat channel.