The Bible is clear that when Christians die, their spirits/souls go immediately to be with Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). As Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is less clear, however, whether or not people in heaven can see what the rest of us are doing back down here on earth.
Some helpful Bible passages
While there are no Bible verses which answer the question directly, some passages give us hints.
A verse often pointed to is Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
At first glance, the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned here may seem to describe people watching us from heaven and cheering us on as we live the Christian life! However, when we look more carefully, we can see that actually this isn’t what the verse is saying at all. Hebrews 12:1 doesn’t refer to “spectators” who encourage us by watching our lives, but to Old Testament “witnesses” named in the preceding chapter (notice the link-word “therefore”!) who encourage us when we look at their lives of faith.
Another passage which is less definitive than it may first appear, is 1 Samuel 28. In this chapter, King Saul summons Samuel back from the dead, and Samuel seems to be aware of events that had happened on earth after his death (1 Samuel 28:16-18). How did Samuel know these things? Had Samuel somehow been able to see them from heaven? Possibly; but we must also remember that Samuel was a prophet (1 Samuel 3:20; Acts 13:20), and in this very chapter, Samuel didn’t only speak of things that had happened after his death, but also of things that were still to happen in the future (1 Samuel 28:19). Samuel’s insight here, therefore, is based on special prophetic inspiration, rather than a general ability to see these things happening for himself.
Martyrs in heaven
A more relevant passage is Revelation 6:9-11, in which John hears the Christian martyrs in heaven crying out: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” We may wonder: how do the martyrs in heaven know that their murderers have not already been judged? A possible answer is that the martyrs have been watching what is happening on earth. However, another possibility is simply that the martyrs are crying out for the Day of Judgment to arrive – a Day which will be celebrated both in heaven and on earth (Revelation 18:20-19:3).
Rejoicing in heaven
The clearest hints we have on the topic come in Luke 15. In Luke 15:7, Jesus says that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Then again, in Luke 15:10, He adds: “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This means that when somebody becomes a Christian, heaven itself is flooded with joy at the good news of their salvation! But how do the citizens of heaven find out? Is it because they are watching what happens on earth? It could be; but there are other possibilities, too. It might just be that God, Who knows everything (Psalm 139), makes a general announcement; or maybe angels, who can travel between heaven and earth (1 Kings 22:19-23; Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2), bring the news back with them.
So, to summarize: the Bible leaves the question open. It is possible that people in heaven can watch what is happening on earth, but the Bible doesn’t tell us for sure. Either way, we should be encouraged to remember that Jesus is certainly watching over us (Acts 9:4-5); and, as long as we keep trusting in Him to the end (Colossians 1:23), Jesus has promised to reunite us with Him and with all our Christian friends and family forevermore on the Last Day, when He returns to judge the world (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).