This is a common question that I have been asked, and that I’ve heard other preachers answer, many times over the years.
We know that the Bible promises everlasting life in heaven to God’s faithful people (John 3:16, 36; 1 Timothy 1:16). However, we are not told much about what our life in heaven will be like – other than to say that it will be joyful beyond expression (Psalm 16:11; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 1:3-5; et al). We know that heaven is going to be better than anything we could hope for, where we will be in the glorious presence of God eternally. But we don’t have many specifics about what it will be like there.
In the Bible, God told us everything we need to know to be the kind of people He wants us to be so that we can make it to haven. He didn’t necessarily tell us everything we might want to know. There are some things that we will just have to wait till we get there to find out. The important thing is that we are living here so that we will get there to find out! (Romans 10:17; Acts 8:12; Acts 17:30, 31; Romans 10:9, 10; Acts 22:16; Colossians 1:23).
Ultimately, in answer to this question, we would have to say, “I don’t know.” However, we can make some educated speculations from what information we do have. For example, when Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Even though Peter had never physically seen Moses and Elijah – they had departed this life many hundreds of years prior to this even – Peter still recognized them. How did Peter know who they were? As the spiritual beings that were Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus there was some form of recognition on the part of Peter that had to be something other than physical.
Another example would be the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even though the rich man had never physically seen Abraham, who had departed this life many hundreds of years before the rich man lived, he still recognized Abraham when he saw him. Again, that recognition had to be something other than physical in nature.
When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, part of the consequences was that the child born of that adultery would die. David prayed and fasted while the child was sick but when the child died, he got up and cleaned himself and put on his royal garments. The child, David said, could not come to him but he could go to the child. His meaning was that they would be reunited in death (2 Samuel 12:15-23).
These passages, and others like them, would seem to indicate that there is some form of recognition after death.