When someone is sick or dying, or when a loved one has passed away, it’s common for people to comfort each other by telling them that they will be reunited with that person in Heaven.
But does the Bible actually teach this, or do we just say it because it is a “sweet little lie” that makes us feel better?
Clearly the Bible does teach about Heaven and eternal life for those who believe, but does the Bible actually teach that we will be reunited with people we knew on Earth? Are there any passages in the Bible that teach that we will recognize each other and hang out in Heaven?
Reunited and It Feels So Good
In 2 Samuel 12, when David’s infant son was sick, David fasted and prayed. When his son then died, David’s servants were afraid to break the news to him, thinking that if he was so distraught over his son being sick, surely the news of his son’s death would send him over the edge…
When David saw his servants whispering, he realized his son had died. Rather than being distraught, David was at peace – much to the surprise of his servants.
David explained his response by pointing out that since his son was dead, there was now no more he could do; praying for his son’s recovery wouldn’t help at this point. Instead, David went to the house of the Lord and worshiped, explaining to his servants that he was at peace, since, he said, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)
David clearly took comfort in the knowledge that he would be reunited with his son in the life to come.
But this begs a question: When David would see his son, who died in infancy, would that child be an infant perpetually, for all of eternity? That question finds answers in some other passages in the New Testament, which we will consider next.
Recognizing…But Not Right Away
The gospel accounts in Luke 24 and John 20 tell us that when Jesus resurrected, three days after his crucifixion, some of his disciples met with him, but they did not immediately recognize him. After they realized it was him, however, they did recognize him.
This is an important detail for several reasons. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul the Apostle explains that Jesus was the “first fruits” of those resurrected from the dead to eternal life. Other people had been raised back to life, but those people all subsequently died again, that time for good. Jesus was the first to raise to never die again – the fate which awaits those who believe in Him.
As the “first fruits” of those raised from the dead to eternal life, Jesus’ resurrection body is a prototype of what our resurrection bodies will be like. So what was Jesus’ resurrection body like?
We know from John 20 and Luke 24, that Jesus’ body was physical, for he ate food and people touched him. Yet, his physical body also had properties which were different than our moral bodies; he entered a locked room without using a door, for example.
Furthermore, Jesus’ appearance was, on the one hand, recognizable, and on the other hand, different enough that his closest friends didn’t recognize him – until they did.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul the Apostle mentions that over 500 people saw Jesus at one point after his resurrection, and those people all recognized that it was Jesus. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, who doubted that he had actually risen from the dead, Thomas recognized him, touched him, talked with him, and believed.
For these reasons, we can conclude that our bodies, in the resurrection and eternal life will be:
- Physical, yet with unique properties that our mortal bodies do not possess.
- Recognizable, yet somewhat different than the way you look now. (It seems reasonable to assume that infants will not be infants forever, and that these new bodies will be free of infirmity or other limitations related to age). It will truly be you, and will be recognizable as you, but will not be identical to your current appearance.
For more on the resurrection body, check out this message on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.
In Luke 9, we read about Jesus’ transfiguration, when his closest disciples were allowed to see a glimpse of his divine glory. During the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus before their eyes, and it says that the disciples recognized them.
This is interesting, because the disciples had never seen Moses nor Elijah, since they died long before the disciples were born. The disciples were able to recognize them somehow, possibly by interacting or speaking with them, or though their personalities.
Either way, it’s an example of long-deceased people being recognized as who they were. The implication is that in the life to come, people will be recognizable, and interact with those who have passed away before them.
That Weird Story about the Prophet Samuel and the Witch of Endor
Another story in which we see an instance of a deceased person interacting with and being recognized by someone they previously knew in this life, is found in 1 Samuel 28:8-17, where King Saul asked a necromancer to summon Samuel the Prophet, so Samuel could give him advice.
In this story, it seems that the necromancer is genuinely surprised that Samuel actually appeared. Her usual practice, in other words, didn’t produce that result. It can be assumed she was a charlatan, and that the deceased do not usually interact with the living, yet on this occasion, God allowed an exception, in order to teach King Saul an important lesson.
Reunited in the Sky
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul encourages the Thessalonians, and us, regarding the fate of those believers who have died prior to the return of Jesus. For the first Christians, who expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, they were genuinely surprised by and confused about the death of other Christians who had died Jesus had returned.
Paul encourages them by telling them that when Jesus returns, those who died in faith will be resurrected, and we who are alive will be caught up and we will meet Jesus and those who passed away before us in the sky. Paul then tells us to encourage each other with these words.
The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Abraham
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a story about two men who died, and what happened to them after they died. One was an unnamed rich man, the other was a poor man named Lazarus.
The irony of the the reversal is poignant: a man who had “a name” on Earth, and a “nameless” beggar – yet in eternity, the beggar has a name and the rich man is nameless.
These men find themselves in Sheol, a place of waiting, which is divided into two parts, with an impassable chasm between them: Abraham’s Bosom – a place of waiting for the redemption promised in the Messiah, and Hades – a place of waiting for the ultimate judgment.
For more on Sheol, Abraham’s Bosom, and Hades, see: Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?
Interestingly, these two men not only recognize and interact with each other, but they recognize and interact with Abraham – yet another example of people in the afterlife interacting with and recognizing each other.
Eden Restored (and then some)
The Bible begins with God placing the man and woman he created in a garden paradise in Eden, and charging them to be fruitful and multiple. Sin, however, comes into the good creation, leading to death and destruction. God immediately announces his plan of redemption through a savior, but the effects of sin are pervasive.
In Revelation 21, we see that after God has redeemed the world and defeated evil, Satan, and death, that there will be a new Earth. In this new Earth, we see a scene strikingly similar to Eden; people dwell with God, and there is a special tree: the Tree of Life, which hasn’t been seen since the garden paradise of Eden back in the Book of Genesis.
There is a difference, however: whereas Eden was a garden, this new place is a garden city. This place, in other words, isn’t just Eden restored, it is Eden fulfilled: it is what Eden would have become if sin and death hadn’t entered into the world.
The reason this is important for our discussion, is because it shows that Heaven will not be an ethereal place where we will float on clouds, or live in mansions. (The word “mansions” in some English translations of John 14:2 is a poor translation. The word monai should rightly be translated “rooms.”) Heaven will be a physical place, similar to the world we currently live in, but – just like our resurrection bodies – with important differences, and free from entropy and decay.
With all these thoughts together, we can be fairly confident that for those who are “in Christ,” who have put their faith and trust in him, we will indeed be reunited with our loved ones in eternity.
For further reading, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.