A former parishioner in Illinois, then a teenager and now a grandmother, poses the above question. Many serious believers are curious about it.
To address the question we must first purge our minds of a counterfeit Christian idea, the notion that after this life we will continue as disembodied spirits flitting about freely in the universe. This is nowhere supported by the Scriptures and if it were true would make our recognition of one another difficult and our experiences dreary.
The legitimate Christian understanding centers not on our survival as disembodied spirits, but instead on our resurrection as whole persons, with resurrected bodies. This assurance is fundamental to the New Testament.
Those who seek an answer to the question,” Will we recognize each other in heaven?” are often referred to 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see but a poor 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.”
This passage refers primarily to our fuller knowledge of God in heaven, but even that assurance speaks indirectly to the question of our recognition of one another there.
What do the Scriptures really teach? Paul writes, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess. 4:14)
Because God’s love for us is so great, our Redeemer, Christ, will resurrect us whole. Death will not be the last word. Our faith is built upon the New Testament testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, and the assurance the Holy Spirit gives us when we believe.
Though there will be significant changes in us when we are resurrected, nothing of ultimate value in our humanity as his redeemed creatures will be cast off. Thus, the ability to know and be known as social beings will, if anything, be enhanced.
Consider Scriptures that support the conviction that we will see and know those believers we have known here on earth even more fully.
Think of Jesus first post-resurrection contacts with his followers. Their eyes were blinded by unbelief, but one by one they came to recognize him and to note that his resurrected body was identifiable but that it displayed new qualities. For example, he could enter a locked room (John20:19), or cover a distance in a moment of time (Mark 16:12).
Paul states elsewhere, “Because he lives, we too shall live” — with the same transformed qualities! Does this not nourish the thought that our powers of recognition will not only be intact but enlarged?
Then there is Paul’s metaphor regarding his own hope for eternal life after death, based on Christ’s resurrection. He writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20, 21). Doesn’t citizenship as a metaphor suggest community and can there be community without social awareness and interaction?
To make the point stronger, Paul writes that when the general resurrection is called, “Jesus Christ will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”.
We begin to see that, through a living faith in Christ, our wholeness in heaven is assured. Neither our identity nor our powers of recognition will be lost. What will be lost are the memory of our sins, the evils and sufferings of the fallen world, and the remembrance of those who refused to believe, because God “will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes” (Rev. 21:4).
Christians sometimes sing with great energy, “When we all get to heaven, / What a day of rejoicing that will be. / When we all see Jesus, / we’ll sing and shout the victory.” It’s glorious to ponder for those who believe!