Question: My friend asked me about life after death if you are a Christian. He wants to know if we will know our loved ones when our spirit goes to be with the Lord. I tried to explain it to him but I don't think I got it across to him too well. Can you explain it so a new Christian will understand about the spirit and soul returning to God after death. Thanks for all your great articles and keep up the great work. Your brother in Christ.
Response: Thanks for your kind comments. As to your friend's question, this is a very common one for believers old and new. We all want to know about our eternal future, and while the Bible does have much to say about this, it doesn't say as much as we perhaps might like. In regard to knowing each other after death, it is clear that we shall. Even in the subterranean paradise to which departed believers went before our Lord opened the path to the third heaven, Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man all were visible as just who they were (Lk.16:19-31; and Jesus was, of course, known to the disciples after resurrection). Even in our interim, pre-resurrection state we shall have a "house" for our spirit superior to our current condition (2Cor.5:1-5; v.3 in the Greek says "even if we are unclothed [i.e., die], we will not be found naked [i.e., we shall have a covering for our spirit).
Heaven is unbelievably wonderful (cf. the description in Revelation chapters 4-5; see "Coming Tribulation: Part 2B, The Heavenly Prelude"). Being there is to be more cognizant of God and of our Lord Jesus (1Cor.13:12). For the believer, death is gain in every way (Phil.1:21). Many people think, for unscriptural reasons, that heaven will somehow be a loss, that it will be a wispy, immaterial, insubstantial place where we will lose touch with everything we found enjoyable on earth, a place of regrets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the earth is our eventual home when it is made new at the end of history and the New Jerusalem, our final abode, descends to take its place on earth, and on that day it will surpass its present glory by orders of magnitude.
Departing from this life with our faith in Jesus Christ intact is the ultimate victory, and it will be rewarded. We will not lose a thing by leaving this life of tears - except for our suffering, heartaches, and tears (Rev.17:16-17). We will not be somehow "less" in death than we are now in this life (1Cor.15:35-49). We will be incalculably more, as the fight of faith we are waging here on earth bears a weight of glory that is beyond our ability to estimate at present (2Cor.4:17; cf. Rom.8:18).
It is probably a good thing that we don't know more than we do about the wonders to come, because if we really were able to "see it" close up and not "at a distance" (Heb.11:13), we would doubtless think about little else (and while we are here we have work to do for our Lord). The glories of the heavenly abode to come (Heb.12:22-24, Rev.21-22), the resurrection of our bodies (1Cor.15), the eternal rewards we shall receive (1Cor.3, Rev.2-3), and, most of all, being in the presence of the One who bought us, enjoying sweet fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ forever, these are blessings that objectively will outstrip anything comparable on the earth of today (indeed, there is nothing comparable), and on that day we shall "know as we are known" (1Cor.13:12), and "see Him even as He is" (1Jn.3:2). We have to know these things now by faith, but the day is coming soon when the reality will break forth for us brighter than the light of the sun (Acts 26:13; cf. Matt.17:2).
Everyone now in His presence appreciates these things even as we shall on that day when we join all our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the meantime, we should keep in mind that our departed loved ones, and all the "witnesses" on high, men and angels alike, are eager to see us progress in the life of the Spirit and fight the good fight of faith with vigor for Jesus Christ. Eternity will take care of itself as long as we do so. What God has in store for us is amazing and incomprehensibly wonderful in every way.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
1st Corinthians 2:9 NIV
But it is only now, here in time, that we have the precious opportunity to soldier on for Jesus Christ in a way that is pleasing to our Master and that will bear fruit for us for all eternity in the rewards we shall receive for doing so. Here are some links which address different aspects of this question:
What is "heaven" like according to Christian teachings?
What does the Bible say about Heaven and Hell?
The False Doctrine of "Soul Sleep".
*The Judgment and Reward of the Church (in CT 6)
I hope this will be of some help and encouragement to your friend. Please don't hesitate to write or have him write again if this doesn't get to some of the specifics you or he would like to have addressed.
In expectation of the return of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.
Marana Tha - O our Lord, return!