Not many details about recognition and relationships in heaven are given in Scripture. There are, however, several inferences which show that we will recognize one another in heaven and that we will remember our former relationships.
The rich man recognized Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom,” even though he was in a different place and separated by a great gulf ( Luke 16:19-31 ). In addition, the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration, even though these two men had lived many centuries before ( Matthew 17:1-5 ).
The apostle Paul said that we will have more knowledge in heaven than we have now. This may indicate that we will know and recognize more people in heaven than here on earth ( 1 Corinthians 13:12 ). He also said that for him it was “far better” to depart and to be with Christ than to remain in his body on earth ( 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ; Philippians 1:22-23 ).
In all of these Scriptures, heaven is depicted as a place of greater experience than we now know on earth and with more knowledge and understanding, joy and delight. It will be a place of celebration of the interconnectedness between God, us, and one another. Part of the joy of heaven will probably be the unfolding of the tapestry of life and viewing how God has masterfully interwoven our lives together.
What about our marriage relationships? While the Bible teaches that the marriage relationship will change after the resurrection ( Matthew 22:23-33 ), it is safe to assume that because of the very nature of heaven, the quality of the relationship between a man and a woman will be better in heaven than it was on earth — even if they are no longer husband and wife. Certainly the joys of heaven will far exceed the pleasures of marital intimacy.
Scripture leads us to believe that we will enjoy such a state of wonderful intimacy with our glorified brothers and sisters that there will no longer be a need for the exclusive relationships that protect us from loneliness and despair in a fallen world.
While the Scriptures symbolically refer to heaven as being up and hell being down, all we know for sure is that heaven is a real place that is located in a different dimension of reality than the one in which we presently exist. In Acts 1:9 , for example, we read that Jesus “was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”
Modern science has demonstrated that it would be possible for an almost endless number of “parallel worlds” to be around us without our being able to perceive them because of differences in their atomic structure. The Scripture contains clear evidence that there are a number of “dimensions” of reality. Recall, for example, the occasion when Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection ( John 20:26-27 ). He passed through closed doors, yet He possessed a solid body, as evidenced by His challenge to Thomas to touch His hands and His side.
Does Isaiah 65:17 imply that people in heaven will have no recollection of earthly events?
Isaiah 65:17 (ESV) states: “I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” What are the “former things” that “shall not be remembered or come into mind”? First Corinthians 13 tells us that in glory we will no longer see “as through a glass darkly” but we will “know as we are known.”
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 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” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NIV).
When the resurrected Christ in His glorified body appeared to Thomas, Jesus still bore the marks of the Roman nails and spear (John 20:24-29). If in heaven we were unable to remember our lives here—including our sins—we would neither have a clear understanding of who we had been, nor an awareness of the worth of our redemption.
In heaven, our perspective will no longer be dominated by “former things.” Knowledge of past sins or earthly suffering will not cause the same kind of suffering and emotional anguish in heaven that it does now. We will see how God’s grace has healed all of the scars that sin left on our mortal lives. We will see how God’s grace could even use our repented sins to bring about His good purposes.
While there is so much we don’t know about the happiness of heaven, for now we can probably safely assume that, at the very least, “no knowledge of former things” means that we will not be dominated by memories of those things that are so painful and destructive now. As implied by Isaiah 65:17, the transformation that will occur in the new heavens and new earth will be so complete that our perspective will be utterly changed. Our earlier, fallen perspective will “not be remembered or come into mind.” The dark and tragic aspects of our past lives will be transformed by the light of a glorious new reality, filled with gratitude and joy.
It is true that verses like John 6:44-45 , Acts 13:48 , and Ephesians 1:4-5 teach that we cannot come to God unless He first draws us to Himself. Such passages make it clear that those who choose Christ are people destined beforehand to be the eternal children of God. Other passages teach that the human will is so fallen and captured by sin that only the Spirit of God can give a person a desire to know God and be freed by Him.
This is a difficult claim, and not only for people of faith. The principle of determinism is one side of a greater paradox that has defied explanation not only by Christian theologians but by atheistic philosophers as well. Both sides have struggled with two seemingly irreconcilable aspects of human experience: freedom and determinism.
The Bible holds both sides in tension without trying to resolve the problem for us. While teaching that God is in control of His universe, the Scriptures make it equally clear that He offers salvation to all and holds all accountable for the real choice of accepting or rejecting His genuine offer.
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).
He . . . is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2).
The Bible isn’t fatalistic. From beginning to end it is a book of hope. God has given everyone the ability of choice. Yet in the midst of our choices is this truth: We do not rule God; He rules us. We are not sovereign; He is. We are responsible to choose Him, but we are so fallen in our own sin that when we do choose Him we sense that He has mercifully enabled us to do so.
Wise King Solomon wrote about this paradox when he penned:
In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).
A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24).
Only the eternal, infinite Creator is capable of reconciling both sides of this mystery. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory for ever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
The early church wasn’t dogmatic about the time sequence of endtime events. This fact should keep us from being so dogmatic in our interpretation of biblical endtime prophecy that we either become contemptuous of Christians who don’t share our viewpoint, or we make their view of the rapture a test for fellowship. Keeping in mind the need for constraint and tolerance on this issue, we’ll explain why we believe the rapture will take place before the tribulation.
The main support for a pretribulational rapture is the clear biblical evidence for the imminence of Christ’s return — the evidence that the Lord’s return will be without warning ( Matthew 24:36-39,43,45-51;25:13 ) — along with the most reasonable interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 .
Belief in the imminence of the Lord’s return involves the implication that the rapture will occur before the time of great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:2 , 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , and Revelation 17:14 . If the Lord’s return is to be truly imminent (without warning), it will occur before this tribulation time. Consider that if the events described in these passages began taking place — bringing about, among other things, the first 3 1/2 years of the Antichrist’s reign — believers would realize that they were in the last days and there would be no element of surprise. If surprise were ruled out, we would say that the Lord’s return will be soon, but not imminent.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , which speaks of the revealing of the Antichrist, must be understood in the light of the statement, “He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ).
It is our view that the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit working through the church of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we believe that the Antichrist will not be openly revealed until the church is taken away in the rapture and its influence of being “salt” and “light” is removed. (It is important to realize that the Holy Spirit will continue to work among the people on earth even after the removal of the church. However, the Holy Spirit will not work through the body of Christ as He is doing today)
We respect anyone who has a strong view of scriptural authority, including our friends whose study has led them to a midtribulational or a posttribulational viewpoint. Our main problem with their viewpoints is the elimination of the possibility of a truly imminent, any-moment rapture.