KNOWLEDGE IN HEAVEN
Do Those in Heaven Know What Is Happening on Earth?
Question: After your loved ones die, can they see what you are doing here on earth? Are they aware of what you are going through, or how you are suffering?
Answer: Knowledge in heaven? It’s a great question. And the evidence seems to suggest that yes, those in heaven do have at least some awareness of earthly events. Whether this is continual, or simply occasional, I don’t know. And how much detail is known, I’m not sure. But there is knowledge of earthly affairs in heaven.
A GENERAL AWARENESS
First, we know that earth’s history will be recalled, at least in a general way, and those who were involved there will be remembered and recognized in heaven. In Revelation 15:3, we read of those in heaven singing “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb [Christ].” That indicates a knowledge of who Moses is, and what he did during his earthly life. And, of course, there will be an awareness of what Christ accomplished while on earth, in particular of His saving work on the cross.
Further, we read of martyred saints in heaven asking how long it will be before God avenges their deaths (Rev. 6:9-11). They obviously know it hasn't happened yet. And it seems to me this can be looked upon as a kind of prayer of those in heaven, concerning earthly affairs. So, can we generalize and say that believers continue to pray in heaven for those still on earth? That is possible.
Surely our family members and friends there will continue to be concerned about us, and perhaps even appeal to the Lord on our behalf. But there is absolutely no indication in God's Word that we, on earth, can or should pray to departed saints–whether Mary, or anyone else–asking them to speak to the Lord for us. We are to pray directly to our heavenly Father, on the authority of Christ, our one "Mediator," and pray by the enablement of the Spirit of God (Matt. 6:9; Eph. 2:18; I Tim. 2:5).
A SPECIFIC AWARENESS
Are there any biblical statements describing an awareness of current events--what is happening at that very moment? Yes. But first, a verse that probably doesn't mean that.
Sometimes Hebrews 12:1 is used that way–mistakenly, I believe. The great cloud of "witnesses" refers to those described in Hebrews 11. But the word “witnesses” may not be used in the sense that they are watching us now. It is, I think, more like witnesses in court. In Hebrews 11, they bear witness to the fact that those who trust in the Lord will find Him faithful. They may or may not know what is happening on earth. But there are other examples that are more to the point.
Moses and Elijah returned to speak with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. They were aware that His death on the cross still lay ahead (Lk. 9:29-31).
The angels saw Christ while He was on earth (I Tim. 3:16), and they are now watching what transpires with regard to His church (Eph. 3:10-11). Since they are God’s servants, ministering to the saints (Rev. 1:14), they have to know what is happening in our lives. For instance, in the Old Testament, an angel came to aid Daniel, in response to his prayers (Dan. 10:10-12). How much of this is passed on to the saints in heaven, I’m not sure. But it would not be surprising if news of it was shared abroad, so that all might have further cause to praise the wisdom and power of the Almighty.
Significantly, we are told there is joy in heaven when even a single sinner repents (Lk. 15:7). This latter example seems to me to be quite decisive. Heaven recognizes and celebrates when a single individual on earth comes to Christ. Of that there is definitely knowledge in heaven.
There are a couple of special cases that may suggest the awareness of individuals beyond the point of death. Both contain mysteries beyond the scope of this article, but they imply a knowledge that is relevant to the discussion.
First, we learn that Samuel returned from the grave to pronounce God’s judgment on King Saul of Israel. He seems to have known what had happened, and what was going to happen, to Saul (I Sam. 28:15-19).
Second, though some treat Luke 16:19-31 as a parable of Jesus (and thus a made-up story), there are reasons to believe Christ is describing a real incident. If so, it is clear that those in the place of blessing after death are aware of what is happening to those in the place of judgment. And the sinner, tormented in Hades, is still aware of his brothers’ spiritual needs on earth. (Fretting over their unsaved condition is part of his torment.)
THE PROBLEM OF SORROW
All of this begs the question: How can heaven be a happy place, if the saints can see all the wickedness, pain and misery being lived out below? The answer to this is twofold.
1) First, heaven may not now be as happy a place as it will one day be. Does that surprise you? In Revelation 21:4, we read that there "God will wipe away every tear." We are not told exactly why there are tears in heaven. But it suggests that there is more and better up ahead, even there.
In the sovereign purposes of God, Satan is still allowed to rampage across the earth, “seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). Further, he still has some limited access to the throne of God. We see that in the book of Job (Job. 1:6; 2:1)–and he is still the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:9-10). Of all of this, those in heaven are certainly conscious.
The first sin (involving the fall of Lucifer, who became the devil, Isa. 14:12-14) was committed in heaven. Possibly that's why “the heavens are not pure in His [God’s] sight” (Job 15:15). They will apparently require special cleansing after Satan is forever cast out and confined to the Lake of Fire (cf. Heb. 9:22-23).
2) The second qualifier has to do with the elevated outlook of those in heaven. Heaven is a wonderful place, though, if I'm correct, it is not now as perfectly free of sorrow as it will finally be. But...
The saints there will see things differently from what we do (I Cor. 13:12). As author Randy Alcorn put it: “Happiness in heaven is not based on ignorance, but perspective.” For example, regarding the evil on earth, there can be admiration for the wisdom of God that allows it to run its course, and for His sovereign power in limiting it. In addition, His holy character will be praised in the judgment of the wicked.
We know the angels observe the destruction of the wicked in eternal fire (Rev. 14:10), and this surely does not lessen their praise and admiration of God.
We see this also in the destruction of “Babylon” (Rev. 17-18). Prophetic scholars differ as to whether this will be a rebuilt version of the Babylon of ancient times, or a new entity that is called "Babylon" because of some similarities with what came before. Discussion of this detail is not relevant here.
We do know the wicked city will be a centre of both false religious power (Rev. 17), and worldly political and economic power (Rev. 18). When Babylon is brought down, those in heaven definitely know about it (Rev. 18:20). But notice carefully what their focus is. The multitude in heaven cries, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honour and power belong to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments” (Rev. 19:1-2). All the attention is on glorifying the Lord.
What is it on earth (and will be forever in heaven) that will be a major occupation of the saints? Is it not that we worship and glorify God? (cf. Rom. 11:36; Rev. 1:6; 4:11; 5:12-13). And in that case, what would be the purpose of God allowing those in heaven to know at least something of earthly happenings–as I believe He does?
Why is there such knowledge in heaven? At the very least it is so those who are there will have further reason to praise Him. It may also be so they will, with more eager anticipation, look forward to the consummation of all things–just as the saints on earth do (I Thess. 1:9-10; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 22:20-21).