Will I know and be able to recognize people after I die?
Will I remember others in heaven?

Some questions must be answered by examining multiple examples of Scriptures, rather than looking to a quick statement or "proof text", as no one unambiguous verse directly addresses that subject. Consideration of examples, and casual acknowledgments contained in Scriptural accounts, often show that a particular subject has been addressed, sometimes revealed in passing while the text was primarily focusing on another more specific issue.

God does not give us many particulars regarding the afterlife, both now and in the future, though we are assured that it exists, favorably for God's children (i.e. believers) and unfavorably for the lost. (Another article addresses the issue of our state in the afterlife). Following the resurrection, this two fold condition does not change; the New Heavens and Earth being the final destination of the righteous and the Lake of Fire for all in rebellion against God.

Some have taken the dual passages in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21 to say that believers will not remember anything of our former life in the new world to come.

Isaiah 65:17-18 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. (NIV)

Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (KJV)

Does this mean we won't remember anything from before? Not at all. In context, it's the things that won't be remembered. In Isaiah 65:17, the former things are directly and specifically the old heavens and old earth - the Greek text in fact doesn't have the word "things" stating only that the former will not be remembered, quite clearly meaning the old heavens and corrupted earth (consider the KJV translation of Isaiah 65:17 that retains this wording). End Note 5

When any object or circumstance has been replaced by something completely new, in this case untainted by sin and made in glorious perfection, there is no need to ever again remember the former. Other examples of this are given in Scriptures:

Jeremiah 3:16-17 "It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land," declares the Lord, "they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. 17 "At that time they will call Jerusalem 'The Throne of the Lord,' and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. (NASU)

Isaiah 43:18-21 18 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. (NIV)

Nowhere, in all this, are we told to forget people, only things. In fact numerous glimpses of the future life provide example that we will remember the past.

Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (NIV, see also the earlier and more detailed scene in Revelation 5:8-14)

The multitude recognizes Jesus as the Lamb (verse 10), the one that was slain (e.g. Revelation 5:9, 12). This presupposes continued memory of what Jesus did in this sin tainted world and, of course, not to mention who He was and is. That the multitude itself could be recognized as being from diverse nations, tribes, peoples, and languages, also presuppose memory of their original earthly lives.

Revelation 11:16-18 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great - and for destroying those who destroy the earth." (NIV)

The elders recognize the prophets and they likewise recognize the saints of God. Likewise they remember the "great prostitute" in Revelation 19 and acknowledge that God is just in judging her. Earlier, the righteous souls under the altar showed they retained memories, and were making new memories, as well.

Revelation 6:9-11 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (NIV)

These righteous individuals remembered what had been done, awaiting God's justice over this, and likewise they knew of fellow servants and brothers who still were alive. That they are part of the witnesses, who are watching us, is undisputable.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (NIV)

A somewhat different circumstance revealed that some of the Apostles were able to recognize previously departed believers, specifically prophets, whom they had never previously met.

Luke 9:28-33 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.) (NIV) [More on the transfiguration is here]


In an account told by Jesus, who is quite uniquely capable of knowing what goes on in the afterlife, he revealed that the rich man, now himself deceased, could recognize a righteous beggar who had previously departed and even recognized Abraham, whom he had never met before. End Note 3

Luke 16:19-31 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV)

Notice also that the rich man, in his place of torment, still retained specific memory of events from his past life including knowledge of his brothers.

The Apostle Paul provides evidence that we will retain memories of this life in the next. End Note 1

Romans 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. (NIV)

Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. (NIV)

How could we give account of our actions and how we have treated our brothers if we don't have memory of either? The clear implication is that we will still know our brothers and what we have done. End Note 2 Even those arguing with Jesus (or protesting His just ruling) on the Day of Judgment are doing so based upon their memories of what they once did.

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (NIV)

Certainly those unregenerate individuals will have memory of both what they did, including those whom they practiced their exorcisms on, as this enables them to understand the words of the Righteous judge and see the fairness of His justice. The same can be shown in a positive light for the regenerate on the Day of Judgment.

Matthew 25:34-40 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (NIV)

Undoubtedly these believers will remember the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned, etc., whom they served in Jesus' name.

One of the specific encouragements of Scripture, for grieving and bereaved believers, is that we will get to see our believing loved ones again. Would this not be redundant and this assurance hollow, or useless, if we are to retain no memory of them in the life to come?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words. (NIV)

Returning to the Apostle Paul, he specifically told the Thessalonian believers that they would be part of his joy when he stood in the presence of Jesus Christ. This too infers remembrance of those people.

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (NIV)

Paul said likewise for the Corinthian church.

2 Corinthians 1:13-14 And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NIV)

Most of all, Jesus is our best example. After He rose from the dead, he was recognized by his disciples and followers (See Luke 24:33-51, John 20:19-29). End Note 4 We too, in the resurrection, will all be changed, meaning that our formerly corrupted physical bodies will be recreated - made new in the image of God. The message of Scriptures is not that we have new bodies but that the ones we have will be restored in perfection (literally, like a seed, it is raised out of what died and was sown).

1 Corinthians 15:42-53 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (NIV)

1 John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (NIV)

End Notes

1. Some use the following passage, by the Apostle Paul, to say that we will be known in eternity. While could be a slight implication of the passage, its primary context is that I am known by God. I don't think anyone will dispute that God knows His children for eternity.

1 Corinthians 13:12 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. (NIV)

2. This is also the implication of Jesus' words as found in Revelation 22:12:

Revelation 22:12 "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. (NIV)

3. Other passages imply knowledge and recognition of the patriarchs, including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by believers:

Matthew 8:11-12 "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (NASU)

This passage notably includes believers from outside of Israel, including Gentiles from all over the world. Both now and forever, all God's children are alive unto God, whether in the body or apart from it.

Mark 12:26-27 Now about the dead rising - have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" (NIV)

4. A few did not recognize Jesus, for a time, immediately following His resurrection mostly because He chose to conceal His identity for a brief period:

Luke 24:13-32 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19 "What things?" he asked.

"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."

25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (NIV)

Their lack of recognition was not the norm; in fact the opposite is the overwhelming standard. That the text (verse 16) said that they were "kept from recognizing him" testifies to the opposite as being the standard; they would have normally recognized him. Another perhaps didn't recognize Him for a moment due to not looking carefully (or at all), due to her grief:

John 20:14-16 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). (NIV)

When she turned and really looked, she recognized him. Indeed, perhaps it was His voice she first identified. Even as we can recognize someone on the telephone, without seeing them, we will know Jesus by his voice. Consider John 10:4-5, 27. John, himself, saw Jesus in his ascended glory and recognized His voice (see Revelation 1:10-19) though Jesus' image was changed even further from what he had last seen of Him on earth..

5. Ra McLaughlin, in his very brief article "Recognition in Heaven", points out another passage that is often misinterpreted.

Some people have thought that Psalm 6:5 teaches that the dead have no memory because many translations render this verse to say that there is no "remembrance" of God in death. Of course, we know that this cannot be taken to mean that in death we no longer remember that God exists (cf. Luke 9:30; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 6:10). In fact, the word for "remembrance" does not mean "memory," but rather "memorial." David means that if he dies he will not be able to praise God for delivering him from this situation (and no one else will praise God for it either). On the other hand, if God does deliver him, then the praise that David renders in return will be a memorial to God's salvation. Psalm 6 itself turns out to be just such a memorial, recording David's prayer and salvation. (Ra McLaughlin, www.thirdmill.org)

(c) 2010 Brent MacDonald, LTM.