Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven Matt 17:1-4 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
We are often asked, Will we recognize loved ones in heaven? The answer is, “Yes, I believe so.” When this question comes up, you can’t just turn to a verse that says, Ye shall recognize loved ones in heaven. So, you have to look at other verses where people who had died or left the earth appeared.
As an example, look at Matt. 17:1-4. This is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James and John recognized who Moses and Elijah were when they saw them. Yet, they had no prior knowledge of what they looked like. They recognized these men whom they had never seen before. Moses had died more than 1450 years before this appearance. Elijah had been taken up more than 900 years before they saw him with Jesus.
For another example, let’s look at the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. They knew each other while they were on the earth. When they died, Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom (where all Old Testament saints went when they died) and the rich man went to hell. In Lk. 16:23, the rich man saw Lazarus and Abraham and talked to them. He recognized them, although their bodies were still in the grave and although Abraham had died more than 1800 years before this.
Another example is found in 1 Sam 28. In verses 11-14, Saul instructed the woman with a familiar spirit to bring up Samuel, so that Saul could inquire of him. When Samuel came up, she described his form, “An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle.” Saul knew immediately “that it was Samuel,” [verse 14]. In this case, like in the case with the rich man and Lazarus, they had known each other by sight when Samuel was alive. The description given by the woman with the familiar spirit evidently fit Samuel’s physical description when he was alive.
Now, when we, who are New Testament saints, die, we will not have the same physical characteristics that we have in the bodies we now inhabit. We will have brand new bodies [1 Cor 15:50-55; 2 Cor 5:1-8]. Our appearance will change [Phil 3:21]. We will look like Jesus. 1 Jn. 3:1-3 says that, “when he shall appear, we will be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” We will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ [Rom 8:29]. Our bodies will look just like his.
In Matt. 22:30, Jesus told the Sadducees that in the resurrection we “neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” The angels of God in heaven look like Jesus. The apostle John, who wrote the Revelation, fell down at the feet of two angels in heaven, mistaking them for the Lord [Rev 19:10; Rev 22:8-9], since their appearance matched the Lord’s. Yet each identified himself to John.
This is like Mary’s temporary mistaken identity of Jesus Christ in the garden after his resurrection [Jn 20:14-16]. She saw him and thought he was the gardener. But when Jesus called her name, Mary new immediately that he was Jesus Christ. Likewise, we should be able to identify each other though our physical features will be changed.
This is like what the Lord told the Sadducees in Matt. 22:32, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive and have maintained their individual identities.
Therefore, as each of these Old Testament saints retained their individual names and identities in eternity, we should likewise have our individual identities in heaven. Like the angels that John saw, we might have to tell one another who we are. But then again, like the apostles who saw Moses and Elijah, we might just recognize each other as they recognized them. Thus, I believe that we will recognize loved ones in heaven.