by Dr. Ronald Nash
Most Christians are convinced that people will know each other in heaven. This belief brings great comfort to believers as they watch loved ones pass on. But as popular as this belief may be, many Christians would be hard-pressed to produce much support for it. The tough question is this: How can Christians be sure that people will know each other in heaven? What kind of support, biblical or otherwise, can be found for the widespread belief that believers will recognize each other in heaven?
First it is necessary to establish whether humans retain their identities after death. Whether at the final judgment or in heaven, will we be the same people that we were in this life?
A good theological support for the idea that we will be the same people is based on the justice of God’s judgment at the end of history. At the final judgment, every human being will be raised from the dead and stand before God. It is clear that each person God judges at that time must be identical with the person who performed the deeds being judged. How can God be just if those He punishes are not the same people who actually committed the sins? How can God be just if those He rewards are different from those whom He chose before the creation of the world and saved by His free grace (Romans 8:28-30)?
One important biblical support for the belief in personal identity after death comes from Mark 12:26-27 where Jesus said, “Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him [Moses], ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus explained that even though these patriarchs had been dead for centuries when God spoke to Moses, God meant that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still existed as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob during Moses’ time. God’s words further imply that these men still exist as themselves today. Abraham and the others retained their identities after death. Even after physical death, they kept the relationships with God they had enjoyed during their earthly existence. Jesus therefore assured believers that death does not end human existence or personal identity.
In Luke’s account of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw that “the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus” (Luke 9:29-30). Not only were these prophets still spiritually alive, but they also retained their identity as Moses and Elijah!
Additional biblical support for a belief in the continuation of personal identity after death is found in the accounts of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples following His resurrection. When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of His resurrection, He spoke to them and showed them His wounds (John 20:19-23). John 20:20 says that “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” The risen Christ the disciples encountered in the upper room was the same Jesus they had known before His death on the cross.
These Scripture passages demonstrate that humans survive physical death with personal identity intact. Thus, we can reasonably infer that people will know each other in heaven.
Dr. Ronald Nash is professor of philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida and at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has published over thirty books including Life’s Ultimate Questions and When a Baby Dies, many of which are available from www.amazon.com.