WILL WE KNOW EACH OTHER IN HEAVEN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 13:12
9-23-84 8:15 a.m.
And we no less thank God for the multitudes of you who share the hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Will We Know Each Other in Heaven?
In the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, in the twelfth, in the next to the last verse in the chapter, there is a text that lies in the background of the message this morning. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. Will We Know Each Other in Heaven? “Now we see through a glass,” the Greek word is ainigma; we have taken it bodily, alphabetically, and spelled it into the English language, “Now we see through a glass, enigma-ly.” The word ainigma in the Greek referred to a dark saying, a saying that was difficult to understand. And he applies the word here to the way we look and understand and see now. You could translate it “dimly.” We see now just the barest outline of the great truth of the revelation of God that awaits us; but someday it will be clear, as though we were seeing face to face—not in a dim, metallic mirror, an image that is shadowy but actually face to face.
“Now I epiginōskō,” that is a word that refers to understanding, knowing clearly, experientially. “Now I experientially know just a part; but then,” and he changes the tense of the verb, “but then shall I experientially know, even as God has known me” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. He uses the past tense. I suppose what he is referring to, in using the verb form that way, he is thinking about when God called him, called him by name, met him on the Damascus road, and said, “Saul, Saul” [Acts 9:4, 22:7, 26:14]. God knew him, even as God has known me; and then all through the years past after his calling.
Now the sermon takes this form. First there is an avowal, an affirmation; then there will be the scriptural defense for its substantiation, for its verification; then we shall speak of it philosophically; and finally, experientially.
Now the avowal: the avowal is that resurrection has no meaning apart from recognition. If I don’t know God and if He doesn’t know me, and we don’t know each other, resurrection is identical with annihilation: it has no meaning at all. But the two are synonymous: resurrection and recognition. Whatever substantiates the one substantiates the other. If I have a life that extends beyond the grave, then I must live. My personality, whatever it is; my being in living, whatever it is; whatever makes me me, and makes you you, and makes us us, must continue after death if resurrection has any meaning. As Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, “I beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him”; we are we, and if that’s not true, resurrection has no meaning. If death ends our identity—I’m no longer I when I die, and in the resurrection I am a heap of matter that is somebody else—then to be raised from the dead has no pertinence and no significance for us; it means annihilation. Now that’s the avowal.
The substantiation: the verification that we shall be we, that we shall know each other, that we shall recognize each other in heaven, beyond the grave. First, from the Scripture: in the Old Testament, you will find a phrase that describes the death of the Old Testament saints, and it’s repeated. It says this one, that one, the other one, coming to the end of life, “He was gathered to his fathers” [Judges 2:10], or, “He was gathered to his people” [Genesis 25:8, 17]. When the Lord Jesus was avowing before the Sadducees the resurrection of the dead, He referred to that. God says, “I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob” [Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:32]. And our Lord said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” [Mark 12:27]. And when these were gathered to their fathers, they were gathered to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob [Matthew 22:32]. They are somebody in the presence of God. God recognizes them, and they recognize God, and they recognize each other [1 Corinthians 13:12].
As we continue through the Old Testament, Samuel appeared in a miraculous way at Endor to Saul, and Saul immediately recognized him [1 Samuel 28:11-15]. David said when his little baby died, “He cannot come to me, but I will go to him” [2 Samuel 12:23]. It’ll be David; it’ll be the child that he loved and lost. That’s the Old Testament presentation of the world beyond the grave. Our people are over there.
In the New Testament, in the passage that you read, how is it that Peter, James, and John knew Moses, who’d been dead fifteen hundred years [Deuteronomy 34:4-7], Elijah, who’d been dead nine hundred years [2 Kings 2:11], how did they know them? [Matthew 17:1-3]. There are two kinds of knowledge: there is knowledge that I learn, such as speaking English, or reading a Greek text; I learn. There is intuitive knowledge that I don’t learn; I just know it. If I could come down from heaven to earth—if you’ve ever been in West Texas and seen those great herds of cattle, sometimes they’ll be mixed up, mother cows and calves, how in the earth does that mother cow know which calf is hers? And how does that calf know which mother is his? That’s intuitive knowledge. You don’t learn it. We have intuitive knowledge; and that’s a heavenly illustration of it. They immediately recognized Moses and Elijah, who’d been dead thousand years [Mark 9:2-4].
So it is through all of the New Testament. Dives recognizes Lazarus [Luke 16:22-24]. Our Lord said to Mary and Martha, “Thy brother shall live again. He will be raised” [John 11:23]. And when Lazarus, their brother, was raised, it was he who was raised, their brother [John 11:43-44]. When Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today, sēmeron, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43], it presupposes that they will recognize one another. If they didn’t recognize each other, the promise has no pertinency or significance or meaning whatsoever. But, of course, the great basic doctrine and revelation of how we shall be in heaven is in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the very heart of the Christian faith, namely, the resurrection of our Lord. His recognitions were human, altogether human. When John went to the tomb and saw the napkin—placed around the Lord’s head when he was buried—saw the napkin folded up and in a place lying by itself, the Bible says John immediately believed that He was alive [John 20:5-8]. Jesus had a way of folding a napkin, an idiosyncratic personality trait; the way He folded up a napkin. Same thing with Mary: she supposed it was the gardener speaking to [her]; but when the Lord called her name, there was a certain way in the voice of Jesus saying her name, and she recognized Him immediately [John 20:16].
The two in Emmaus, their eyes were holden by the Spirit of the Lord, that they didn’t recognize Him [Luke 24:13-16]; but when He said the blessing, there was a human way that Jesus said the blessing, and they recognized Him immediately [Luke 24:30-32]. In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, Thomas says, “I do not believe men rise from the dead, and I do not believe He is raised from the dead. And except I put my finger in the scars in His hands, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe” [John 20:25]. The great climax of the Gospel of John is when the Lord appears, He holds His hands, scarred, He makes visible His side, a great livid scar—it is He! It’s not somebody else; it’s our Lord, it’s our Lord [John 20:26-29].
And in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when He appeared, the disciples couldn’t believe it for joy [Luke 24:41]. It was too good to be true. It seems too good to be true for me to preach it today. And the Lord said:
I am not a spirit, a ghost. Handle Me, and see;
for a ghost has not flesh and bones such as ye see Me have.
And He said, Have you anything to eat?
They gave Him a piece of fish, a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb;
and He did eat before them; the Jesus, whom they knew in the days of His flesh.
And to add affirmation to reiteration, when the Lord was caught up into heaven, the angel said to these disciples looking up where our Lord had gone into glory, the angel said to them, “This same Jesus, this same Jesus whom you see going into heaven, shall so come back in like manner; this same Jesus” [Acts 1:11].
Or, take what the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus, when he fell down before Him, blinded by the glory of that vision: Saul said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” and the Lord said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest” [Acts 9:3-5,22:8]. Or take one other, in the first chapter of the Revelation, when John the sainted apostle sees the glorified Lord [Revelation 1:9-16]: he fell at His feet as dead, and then it is written, “And the Lord put His right hand upon him. The Lord put His right hand upon him, saying, Fear not” [Revelation 1:17]. You know, I’d say the Lord had done that countless numbers of times as they’d walk in Galilee together. The Lord put His right hand on His beloved disciple, and talked to him, pointing out the great truths of glory [Revelation 1:18-20]. It’s the same Jesus.
Now when we lift up our faces to heaven, what are they up there? Are they blobs? Or are they living personalities? Well, they’ve got names up there, those heavenly hosts. One of them says, “I am Gabriel. My name is Gabriel, and I stand in the presence of God. I am God’s messenger” [Luke 1:19]. Another says, “I am Michael. I am God’s warrior” [Revelation 12:7]. He is somebody. And there is a warm, rich relationship in heaven that is simply sublime. Listen to it: in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father” [John 10:15]. And He says in the third verse, “Our Lord calleth His own sheep by name [John 10:3] . . . As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father.” There is mutualness in relationship there that is dear beyond thought or imagination. God recognizes us, and we recognize God. If God doesn’t recognize us, then we are nothing but heaps of resurrected matter. There is interrelatedness in it. God knows us, and we know God. And we have our names, and He calls us by our names. And we are there with Him and one another forever, in a bond of interrelatedness, of mutualness, of wonder, of glory, of richness. That’s the life beyond the grave.
That beautiful interrelatedness, mutualness, makes life, life. That’s what it is—such as you see between a mother and her child, such as you see between a husband and a wife, such as you see between a pastor and his people, such as you see between a friend and a friend. I could think of no more poignant illustration of it than the little girl who wanted to sleep with her mother. And the mother said, “No, now you,” she puts the little baby girl to bed here. And the little child insists, “But I want to sleep with you!” And the mother gives the little baby girl, the little child, a teddy bear, and says, “Now honey, you just cuddle up to this teddy bear and go to sleep.” And the little child says, “But I want to sleep with you, mother, because this teddy bear doesn’t cuddle back to me.” There is a profound truth in that that reaches to the very heart of God.
The naturalist can look at this whole earth, and he studies the rocks, and the rills, and the hills, and the mountains, and the plains, and the prairies; but they don’t study him, they don’t know him, they don’t answer him. He is intelligence which is alive; meets a passive unresponsiveness in the rocks, in the mountains, in the hills. I’ll tell you another illustration of that same profound truth. I don’t know if you ever remember seeing that Negro play, “Green Pastures.” It’s a Negro’s idea of God and the creation of the world. And after God creates His stars, and His heavens, and His oceans, and His mountains, and His continents, and His seas, and God looks at it, the wonderful works of His hands, and in the play it says, “God sat down on the side of a hill, and God said, ‘I am lonesome. I am lonesome.’” How does a man find intimacy and relationship in a mountain, or in an ocean, or in a sea, or in a prairie? And God said, “I will make Me a man.” This is the Negro play. “I will make Me a man who can think My thoughts, and speak My language, and respond to My love and care.” So God created man for fellowship. That is the meaning of life—and without it, it has no meaning at all.
Now may I speak of it briefly philosophically, and finally, experientially, that there is recognition of one another in heaven. Philosophically: it is beyond my thinking that all the stupendous wealth of culture, and music, and literature, and art, and drama, and history, and life, and the great massive column of intellectual cognition, that it marches to reach nothing; that we but bury our dead against the day when we fall into the grave ourselves. And it is doubly tragic because of our capacity to see it and to realize it. It seems that the capacity of the soul is infinite. There’s no limit to the vast forever into which our hearts and souls can expand. What I see now is a harbinger of what I’m going to see. What I know and understand now is an earnest of what I’m going to know and to understand. And what I hear now is but a token of what I’m going to hear. And what I see now is but a first down payment in what I’m going to see. There’s no limit to the capacity of the soul to see, to know, to feel, to respond, and to understand.
Now I must close. Experientially: that we will know each other in heaven experientially, in human experience. I was in Kobe, Japan, in the home of one of our missionaries. The missionary home was on the side of a mountain that went down to the harbor at Kobe. I said to the missionary couple, who were so kind to me, I said, “If you don’t mind, could I just sit out here on the porch alone for just a while?” So I sat there on the porch of the missionary home, looking down into the harbor at Kobe. On the way from China to the United States, Lottie Moon had died on a ship in that harbor. And as I sat there on the porch, I recounted in memory her life, and the moment that she died. And when Lottie Moon died, there in Kobe, as she died, she clasped and unclasped her hands, in Chinese grieving, calling the names of Ping Tu Christians that she had known who had been dead years and years and years ago—greeting them in glory.
Or once again, I sat by the side of my mother, dying, and she said to me, “Son, have you visited my mother and my father and my brother Joe?” Dear people, they had been dead years and years and years. She’s the youngest of ten children. And she says to me, “Son, have you seen my mother and father and my brother Joe?” And I said, “Mother, no. Where are they?” And she says, “Son, they were here just a moment ago, just a moment ago.” Well, I said, “Mother, where are they now?” And she said, “They have just left, and they’re just right over there; they’re just nearby. And son, please, I want you to see my mother and my father and my brother Joe.” And I replied, “Mother, I promise you, I will see them. I will see them.”
Why draw a dark black line between the cherished testimonies of these saints who have died in the Lord, and just before their translation they greet their people and their friends in heaven, in heaven? That is the meaning of the resurrection, the meaning of the life. That’s the holy promise of our Lord: we’ll see Him, and He will see us, and with Him and one another we shall grow in the image of our Lord forever and ever [John 14:3; 1 John 3:2].
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll…
Oh, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To greet one another again.
[“Home of the Soul,” Ellen M. H. Gates]
“Now we see through an enigma, dimly, but then face to face: then shall I know even as God knows me” [1 Corinthians 13:12].
We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing the song, to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], to open your soul heavenward and God-ward, to put your life with us in this wonderful church, to answer the appeal of the Spirit to your heart, while we sing the hymn, welcome, welcome. In the balcony round, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down an aisle, “Pastor, this is God’s day for us, and we’re coming.” May angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life. Do it now. Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.