For many people, nothing in life is more important than God and family. However, life is temporary (James 4:14) and so are people’s relationships with grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones. Many wonder if people in heaven remember their family or forget them.
Some theologians believe that the Bible illustrates that people in heaven will remember their loved ones. Though there will be no tears, death, crying, or pain in heaven (Rev. 21:4), God doesn’t erase family members from people’s memories. Their awareness, however, doesn’t imply interaction or guidance.
Do people in heaven know what is happening on the Earth? Will memories of Earth be erased upon entry into heaven? Will people recognize each other’s glorified bodies? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Do people in heaven know what is happening on the Earth?
Theologians debate if people in heaven can “see” the events of Earth. Some people believe that loved ones are physically close to them on Earth, similar to a guardian angel, but that concept isn’t consistent with orthodox Christianity. Other people wonder if people who reside in heaven with God are aware of loved ones on Earth.
The Bible doesn’t give a definite answer to whether or not people in heaven know what’s happening on Earth, but that doesn’t mean that people in heaven don’t remember their loved ones.
Some speculate that people in heaven remember their family just as they would if they went on a long trip. They can’t “see” their family, but they have memories of them and look forward to reuniting with them.
What’s an example of people in heaven being aware of the events of Earth? Revelation 6:9-11 records a scene in which martyrs have an awareness of what is happening on Earth. In this context, they are grieving the hardships their loved ones are experiencing. John writes,
“And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had upheld.
And they cried out in a loud voice, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You avenge our blood and judge those who dwell upon the earth?’
Then each of them was given a white robe and told to rest a little while longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers, were killed, just as they had been killed.” (emphasis added, ESV)
A question that scholars and theologians pose is whether or not this is a unique experience for these martrys, or if the passage is describing a normal experience that all people in heaven have.
Heaven is a place of reunited relationships including family
The English monk, called the Venerable Bede (672-735), once preached,
“A great multitude of dear ones is [in heaven] expecting us; a vast and mighty crowd of parents, brothers, and children, secure now of their own safety, anxious yet for our salvation, long that we may come to their right and embrace them, to that joy which will be common to us and to them, to that pleasure expected by our fellow servants as well as ourselves, to that full and perpetual felicity….
If it be a pleasure to go to them, let us eagerly and covetously hasten on our way, that we may soon be with them, and soon be with Christ.”
The Bible describes heaven as a social place. Not only will people know God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), but their relationship with other people will be improved and enhanced as well.
Paul anticipated people experiencing heaven together. The Apostle Paul anticipated seeing loved ones in heaven. In fact, he longed for such reunions and encouraged others to look forward to them as well.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.
After that, we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:17-18, ESV)
Paul wanted the Christians at Thessalonica to know that someday in the future Christ would come back for them as he promised (John 14:1-2). Believers will be taken “together” and share in the experience simultaneously. Paul wants people to remember this and even “encourage one another” with this future reality.
Though the description is a snapshot in time, it aligns with other passages of Scripture that refer to relationships between people in heaven.
American preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), looked forward to reuniting with loved ones in heaven: “Every Christian friend that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above.” He continues,
There the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end.
There we shall have companionship with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy…
And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!
Will people recognize others’ resurrected bodies in heaven?
The Bible illustrates that peoples’ resurrected bodies will be recognizable. People will have new, glorified bodies in heaven, but there will be continuity with the bodies they had on Earth. For example, Revelation 7:9 suggests that people will be the same race in heaven as they were on Earth. Other verses teach that people’s bodies will be the same yet different.
- Philippians 3:21, “Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (ESV)
- 1 Corinthians 15:44, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (ESV)
Did Jesus have the same body after he rose from the dead? Jesus had the same body, but it was glorified as well. How do we know it was the same body? We know it was the same body because it still had nail marks from his crucifixion. Jesus said to Thomas, “Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.'” (John 20:27, ESV)
But didn’t the disciples not recognize Jesus? Some passages indicate that the disciples didn’t initially recognize Jesus (e.g. John 21:4), but it’s not because he had a completely different body. The disciples didn’t recognize him at first because they thought he was dead.
In these cases, after some initial conversation, people are alert to the fact that they are speaking to Jesus himself. For example, after some initial confusion, perhaps through tired and weeping eyes, all Jesus had to say was Mary’s name, to which she replied “Rabboni!” (John 20:15-16).
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