The profoundness of the subject demands reverence and humility. We approach it with just that spirit and pray that God will illumine our hearts and minds, thus preserving us from wild and fanciful conjectures and reckless assertions that are without foundation. We feel about this subject as Robert G. Lee, a great preacher of the South, must have felt when he said: “I believe in recognition in Heaven as surely as I believe there is a God. If consciousness, character, love, memory, fellowship are in that life, why should there be any questions about it? May God help me for your sakes to take the doctrine of Heavenly Recognition out of the region of surmise and speculation into the region of absolute certainty.” (Dr. Lehman Strauss, Bible.org .Internet)
In the Old Testament we find, in various passages, the phrase, “gathered to his people,” at the death of many Old Testament saints such as:
- Ishmael – Genesis 25:17
- Isaac – Genesis 35:29
- Jacob – Genesis 49:33
- Aaron – Numbers 20:24
- Moses – Deuteronomy 33:50
- Josiah – 2 Kings 22:20
The destiny of Moses further described in Deuteronomy 31:16 when God said, “Behold you will rest with your fathers.” This could not possibly refer the physical body of Moses, for it was buried “in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor.” (Deuteronomy 34:6) When Abraham died (Genesis 25:8), he was buried in a cave at Machpelah in the land of his sojourn. He purchased the field himself for a possession to be certain of a burying place at death, but it was not the sepulcher of his ancestors. Therefore, the language of the Scripture does not mean that his body was gathered to the place of his forefathers, for some of them had died and were buried back in Ur of the Chaldees. Notice also that Abraham was gathered to his people before his body was buried, for it was after he was gathered to his people (verse 8) that his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah (verse 9).
We see from, the lives of other Old Testament characters (above) of whom it was said that they were gathered unto their people, that it meant more than merely being buried with them. They were gathered to their loved ones in the abode of departed saints with not one moments separation between their memories on earth and their joining them in heaven. (cf. II Corinthians 5:8-9)
Review the attitude of David at the death of his child. (2 Samuel 12:23) It show that King David believed in Heavenly Recognition. He had fasted and wept in the hope that God would be gracious to him and allow the child to live. But when the final word was received that he was dead, David ate food, wiped the tears away from his eyes, and found comfort in a hope that he expressed.
“Would there be any hope if he had to go to his child whom he did not know?”
“Will a person who is blind in this life not recognize the one [his mother] who gave him birth?”
“Will a person who is deaf in this life not recognize the voice of his father in heaven?”
Not only do we read of individuals being “gathered” to their people, but after the death of Joshua we find an entire “generation had been gathered to their fathers.” (Judges 2:10) In other words they were gathered to a specific, recognizable group of people.
Down through the ages mankind has held to a belief in recognition and reunion in the afterlife. It prevailed among cultured philosophers and poets, among untutored pagans, and it is voiced by the peoples of the world today. The universal, instinctive belief is that we shall know each other in the future life.
The scene on the Mount of Transfiguration is generally accepted as strong evidence of Heavenly Recognition. (Luke 9:28-36; cf. Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8) This fact was in evidence when Jesus took Peter, James and John up into the Mount with Him. There appeared before Christ and His disciples, Moses and Elijah. These two Old Testament saints did not appear as angels or ghosts, but Luke says’ “There talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias”. (Luke 9:30) Did you notice that not only were Moses and Elijah recognizable by our Lord, but they were also known to the disciples. Peter certainly knew them, for he said, “Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles: one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” (verse 33) We also see from the book of Revelation that after death the spirit is clothed with a spirit body that is recognizable. (Revelation 7:9-17) Clearly, when we arrive in the presence of the Lord, we will be there in our glorified bodies (I Corinthians 15) and with heavenly vision, we will be able to recognize those with whom we associated on earth.
Jesus gave us further insight when in Matthew 8:11, He said: “And I say unto you, That many shall come for the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” Most assuredly, the patriarchs and prophets knew each other at this holy festival, and so will the saved from every quarter of the earth.
When the rich man died and went to Hell, “he lifted up his eyes being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:23) Clearly a verse that proves both recognition and remembrance in the future life.
The Apostle Paul believed and taught that Heaven was a place of mutual recognition for the children of God. In his epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote: “For what is our hope, our joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” (I Thessalonians 2:19, 20) There is no mistaking what Paul had in mind. He fully expected to meet the converts from Thessalonica in Heaven, and furthermore, he looked forward to being able to distinguish them from others who had found Christ during the years of his ministry. Paul also taught that those who were saved under his teaching and preaching would know him for, he says, “As ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 1:14) Elsewhere Paul speaks of “the whole family in heaven and earth.” (Ephesians 3:15) Heaven is our home, and all who go there are one family with God as their Father.
A lot more could be said about the subject but hopefully this study will encourage you about heaven and recognition of your loved ones who have preceded you into God’s presence.
Rev. Tom Shelton