There is a lot of wishful thinking about what heaven will be like. Many people conjure up in their imaginations a self-centered utopia that satisfies their every urge and whim. Yet heaven isn’t comprised of what people think about when they are daydreaming. Instead, heaven is God’s abode, and thankfully, relationships are important to him.
In heaven, those who have turned from their sin and put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation will see their loved ones who have done the same. Heaven, as it’s described in the Bible, has a social and relational aspect to it. God is the centerpiece of heaven, but people will reunite with loved ones in heaven.
Will people recognize their loved ones in heaven? What will peoples’ resurrected bodies be like? What will relationships with family and friends be like in heaven? Keep reading to learn the answer to these questions and others.
Will people be reunited with loved ones in heaven?
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… 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 their loved ones 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).
What will relationships with family and friends be like in heaven?
The Bible teaches that people will have meaningful relationships in heaven that are free of sin and its many expressions like envy, jealously, hatred, grudges, and unforgiveness. The most prominent relationships believers have in heaven is with God. However, people will have healthy and holy relationships with each other as well.
Christian author Hank Hanegraaff writes, “Imagine [in heaven] being able to love another human being without even a tinge of selfishness. Imagine appreciating, no, reveling in the exalted capacities and stations that God bestows on another without so much as a modicum of jealousy.” (Resurrection, p. 117)
Why does God want people to be in loving relationships with other people? God wants people to be in healthy and holy relationships with other people because it brings him glory. When people love each other, it magnifies the perfect and holy love of God.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)
Mothers and fathers in this life want their children to have good relationships. They don’t want their sons and daughters angry, feuding, and distant from each other. Likewise, God is also a Father who wants his sons and daughters to love each other (cf. 1 John 4:11).
Peoples’ loving relationships extend into heaven. The Bible indicates that people will know each other in heaven. The love that people have cultivated on Earth for other believers will extend into heaven. Heaven is a place where relationships that believers have with one another will be perfected.
Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter writes, “I know that Christ is all in all; and that it is the presence of God that makes Heaven to be heaven. But yet it much sweetens the thoughts of that place to me that there are there such a multitude of my most dear and precious friends in Christ.”
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