EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Answers to Common Questions about Heaven and Eternity by Timothy J. Demy and Thomas Ice (Kregel).

Will we have personal identity in heaven?

Some religions teach that after death the soul of an individual merges with an impersonal Supreme Soul. However, the Bible teaches that there is and always will be—even in heaven—a distinct difference between human beings and God, who is infinite, personal, just, and loving. There will be personal identity in heaven.

Jesus, in His resurrected body, ascended physically to heaven and will return in the same recognizable manner (Acts 1:9–11; Titus 2:13). Christians also will receive resurrection bodies that will be fully and completely transformed from what they were physically in this life (1 Cor. 15:12–57). Christian theology teaches that even those whose physical bodies have been destroyed by trauma or cremated will receive a perfect resurrection body.11 When a Christian dies, he or she is consciously and immediately in the presence of Jesus Christ, our Savior in heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8). Although our bodies remain in the grave, our souls are immediately in God’s presence, where we are conscious and awaiting resurrected bodies that will be attained at the rapture when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:15–17; 1 John 3:2). Death does not eradicate identity.

Will we be able to recognize friends, loved ones, and others in heaven?

When we get to heaven, we will clearly recognize others. When He was in His resurrection body, Jesus was clearly and readily recognized (except when He chose to conceal it when talking with the two on the road to Emmaus). In this same manner, we will be known and recognized by each other in heaven. We will not be nameless and faceless souls without identities. Rather, we will maintain our current identities but in resurrected and glorified bodies that have no infirmities or faults.

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised the disciples that in the millennial kingdom and in heaven they would all drink the fruit of the vine together again as they did that evening (Matt. 8:11; Luke 22:17–18). John MacArthur writes:

All the redeemed will maintain their identity forever, but in a perfected form. We will be able to have fellowship with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, David, Peter, Barnabas, Paul, or any of the saints we choose.

Remember that Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. Even though they died centuries before, they still maintained a clear identity (Matt. 17:3). Moreover, Peter, James, and John evidently recognized them (v. 4)—which implies that we will somehow be able to recognize people we’ve never even seen before. For that to be possible, we must all retain our individual identities, not turn into some sort of generic beings.12

The recognition, awareness, and knowledge of others will be enhanced rather than diminished or erased in heaven. Bible scholar Daniel Lockwood observes:

Our resurrection bodies are not merely immortal duplicates of our present ones. Consider Paul’s analogy of the wheat seed (1 Cor. 15:35–38). A mortal body is like the seed, while an immortal body is like the full-grown plant. Both are physical, with an intrinsic continuity between the two. But what a difference between the seed and the plant in appearance, in attribute, and in potential! If we presently have the capacity to recognize our loves ones, that ability will be magnified, not lessened, in the immortal state.

What the Bible does not tell us are the details of the resurrected and immortal body in heaven. Questions such as appearance of age and other attributes remain unanswered.

Copyright 2011 Timothy J. Demy and Thomas Ice
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Kregel Publications
P.O. Box 2607
Grand Rapids, MI 49501