Thursday, October 15, 2015

Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven

I decided to let you in on a long letter to my pastor in response to his recent sermon on the resurrection.  I want to be sure he agrees with my application of God’s natural revelation in creation and His special revelation in the Bible.  If not, I hope he will graciously provide correction.

Thank you, Pastor Dan Wingate, for your Oct. 11, 2015 message on “The Resurrection Body” at West Hill Baptist Church.  Like many of your messages, this one stimulated me toward further thought and study of the Scriptures.  I studied 1 Corinthians 15: 35-41 and context to understand more of what the Apostle Paul and the Spirit meant by saying that we will be “sown a natural body…raised a spiritual body.”  In particular, my question was, “Even though we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15: 51), will we still be individually and personally recognizable in our new spiritual bodies?”

I believe Scripture supports the notion that God uses both the natural revelation in creation and a consistent line of reason from His special revelation to teach that our resurrection bodies will retain qualities that enable recognition of one another in heaven.  Let’s consider what we can learn from the natural revelation first.  

Note how Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15: 39-41, highlights the great diversity in God’s creation, both biologically and astrologically:

"That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies.."
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.  There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Pastor Dan, you explained this so clearly by the simple “taxonomy” you used for all of us to understand; namely, that there is diversity of “kinds” among plants--flowers (herbs), trees, and shrubs.  Each is distinct from the others.  Likewise, Paul uses plants we call “grain” (e.g. wheat or rye) to point out that a seed that is sown has a different body from the one that will eventually spring up from the ground (v.  37).   Furthermore, the body of the seed that is sown must die in order for the body of the new plant to spring up from the ground (v. 36).  The biological knowledge God has given me brings this latter truth into new light.  The seed literally has to “die to” its original form, “give up” its nature as a seed, and surrender its nutrients and food reserves—all of this for the good of the “new body” that now sprouts up from the soil as it freely uses the seed resources surrendered by the “dying seed.” 

It seems unfortunate to a seed that its role is only realized by its death and surrender to support the needs of the seedling.  However, this relationship does illustrate that each of us as believers find our purpose and joy only to the extent that we deny ourselves in order to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9: 23).  Of direct pertinence to our eventual physical death, when our life on Earth reaches its end, our bodies will be changed as we are destined for an even more glorious body.

But there is a second attribute of God’s biological creation that lends insight into our resurrection bodies.  Although the body of the seed is distinct from the body of the seedling, it is also true that God has given “to each of the seeds a body of its own (v. 38).”  Therefore, as verses 39-41 elaborate, each “kind” of plant (or animal, planet, and star) is distinct among the great diversity of plants (or animals and celestial bodies).  But in the midst of this great diversity, there is also “continuity.” 

It is true that each “kind” of seed dies and disintegrates when it surrenders its form and resources to support the growth of the seedling.  Yet the seed determines what “kind” of seedling will result (through the DNA contained in the embryo of the seed which grows into the new body of the seedling).  This means, although as you suggested, we can identify each distinct “kind” of seed among a whole variety of seeds in a container—they each have their distinct traits—corn, wheat, oats, etc.  But, it is also true that the body of the seedling that results from each of the different “kinds” of seeds, while a different body from the seed, does express predictable traits that enable us to identify it as having been associated with the “old body” of the seed from which it sprouted. 

I would like to believe that God intends by this “seed-seedling analogy” to teach us that our new resurrection bodies, though different from our earthly bodies because they are “spiritual bodies” will nonetheless have recognizable traits.  Very likely, our appearance along with behavioral (or voice?) traits, will enable us to be recognized for who we are individually.

If my application of the “seed-seedling analogy” above is accurate, then we can say that God’s natural revelation in creation tells us much about the relationship between our earthly bodies and our future spiritual bodies.  However, we must rely on God’s special revelation for additional support for the claim that we will recognize our loved ones and friends, including Bible personalities we’ve never met, when we get to heaven.  There are three kinds of supporting evidence from Scripture:

a.   The disciples recognized Jesus in His resurrection body.  John 21: 1-14 records that “Jesus was manifested (rendered apparent) to the disciples” and that he ate breakfast with them.  Based on this account, we will also be distinctly recognizable in our resurrection bodies because the Scripture says, “Christ [is] the first fruits, after that, those who are Christ's at His coming... (1 Cor. 15: 23).”   It is also recorded that Thomas who doubted that Jesus was alive following His crucifixion also eventually recognized Jesus (John 20: 24-29).  Finally, Luke 24 says about Jesus followers on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him (v. 16)… [until] their eyes       were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight (v. 31).

b.   Three of Jesus’ disciples recognized Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration      even though they had never met them, suggesting that there must be other aspects of  our bodies after death that distinguish us as individuals.  See Luke 9: 29-33.

I thank God for my local church.
c.   How are we comforted unless we recognize our loved ones?  In 1 Thessalonians 4: 14-18, Paul comforts his Christian readers with the truth that we will meet our loved ones again.  Much of this comfort is found in the promise that one day, we will recognize our loved ones as distinct persons we once knew and loved.  Thanks be to God, we can have the hope of this great reunion, much more blessed than is possible here on Earth.   Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22: 20).

How about you?  Thank you for reading this article.  Perhaps you disagree, or have additional questions about your future.  Jesus said in John 3: 18, speaking of Himself, He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  The Bible throughout makes it clear that those who reject God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His perfect, atoning sacrifice for sin will not inherit spiritual bodies and will not live eternally in the new heaven and new earth.  Romans 3: 23 makes it clear that ALL of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  If you do not have the assurance that your sins have been forgiven, please let me know, or follow up with a trusted Christian friend or pastor (see link below).  The Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible from which the above verse was taken is a great place to become acquainted with Jesus and His life-saving message.  For those who have trusted Christ for forgiveness and a victorious walk with God through the armor and power of His Spirit, the following passage is a fitting encouragement:

Beloved, now we are children of God,
and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.
We know that when He appears, we will be like Him,
because we will see Him just as He is.
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him
purifies himself, just as He is pure.
 – 1 John 3: 2-3
To listen to this or other messages of Pastor Dan Wingate, and for other messages and resources from West Hill Baptist Church, Wooster, Ohio, click HERE.

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