Read Luke 16:1–9
1. IS THE DESIRE TO SEE ONE ANOTHER AGAIN PROPER?
“Shall we recognize each other in heaven?” How often this question has been asked! Some freely express their yearning to renew those happy associations broken off on earth when a dear one passed on. Others, however, are somewhat more hesitant in speaking; about this matter. They wonder whether the desire for seeing one another again ( German: Wiedersehen Dutch: Wederzien) is even right. Is not the chief end of man “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”? And did not the Psalmist (Psalm 73:25) exclaim:
“Whom have I in heaven but thee?” The answer would seem to b e this: all such yearning for resumption of fellowship which is of a merely sentimental character, failing to accord to God in Christ the chief honor, must be condemned. But the desire for Wiedersehen itself, in order that, in company with those who have preceded us and with those who are to follow us, we may praise our Redeemer, is entirely legitimate. In fact, we were created for fellowship . Accordingly, I am in complete agreement with Dr. H. Bavinck, who says ( in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, third edition, Vol. IV, pp. 707, 708, my translation): “The hope to see one another again on the other side of the grave is entirely natural, genuinely human, and also in harmony with Scripture. For the latter does not teach the kind of immortality that is stripped of all content and pertains to phantomic souls, but rather that everlasting life which belongs to real human individuals…Hence, though it is true that the joy of heaven consists primarily in fellowship with Christ, it also consists in fellowship of believers with one another. And even as on earth the latter type of fellowship, through here always imperfect, does not detract from the believers’ fellowship with Christ but strengthens and enriches it, so it will also be in heaven. Paul’s chief desire was to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:23; I Thessalonians 4:17), but Jesus himself pictures the joy of heaven under the symbolism of a banquet where all sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 8:11; cf. Luke 13:28). Accordingly, the hope of seeing each other again is not wrong if only it remains subordinate to the longing for fellowship with Christ.”
2. DOES SCRIPTURE TEACH THAT THERE WILL BE SUCH A JOYOUS RECOGNITION AND RESUMPTION OF FELLOWSHIP?
In this same great work on Reformed Doctrine Dr. H. Bavinck speaks with commendable caution on many controversial subjects. With respect to the matter of recognition in the life hereafter he is, however, very definite and outspoken, Says he (op. cit., p. 688): “Without any doubt those who have died recognize those whom they have known on earth.”
Those who, along with Dr. H. Bavinck, accept this idea of recognition and resumed fellowship usually appeal to the following passages:
a. According to Isaiah 14:12, the inhabitants of Sheol, immediately recognizing the king of Babylon as he descends toward them, mockingly greet him, exclaiming, ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morningI How art thou cut down to the ground, thou that didst lay low the nations…”
b. According to Ezekiel 32:11, out of the midst of Sheol the mighty heroes address the ruler and the people of Egypt.
c. According to Luke 16:19–31, the rich man recognizes Lazarus.
d. According to Luke 16:9, the friends whom we make for ourselves by our material gifts will welcome us into the mansions of heaven. The sick whom we have visited, the bereaved with whom we have sympathized, the heathen for whom we have been instruments unto salvation will, as it were, be standing in the vestibule of heaven in order to receive their benefactors into their circle, so as together to glorify the One who is the source of every blessing. This surely implies recognition and resumption of fellowship.
e. I Thessalonians 2: 19, 20 (cf. also II Corinthians 4:14) implies that at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ the missionaries will see the ultimate realization of their hope, and will experience supreme joy when they behold the fruits of their missionary efforts standing there, with gladness, thanksgiving, and praise, at Christ’s right hand. And is not a reunion of severed bonds implied in I Thessalonians 4:13–18?
3. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED
Objection a. Some of the passages enlisted in support of the theory of recognition and resumption of fellowship in heaven have reference to the events that are ushered in by Christ’s second coming rather than to the intermediate state. After Christ’s return we shall have bodies by means of which recognition can possibly be achieved. But this in no wise proves that right now in heaven the disembodied souls of believers recognize each other.
Answer: There is some merit in this argument, namely, in so far as it points to the fact that a distinction must be made. Surely, after Christ’s return, when our bodies, gloriously raised or changed, will have been restored to us, recognition and fellowship will necessarily be far richer. Nevertheless, the contrast between the intermediate and the final state is not so great that what is said here about the final state would not apply even in principle to the intermediate state. Also, some of the passages clearly have reference to the soul immediately after death. And besides, if it be possible for angels who have no bodies—to recognize each other (see Daniel 10:13), why should it be deemed impossible for disembodied souls of believers to do likewise?
Objection b. If we should actually recognize those of our friends whom we meet in heaven, we would also miss those earthly friends, acquaintances, or relatives who never—arrive in heaven. This would make us very unhappy even in heaven.
Answer: Does not our Lord Jesus Christ miss many a one whom he has sincerely admonished? Would you say, then, that Jesus is unhappy in heaven? Is not the answer rather in this direction, namely, that when once we get to heaven all such ties as weTe not in Christ (including even family-ties) will lose their meaning?
And does not Matthew 12:46–50 definitely paint in that direction?
Objection c. According to Matthew 22:23–33 all earthly relationships will be completely obliterated in the life hereafter. Hence, any recognition of those whom we have known on earth would be meaningless.
Answer: That is not at all what Matthew 22:23–33 teaches. It teaches that since in the life hereafter there will be no death, there will not be marriage-relationship nor any need for this (d. Luke 20:35, 36). In that respect we shall be like the angels in heaven. The passage says nothing whatever about abolition of every relationship with those whom we have known in the Lord while we were on earth.
The belief in Wiedersehen in the life hereafter is firmly entrenched in Scripture.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
A. Questions Answered in the Outline
1. What is the Question discussed in this Outline?
2. Is the desire to see one another again in the hereafter a legitimate desire? Why do you think so?
3. Does Scripture support the view that this desire w ill be fulfilled?
4. But is it possible for disembodied souls to recognize each other?
5. What are the other objections, and how do you answer them?
B. Additional Questions
1. Can the fact that Peter, James, and John recognized Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration be used as an argument in favor of recognition in the life hereafter?
2. Would you also appeal to I Corinthians 13:12 in support of this view? Also to II Samuel 12:23?
3. Someone made the statement, “Not only shall we recognize each other in the life hereafter, but we shall even know each other better than we have ever known each other before.” Do you believe that this is true? Why, or why not?
4. What really is the point in the Parable recorded in the portion that was read (luke 16: 1-9)? I refer to the practical lesson.
5. What is meant by “the mammon of unrighteousness”? Have you examined the difference between the King James or Authorized Version of luke 16:9 and the American Standard Version? Which is better on this passage?