See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3(NLT)
George MacDonald was a great Scottish preacher of another generation. He was asked one time if we will recognize one another in Heaven; he responded:
Shall we be greater fools in Paradise than we are here?[ii]
Randy Alcorn in Heaven poses this question as a problem many people have with being able to recognize their loved ones at the reunion. He says: What lies behind that question is Christoplatonism and the false assumption that in Heaven we’ll be disembodied spirits who lose our identities and memories. How does someone recognize a spirit? [iii]
Plato was the philosopher who considered the body as more of a liability than an asset. Plato’s idea that we are much better off without these mortal bodies has affected (and infected) many believer’s view of what it will be like to live with God in the new heaven and earth.[iv]
There is no “memory wipe” even suggested in Scripture, where we would forget what our loved ones look like, or that they would forget. This is based on human limitation to understand what heaven would be like, not sound theology.
What about evidence to the contrary such as Mary at the tomb, and the two disciples on the Emmaus Road not recognizing Jesus? These are troubling, but certainly explainable. Mary lived in a culture where women did not make eye contact with men; she imagined it was the gardener. But the instant Jesus called her by name she recognized him. Likewise, the Emmaus Road disciples didn’t know Jesus at first, but there was a supernatural intervention that kept them from recognizing him (Luke 24:16).
So, contrary to the troublesome ideas that we won’t know each other in Heaven, let’s look at the Biblical evidence, starting from John’s epistle that we will not only know each other; we are going to know each other more deeply and completely than was ever possible here on earth!
After last week’s service one of our church members, Marie Cavaletto shared with me how someone had once told her there will be no babies in heaven, that we would spend eternity like Jesus, at age 33. I’m not sure I like that…I did some pretty dumb things at age 33!
Perhaps the person meant that since the Lord’s ministry culminated at that age, we will be like that…fully matured, fruitful and not elderly-weak, or childishly young. I like to think that age won’t be a factor at all. Eternity will change a lot of our earthly concepts, freeing us to understand that what we look like will not matter, because what we are matters more than anything.
That means, being like him will involve:
Jesus appeared to more than 500 witnesses after the resurrection(1 Corinthians 15). According to John’s Gospel(John 21) Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples, and ate with them after the resurrection. That means, with all due respect to Plato, the body Jesus had was real, and therefore vital.
If we’re going to be like Him, we will also have bodies, and not have to try to recognize which ghost used to be our mother-in-law!
When Jesus appeared to his followers the first time in the upper room, Thomas was AWOL. The next time Jesus offered his hands and side to the doubting disciple and told him to check out the scars(John 20). The fact that we are going to be like Jesus means we will retain recognizable characteristics of our earthly bodies.
One huge mistake the people of Jesus’ day made was failing to recognize God among them.
Mary at the tomb, and the Emmaus travelers didn’t realize they were face to face with Almighty God. But in that day our eyes will be opened
The Book of Revelation says much about the unveiling of Christ; in fact, the word “revelation” itself means to draw back the curtain.
Everything about our misconceptions of who Jesus is, and what He is really like will clear away like a fog lifting in the morning. We shall see Jesus without limitation!
Omnipresence requires that a person is everywhere at once. In the account of the transfiguration(Luke 9) Jesus took James, John, and Peter up to a place they couldn’t describe. There they met (and recognized) Moses and Elijah.
Scripture says Jesus’ whole appearance was otherworldly…transfigured and different than anything they’d ever seen. And the disciples recognized the two prophets who had died hundreds of years before. They’d never so much as seen a Facebook picture, yet they knew them.
Some scholars, professors and pastors I’ve known have held that we will move at the speed of thought from one physical location to another. I personally believe that’s too tame; if we’re going to be like Jesus, I don’t think omnipresence is too much of a stretch.
Omniscience defined means knowing all there is to know. This certainly includes knowing and recognizing our loved ones.
But I believe there is much, much more to it than that. I believe it means we will know as God knows…omnisciently understanding in every way all the strengths, weaknesses, joys, and sorrows our loved ones had and remember.
In heaven, because of knowing all there is to know there will never be any kind of communication breakdown.
We will even understand ourselves perfectly!
Because God is omnipotent, all-powerful (which is certainly going to be displayed at Armageddon), there will be the destruction of sin, death, tears, sorrow….all things will be made new.
What’s so utterly inconceivable is the incredible contrast between the Jesus of Bethlehem and the Lord of Heaven’s armies, who, with the breath of his mouth, the Sword of judgment slays every enemy with a single word.
We shall see that; and we shall share in that.
In our text John writes that everyone who has this expectation…keeps himself pure.
With everything we will see and all the people we will recognize and enjoy, as we gather and remember, in the joy of our omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent Lord, who will transform us to be just like him…it is no wonder Jesus took great pains to tell us to prepare.
And so, I ask you a much more pressing question than whether you will know, recognize and remember anybody; that question is: will you be there to be known, recognized and remembered?
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
[i] Title image: Russell Brownworth, Thunder Struck Ridge, Blue Ridge Parkway, 2006
[ii] Randy Alcorn quoting MacDonald in Heaven, (Carol Stream, Il, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), p.345
[iv] Alcorn, paraphrased from Appendix A, p.475