Monday, February 7

Will People Know and Remember Each Other in Heaven?

Do those in heaven remember their family and their friends? This important theological question is explored in a number of passages, as well as referenced in various places throughout Christian history. In 2nd Samuel 12:23 for example, King David is mourning the loss of his and Bathsheba's first child, we read: "... I will go to him, but he will not return to me." In this passage, David is showing that he may go to his son, but his son cannot be brought back to life. Luke 15:7 and 10 illustrate an important point. Here, Jesus says that the the angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner is saved. By this we know that they know when someone aligns themselves with the kingdom of God, they know what is going on here and who is here. In 1st Corinthians 13:12, St. Paul makes it clear that we will actually know others better than we do now, "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (Photo credit to: Mark Mallett)

1st Thessalonians 2:19-20 says, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy." Here, St. Paul acknowledges that in Heaven, he will have extra joy and rejoicing by meeting those Christians which he won to Christ, in the presence of Jesus at his coming and after that. Be that as it may, this indicates that St. Paul would have to know those who he had won, in order to rejoice over them and with them. In 1st Thessalonians 4:16-18, St. Paul writes, "...and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." As we may notice, there is comfort because those who have already died and those who are still alive to meet Jesus when He comes will be caught up "together." This is supposed to be a "comfort," which would show that we will know each other.

In the Christian tradition, though not often, does in a few cases tell about people on the Earth meeting people who had gone to Heaven. In these instances, it is clear that those who had gone to Heaven knew the person still on the Earth. For example, when King Saul had the witch of Endor call up Samuel the prophet. In this episode, we find that Samuel recognized and remembered Saul, and Saul knew Samuel (1st Samuel 28). Another instance is the very important Transfiguration of Jesus. During his Transfiguration, both Moses and Elijah appear, and talk with Jesus about his upcoming death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:27-34). St. Peter, St. James and St. John were also on the Mountain with Jesus. The text makes it clear that even though Peter had never met Moses or Elijah (they lived centuries before his birth), Peter recognized them. He said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah" (Luke 9:33, see entry: "The Transfiguration"). In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read, after the previous chapter which discusses the great heroes of faith (such as Moses, Noah, Enoch, etc), that we are surrounded by "so great a cloud of witnesses." Apparently, the saints in Heaven know us and look on with great interest. This particular verse may not be the most elaborate, but that appears to be what the text indicates. (See entry: "Faith In Action")

But perhaps one of the best evidences comes from Luke 16:19-32. Jesus is conveying to us the parable of a rich man, a beggar named Lazarus, and the patriarch Abraham. Lazarus always begged for food, but the rich man denied it. When the rich man died, he went to the underworld, and when Lazarus died, he went to the Limbo of the Fathers (for more on this, see entry: ". The rich man in the underworld knew Abraham when he saw him in Paradise, and recognized Lazarus, who had just died.(Luke 16:23). On a theological level, we can infer that we will thus know each other in heaven.

Consider also 1st Thessalonians 4:13, which says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope." Why would St. Paul comfort the believers regarding the resurrection if they would not recognize each other? There would be no point, and by this we see that again, we will know each other. Matthew 8:11 says, "I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." (NIV) Two points about this specific verse. If none of us recognized one another, how would this verse come to fruition, and what would be the point of names if we do not know each other? 

Another verse to consider would be Matthew 12:38-41. Verse 41 says, "The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here." (NIV) Mike Scott of puts out a few bold questions that are helpful in this discussion, "1) Produce ONE passage that teaches we won't recognize each other in the next life. 2) If we don't recognize each other, then wouldn't we think we were the only ones that made it? 3) Will we recognize our own selves? How will we know it is true? 4) Explain how we can be like Jesus and be without our memory faculty. 5) From evidence of Scripture, is there more evidence for believing that we will be able to recognize each other, or is there more teaching that we will not? 6) If God were to do nothing but raise my body, and make a being out of it that is not me, and put it up in heaven, why should I be interested any more than if God were to make that being out of a dead animal? 7) How could we praise the Lord for our redemption and salvation from sin in this world, unless we would remember we were once lost, and had been saved? 8) To say that we will become beings without our former faculties is to believe the doctrine of materialism that teaches extinction of man's being."[1]

The above Scriptures, on a theological level, indicate that we will know each other - including friends and family - in Heaven, and that we will actually know them better than we do now, and will remember our life on Earth. Another point we may seek to consider is the purported Near-Death Experiences. Now, many readers will understand my position on NDE's, that many of these experiences are indeed something concocted by oxygen loss in the brain while near-death, but other experiences are harder to dismiss. Although the variety and range of content in these experiences are vast, and are not tied to any one religious tradition, we may yet consider some for our purposes. For example, many report seeing famous biblical figures such as King David, Abraham, and even the prophet Elijah. Take John Bunyan for example - who claimed to have had an OBE (Out-of-Body-Experience). John Bunyan was an English Christian author who lived in the 17th century. Bunyan wrote over 40 books, the most famous of which is his Pilgrim's Progress

In this experience, Bunyan claims that he was taken first to Heaven to give an account to the world, as he was previously about to end his life in a forest; an atheist friend had him nearly persuaded that life was meaningless. But to Bunyan, God intervened, sending an angel to allow him to begin his long life of writing. While in Heaven, according to his written account, he met the prophet Elijah (see 1st Kings 19-2nd Kings 1). According to the text, "Swift as thought he conveyed me past thousands of angels, and presented me to that great saint, the prophet Elijah. Though he had lived in the world many hundreds of years ago, I knew him at first sight. 'Here is one,' said my conductor to Elijah, 'who by the commission of the Imperial Throne has been permitted to visit these realms of light, and I have brought him to you, to learn from you.'"[2]

Elijah and an angel proceed to tell Bunyan that yes, people do know each other in Heaven. As noted in the above text, without introduction, upon seeing Elijah, Bunyan "knew him at first sight." How could this be so unless we know each other in Heaven? It is possible of course that Bunyan's account is a faux account, but it is helpful in illustrating the theological principles that are seemingly present in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The above passages indicate that we will know each other by name, that we will retain at least some of our memories, and that yes, we will know each other better than we do here on Earth. 

Troy Hillman

[1] Scott, Mike. "Will we know each other in heaven?." What Do The Scriptures Say?. Mike Scott and, n.d. Web. 7 Feb 2011. .
[2] Bunyan, John. Visions of Heaven and Hell. Chapter 3.


  1. I believe that we will know each other not from recognition of faces , but by the Spirit. If we are recognized by faces, than those who accepted Christ after they have committed crimes against our Christian brothers and sister wouldn’t that cause a problem in Heaven? The scripture that you used I believe are great examples but
    why was the Rich Man able to talk to Abraham but not to Lazarus directly?

  2. If after this life Heaven is going to be a place of a great family reunion, then I fervently believe we will know one another not only in spirit, but by names and appearance. If Jesus will be recognized by all saved believers who make it to heaven, then this an indication that we will know one another. With God all things are possible. Children who died in child birth will be recognized by their parents who make it to heaven. Nimely T. Sampson

  3. I believe we will know each other in spirit and in truth, we will look into eachothers eyes and see, the eyes are the Windows to the soul, we will remember our lives but not the sins done or committed, there is a book of life in heaven where we are written, and our sencess are more hightened than before.

  4. I don't fully understand about knowing each other in Heaven. If we know Mama, Daddy, brother, sister, etc. then would there not be great sorrow over the ones that aren't there?

  5. So if you believe this then what about the people who don't make it. Will we magically only remember those who are there and have no memory of others who have not made it? If I make it to heaven and I don't see my wife there I would be devestated and there is no sorrow in heaven.

    1. It is true that our unsaved loved ones will not be in heaven; I believe this is the cause of the "tears" that Jesus will wipe away, Rev 7.17. Memories of them are not erased; our understanding is increased 1Cor 13.10. And, hard as it is to understand with our current human minds, the eternal damnation of our unsaved loved ones glorifies God's justice.

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  8. I believe with all my heart we will know each other. But Jesus will be our main focus. In Luke, the rich man would not feed the poor beggar Lazarus. When the beggar Lazarus died he went to Abraham's bosom...which was paradise in the Old Testament. Between paradise and Hades was a chasm. So when the selfish rich man died he went to Hades and was in torment and had much thirst. He called to Father Abraham but he was far away.. However Father Abraham did answer him. POINT: They recognized each other. Why was there a chasm or separation between Hades and Paradise? Answer: Jesus didn't die on the cross yet. When Jesus died for our sins he took the criminal who believed on the cross next to Him down into the core of the Earth and lifted the top part (Paradise) up to Heaven with Him. Because now....Believers get to go to Heaven not Paradise. The bottom part is still there (Hades) waiting judgment and is a place of torment. When the final judgment comes, Hades will be thrown into Hell. Therefore today Hell is empty....Hades is what we call it until then. Another place in the Bible that shows we will know each other is that when Jesus came back in His glorified body after dying on the cross and was cooking fish on the beach. It took a while but the disciples recognized Him. He said to them, "Fear not, it is I ." I will love recognizing my family in Heaven...but the first person I will long to see is Jesus. Thank you Lord for dying for my sins, for loving us before the creation and before we were knitted in our mother's are our Heavenly Father and we love you more than we can ever say...Someday we will tell you face to face. Someday soon we will truly experience beyond our understanding how much You love us.