14:3 Verse 3 refers to the time when the Lord will come back again into the air, when those who have died in faith will be raised, when the living will be changed, and when all the blood-bought throng will be taken home to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13–18; 1 Cor. 15:51–58). This is a personal, literal coming of Christ. As surely as He went away, He will come again. His desire is to have His own with Him for all eternity.
3. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I come again and will take you to be face to face with me, in order that where I am you may be also.
The coming again of which Jesus speaks in this verse is the counterpart of the going away. Cf. Acts 1:9–11. That fact explains its character. In all probability, therefore, it refers to the second coming, and its purpose is to enable Christ to receive the disciples into his loving presence, to abide with him forever.
Observe that instead of saying what one might expect him to say, namely, “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I come again and will take you to that place,” Jesus says something that is far more comforting: “I will take you to myself” (or: to be face to face with me; for the meaning of πρός see on 1:1). So wonderful is Christ’s love for his own that he is not satisfied with the idea or merely bringing them to heaven. He must needs take them into his own embrace.
The verb translated, “and will take you” (παραλήμψομαι, root-idea: to take over from another), with a wide variety of shades of meaning, has here the sense of welcoming someone. A. Deissmann has shown that the comfort contained in this passage (14:3) was by the early Christians applied to the death of dear ones. Although Jesus himself probably did not directly refer to this, but rather to the meeting again in connection with the second advent, nevertheless, the application to death is legitimate. Hence, in ancient letters of consolation the phraseology of 14:3 is often found.
On the expressed purpose of this welcoming, namely, “in order that where I am you may be also,” see Rev. 14:1; 19:14; 20:4. Wherever the Christ is, there too are the believers.
Comfort Comes from
Trusting Christ’s Preparation
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (14:2–3)
Another offering to comfort the disciples was the revelation that their separation from Him would not be permanent. Jesus’ words, if it were not so, I would have told you, assured the disciples that He was telling them the truth. He was going away in part to prepare a place for them where they would be reunited with Him in His heavenly glory (John 17:24).
The Father’s house is another name for heaven, which is variously described as a country (Heb. 11:16), due to its vastness; a city (Heb. 12:22), emphasizing its large number of inhabitants; a kingdom (2 Tim. 4:18), because God is its King (Dan. 4:37; cf. Matt. 11:25; Acts 17:24); paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7), because of its indescribable beauty; and a place of rest (cf. Heb. 4:1–11), where the redeemed are free from the wearying conflict with sin, Satan, and the evil world system that hates those who love Christ (John 15:19; 17:14).
The dwelling places of which the Lord spoke must not be pictured as separate buildings, as if heaven were a giant housing tract. The picture is rather of a father building additional rooms onto his house for his sons and their families, as was often done in Israel. In modern terms, the dwelling places might be pictured as rooms or apartments in the Father’s spacious house. The emphasis is on heaven’s intimacy, where “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them” (Rev. 21:3). That there will be many such dwelling places means there will be room for all whom God, in His infinite love and mercy, has chosen to redeem. According to Revelation 21:16, “The city [the New Jerusalem] is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.” In terms of modern measurements, the base of the city alone is over two million square miles—more than half the size of the United States. Its height adds exponentially to its living space.
The place the Lord Jesus Christ is preparing for believers is a place of dazzling, inexpressible beauty:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements. The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:9–27)
Jesus’ promise, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also, refers to the rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51–54; 1 Thess. 4:13–18; Rev. 3:10). The absence of any reference to judgment indicates that the Lord was not referring here to His second coming to earth to judge and establish His kingdom (Matt. 13:36–43, 47–50; 24:29–44; 25:31–46; Rev. 19:11–15), but rather to the catching up of the believers into heaven (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18; 1 Cor. 15:51–57). Further differences between the two events reinforce that truth. At the second coming angels gather the elect (Matt. 24:30–31), but here Jesus told the disciples He would personally come for them. At the second coming the saints will return with Christ (Rev. 19:8, 14) as He comes to set up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 19:11–20:6); here He promises to return for them. Between the rapture and the second coming, the church will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7–10), and believers will receive their rewards (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10). When He returns in judgment and kingdom glory, the saints will come with Him (Rev. 19:7, 11–14).
A Place for You
“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
One reason why those who believe in Jesus Christ should not be troubled by adverse circumstances is that they have a home in heaven. However, as soon as we begin to talk about heaven we create a problem, for in the thinking of most people heaven is not an interesting subject. This was not always so. There was a time in the history of the western world when thoughts about the life to come were popular. But ours is a secular and scientific age. Thus, in today’s world, thoughts about heaven seem to be either a form of escapism or mere speculation.
Thoughts of Heaven
We suffer from this purely secular outlook, as will be shown. But as we begin to study about heaven, let us take note that heaven should be far more interesting to us than we naturally imagine. For one thing, we should recognize that heaven is likely to become increasingly interesting to us as we grow older. D. L. Moody tells of a man who testified that in his youth he thought of heaven largely as a great shining city, filled with vast walls, domes and towers, and populated by millions of angels, all of whom were strangers to him. But then his little brother died. After that he thought of heaven as a great shining city, filled with vast walls and towers and unknown angels, but now also with one little fellow he knew. When a second brother died there were two he knew. Acquaintances died. In time one of his children went to be with Jesus; this one was followed by another and then still another. By this time the man seldom thought of walls and towers. He thought of those residents of the Celestial City whom he knew, and his interest in heaven intensified. Toward the end of his life so many of his acquaintances had gone to heaven that it sometimes seemed to him that he knew more persons in heaven than he did on earth. And, of course, his thoughts fixed increasingly on that distant place.
Moreover, it is not only as we grow older that we should find heaven interesting. To be sure, when we are younger the emotional ties that bind an older person to those who have gone ahead are lacking. But we are going there some day, if we are Christians. Should we not be interested in the place where we will spend eternity?
I remember the great interest my wife and I had when, in the early days of our married life together, we determined to go to Europe where I was to pursue my graduate studies. Our destination was Basel, Switzerland, about which we knew virtually nothing. Were we disinterested? Not at all! I remember how we poured over maps and books containing geographical and other information, for we wanted to know what Basel was like. How big was Basel? What was the climate? Was it an old city or a new one? What was its history? What belongings should we take with us? Most people will recognize our interest in Basel to have been a proper one. How much greater should a Christian’s interest be in that place to which Jesus has gone, which he is preparing for us.
Should we not have a great interest in these verses in which the Lord himself talks about heaven? Do we not want to ponder the words: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (vv. 2–3)? I think we do. Therefore, although we have studied these verses once, we are going to deal with them again in this and the following study.
A Real Place
As we look closely at these words, the first thing we notice is that, according to Jesus, heaven is a genuine place. When we say this, we do not mean that we are therefore able to visualize it adequately, even with the help of biblical symbols. For example, we read in the Bible of a city whose streets are paved with gold. But we are not necessarily to think that these streets are like our streets or that the gold is what we identify as the seventy-ninth element on the atomic charts. Streets speak of permanence, gold of something precious and valuable that does not rust or deteriorate. In the same way, we do not think that there are necessarily literal crowns in heaven, although there may be. There may not be harps as we conceive of them. These things are symbols; so, while they point to reality, nevertheless they may not themselves be reality.
Yet none of this is to be taken as meaning that heaven is therefore anything less than a real place, as real, perhaps even as localized, as New York or San Francisco. On the occasion of his address in the upper room Jesus did not describe heaven, but he did call it a place to which he was going, from which he would return, and to which he would one day take all whom the Father had given him.
The word “heaven” is used in three different ways in the Bible. It is used of what we would call the atmosphere, the heaven of birds and clouds. It is used of those great spaces in which the planets and stars are found. This is sometimes also called “the firmament.” Finally, it is used of the heaven of heavens, which is the home of God. It is this—a place just like the other places—about which these verses are speaking.
All this presents difficulties for some persons, and for two reasons. First, there are those who observe that God is described as being pure spirit—that is, as having no bodily form—and who therefore conclude that heaven is the abode or state of pure spirits. But the idea that heaven is merely a state and therefore everywhere and nowhere is not according to Scripture. True, God is a spirit; he does not have a concrete, visible form. But Jesus does. He has become man for all eternity. The angels also have bodies. So do we, not only in this life but also in the life to come. If this were not so, the teaching about the resurrection of the body would be meaningless. These bodies must be somewhere. As I read the accounts of Christ’s postresurrection appearances, I recognize that the heavenly body of Christ (after which our heavenly bodies are patterned) possesses qualities that we do not yet have. His body could move through closed doors, for instance. It could vanish and then reappear. Still, it is a true body and must be localized. Heaven is the place where our bodies shall be, though we will presumably be able, like Jesus, to move freely.
The second reason why some people have difficulty thinking of heaven as a genuine place is linked to scientific considerations. These people are aware of the vast distances of our universe as well as the fact that no one using any of the gigantic telescopes of our time has ever seen anything like heaven. They say, “If Jesus had ascended into heaven beginning in a.d. 30 and if he had accelerated until at last he was traveling at the speed of light, he would not yet have reached the farthest star, let alone heaven, wherever that may be located. How then are we to imagine that heaven is a real place, that Jesus went there, and that he is coming again to take us to be with him?”
This is an important problem. For if there is no material, spatial heaven, then the Lord Jesus Christ did not ascend into it in his body. And if this is so, then we must abandon the idea of a bodily resurrection of the Savior and all that goes with it, which is most of Christianity. Indeed, we will find ourselves in the position described by Paul when he declared that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But why, on the other hand, must we thus limit the Creator? On one occasion, when Donald Grey Barnhouse was asked a question about ascending at the speed of light, he replied, “Why do you wish to slow the Creator to the speed of light? He who created the universe is able to move with the speed of thought, and it is possible to think from here to the remotest point of the universe as quickly as it is to think down to the corner drugstore.” We readily admit that we do not understand how this operates; we cannot think clearly beyond known physical laws. But God is not bound by the laws he has created. Consequently, all things—literally, all things—are possible to him.
Our Heavenly Home
There is a second thought in the phrase we have been considering, “a place for you.” For it tells us that heaven is not only a place; it is a home. This is the import of the last two words, “for you.”
As I have thought about this phrase I have been helped by the Swiss doctor Paul Tournier, who has taken the words as the title of one of his books on counseling. In that book, A Place for You, he deals with the idea of a place and of the need we all have for it. For instance, at the beginning of the book he tells of a young man whom he had once counseled. The young man had been born into an unhappy home, had developed a sense of failure—first failing to reconcile his parents and then in an inability to settle down into any one area of life—and at last had come to see Tournier. Together they explored the young man’s problems. On one occasion, as he was trying to look at himself objectively and put what he saw into words, the student looked up at his counselor and said, “Basically, I’m always looking for a place—for somewhere to be.”
This, says Tournier as the book unfolds, is a basic desire of the human heart. It is the desire to have a genuine place of our own, a home, a place where we belong and know ourselves to belong. The problem, says the counselor, is that many people apparently never find this place and so spend much of life wandering.
Tournier is not insensitive to the need that we have to find a home spiritually. Here we think of Adam and Eve and of their expulsion from their garden home in Eden because of their sin. We think of Cain, who, because he killed his brother, was condemned to a life of wandering. He had no home. In Genesis 11 we find men trying to create a city in which homes will be established. But the men of Babel are in opposition to God, and so God scatters them. Again they are made homeless. Here, then, is a great motif of Genesis. Sin brings alienation, and one aspect of alienation is that men lose their home.
With the coming of Abraham we find a new and heartening element. To be sure, God’s first dealings with Abraham are to take him from his home, for it is a sinful place filled with idols and idol worshipers. But in return for the place he has lost God promises him a new home—“a land I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). What is more, God gives the boundaries and indicates the specific territory involved. It is “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18–21). The names are concrete. These are real names. They occur in real history. Thus they show God’s awareness of the fact that the men and women he has created need a real place to be.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find Abraham praised, not because he fixed his hope on an earthly home (important as that is), but because he looked for a heavenly home. The Bible says, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). This means that although earthly homes are necessary and valuable, they are nevertheless and at best not permanent and that, consequently, the basic need for a home (going back to Eden) is fully met only when the Lord Jesus Christ himself prepares a home for us in heaven. Now we are in a strange land, even in an enemy’s country. But in that day we shall be in the Father’s house and shall be home. This is our destiny.
Can anyone still feel that thoughts about heaven are otherworldly and therefore improper for Christians? Does anyone think that thoughts like these are escapism? This reality is anything but escapism.
Here again let me illustrate from Tournier’s psychology. Take a child. Who is the child who spends a lifetime wandering about, always unable to find a place where he can belong and can make a sure contribution? Is it the child who has a home or the child who does not? Obviously, it is the child who does not have a home. Writes Tournier, “When the family is such that the child cannot fit himself into it properly, he looks everywhere for some other place, leading a wandering existence, incapable of settling down anywhere. His tragedy is that he carries about within himself this fundamental incapacity for any real attachment.” On the other hand, “The child who has been able to grow up harmoniously in a healthy home finds a welcome everywhere. In infancy all he needs is a stick placed across two chairs to make himself a house, in which he feels quite at home. Later on, wherever he goes, he will be able to make any place his own, without any effort on his part. For him it will not be a matter of seeking, but of choosing.”
It is the same spiritually. Who are those who seek to escape from this world? It is not those who are certain of a home in heaven. The ones who try to escape from this world are those who have no sure, spiritual mooring and who are therefore still searching. They may study theology and even write books about it, but they are lost. They have no sure foundation, and their views and interests shift constantly. Those who do not try to escape are those who have their home. They may not be in it as yet. They may not even understand what it is like precisely, for they look through a glass darkly. Still, it is a home for them; and, therefore, because they have this home, they are at home anywhere. They can form friendships. They marry for life. They can commit themselves to a Christian work or even a secular work and labor for years without being restless and unfulfilled.
The world needs such satisfied men and women. It needs people who can be at home here—in spite of the world’s evil—precisely because they have a home in heaven.
Do You Have a Home?
The final point is in the form of a question. Do you have a home? Are you one for whom Jesus has gone to prepare a place in heaven?
At the beginning of this chapter you read a story that was often related by that great evangelist D. L. Moody. Here is another. There was a man who had great wealth. He was dying. When the doctor told him he could not live, the lawyer was sent for to make out his will. The dying man had a little girl who was about four years old. She did not understand what death meant. But when her mother told her that her father was going away, the little child went to the bedside and looked into her father’s eyes and asked, “Papa, have you got a home in that land you are going to?” The question sunk deep into the man’s soul, for he had spent his time and energy accumulating great wealth. In this life he enjoyed a grand home, but now he had to leave it.
I would ask that of you. It is certain that you are going away, for it is appointed unto man once to die. Have you a home where you are going? Has the Lord Jesus Christ, your Savior, gone to prepare it for you?
If you want to be able to say yes to that question, all that is necessary is for Jesus to become your Savior, for he says that he has gone to prepare a place for all who trust him. Apart from his work no one can enter heaven. Heaven is a place of holiness, and none but holy ones can dwell there. On the other hand, for all who trust his work, who believe that he is indeed the Savior from sin, that he died for them particularly, and who receive him as that Savior and promise to follow him as his faithful disciples until their life’s end—for these heaven is that certain and blessed home that we have even now but that, nevertheless, still awaits us at our journey’s end. If you have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, do so now. Receive him as your Savior, and know the joy of possessing a place prepared for you by his own skilled hands.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Many human beings are anxious about whether or not they will recognize their friends in heaven. They are Christian people. Often they have no doubt that they will be in heaven; for, as they point out, “to be away from the body [is to be] at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Still they are confused about what is to happen in the life to come and wonder whether or not they will recognize those who have gone on before them. “Do you think I will know my Bill?” “Will I recognize Sally?” These are the questions they ask me, and I think that I understand them. For obviously, if we will not recognize our friends and family, then heaven inevitably loses much of its attractiveness for us. And—let us put it frankly—it is hard to see how we can really be happy there, regardless of how dazzling the streets or how beautiful the music of the angels.
On the other hand, there is also a sense in which I do not understand these questions. The reason I do not understand them is simply that the Word of God is so explicit about our mutual recognition. We will know each other. Bill will know Sally. Sally will know Bill. We will know parents and children, friends, and those who have died in the Lord before us. This truth is suggested in our text. Therefore, I want to look at it again before we move on to other subjects.
We Will See Jesus
The place to begin in this discussion, however, is not with our recognition of each other and enjoyment of each other but with the fact that we will see Jesus and enjoy him. We begin here as a simple matter of priority, for we will want to see him even more than a departed husband, wife, parent, child, or grandparent. But we begin here for another reason also. We begin here because, if we begin with Jesus, then our reunion in heaven becomes (as it will be) a truly spiritual and godly reunion. If we forget this priority, then in our minds our reunion with loved ones becomes something only a little removed from a family get-together with all the failures of such a human affair.
This is what will make heaven a real home to us. True, having our loved ones there will be a part of it. But the thing that will make heaven a true home is being with Jesus. On this point D. L. Moody used to tell of a child whose mother became very sick. While the mother was sick one of the neighbors took the child away to stay with her until the mother should get well again. But instead of getting well, the mother grew worse and died. The neighbors thought that they would not take the child home until after the funeral was over, and that they would not tell her about her mother being dead. So after a while they simply brought the little girl home. At once she went to find her mother. First she went into the sitting room to find her mother; then she went into the parlor to find her mother. She went from one end of the house to the other, but she could not find her. At last she asked, “Where is my mama?” When they told her that her mama was gone, the child wanted to go back to the neighbor’s house again. Home had lost its attraction for her since her mother was not there any longer. Moody writes, “It is not the jasper walls and the pearly gates that are going to make heaven attractive. It is being with God.”
To know that we are going to heaven is a wonderful thing. But more wonderful still is the fact that we shall see Jesus and shall be able to express to him that praise and love he deserves for having left heaven to come to earth and here die for us sinners. Of this truth Fanny Crosby once wrote:
Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But O, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!
And I shall see him face-to-face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace;
And I shall see him face-to-face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace;
Some day my earthly house will fall—
I cannot tell how soon ’twill be;
But this I know—my All in All
Has now a place in heav’n for me.
This expectation of the redeemed child of God is a glorious theme, the reality of which makes heaven a true home for us. Indeed, heaven becomes a proper home only when we have the first priority.
But the point at which we began is not whether or not we will see and recognize Jesus but whether or not we will see and recognize each other. Will we recognize each other? Of course, we will. What is more, there are many indications in Scripture that this will be so.
One very encouraging indication comes from the Old Testament in a phrase often used in connection with the death of the patriarchs. It is the phrase “and he was gathered to his people.” It occurs in texts like these: “Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8); “Altogether Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:17); “Then he [Isaac] breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Gen. 35:29); “When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people” (Gen. 49:33); “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites” (Num. 20:24); and “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain in the Abarim range and see the land I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was” (Num. 27:12–13).
Many Old Testament scholars regard the phrase “and he was gathered to his people” as being nothing more than a conventional way of saying that he died. It is to be explained, so they say, by the thought that the individual was being placed in the same graveyard as those who had died before him. But this is hardly satisfactory in the case of the Bible stories involved. When Abraham died he was buried in a cave at Machpelah in the land that was to become Israel, but it was not the burial place of his ancestors. They had been buried back in Ur of the Chaldees, and his father had been buried at Haran. Moreover, in reading the account of his death, it is hard to overlook the fact that Abraham is said to have been gathered to his ancestors in verse 8 of Genesis 25, but to have been buried only in verse 9. Consequently, the phrase “gathered to his people” cannot refer to the burial but must refer to the death itself as a result of which Abraham joined those who had gone before him.
The same thing is true of Moses, who died by himself in the mountain. The Book of Deuteronomy even tells us that “no one knows where his grave is” (Deut. 34:6).
The comment of David upon being told of the death of Bathsheba’s child is also important, for it shows that David believed in a personal reunion with departed loved ones in the life to come. God struck the child so that it became sick and died. While it lay languishing David, who understood that he was to blame, prayed for the child and fasted, lying all night upon the earth. So great was his grief and concern that when the child died, those who were close to David were afraid to tell him lest his grief should know no bounds. David detected the change in their attitude, however. He asked, “Is the child dead?” When they told him that the child had died, David surprised them by rising from his place of mourning, washing himself, dressing, and resuming his duties as leader of the nation.
The servants asked about his change of attitude, since they could not understand it. David explained, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22–23). This last comment does not mean merely that David would eventually die himself. For the point of the story is that David comforted himself (and Bathsheba) after the child’s death, and there would be no comfort unless David believed that, although he could not bring the child back, nevertheless, one day he would see the child again in heaven.
If we turn to the New Testament, we find an additional indication of these same truths in the events that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. On this occasion the Lord Jesus Christ took three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, with him into the mountain and was transformed into a form showing his celestial glory. Moreover, Moses and Elijah, two other glorified saints, appeared beside him. Luke calls them “men”; that is, not disembodied spirits, and he reports that Peter and presumably also the others recognized them. Peter said, “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” (Luke 9:33). Here both Moses and Elijah had retained their identities and were recognized by the three disciples.
Christ’s story about the rich man and Lazarus makes a similar point, for the Lord told how the rich man went to hell and, being in torment, lifted up his eyes and saw “Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:23). Here is a case that involves recognition of the departed, not only as they appear in this life, but as they appear to each other in the life to come.
Finally, there is a fine text from the lips of Jesus in which he speaks of many Gentiles joining with believing Jews in a great reunion in heaven. We read, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). This is a great promise, but it is not possible unless there is to be a full recognition of all who have died. Clearly the patriarchs are to know each other at this holy reunion, and so will all those who have died in Christ and who will be gathered to the reunion from the far corners of the earth. In that day we may well be surprised to see many in heaven whom we do not expect to be there. And we will be just as surprised not to find many there whom we thought would be present.
Many of us have lost believing loved ones. Or, if we have not lost them and yet live long enough, we will lose them. But we have not lost them ultimately, for they are with Jesus, and we will yet be reunited with them.
All We are Meant to Be
It has been pointed out, first, that we shall see Jesus and, second, that we shall see and recognize each other. The third point is that we shall see each other, not as we are now or have been but as we are meant to be. This truth is conveyed in the text mentioned earlier, which says that we shall see Christ face to face. It says, “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” (1 John 3:2).
Until recently, every time I read that verse I focused on the word “we” and read it as if it said “I.” I read that “I will be like him” and took comfort in that. But now I am impressed with something else that is also true. It is not only that I shall be made like Jesus. It is that we all shall be like him. As a result, the sin, ignorance, anger, hate, weariness, and perversity that so often mar our relationships now will be eliminated. In that day we will have a fresh view of each other, for we will see each other, not as we have come to know each other here below, in our sin, but rather as we were meant to be.
Moreover, we will see each other rewarded for faithful service in this life, for the Bible speaks of crowns that will be given to those who are faithful. The Lord himself has said, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). I am sure that there is a wrong way of thinking of rewards. If we are serving only for what we can get out of the arrangement, we are no more than hirelings. Again, if we are working for rewards in this life—for money or the praise others may (or may not) give us—we are not fit to be Christ’s servants. On the other hand, there is a right way to think about rewards, for the prospect of rewards is set before us as one reason why the patriarchs and other biblical characters were faithful. They had much to discourage them. Often there were severe trials, hardships, beatings, pain, and ridicule. But they endured because they were “looking ahead to [their] reward” (Heb. 11:26).
One of our great hymns, written by Heinrich Schenk early in the eighteenth century and translated into English by Francis Cox, speaks of these rewards:
Who are these like stars appearing,
These before God’s throne who stand?
Each a golden crown is wearing;
Who are all this glorious band?
Alleluia! Hark, they sing,
Praising loud their heavenly King.
Who are these of dazzling brightness,
These in God’s own truth arrayed,
Clad in robes of purest whiteness,
Robes whose lustre ne’er shall fade,
Ne’er be touched by time’s rude hand?
Whence come all this glorious band?
These are they who have contended
For their Savior’s honor long,
Wrestling on till life was ended,
Following not the sinful throng;
These, who well the fight sustained,
Triumph through the Lamb have gained.
In the day of our heavenly reunion we shall have those rewards, if we are faithful. And we shall rejoice in the triumphs of other Christians. Do you not think, since this will be true, that you could rejoice with them now? We tend to be critical of one another; and, of course, sometimes there are grounds for it. We do sin; we are unfaithful. But by God’s grace we are also, at times, faithful, for which we shall be rewarded. If only we could see this, we would regard one another differently. We would rejoice in the triumphs, rather than bemoan the faults. We would pray for one another fervently.
So let us pray and work. Let us do so until the day when the entire ransomed church of God is raised to be with Jesus and is made like him.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1545). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 265–266). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 100–102). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1063–1074). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.