Part 3 / Matt. 6:9-13
Why do we do what we do? Why do we pray what we pray? Paul Tripp writes that everything we do in life is “done in allegiance to, or pursuit of, either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of self.” At any given moment we are tempted to usurp the throne and seek first our own kingdom. Even our outward acts of service “for God” could inwardly be motivated by personal gain. How do we fight this tendency to prioritize self over our Saviour? One good place to start, is prayer.
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven
When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (v. 10), what did Jesus have in mind? The kingdom features very prominently in Jesus’ teaching. It is first mentioned in Matt. 3:2 when John the Baptist called Israel to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus preached the same message when he started his public ministry (Matt. 4:17). In fact, in Matt. 4:23 we are told that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom”. The gospel, or good news, that Jesus proclaimed had the kingdom as a central theme. We may not make much of the kingdom in our modern gospel preaching, but Jesus clearly did.
We also see this in his Sermon on the Mount, of which the Lord’s prayer forms a part. For example, when Jesus describes the blessedness of the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3) or those who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (v. 10), he says: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. A few verses later Jesus explains that our reputation in the kingdom of heaven depends on our obedience to his commands (Matt. 5:19: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”). And entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires a righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20). Finally, Jesus reminds his disciples that they should not be anxious about what they will eat, drink, or wear. Our heavenly Father (same phrased used in the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer) will take care of us (Matt. 6:31-32). Instead, we should be focussing on God’s kingdom: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).
A careful reader would have picked up that these passages sometimes referred to the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God”. Is there a difference? There are some who have suggested that there is, but taken in context it is clear that they refer to the same reality. The phrase “kingdom of God” is used throughout the New Testament (68 times, in fact). The phrase “kingdom of heaven” occurs only 32 times and only in the Gospel of Matthew.
Some take this to mean that Matthew refers to Christ’s millennial kingdom, while the other New Testament writers refer to God’s universal kingdom. Within Matthew’s gospel, however, the two terms are used interchangeably. In Matthew 19:23 Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then elaborates in the next verse: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24). These two verses refer to the same reality.
The present and future kingdom
The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, therefore, are synonyms for what FF Bruce called “a spiritual sovereignty”. The rule of God is, in one sense, absolute. God is the Sovereign over the entire universe and there are no powers who can rival him. The apostle Paul explains that the power of God, working in the believer, is the same power “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20-22). This has been called God’s providential kingdom or God’s kingdom of power.
There is also a sense in which God’s rule is made manifest or visible in the world through the believer. Again, FF Bruce says: “those who believed in Christ there and then entered His Kingdom. The divine rule knew no national bounds; it was received wherever Christ was accepted as Lord and Saviour.” The church and the kingdom are not synonymous, but they are related. The church is the people of the kingdom; as believers we are kingdom citizens. In the words of Col. 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son”. This is a present reality for every true believer.
It is also true that the current manifestation of the kingdom is not its final one. The kingdom will be fully revealed in the “age to come”. Much of Christ’s teaching focussed on this future realization of the kingdom. For example, in Matt. 25:31 Jesus speaks of the Son of Man coming in his glory to sit upon his glorious throne. Our current citizenship is a foretaste of what will be revealed when Christ establishes his kingdom in glory.
Praying for the kingdom
When we are instructed to pray, “Your kingdom come,” we aren’t told to pray for a political or earthly kingdom. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom was not of this world. Before Pilate he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36).
We are also not instructed to pray for God’s absolute and sovereign rule. His providential rule cannot be thwarted and is already a present reality. In the words of Thomas Watson: “The kingdom of God’s providence rules over all. Kings do nothing, but what His providence permits and orders. The kingdom of God’s providence we do not pray should come for it is already come.”
So, what do we pray for? We pray that God’s kingdom of grace, his spiritual sovereignty over the believer, would be set up in individual lives and increase. This is a prayer for personal piety and a deepening appreciation for the grace that is ours in Christ. It is the recognition that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) and that our primary concern in this life is to live as citizens of the next.
Speaking of which, we also pray that God’s kingdom of glory would hasten in its coming. We long for the future fulfilment of God’s kingdom and say with the apostle John: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Thomas Watson summarizes this petition of the Lord’s Prayer as follows: “When we pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ we are praying that God would help us to know Him better and to love Him more. We are praying that God would give us more strength to resist temptation, to forgive our enemies, and to suffer affliction… We are praying that God would make us different in our callings, that He would establish us in the believe of His truth and in the love of his truth, and that God would grant that our labours would be instrumental in setting up the kingdom in others.”
Let us pray, “Your kingdom come.”