November 24, 2022

Will We Recognize Our Friends and Family in Heaven?

Nathan W. Bingham & Derek Thomas
Will We Recognize Our Friends and Family in Heaven?

It can be unsettling to think about whether or not we will recognize our loved ones in eternity. Today on the Ask Ligonier podcast, listen as Derek Thomas uses one of Jesus’ parables to help us think through this subject.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: We’re recording live from Ligonier’s 2022 conference in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’m joined by one of Ligonier’s teaching fellows, Dr. Derek Thomas. Dr. Thomas, will we recognize our friends and family in heaven?

DR. DEREK THOMAS: Yes. And we will recognize not just family and friends, but Jesus, and He will recognize us. So, I think of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It is a parable, so one has to be careful about stretching all of what it says into the world of reality rather than the world of parable. But certainly, there was recognition on the part of the rich man and of Lazarus of surroundings. And they were aware not just of friends and family in heaven or, in the parable, in hell even. And I think that parable is a parable of the intermediate state, not of the final state. But that parable also suggests that there will be recognition, at least in part, of events on Earth. Now, I don’t want to stretch that too much because it is a parable, and I’m not sure how far you can go. But certainly there was an awareness on the part of the rich man that his brothers were still in an unsaved condition.

And I think that we can plot a trajectory from that to suggest that there will be recognition and awareness and consciousness in the world to come. It’s a little difficult if the intermediate state is entirely soulish and there is no physical body. It’s the view of most that after death, the soulish part of us—and for that, I understand the conscious part of us, the self-aware part of us—continues. But our bodies will rest in the grave until the resurrection.

Now, if the intermediate state is entirely nonphysical, so there’s no body, I’m not even sure what the next sentence is, because I don’t know what thinking is without a brain. I don’t know what awareness is without a physical body. I have no experience of that whatsoever. And there are some within the Reformed community who have interpreted 2 Corinthians 5:1 that when this earthly tent is destroyed, we have a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And the tense is not that we shall have, but that we have, and that is suggestive to me of some kind of temporary physical existence in heaven before we get to the new heavens and the new earth after Jesus returns.

So, my expectation and my longing is that when I close my eyes here and I open them a few seconds later, I am in the presence of those who have passed before me who loved Jesus. But also at some point, I will see Jesus Himself, who is certainly in a physical condition, as presumably Moses and Elijah, if the transfiguration narrative is suggestive of the existence in heaven, that that too is a physical one.