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Relationships: Will We Know One Another in Heaven?

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From the Series: Heaven
April 26, 2015

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number. (Revelation 7:9)

Today, we come to the question: Will we know one another in heaven?  This is the question that I am asked about heaven more than any other.  We are going to answer this question today as we look at the great theme of relationship in heaven.

The Joy of Being at Home

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”   (Revelation 7:9-10)

What a great scene this is!  John sees a vast crowd, a “great multitude.”  They are in the immediate presence of Jesus Christ standing before the throne and the before the Lamb.

They are dressed in white robes that speak of complete purity.  There is no stain on them, not the faintest whiff of a temptation near them.

They have “palm branches” in their hands.  In bible times, palm branches were the symbol of victory.  These people are celebrating complete and total victory – no more battles, no more struggles or wounds.  Complete victory, which they ascribe to God himself: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  What they are experiencing there in heaven is very different than what we are experiencing here on earth.

When you become a Christian, God gives you a new heart.  He puts his Holy Spirit in you.  But you live this life in the body, and living a truly Christian life in this world is a battle all the way.  The reason that it is a battle is that we carry the baggage of remaining sin that is never completely gone in this life.

We live this life in a fallen world where God is dishonored, righteousness is spurned, and evil casts a shadow of pain and destruction.  We are up against the pull of the flesh.  The direction of that pull may change (lust may give way to greed, greed may give way to pride, and pride may give way to laziness) but the struggle it brings never goes away.  We have an enemy, the devil who, though he can never finally succeed against us, will never give up.

With all of these realities, we live a life of repentance and faith.  Repentance, because we never get beyond the awareness of our own sins and failures.  Faith, because we walk by faith and not by sight.  We do this with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The Christian life is a struggle all the way.  But it will not always be so.  John sees believers in the presence of Jesus.  They are celebrating victory.  Their long struggle is over.  Their battle has been won.

Now they are at home

They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (Rev. 7:15)

Literally, God will “spread his tent” over them.  Imagine a massive piece of canvas that will be shaped into a tent.  He shakes it out so that it falls over all his people, in a way that none of them are outside.  It is the most beautiful picture of inclusion.  God himself spreads his tent over his people so that all of them are inside.

Where do you feel completely at home?  Where is the place you can say, “This is where I belong”?  That feeling is a foretaste of what you will experience in the presence of the Lord.

Some of us struggle to feel at home in this life.  Some don’t feel completely at home in their work.  Some don’t feel completely at home in the church or in their own families.  Some don’t feel at home in their own bodies.

Whatever your struggles are in this life, if you are in Christ, the day will come when you know that you are completely at home.  When God spreads his tent over you, you’ll say, “This is where I belong!  I was made for this place!  This is where I was always meant to be!”

To be at home means that you will be yourself.  In heaven you will find yourself saying, “I am more myself than I have ever been before.  So much of what went on in my life before wasn’t really me.  It attached itself to me.”

Every Christian wants to serve Christ better.  In heaven you will serve the Lord as you always wished you could.  Ligon Duncan has a wonderful comment on this, “I have no idea what it is like to live with a heart that is wholly given over to my God.  I have not lived one second with that kind of heart.  But one day I will.” [1]  Even with the new heart in this life, there is always a tugging, a pulling, that is always holding us back in one way or another.

Duncan goes on, “Satan will never again get his hook in your heart and use something in you to pull you away from the Lord, because you will be perfected in holiness.”  You will never be out of sorts.  You will never find a mood settling over you and wonder, “Where did that come from?”  You will be at peace with yourself as never before.  You will be at peace with all your brothers and sisters in Christ, and you will be at peace with God.  You will be at home.

The Joy of Being Together

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9)

Notice that the distinct identity of every person in this vast crowd is maintained.  They are from every tribe, nation, and language.  The distinct individuality of every one of God’s people is preserved.  What makes us different no longer divides.  There is not a hint of conflict or tension.  Truly, in the presence of God, “out of many, God’s people will be one.”

This speaks directly to the question: Will we know one another in heaven?  Let me give you a one-word answer, and then seek to support it from the Bible.  Will we know one another in heaven?  Yes!  You will be you.  I will be me.  We will all be like Christ, but each of us will reflect his likeness through our own individuality.

For sure, we will know one another in the resurrection.  The disciples knew and recognized Jesus in his resurrection body.  But even before Jesus returns and we receive our resurrection bodies, we have good reason to believe that the same will be true of us.

I want to offer seven Scriptures – all of them point to our knowing one another in the resurrection.  Some of them point to believers knowing one another immediately after death. In making this case, I want to call seven witnesses. [2]

Witness #1: David and his son

“Now he is dead.  Why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam. 12:23)

King David had a little boy who died in infancy.  When the boy died, David said, “I shall go to him.”  There’s more here than David saying, “I will go to heaven when I die.”  He says, “I will go to the boy!  I will see him!  I will be reunited with him in heaven.”  That is a wonderful assurance for every Christian parent who loses a young child. [3]

H. Spurgeon has a fascinating comment on Job in this regard. At the end of the book, God restored to Job more than he lost. He was given double the amount of cattle, sheep, and money, but he gave him exactly the same number of children.  Spurgeon asks, “Why did God not give him double the children?”  God regarded the children who died as Job’s still.  The ones who died earlier, Job has them now.  The ones who died are still his.

Witness #2: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:11)

Notice the clear identity of these men: Abraham is Abraham in heaven.  Isaac is Isaac.  Jacob is Jacob.  They retain their distinct identities.  We do not become nameless, anonymous spirits in the presence of Jesus.  Abraham is enjoying the company of his son and his grandson.  Jacob is enjoying the company of his own father and his grandfather.

Notice, in the resurrection, what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are doing: They are reclining at a table.  They are eating and drinking.  You have identity, relationship, conversation, and sharing a meal.  And many will come from the east and west and join them!  In other words, many, many others will enter into the same joy, into the same experience.

Witness #3: Jesus and the disciples

“I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matt. 26:29)

Notice the same clarity here: Jesus will drink the cup in his Father’s kingdom with the disciples.  The eleven, who shared the Last Supper with him on earth, will drink the cup again with Jesus in heaven.  These disciples are named and they are known.

Witness #4: Moses and Elijah

Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Matt. 17:3)

This is fascinating because, when Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, they did not have the resurrection body.  Even now, Jesus Christ is the only One in the universe who has the resurrection body.

Moses and Elijah are in heaven with the rest of the believers.  They are with Christ, fully conscious, actively engaged, and eagerly waiting for the resurrection body, which they will get at the same time we do when Christ comes again in glory.

So when Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration they are spirits.  Souls made visible, as the angels were made visible to the shepherds, and the souls in Revelation 6 were made visible to John.

But even without the resurrection body, Moses and Elijah were known.  They were recognizable.  How did Peter, James, and John know that they were in the presence of Moses and Elijah?  I don’t know, but we know that they did.  They knew Moses and Elijah even in advance of the resurrection body!

Witness #5: The gathered souls in heaven

You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. (Heb. 12:22-23)

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of the great truth that the church gathered on earth is at one with the church gathered in heaven.  He speaks of “the spirits of the righteous made perfect,” that is, the souls of believers in the presence of Jesus.

These souls are gathered in “the assembly of the firstborn.”  This is a description of what is happening in heaven right now: The spirits of the righteous made perfect are gathered. ‘Gathered’ means ‘community,’ and ‘community’ means ‘relationship,’ and ‘relationship’ means ‘identity’ and ‘knowledge’ right now in the presence of Jesus

Witness #6: Paul and the Thessalonians 

What is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming?  Is it not you? (1 Thess. 2:19)

Paul says that the believers in Thessalonica, who he loved and served on earth, will be his “joy” and “crown” in heaven.  So the special relationship forged between Paul and these believers on earth will continue in heaven.  He is saying, “You have been my joy on earth, and you will be a joy to me in heaven.”

Jonathan Edwards takes up the theme of special relationships and how they will continue on into the next life: “The special affection that the saints have in this world toward other saints, who are their friends, will in some respect remain in another world.” [4]

Spurgeon quotes Pastor John Ryland, whose wife asked him a question: “John,” she said, “will you know me in heaven?”

“Betty,” he replied, “I have known you well here, and I shall not be a bigger fool in heaven than I am now; therefore I shall certainly know you there.” [5]

Christians who knew and loved each other on earth will know and love each other in heaven.  The life we enjoy in heaven is not going to be less than the life we enjoy now.  In every respect it will be more.

Witness #7: The reunion of believing loved ones

This we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:15-18)

The whole point of this passage is to bring comfort to believers who grieve the loss of a loved one.  Paul is writing to believers who are grieving over their own friends and family members who have died.  He is writing to bereaved parents and children.  Their grief isn’t about death, in general, but about the death of their loved ones in particular.

He offers them this comfort in their sorrow: “We will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (4:17).  He is not talking about believers in general, but about the loved ones of these people in particular.  The whole point is that Christian believers have the comfort of knowing that they will see their loved ones again.  Christians never say goodbye!

That’s more than enough to settle the issue for me.  I hope it is for you as well.  Our hope is not an anonymous existence.  It is a shared life with people we love in the presence of Jesus.

The Joy of Being with Christ

“The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17)

Jesus said to the thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  The greatest joy of heaven for a Christian believer is the joy of being with Jesus.  Christ, who is our shepherd on earth, is our shepherd in heaven.  He is the one who will lead us to the springs of living water.  Heaven is not an independent life in which we all do our own thing.  It is a shared life, a life in which Christ leads us into ever increasing joys.

We have focused today on the question: Will we see our believing loved ones in heaven?  The answer is “Yes!”  But here’s the bigger question: Will Christ see his believing loved ones in heaven?  And the answer to that question is “Yes!”

When Jesus was preparing to go to the cross, he prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).  “I want them with me!  And I want them to see my glory!”

Christian believer, the greatest assurance you can have of heaven is that Jesus Christ wants you there!  He went to the cross to get you there.  He lives at the right hand of the Father to bring you there.  And one day, when you arrive in heaven, his prayer will be answered and you will see his glory.

The apostle John says, “We shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  You will not see him in the manger.  You will not see him sweating great drops of blood like he did in the Garden of Gethsemane.  You will not see him writhing in the agony of the cross.

You will see Jesus Christ risen, triumphant, and victorious.  We will see the King in his beauty (Isa. 33:17).  That is why we will have palm branches in our hands, and why we will say with all the redeemed: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’”

One day the bandages will be removed

There’s a beautiful story, a true story, of a man by the name of William Montague Dyke. When William was ten years old, he was blinded in a serious accident.  Despite his disability, he graduated from university with high honors.  And while he was in school, William fell in love with the daughter of a high ranking British naval officer, and they became engaged.

Shortly before the wedding, William had a cutting-edge (for his day) eye surgery in the hopes that the operation would restore his sight.  If the surgery failed, he had no other option.  William would remain blind for the rest of his life.

After the operation, William’s eyes were swathed with bandages and he insisted on keeping the bandages on his face until the day of the wedding.  “If the surgery is successful,” he said to his surgeon, “I want the first person I see to be my new bride.”

The wedding day arrived, and the guests assembled in a cathedral in England to witness the couple taking their vows.  William’s father and the doctor who performed the surgery stood next to the groom, whose eyes were still covered with bandages.

The organ trumpeted the traditional wedding march, and the bride walked down the aisle to the front of the church.  As soon as she arrived at the altar, the surgeon took a pair of scissors out of his pocket and cut the bandages from William’s eyes.

Tension filled the room, and the congregation held their breath as they waited to find out if William could see the woman standing before him.   Then as he stood face to face with his bride to be, William’s words echoed throughout the cathedral, “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.” [6]

One day the bandages that cover our eyes will be removed.  You will see your Savior as he is!

Faith will be turned to sight.  And when you see his glory, it will be greater than you ever imagined.

 

[1] Ligon Duncan, Fear Not!,  p. 31, Christian Focus, 2008.

[2] William Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter, p. 59, Baker, 1966: One of the challenges in the book of Revelation is knowing what refers to our experience immediately after death and what refers the experience of believers in the new heaven and the new earth.  William Hendriksen comments: “Just as there is in many respects a continuity between our life here and our life in heaven immediately after death, so also there is continuity between the intermediate state and the final state…”  So, it is entirely legitimate to use Revelation 7:9-17 as a basis for a study of the intermediate state.

[3] David’s words about his infant son are very different from his words at the death of his adult son Absalom who lived in rebellion.  When Absalom died, David wept over Absalom and he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you…” (2 Sam. 18:33).  David knew where he was going, and it was to a better place than Absalom.

[4] Jonathan Edwards, Works: Vol. 2, p. 625, Banner of Truth, 1974.

[5] John Ryland, from a sermon (1863), cited in Randy Alcorn, We Shall See God, p 35, Tyndale, 2011.

[6] Kent Crocket, Making Today Count for Eternity, p. 101-102, Multnomah, 2001.  This story was given to me by Dr. Philip Ryken.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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