I doubt there are many of us who are not familiar with what has come to be known as The Lord's Prayer, although technically it isn't really His prayer (most biblical scholars have a tendency to give that distinction to the prayer of our Lord in John 17), but rather the prayer He taught His disciples to pray. We are probably most familiar with the wording of this prayer in the King James Version (many modern translations and versions leave out some parts that appear in the KJV), and with the format of the prayer as presented in the gospel record of Matthew [6:9-13]. A somewhat different rendering of it appears in Luke 11:2-4. Within each of these passages, however, a particular phrase is used that has generated some degree of debate over the centuries -- "Thy kingdom come" [Matt. 6:10; Luke 11:2]. Some have argued that this could only be correctly prayed by disciples of Christ prior to the resurrection and Pentecost, since, in their view, the kingdom has now arrived through the atoning work of Christ and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to pray for the kingdom to come is, in fact, a denial of our present reality. Others argue that the kingdom is yet future; that it will not actually come until our Lord Jesus returns. Thus, praying "Thy kingdom come" is a prayer for His return, and for His reign over the new heavens and earth.
This past week I received an email from a native preacher in southern India with whom I've been in contact for a number of years. This dear brother is engaged in a fabulous work there, and has been sharing God's grace with his people for many decades. He had recently come across an article by a fellow Christian in which the writer made this statement: "I will close with telling you another reason why we should not be praying this exact prayer today. It's because we should not be praying for the Kingdom to come. The Kingdom is already here!! Certainly it wasn't when Jesus spoke these words, but since then it has been established." My evangelist friend in India quotes several passages that seem to indicate the kingdom is here, and then several that seem to indicate a future coming of the kingdom. He ended by saying, "I would like to know the complete truth." There has long been a fair amount of confusion among believers as to the exact nature of God's kingdom (i.e., precisely when, where and how it will manifest itself, and who will be included or excluded, and upon what basis). How one answers these questions will not only greatly impact their theology, but also their daily living.
The ancient Jews were very conscious of the importance of the kingdom of God, but their concept of this divine kingdom was rather limited, and, for most, lacked a spiritual dimension. In other words, their perception of God's kingdom was largely political and national, although they did believe that its ultimate realization at some point in their future would be connected intimately with the coming Messiah. Their messianic expectations, however, were, again, largely political and national in nature --- i.e., the Messiah would come and destroy the oppressing nations and rule over an earthly kingdom from the throne of David in Jerusalem. Needless to say, when Jesus arrived He simply was not what they were looking for, nor was the kingdom about which He spoke. Nevertheless, within the OT writings one can still detect a view of the kingdom that was consistent with the perception that it was more spiritual and relational in nature, though the people as a whole generally failed to grasp this deeper and grander concept of the kingdom of their God: one reflecting His sovereign rule over their hearts and lives, as well as over the entirety of His creation. Therefore, they continued to cry out for an earthly king and kingdom, blinded to the reality of the King and Kingdom that was theirs for the taking. When Samuel took this very complaint against his own rebellious people unto the Lord, God declared, "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King" [1 Sam. 8:7]; a rejection that persisted for centuries, largely because they failed to grasp the nature of the kingdom of God. It was the throne of their hearts God desired to sit upon; His rule would be over their lives. It was this message that Jesus the Messiah came preaching and teaching, and, again, most failed to grasp it.
The Jewish Rabbis declared that no prayer of the people could properly be regarded as a legitimate prayer that contained no mention of, or a plea for, the coming of God's kingdom. Thus, "Thy kingdom come" was certainly a part of every Jewish petition unto their God. In these ancient prayers (the Kaddish) they would say, "Exalted and hallowed be His great name in the world which He created according to His will. May He let His kingdom rule in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon." They certainly longed for it to come, and prayed for it daily, but "it all depends on how the kingdom is conceived, and what we want to come" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 120]. Notice that in this prayer, which was used to close virtually every synagogue service, they spoke of God's name being "hallowed," of His "will" for His creation, and of His kingdom rule being realized: each a feature found within the text of our Lord's model prayer. Several biblical scholars have even suggested this ancient Jewish prayer may have served as the basis for the "Lord's Prayer." And yet, as with many of the concepts conveyed in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took ancient truths and gave them new spiritual emphasis. "You have heard that it was said ..., but I tell you ..." [Matt. 5]. In short, Jesus sought to redirect the minds of His people back to God's original intent, which was largely spiritual and relational in nature (although it would certainly manifest itself visibly and tangibly).
"The Kingdom of God was the hope of Israel long before Christ's advent, and when He came it formed the constant and central theme of His teaching" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 62]. The phrase "kingdom of God" ("kingdom of heaven") falls from the lips of our Lord (as recorded in the gospel records) scores of times, and a very large percentage of His parables were presented to convey truths to the people about the nature of this kingdom, its King, and its subjects. Time and again He would say, "The kingdom of heaven is like ...," and then He would provide some vital comparison that would help the people grasp the realities of God's rule in their lives. "But while the kingdom is thus seen to be of great significance in the teaching of Jesus, it is equally obvious that its meaning varies widely in different passages" [ibid, vol. 1, p. 932]. Generally, though certainly not exclusively, the Lord Jesus spoke of the kingdom in two major ways: (1) it was a present reality, and (2) it was a future hope. In the former sense, the kingdom of God may be experienced here on earth. In the latter sense, God's kingdom would not be fully realized until the Parousia.
As to the present reality of the kingdom, for example, Jesus declared, "If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Luke 11:20 reads "the finger of God"), then the kingdom of God has come upon you" [Matt. 12:28]. Jesus is saying here that He "knows that His exorcisms prove that the kingdom age has already dawned" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 289]. By this statement Christ indicates "the kingdom is already present" [ibid, p. 997]. In what way? "The kingdom of God is within you" or "in your midst" [Luke 17:21]. I am convinced that Jesus was proclaiming a kingdom that was largely relational in nature -- i.e., it was about relationships. God is Sovereign; He reigns over His creation. In this sense, God's kingdom has always existed, and in the beginning, before the fall, when the King spoke, the universe (the entirety of His subjects, animate and inanimate) complied fully. With the fall (both of Satan and his angels, as well as mankind) there was a sense in which a portion of His creation renounced His rule over them (although, in reality, God was still upon the throne). Thus, our prayer should ever be for the restoration of this perfect kingdom in which only righteousness dwells. To the degree that souls are claimed for Christ, and the darkness is pushed back, that prayer is answered here on earth (His will is done on earth, as it is in heaven). Ultimately, however, that perfect kingdom in which only righteousness dwells will not be fully realized until the Parousia. Frankly, we ought to be praying for both when we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done!"
"And so, when we pray for the coming of God's Kingdom, we're praying that Christ the King may enter into our hearts, that He may take full possession of them, that the gospel of the Kingdom may spread throughout the world, and that its principles may work in human society with subduing power. But we are praying also for the hour of the final consummation when the Lord Himself shall appear in all of His glory, when the kingdom of this world shall become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, when out of that Kingdom there shall be cast all things that offend, and God shall be all in all" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, vol. 2, p. 62].
Not a few biblical scholars feel rather strongly that in the "Lord's Prayer" we find a case of "synonymous parallelism" in the "Thou petitions." In other words, when Jesus states, "Hallowed be THY name" ... "THY kingdom come" ... "THY will be done," He is really calling for "the shift of the ages to take place and for the ideal state of affairs to come about. Together they constitute a prayer for the final victory of God over the devil, sin, and death," although "they were also understood by the early Christians to be a petition for God's rule in their lives in the here and now" [Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 894]. When men pray this prayer, it is therefore both anticipatory as well as obligatory in nature. In the latter sense, we must recognize our own obligation to live in such a way as to reflect His rule in our lives, which reflection will aid in driving back the darkness and thereby extending the parameters of that rule. "These petitions, although they focus on God's name, God's kingdom, and God's will, are nevertheless prayers that He may act in such a way that His people will hallow His name and submit to His reign and do His will. It is therefore impossible to pray this prayer in sincerity without humbly committing oneself to such a course" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 170-171]. Dr. Craig Keener phrases it this way: "Those who long for God's will on earth in the future should live consistently with that longing in the present" [A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, p. 220]. Let us all "pray that self may be dethroned; that the Lord may reign within us; that all our thoughts, wishes, motives, may, by the blessed influence of His Holy Spirit, be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 242].
"Inherent in the idea of the kingdom is the dynamic expression of God's sovereignty, which must some day find expression throughout the whole earth." Yes, genuine believers in Him "have already been brought into it from out of the dominion of darkness, but its consummation still lies in the future" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 161-162]. The kingdom is now ... and it is future; the kingdom has come ... and it is coming! This sounds paradoxical, and yet it bespeaks the reality of a kingdom that is spiritual and relational in nature. Thus, it is capable of existing and finding expression in past, present and future, although it will find its ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and earth when God restores all things to their original perfection and subjection to His sovereign rule. Thus, whenever we pray "Thy kingdom come" there is "a tension between the future fulfillment and present experience" [The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1049]. "Prior to the consummation the prayer is a missionary request for the extension of God's sovereignty over the lives of men" [ibid]. On the other hand, "in the act of praying, 'Thy kingdom come,' it irresistibly stretches the wings of our faith, and longing, and joyous expectation out to the final and glorious consummation of the kingdom of God" [Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, from e-Sword].
Is it acceptable to include the phrase "Thy kingdom come" when we pray the "Lord's Prayer"? Absolutely ... as long as we truly grasp what it is we're praying for as we voice our petition to the Father. Therefore, we should all, in the spirit of the apostle Paul, make an effort to "pray with the understanding" [1 Cor. 14:15], lest we be guilty of offering up to Him meaningless repetition of ritualistic phrases. Yet, in "so far as this prayer comes from the heart and not the lips only ... and in so far as the kingdom, though in one sense it has come, and is in the midst of us and within us, is yet far from the goal towards which it moves, ever coming and yet to come, this prayer is one that never becomes obsolete" [Dr. Charles John Ellicott, Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 34]. Dear Lord and Father, may Thy kingdom come in its fullness of expression through my own life in submission to Thy will, and may Thy Spirit fill me and guide me in my daily walk until that day when Thy Son returns to claim His bride and righteousness fills the universe once more! Amen!
by Al Maxey via Reflections; Issue #418 October 23, 2009
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