Resurrected to Heaven or Earth?
Despite our agreement with Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) on the Sabbath, food laws, the state of the dead, and hell, we do still have some differences. One of the major differences is our keeping of the Holy Days while the SDAs do not. The SDAs also believe when Jesus returns He will take the resurrected saints to heaven rather than the earth for 1,000 years. We, of course, believe when Christ returns He will turn us into spirit beings and we will live on the earth for 1,000 years.
There are a number of reasons why we don’t believe we will spend the 1,000-year kingdom in heaven. The relevant verses in the New Testament (Matthew 24; Luke 17; Mark 13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; etc.) mentioning the Second Coming say nothing about going to heaven for 1,000 years. Even in the book of Revelation there is no mention of spending 1,000 years in heaven.
There are some scriptures in Revelation causing some confusion on this topic. But it is important to keep in mind the book of Revelation is a vision (Revelation 1:9-11; Revelation 9:17). A vision is not reality, but merely a picture into what will be. We can’t read Revelation like we would a historical account. Keeping this in mind, let’s look at some of the verses in Revelation that cause some confusion. In Revelation 7:9, we read about some people near the throne of God. There is no mention where the throne is here, but some assume it is in heaven and the people are the martyrs who came through the tribulation (Revelation 7:14). But does the Bible only speak of God’s throne in heaven? No, read Jeremiah 3:17 where Jerusalem will have God’s throne during the kingdom reign of God on earth. In reading Revelation 7:9-17, it sounds very much like Old Testament prophecies speaking about the Kingdom of God on earth.
Another example pertains to Revelation 11:3-12, which addresses the resurrection of the two witnesses near the time of Christ’s Second Coming. Notice that in Revelation 11:11 it mentions the breath of life entering into the dead witnesses. I believe this is a physical resurrection to life similar to God breathing into Adam the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) and God resurrecting Israel to physical life (Ezekiel 37:5, 9, 10, 14). I believe that, similar to Elijah being taken up by a whirlwind to the first heaven (our atmosphere), the two witnesses will be physically revived and taken to another location until Christ’s second coming. I believe the “heaven” they go up to is our atmosphere, in similar manner to Elijah. I don’t believe the two witnesses are turned into spiritual beings before the rest of the dead or before Christ’s Second Coming. This would contradict 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, which states the change into a spiritual body occurs at the moment of Christ’s Second Coming. Revelation 11 occurs before Christ’s Second Coming.
The Old Testament prophets also make it clear that the Kingdom will be spent on earth and not in heaven. But in the remainder of this short article I will focus on the Greek word apantesis to address where the resurrected saints will spend the 1,000-year Kingdom.
The Greek word apantesis means “to meet.” But there is no good English translation for the word. It is used in addressing the actions of an official welcoming delegation sent to meet a visiting dignitary. Some say it literally means “meeting and returning with.” If that is the case this is significant because apantesis is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 in reference to the resurrected saints meeting the Lord in the air. The SDAs believe the saints go to heaven after the meeting in the air; we believe they return to the earth with Christ. Our understanding of the word “to meet” (apantesis—see above) appears to fit our belief that Christ returns to the earth with the resurrected saints. More evidence supporting our contention comes from the other occurrences of apantesis in the New Testament. By looking at the other occurrences we will see how apantesis is used to describe someone being met and returning to where the greeting party was rather than returning to where the visiting dignitary was coming from.
In Matthew 25:1, 6, the word apantesis is used again. Here the bridesmaids who prepare the bride for the wedding go out to meet the groom to escort him into the wedding. They don’t go with the groom back to his home or wherever he came from. It appears the groom comes close to their location (near the wedding banquet) rather than the bridesmaids traveling to the groom. This would fit what we have already said about apantesis.
In John 12:13, a form of the word apantesis is used, hupantesis. In this scripture, Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem. Before He gets to Jerusalem, the people go out to meet Him and escort Him back to Jerusalem. They don’t go with Jesus back to Bethany.
Finally, in Acts 28:15, once again apantesis is used. In this occurrence, Paul is coming as a prisoner to Rome. The Christians in Rome travel 43 miles outside of Rome to meet Paul and escort him back to Rome where they came from.
Keeping in mind the context of what occurs when the word apantesis is used, it seems obvious to me when we are resurrected or changed into spirit beings we will meet the Lord in the air and escort Him back to where we were coming from, the EARTH.