Thy Kingdom Come
Folk discovering the Lords Prayer for the first time may be excused in thinking that some of its petitions do not say a great deal. This one, for example: "Thy Kingdom come " We might be excused in thinking that this is a prayer for missions and leave it at that. In that case, turning to The Larger Catechism will edify:
Reading this profound enlargement of the second petition of the Lords Prayer may help us understand why George Gillespie, one of Scottish Presbyterian delegates to the Westminster Assembly, said of The Larger Catechism that it was "for those of understanding." Perhaps; but, reading this statement carefully will help us appreciate just how full and profound a prayer the Lords Prayer is. This petition encapsulates the entire sweep of the gospel and of the purpose of God in the world. Such questions as: Why did Jesus come into world? What is the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament? What is the function of the church of Christ? What is God doing in the world today? ¾ such questions as these are addressed by this petition! We can say, therefore, that this petition is at the heart of the message of the Bible.
Reading the gospels, particularly the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, will underline for us how central the message of the kingdom of God was to our Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew introduces Jesus public ministry by saying, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (Matt 4:23). If we were to ask what is central to His message, we could no better than to cite Matthew again: "From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt 4:17). Luke is even more pointed as to the purpose of Jesus mission: "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent" (Luke 4:43). The Sermon on the Mount relates to us that Jesus intends His followers to live in His kingdom according to a kingdom pattern, so that the chief goal of every believer is to "seek first his kingdom and His righteousness" (Matt 6:33). Luke informs us that during the forty-day period following the resurrection and ascension, Jesus "spoke about the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Luke further tells us that the early church engaged in something which he describes as preaching "the good news of the kingdom of God" (Acts 8:12). In Ephesus, Paul spent three months in the synagogue, "arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8), as he did later in Rome (Acts 28:23), adding that for two years "boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 28:31).
Clearly, the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) is a major theme in the Bible. Matthew uses the expression "kingdom of heaven" (over thirty times) rather than "kingdom of God" partly because he was writing primarily to Jews who had certain misgivings about using the name of God in speech. The expression "kingdom of God" occurs sixty-five times in the New Testament, primarily in the first three Gospels and Acts. Though both John and Paul use the expression, it is not a favorite of theirs (John 3:3, 5; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Thess 1:5).
But what does it mean?
Firstly, this petition alludes to the sovereign rule of God as King over the entire universe.
That God is King is a message that appears like bookends in the first and last chapters of the Bible. The Lord who merely speaks into existence the creation is King. His word is authoritative and powerful. He says: "Let there be " and there is! The nature of the genesis of the universe speaks of sovereignty that depends on no equal or lesser being. In the beginning there is God and nothing else. Equally, the Bible closes with a glimpse of the new city. At the center of it is "the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him" (Rev 22:3). The vision of the future is one in which God rules as King.
However, isnt it true to say that the words King and kingdom, or kingship and kingdom mean two quite different things? Yes, partly this is true. The one, kingship alludes to Gods rule over the entire universe, whilst the other, kingdom is a narrower frame of reference which has do to do with how that rule of God is exercised redemptively. The former idea finds it s way into the Lords Prayer in the (it has to be said, disputed) assertion that closes it: "Yours is the kingdom " (Matt 6:13, in most English texts in footnotes). Here, in the second petition, it is the second idea, that of the rule of God in a redemptive sense, that is in view. The two ideas cannot be completely divorced: it is because God rules over everything, that He rules over His people in particular.
God reigns over his people in particular! That leads us to another thought:
Secondly, this petition alludes to the covenantal rule of God over his people.
It is interesting to note that the first preacher of the New Testament, not Jesus but John the Baptist as Jesus forerunner, is introduced in the same as His Master: he "came, preaching Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt 3:1-2). Both John and Jesus, in preaching "the kingdom of God (heaven)" can assume that their hearers understood what they meant. Neither engage in explanations of its meaning, and that because their hearers had expected such a message from their understanding of the Old Testament. The popular understanding of the Old Testament must have been that its message was about the kingdom of God.
Interesting? Yes, because the expression "kingdom of God" is not found in the Old Testament! And only a handful of references to a kingdom that is specifically "the Lords" can be found (e.g. Pss 22:28; 103:22; 114:2; 145:13; Obad 22). However, if the expression is unknown in the Old Testament, the idea is not. On every page of the Old Testament there is the expectation that God is working out a plan and purpose in which He is gathering a people to Himself and over which He intends to exercise His rule. He enters into covenant with His people with the precise agenda that they might be His people, and He will be their God. Whether it be the covenant with Abraham or Moses or David, there is an expectation that covenant life and privilege will bring covenant responsibilities and character. Indeed, there is a sense in which this kingdom is announced in the Garden of Eden in the protevangelium, the promise that the seed of woman will crush the head of Satan (Gen 3:15). This promise is particularized in Abraham when God promises that from his seed would descend a nation that would not only occupy Canaan, but would also be the means by which the nations of the world would find blessing (Gen 12: 2-3). As you trace the story of the people of God through the pages of the Old Testament, you are in effect tracing the fulfillment of this promise. Not only that, but the history of the New Testament is the fulfillment of that promise, too. So much so, that Peter could explain the events of Pentecost and the conversion of thousands of Jews and particularly Gentiles, as none other than the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham (Acts 3:25). The church of the New Testament is the seed of Abraham: "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29).
There were times in the history of the Old Testament when it was difficult to see how God was fulfilling this promise. In the closing chapters of Genesis, for example, Moses is trying to address that very issue whenever he relates the death of Jacob in the land of Egypt and how Jacob insisted that he be buried in Canaan, in a grave which he himself had dug (Gen 50:5). The description of the Egyptians court that accompanied Jacobs body in to Canaan, with "chariots and horsemen" (Gen 50:9) is designed to indicate this very thing: Moses must have been chuckling as he wrote it, giving us a glimpse of what will later come to pass, that the very nations are coming to Zion. Even through the dire history of Egyptian bondage and slavery, God was working out His purpose. As Joseph said to his brothers, in the face of their malice and hatred of him: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Gen 50:20).
God always keeps His promises! He intends to gather in His people, no matter how it may appear to us at this moment. God will gather His elect from the corners of the world and bring them to Himself for ever. There will come a time when it shall be said: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever" (Rev 11:15).
Thirdly, this petition alludes to Gods intension to utterly overthrow all of Satans pretensions to power.
We have already alluded to Genesis 3:15, and the threat to Satan that it contains. As The Larger Catechism notes, in this petition of the Lords Prayer, we pray, "that the kingdom of Satan may be destroyed." It is interesting to note how little attention this particular feature of the work of Jesus Christ has been highlighted over the centuries, partly in reaction to aberrant views of the atonement by theologians of the medieval age, in which Christ was thought to pay a ransom to the devil. It took a while for theologians to recover from this imbalance and emphasize the biblical notion expressed in such passages as 1 John 3:8: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work." Or, Colossians 2:15: "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."
Christ, in His resurrection, proclaims His triumph not only over death, but over Satan, too. From the moment He began His public ministry, His intension to defeat Satan is announced by the Spirits (yes, the Spirits) driving of Him into the wilderness to face Satan in three successive assaults. These temptations, whilst they may have something to say to us as we face temptations, must be understood primarily as a declaration of war by Jesus against the forces of darkness. Interesting, too, is the account John gives us of the Upper Room and the words which conclude the fourteenth chapter, where Jesus says to His disciples: "let us leave" (John 14:31). These words have always proved difficult since they dont actually leave until the end of chapter 17! But this is to misunderstand what Jesus is saying. The words are capable of another rendition, a military one in which Jesus is announcing His intention, not to leave the Upper Room, but to go and face His enemy in battle. In the previous verse, Jesus reassures His disciples by saying: (NIV John 14:30) " I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me" (John 14:30). Commenting on a passage in John 16, Calvin could summarize what Jesus is saying in the Upper Room in this way: "I have resolved, therefore, to furnish you with the necessary arms for this warfare." The Prince of light is preparing to do battle with the prince of darkness. It is not insignificant that Jesus final words from the cross were: "It is finished" (John 19:30). In part, at least, Jesus is alluding to His triumph and conquest in the battle He has endured against His most implacable enemy. The Servant of the Lord who came in battle armour has routed His opposition in glorious triumph (Isa 59:16-17). Christus Victor: Christ is Victor!
It will be noticed that the second petition is a prayer and not an assertion. We are to pray for the kingdom, which suggests that the kingdom has not already arrived. But, do we not read in the New Testament words which seem to indicate that it has? With allusions to His casting out of demons, Jesus could conclude the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28; Lk 11:20). The Strong Man is bound and the Christ is robbing his house (Matt 12:29). On another occasion, in the inauguration of the Lords Supper, He told his disciples: ""I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). The kingdom of God has come and the kingdom of God is yet to come! How can this be?
This leads us to another point with regard to the kingdom of God:
Fourthly, this petition alludes to the, as yet, incomplete nature of the kingdom of God.
We live as Christians, you and I, in the time between the two great advents of Christ. The Incarnation is past; the Second Coming is future. We live in the "last days" (Heb 1:2). We are those upon whom "the end of ages" has dawned (1 Pet 1:20; cf. Heb 9:26). There is "now," but there is also a "not yet." The Gadarene demoniacs recognized this and complained: "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have You come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (Matt 8:29). But the end is not yet. The decisive battle has been won, but the ultimate victory celebration must await the final triumph of Christ in the establishment of the new heavens and new earth. Satan refuses to believe it is all over and continues to struggle, with death-throes that at times are vicious in character. Hence the church lives in the arena of conflict, and "times of stress" (2 Tim 3:1, rsv). It will find expression in the final petition "Deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13).
In personal terms, this means that although the decisive change has taken place in our regeneration and union with Christ (we are not, nor can ever be, what we once were), the change is incomplete. We are sinners still, and hence we feel the pull of sin that would (if it could) drag us down so as to deny Christ entirely. We wrestle, then, against the world, the flesh and devil. We live our lives in conflict, where the paradigm of Romans 7:14-25 is our daily experience: "what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do¾ this I keep on doing" (Rom 7:14).
Praying this petition of the Lords prayer, then has in view the ultimate triumph of Christ in the gathering of the church, as well as the visible defeat of Satan in our own lives as we struggle with ongoing sin. Every victory against sin and Satan is an advancement for the kingdom of God.
But in a greater sense than this, the petition has in view not just the advancement of individuals, but the progress of the entire church of Christ. It is a missionary prayer! It is, in fact, a three word formula describing what Jesus says in the Great Commission, following His death and resurrection. All authority is His, not Satans. The church is therefore bidden to go and make disciples of all nations (the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise!), "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:20). That is to say, placing them under the authority of the triune King! Disciples are subject to the reign of the King who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a kingdom commission, that must be in effect "to the end of the age." Jesus has asked the Father for the nations in accordance with the promise of Psalm 2:8 "Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession." He now waits for all of His enemies to made "his footstool" (Psa 110:1).
Capturing the cosmic extent of what God intends in this petition¾ what the Father will give to His Son, what the Father and the Son are accomplishing with the help of the out-poured Spirit¾ will transform our praying.