Church Write-Up: “Remain” or “Receive” in Acts 3:21?

At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s Bible study, the pastor compared different translations and interpretations of Acts 3:21.  According to the pastor, Reformed theology teaches that Jesus’ human nature sits at God’s right hand, while Jesus’ spiritual nature permeates the universe.  Lutherans and Catholics, by contrast, hold that Jesus’ human nature is where his divine nature is, and that would include the Eucharist, in which the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Christ.

The pastor stated that these standpoints influence how each side understands Acts 3:21.  The Reformed side interprets the verse as the NIV renders it: “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”  Similarly, the NRSV affirms that Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.”  The idea is that the risen Christ stays in heaven until the second coming.  This would preclude his human nature (his flesh and blood) from being in the Eucharist, since it must stay in heaven until the time of eschatological restoration.

Lutherans and Catholics, however, understand the verse in line with what the KJV has: “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”  The Catholic New American Bible translates the verse along such lines.  The idea is that heaven accepted Jesus when Jesus ascended to it.  That does not mean that Jesus had to stay in heaven until the second coming and could not be present, in his human nature, in the elements of the Eucharist.  The pastor affirmed that “received” is the best translation here of the Greek word dechomai.

I have not done an exhaustive study of this topic, but here are some thoughts:

A.  It is interesting that a Catholic Bible renders the verse more in line with what the pastor defined as the Reformed understanding.  The New Jerusalem Bible states: “whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets.”  Heaven must keep.  That sounds like Jesus stays in heaven until the second coming.

B.  Just looking at the occurrences of dechomai in Luke-Acts, it does look as if the pastor is right: the word in Luke-Acts relates to receiving, not remaining.  You can take a look at the passages and judge for yourself.

C.  Where the pastor’s interpretation of Acts 3:21 does not make much sense to me is in the occurrence of “until” (achri).  Jesus ascended to heaven until the second coming?  How can that be?  He ascended once.  Remaining in heaven until the second coming makes more sense.

D.  Can we have the best of both worlds: Jesus’ main residence as a glorified human being is heaven, but Jesus can still come down in the Eucharist?  Come to think of it, when Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, did he not technically (and temporarily) leave the right hand of God in heaven?

E.  I recall reading a sermon by Luther over a decade ago in which Luther affirmed that the risen Christ fills all things.  Luther may have been preaching about Ephesians 1:23, which refers to the church as Christ’s “body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (KJV).  Reformed people would probably say that it is Christ’s spiritual or divine nature, not his human nature, that fills all.  Would Lutherans and Catholics suggest that his human nature, too, fills all?

I will leave the comments on in case someone wants to provide correction or information.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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