Do the saints in heaven realize what is happening here on earth? And if so, does that not diminish the joy and bliss of heaven? A number of Scriptures indicate that believers who have died and gone to heaven indeed have some awareness of earthly events.
Consider, first, Samuel’s awareness of the events in Saul’s life, when his spirit was contacted in 1 Samuel 28. Rather than telling Saul that he has been dead for a long time, and therefore does not know anything about his life since he passed away, Samuel says, “The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David” (1Sa 28:17).1 Additionally, Samuel goes on to say what would happen in the future, not only to Saul but to the people of Israel: “Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me” (v19). Samuel knew quite a bit about earthly events in Israel – what had happened, and what was about to happen.
We should notice, second, what the Lord Jesus said about heaven in Luke 15. He would know what heaven is like since He came from heaven. He tells us first that “there will be … joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (v7), then adds, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v10). Note that the joy is not said to belong to any particular person or group in heaven. But the parallels in the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin suggest that the joy in heaven is that of both finder and those who are “friends and neighbors.” The implication is that the finder, the Lord Himself, rejoices along with the entire courts of heaven when a sinner repents. No doubt, the saints in heaven realize when a lost sinner is saved.
A third relevant Scripture text is found within the context of future tribulation days. John writes about what will happen and sees it as if it had already happened. In John’s vision of coming wrath, he watches the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, open the seven seals of the scroll, each of which initiates judgment upon the earth. The scene is said to be “in heaven” (Rev 4:1,2). “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (6:9). Notice that these individuals were “slain.” They had died, probably during the early days of the coming tribulation period. The fact that they were “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” indicates they are saints. Thus, we are considering believers in heaven. The next verse unveils their awareness of earthly events: “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (v10). These martyrs realize that those who killed them are still alive on the earth, and they cry out to the Lord for justice.
Our final prooftext also comes from the Bible’s last book. “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants’” (Rev 19:1,2). The inhabitants of heaven celebrate Babylon’s overthrow on earth (recorded in the previous chapter), an event of which they are clearly aware.
Having looked at these four incidents, we should not conclude that saints in heaven know everything happening on earth, only that it may be the will of God for them to be aware of particular events.
The question is often posed that if we are going to be aware of earthly events in heaven, will we know about loved ones who have died and gone to hell? How will we be able to truly enjoy heaven knowing that our loved ones are lost forever? There are two things to consider here. One is that in heaven our spirits will be perfected and we will see things from a different perspective, indeed a divine perspective. We will understand more fully God’s holiness, human sin and what it truly means to reject the Savior. Another thing to consider that may be helpful to us comes from Isaiah 65:17: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”2 Admittedly, Isaiah is looking to the future, beyond our present dispensation. But there might be a principle here that applies to all believers who are in heaven now or will be. Perhaps there are some things that the Lord will simply not allow to “come into mind” and that “shall not be remembered.”
Whatever God may permit us to realize about earth once we are in heaven, we will be in a condition to handle it. But our focus in heaven will likely be more about heaven than what is happening on earth. We will rejoice in being reunited with loved ones. We will appreciate our glorified spirits, unable to grieve the Lord again. We will enjoy unbroken and intimate fellowship with God’s people. We will marvel at the beauty of our new dwelling place. And yet above this beauty, “the beauty of the Savior will dazzle every eye.” Our center of attention and attraction for eternity will be the one who made heaven a reality, having purchased our entry there by His own precious blood.
1 Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.
2 I am indebted to Mark Hitchcock for his insights. See his book Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 179-183.