In the words of Paul, we “hope for what we do not see, and eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:25). Often as people think and speak of heaven, the question is asked “will we know each other in heaven?” This article will set forth some of the reasons I believe we will know each other there.
The following scriptures suggest recognition after death. In Isaiah 14:3, 4, 9-11, and 16, the King of Babylon’s death and appearance in the Hadean world is revealed. There is excitement among the others there because of the king’s earthly record. The one who has exerted such power over others is now weak (vs. 10). The royal trappings of his earthly existence are now brought down to the grave. Those rulers of nations conquered by the king now recognize him and taunt him in his misery.
A similar passage in Ezekial 32:17-32 speaks of Pharoah and his army. He arrives in the Hadean world and is recognized by the rulers of nations and their soldiers who have preceded him. Pharoah, in turn, recognizes the rulers of Assyria, Elam, Meshech, Tubal, Edom, The Princes of the North, and the Sidonians. These wicked rulers who caused such terror during the time of their might, are now powerless and are awaiting the final judgment of God.
The familiar account of The Rich Man and The Beggar Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, shows recognition after death. The rich man in Hades “lifted up his eyes” and recognized both Lazarus and Abraham. The rich man in Hades was in a state from which he could not move to another (verses 24-26). All of our opportunities to do good toward others end with the end of our earthly life.
Two statements in the epistles of Paul indicate his belief in future recognition. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20 – “for what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” While Paul enjoyed his thoughts on these beloved brethren and their exemplary service to Christ (1:6–10), he also keenly anticipated a “crown of rejoicing” when he (and they) made their appearance before Jesus when He returned (verse 19). The thought that he would stand beside the “fruits of his labor” in that day must have strengthened and sustained Paul during many dark days when he was in prison for proclaiming Christ.
The second passage, in 2 Corinthians 4:14, reads: “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.” Paul’s list of his sufferings for Christ includes the expressions “hard pressed on every side”, “perplexed”, “persecuted”, “struck down”, and “always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake.” How … why … would a man endure such things? Paul’s answer to this question was that he knew that someday he would stand in triumph with others who had “kept the faith.” Both of these passages (to Thessalonian and Corinthian brethren) cause me to believe that Paul fully expected to see and recognize his brothers and sisters in Christ beyond this life.
Faith from an unexpected source was recognized by Jesus in the account of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-10. Following this narrative, Jesus said: “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11,12). Many from every part of the earth will be privileged to enjoy the company of the patriarchs of the Old Testament account. This account indicates future recognition.
To these examples could be added many others. We could add Samuel, who made an appearance after his death and was recognized by King Saul – I Samuel 28:3-19. In the conversation between Saul and Samuel on that occasion, Samuel predicted Saul’s and his sons’ deaths in the battle that would defeat Israel the next day. Everything happened just as Samuel predicted – chapters 31:1-5. Saul and his sons joined the prophet in the Hadean world.
The final example is in Matthew 17:1-5. In this account Moses and Elijah, both of whom had been dead for centuries, made an appearance with Jesus. The Lord was “transfigured before them.” This change in the appearance of Jesus was marked: His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as “white as the light.” When Peter suggested the building of three tabernacles – one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – God intervened. Peter had not finished his statement before a “bright cloud” overshadowed the group, and a voice from the cloud said: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” Late in his life Peter would have occasion to remember this incident and the voice from heaven – 2 Peter 1:17,18. Moses and Elijah, representing the “Law and the Prophets”, were preparatory to the work of Jesus. From the grave, the Hadean World, they made their appearance and were recognized.
Robert Lowery, in his song: “Shall We Gather at the River” envisions the scene when we assemble with saints who have preceded us:
“Ere we reach the shining river, lay we every burden down,
Grace our spirits will deliver, and provide a robe and crown.
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, The beautiful river,
Gather with the saints at the river,
That flows by the Throne of God.”