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RECOGNITION IN HEAVEN based on Luke 16:19-31

By Glenn Pease

F. W. Borham tells the story of the English cricket player who lost his sight in his old age. This was a cause for great grief, because he could not watch his own boy play the game in which he excelled. His son became the crack bat on his school team, but the father got small satisfaction from it. One day he suddenly died. The following Saturday and important match was to be played, and the team took it for granted that their best bat would be absent. But to their surprise, he was not only there, he batted like never before. He played with magnificent judgment, and rattled up a fantastic score that lead his team to victory. When it was all over, they asked him what motivated him to play the game of his life. He explained by telling them, "This was the first game where my father could see me at bat." Here was a young man who took literally the picture presented to us in Heb. 12:1. It says there, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run the race of life. Many Christians through the ages have believed that the dead in Christ go on observing those left behind. They know what is happening to us and have a greater understanding of the future than we do.

Some feel this is only wishful thinking and is really to good to be true. Others respond by saying, nothing is to good to be true where God is concerned, and they go on to answer all objections. One of the strongest objections is that if the dead in heaven know what happens on earth, then they cannot be very happy, for they would know of all the sin, war, and sorrow. They would be conscious of the failing even of their own loved ones. This sounds like a powerful argument against it, but John R. Rice, who has a strong conviction on the subject says, this argument proves nothing. Jesus Christ and God the Father know the reality of sin and evil completely, yet they are not unhappy, nor is heaven robbed of it's joy because of their knowledge. The bliss of heaven is not the bliss of ignorance, but bliss that comes with the knowledge that victory is certain in Christ.

The saints in heaven with Christ have a far greater knowledge than the saints on earth. This is a matter of clear revelation. Our text, for example, reveals some interesting things about the knowledge of those who have passed into the world beyond. One of the most striking facts about this passage is the knowledge and concern of the rich man in hell. He not only recognized Abraham, a man from the distant past, but Lazarus, the man he neglected in his own lifetime. He also recognized his folly, and he had compassion on those he left behind. Here is a lost sinner, asking that help be sent to his five brothers, lest they end up in the same place with him. Death seems to be very educational, even for the lost. He learned immediately about what really matters in life.

The point is, if a lost man can be concerned about the state of the living, and offer a prayer on their behalf, who would even think of denying that same concern to the saved? J. Patterson Smyth in, The Gospel Of The Hereafter, writes, "Can you imagine your mother, who never went to bed here without earnest prayer for her boy, going into that life with full consciousness and full memory of the dear old home on earth, and never a prayer for her boy rising to the altar of God?" I certainly cannot imagine a Christian mother forgetting her children when a godless man remembered his brothers, who were also apparently godless. Are we to conclude that even though Scripture reveals that the lost are concerned for the lost, that the saved are concerned for neither the saved nor the lost? Angels rejoice over every sinner who repents. Can you imagine a son becoming a Christian after his mother has died, and the angels rejoicing, but never sharing this good news with his mother?

This is a sufficient argument for believing the dead go on in their knowledge of this world. There is more, however. Abraham in verse 31 refers to Moses and the prophets, as if he was familiar with them. But Abraham lived many centuries before Moses and the prophets. We can only conclude, that in the heavenly realm of the redeemed, there is a keeping up of what goes on in history. Abraham was not sleeping, or in some state of oblivion concerning the people he fathered. Abraham kept current on history, and even knew the contemporary state of men's hearts. He said the brothers of the rich man were hardened to Moses and the prophets. He knew they would not listen to one from the dead. If he was up to date on what was happening in that day, many centuries after his death, it is logical to assume that he knows what is happening in our day. He no doubt, knows about Billy Graham and the New International Version of the Bible and anything he desires to know about contemporary events in the kingdom of God and in the world. Contemporary events are a part of the heavenly experience, if we believe what we see in the revelation God has given us.

Some might be a little leery of taking too strong a stand on what can be inferred from a parable, but there are other clear passages that back up the conviction that the dead go on learning of what happens on earth. In John 8:56 we read, "You father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." In Luke 9:30-31, we read concerning the event of Christ's transfiguration, "And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem." The impressive thing is not only that they appeared, but that they were fully informed as to what was going to happen. Had they merely appeared it would be of no comfort to Christ, but the fact that they could talk intelligently about His death on the cross was a tremendous release. His own disciples could not understand him when he spoke of dying. But these two, from the realm of the dead, had understanding of God's plan. Their knowledge was superior to that of the living on earth. We see also, that with centuries separating Moses and Elijah, in the realm of the dead they are companions and share a common knowledge of contemporary history. The limitations of time are over. In eternity you can be friends with people from all ages of time. People in eternity know of all ages of time, including the present.

In I. Sam.28, we see Samuel returning from the realm of the dead to inform Saul of what the future held. There is no evidence to deny it, and much to support it, that the dead have knowledge of what happens on earth. The whole doctrine of the communion of saints is involved here. Christ is the head of His body, and His body is one. Whether the saints are in time or eternity they are one in Christ.

Death hides, but it does not divide-

Thou art but on Christ's other side;

Thou art with Christ and Christ with me,

In Him I am still close to thee.

This truth has a great many fascinating implications. The one we want to focus on concerns eternal recognition. It is universally believed, and theologically sound, but there is little in the Bible dealing with this issue. John in his vision of the eternal heavenly city does not tell us much about it's inhabitants. Most of what we know grows out of implications, and logical conclusions. If we heard there was intelligent life on Mars, we would assume that they knew each other. Since we know from Scripture that the dead maintain their personality and memory, it is obvious that they would recognize each other. Spurgeon, preaching on John 14 said, "Some have doubted that there will be recognition in heaven, but there is no room for doubt, for it is called my Father's house, and shall the family be unknown to each other?

John tells us that the gates of the New Jerusalem have on them the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, and the foundations have the names of the 12 apostles. All of this would be meaningless to the saints of the city, unless there was a conscious recollection of history. The implication is that the saints there know all about the history of God's plan on earth. It would be folly to suppose that in heaven we would forget about the fall of man and all that God did in history to redeem man. The reason we will be praising the Lamb for all eternity, is because we will remember for all eternity what He did in time.

Dr. Paul Tournier, the great Christian scholar and author of numerous books, says that we will obviously recognize each other in heaven. This is the whole point of our identity. In Christ, our names are written in the Lambs book of life, and thus, we will be known by name for all eternity. Those whose names are blotted out will, no doubt, be forgotten. If your name is written there on that page white and fair, your will be known by that name forever. Why rejoice that your name is written there if you lose your identity? You just as well have a book filled with x's, if people lose their identity. The implication of the names is clear. We will know each other forever.

We will not only know each other in heaven, but we will not really know each other until heaven. We know each other only in part in this life. In heaven all the problems that prevent complete intimacy will be gone. The communication problems that hinder so many now, will be gone forever then. We could paraphrase Paul and say, now I love in part, but then I shall love even as I am loved. If we do not remember who we are and whom we have loved, then it is not really a resurrection of ourselves that has taken place. A denial of recognition is heaven is a robbery of all that heaven means to us. Lockhart put the feelings of millions into poetry when he wrote-

It is an old belief

That on some solemn shore,

Beyond the sphere of grief,

Dear friends shall meet once more.

That creed I fain would keep

That hope I'll ne'er forgo;

Eternal be the sleep,

If not to waken so.

If we do not recognize our loved ones in heaven, it means our love is not eternal, and heaven will be an empire of strangers. None of the relationships formed in time will have any eternal significance. The 12 names of the apostles around the holy city could just as well be 12 names of unknown people, for they will have no significance if their history is forgotten. But if love is not only good, but the highest good, then it follows, that good will be forever. It is inconceivable that we would not love those we have loved in time.

Robert Browning, after the death of his wife, Elizabeth Barret, wrote in her Bible, "Thus I believe, thus I affirm, thus I am certain it is, that from this life I shall pass to another better, there, where that lady lives, of whom my soul is enamored." On the tomb of Charles Kingsley and his wife there are three Latin words which say, "We have loved, we love, we shall love."

A foolish objection is that heaven will be to vast to find our friends and loved ones. Let two people loose, even in New York City, and they may never find each other. This can only be a problem, however, for those who have a small concept of the power and wisdom of God. Even men devise systems of communication, like the phone book, so people can find one another. Are we to suppose that the holy city of God is without some systematic means of communication? I expect to be able to contact any person in history with no problem. To think otherwise is to think of God as less than a computer.

Christians have always believed in family reunion in heaven because any alternative robs heaven of it's joy, and fails to satisfy the universal longing of the human heart. Heaven may be more than the ideal than we can imagine now, but it will never be less. Men of every nation have anticipated the joys of recognition and reunions in heaven. If it were not so, heaven would fall short of man's ideal. The family life of heaven will be all that we wish it could be now in time. One of the great joys of heaven will be that there is always enough time.

One of the powerful arguments for the belief of loved ones being reunited in eternity is the fact that it is a universal belief. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, and numerous scholars of the ancient world long for the day when they could see again the great friends they knew in this life. Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and others all through history into modern times, have had this hope. The majority can be wrong, but when there is a universal hope, it is usually because God has built the desire into man's very being, and He intends to satisfy it. Our Christian hope is not to be sub-pagan, but it is to rise to a far higher level.

The Christians hope of reunion is what enables them to practice the kind of love toward others that Christ expected. This belief has very practical effects on Christian behavior. Rev. Richard Baxter, back in the 1600's wrote, "I must confess, as the experience of my soul, that the expectation of loving my friends in heaven kindles my love to them on earth. If I thought that I should never know them, and, consequently, never love them, after this life is ended, I should in reason number them as temporal things, and love them as such." The doctrine of reunion is no minor hope, but is a powerful factor in determining how we relate to people. It is the eternity of fellowship that makes them of such infinite importance. Jesus said in Matt. 8:11, "I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." That is a clear statement concerning the reunion and fellowship of the living and the dead. The Old Testament and New Testament saints will eat together in heaven.

Dr. William Graham Scroggie said, "We cannot possible exaggerate the blessedness of heaven, nor can our imagination stretch to the full measure of it's wonder." The world often has a negative view of heaven. They see it as a perpetual prayer meeting, or a playing of a harp on a cloud, and they conclude it is perpetual boredom. Christians need to convey that it is really the fulfillment of all the joys we only taste in time. Recognition and reunion are aspects of heaven that even the world can appreciate.

When John Evans, the Scotch minister, was asked by his wife, "Do you think we will know each other in heaven?" He responded, "My dear, do you think we shall be bigger fools in heaven than we are here."

Will all loved ones know each other,

Know the same and not another,

In that home of life and love and light?

Yes, forever and forever!

Jesus there! No parting, never,

In that land where there is no more night.

This conviction of the poet is not only the universal hope of men, and the clear implication of Scripture, but it is backed up by the experience of dying saints. When D. L. Moody lay dying, it appeared that his spirit had departed, and so everyone left the room. When they heard a noise they returned and found him with his eye open. One of them began to pray for him, but Moody asked him to refrain and said, "Do not pray that I may live. I have seen Dwight and Irene {two dead grandchildren}; I have seen the face of Jesus, and I am satisfied. Earth is receding; heaven is opening; God is calling me; this is my coronation day." If this happened only once we could dismiss it, but it has happened to numerous saints on their death beds. Dr. John R. Rice tells of standing around the bed of his mother as she was dying, and she said, "I can see Jesus and my baby now." As one of America's greatest Evangelists, he preached to millions that every little child who dies before conscious sin will be in heaven, and will be recognized. All who lose babies will know that baby in heaven. It will not be unrelated stranger, but it will be a part of the family. This is a great comfort to thousands of women who have lost babies.

Martin Luther lost his darling girl Magdalena, and he wrote, "As Adam, when he awoke from sleep, recognized the newly created Eve at once as flesh of his flesh....Even so and far better shall we, who have been renewed in Christ, recognized one another there,"

Raymond Shaffer in, After The Rapture, asks if there will be families in heaven, or will the Rapture be the great divorce, alienating life long marriage partners and splitting happy families? Will the Rapture rupture or restore families? Just to ask the question is to make it clear, love in all of it's aspects will be upgraded and not downgraded in heaven.

The real issue is not, will there be recognition in heaven, but will you be a part of the family of God to be recognized. You can only be assured of this by trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. This alone, can guarantee that you will be involved in the joys of recognition in heaven.

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