Every pastor has been asked “will I know my loved ones on the other side?”
The intermediate state is the time between our death and the day when Jesus Christ returns and we receive our new body. In that time we are disembodied souls, will we be able to recognise loved ones?
We cannot be absolutely sure but the Bible gives us every indication of recognition.
We are made in the image of the relational God, the primary relationship which we will enjoy is with the Lord himself, and we will also enjoy relationships with others who are also in Christ.
Jesus pictures heaven as a banquet (Luke 14:15 – 24) and feasting at a table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matthew 8:11). At the transfiguration, Peter, James and John recognise Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus (Mark 9:23).
Jacob spoke of his death as resting with his fathers (Genesis 47:30), God told Moses that he would rest with his fathers (Deuteronomy 31:16), God tells David that he will rest with his fathers (2 Samuel 7:12). God could have said Moses and David would simply die or join the dead but he uses a family term, a term, father, implying relational reunion.
Similarly, King David comforts himself at the death of his first son to Bathsheba by saying “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23), there is thus comfort in being with his son again.
Our recognisability is implied in the parable of the dishonest manager, where Jesus urges the shrewd use of wealth, to ensure a warm welcome into heaven (Luke 16:9), and the next parable (Luke 16:19-31) involves the rich man’s recognition of Lazarus, after both their deaths.
Some may argue that recognition is absent where there is no memory and that memory does not go with us to heaven.
The rich man in the parable above remembered that he had five brothers on earth (Luke 16:28) and, as we sing our new songs of praise to God there, we will remember our debt to his grace and his great act of redemption of which we sing.
The apostle Paul says we are to encourage one another with the truths of our hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18). To see Christ and to be reunited with all who love Him, are the truths to encourage us. For the Christian, therefore, there is never a last goodbye.
These are the biblical indicators, I know some of the above texts may be read in a different light.
What I do know with absolute certainty is that there will be no disappointment in eternity and that none of our expectations will be unfulfilled, rather it will be far greater than we could ever imagine.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (Isaiah 64:4, 1 Corinthians 2:9).
Take that in, think about that and live each day in the light of that reality.
It is as one dear brother said, the day before his death, “I am just a little excited!”
You will never have seen anything like it before, or ever heard of anything as good or ever dreamt of anything as wonderful as it will be!
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Australia