11:2 Father. This corresponds to the Aramaic Abba, the usual word for addressing a father in the family.
name. Names are representative of the person. The petition is that people will reverence God.
kingdom come. Jesus taught often about God’s kingdom, and the prayer asks for it to be established. See theological note “Prayer.”
11:2 Father is Patēr in Greek and ’Abba’ in Aramaic (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6–7; see note on Matt. 6:9). Hallowed be your name is a request that God’s name would be honored and treated with reverence. His name includes his reputation and all that is said about him. Your kingdom come has a twofold emphasis: (1) it is first a prayer that God’s rule and reign would continually advance in people’s hearts and lives until the day Jesus returns and brings the kingdom in perfect fullness (see note on Matt. 6:10); (2) thus it also refers to the future consummation of the kingdom already realized in part by Jesus’ coming (Luke 11:20; see Introduction: Key Themes and note on Matt. 6:10).
11:2 Father. Virtually the same prayer was given as a model on two separate occasions by Christ, first in the Sermon on the Mount (see notes on Mt 6:9–13), and then here, in response to a direct question. That accounts for minor variations between the two versions. Your name. God’s name represents all His character and attributes. Cf. Pss 8:1, 9; 9:10; 22:22; 52:9; 115:1.
11:2 Father: God is approached confidently as a caring figure. Hallowed: In the context of intimacy with God, there also is respect and recognition of His uniqueness. Hallowed means that God is holy, set apart, unique in His character and attributes. Your kingdom come: The reference here is to God’s program and promise. This is more affirmation than request, highlighting the petitioner’s submission to God’s will and the desire to see God’s work come to pass.
11:2. The Lord responded to the request with instructions that fit the interadvent period—from the church age to the Seventieth Week of Daniel (when the petitions would reach their utmost relevancy). The initial words establish a familial connection with God (“our Father”) and a correlative boundary of holiness and reverence (“in heaven”). The three expressions that follow serve as a prelude to the requests that ensue (vv 3–4) by first establishing the posture of the disciple before God.
The first expresses the desire for universal esteem of the Father’s name, and thus His person.
The second expression conveys a longing for God’s promised kingdom rule to appear—the very kingdom rejected by the nation.
The final facet—“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—will see ultimate realization in the future kingdom.
11:2 The model prayer which the Lord Jesus gave to them at this time is somewhat different from the so-called Lord’s prayer in Matthew’s Gospel. These differences all have a purpose and meaning. None of them is without significance.
First of all, the Lord taught the disciples to address God as Our Father. This intimate family relationship was unknown to believers in the OT. It simply means that believers are now to speak to God as to a loving heavenly Father. Next, we are taught to pray that God’s name should be hallowed. This expresses the longing of the believer’s heart that He should be reverenced, magnified, and adored. In the petition, “Your kingdom come,” we have a prayer that the day will soon arrive when God will put down the forces of evil and, in the Person of Christ, reign supreme over the earth, where His will shall be done as it is in heaven.
11:2 “And He said to them, ‘When you pray, say’ ” It seems that one’s attitude is more significant than one’s words; however, this particular phraseology implies that the form may be repeated (cf. Matt. 6:9). Luke’s version is much shorter than Matthew’s (cf. Matt. 6:9–13). Jesus probably repeated His teachings on this subject several times and to different groups.
“ ‘Father’ ” The OT introduces the intimate familial metaphor of God as Father: (1) the nation of Israel is often described as YHWH’s “son” (cf. Hos. 11:1; Mal. 3:17); (2) even earlier in Deuteronomy the analogy of God as Father is used (1:31); (3) in Deut. 32:6 Israel is called “his children” and God called “your Father”; (4) this analogy is stated in Ps. 103:13 and developed in Ps. 68:5 (the father of orphans); and (5) it was common in the prophets (cf. Isa. 1:2; 63:8; Israel as son, God as Father, 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9).
Jesus spoke Aramaic, which means that many of the places where “Father” appears as the Greek Pater it may reflect the Aramaic Abba (cf. 14:36). This familial term “Daddy” or “papa” reflects Jesus’ intimacy with the Father; His revealing this to His followers also encourages our own intimacy with the Father. The term “Father” was used sparingly in the OT (and not often in rabbinical literature) for YHWH, but Jesus uses it often and pervasively. It is a major revelation of our new relationship with God through Christ. Heaven is a family experience.
“ ‘hallowed be Your name’ ” This is an AORIST PASSIVE IMPERATIVE. “Hallowed” comes from the root “be holy” (see Special Topic: Holy at 1:35) and refers to the character of God (cf. 2 Kgs. 19:22; Ps. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 29:23 [used 28 times in Isaiah]). He is separated from evil. This term was used often in the Septuagint (1) of things, Gen. 2:3; Amos 2:12 or (2) or people [i.e. firstborn, Exod. 13:2, 12; Israel, Exod. 19:14; Priests, Exod. 19:22; 29:21; 2 Chr. 26:18; Levites, Neh. 12:47]).
“ ‘Your kingdom come’ ” This AORIST ACTIVE IMPERATIVE refers to the reign of God in human’s hearts now that will one day be consummated over all the earth. This is an eschatological emphasis. The kingdom of God is spoken of in the Synoptic Gospels as past (Luke 13:28), present (Luke 17:21; Matt. 4:17; 12:28), and future (Luke 11:2; Matt. 6:10). See Special Topic: The Kingdom of God at 4:21.
2. Jesus replied by delivering a form of words. His opening, When you pray, say, shows that he intended the prayer to be used just as it stands. In Matthew it is introduced with, ‘Pray then like this’, which makes it a model on which we can base other prayers. Christians have found both approaches helpful. Jesus begins with the simple address, Father. This corresponds to the Aramaic abba, the address of a child to its parent. In prayer the Jews used the form abinu, ‘Our Father’ (found, for example, in the fourth and sixth of the ‘Eighteen Benedictions’), normally adding ‘in heaven’ or the like. This tended to put people at a distance from the great God, whereas Jesus taught his followers to think of God as their Father (that they learnt the lesson is seen in Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
Hallowed means ‘made holy’, ‘reverenced’. The name in antiquity stood for far more than it does with us. It summed up a person’s whole character, all that was known or revealed about him. The prayer concerns more than the way people take the name of God upon their lips (though this is included). It refers to all that God is and has revealed of himself and asks for a proper attitude in the face of this. It is not likely that the prayer is to be taken in the sense that God should sanctify his name (cf. Ezek. 36:23). Rather people should show reverence for God. It is a prayer that ‘God shall be God, that man shall not whittle God down to a manageable size and shape’ (Melinsky).
Thy kingdom come looks for the bringing in of the kingdom that was the constant subject of Jesus’ teaching. There is a sense in which it is realized here and now, in the hearts and lives of people who subject themselves to God and accept his way for them. But in another sense it will not come until God’s will is perfectly done throughout the world (cf. the addition in Matthew, ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’). It is this for which we pray.
11:2 When you pray, say. This suggests a set form of words, but Matthew’s equivalent introduction, “This is how you should pray,” may indicate more a pattern of prayer than a set formula. The fact that the wording of the two versions differs indicates that the formulation was not rigid. In practice, Christian devotion has always found a place both for the verbatim repetition of the Lord’s Prayer (in whichever version) and for its use as a template for more extended prayer.
Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. On “Father,” see “Historical and Cultural Background” above. This first part of the prayer (which closely resembles the Qaddish [see above]) focuses on God, before 11:3–4 addresses our needs. The additional third clause in the Matthean version (“Your will be done” [Matt. 6:10]) does not differ significantly from the coming of God’s kingship—that is, his effective rule over human society. This whole first section is, quite simply, a prayer that God be God, and that he be seen and honored as such on earth.
2 The word “Father” (patēr, GK 4252) expresses the essence of Jesus’ message and the effect of his atoning work on our relationship with God. Through the use of this intimate but respectful term of address, the Son of God expressed his unique relationship to God. It is very probable (so TDNT 1:6) that in every prayer he spoke to God, Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba (“dear Father,” GK 10003 [cf. GK 5]), which would naturally be translated patēr in the Greek text. The notable exception is the prayer of dereliction from the cross (Mk 15:34). Through his atoning death on the cross, the Savior brought about reconciliation with God, making it possible for us to become his spiritual children through the new birth. While we cannot use the term Abba on an equal basis with the Son of God, there is a sense in which both he and we may address God as “dear Father” (Jn 20:17; Ro 8:14–17). (For the originality of the simple term Abba as a form of direct address to God by Jesus, see Joachim Jeremias, The Lord’s Prayer [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964], 17–21.)
The petitions (vv. 2–4) are usually understood as two kinds—the first two petitions relate to God, the last three to us. The first two do have implications for our daily living, and the three that follow are also centered on God and his kingdom.
“Hallowed be your name” is an ascription of worship basic to all prayer and is found in various forms in the OT (e.g., Ps 111:9) and in ancient Jewish prayers (the Kaddish and the Eighteen Benedictions; see Str-B, 1:406–8). “Hallowed” (hagiasthētō, GK 39) means “let [your name] be regarded as holy.” It is not so much a petition as an act of worship; the speaker, by his words, exalts the holiness of God. God’s people were told in the OT to keep his name holy (Lev 22:32; cf. Ps 79:9; Isa 29:23). God told Israel that because they failed to honor his name, he would do it himself so the nations would know that he was Lord (Eze 36:22–23). Reading this petition in light of Ezekiel 36, the practical implications can also be felt: we pray not simply for God’s name to be exalted but that God would empower us so that our behavior will bring glory to his name. With this petition, this prayer is introduced as one that centers directly on God. The aorist tense suggests that a specific time of fulfillment is in mind. This may be the coming of the kingdom. The next clause, which is about the kingdom, also contains a verb in the aorist tense.
In the Kaddish, the petition for the exaltation and hallowing of God’s name was immediately followed by a request that we might know the rule of God in our lives now. These requests that the glory and reign of God may be realized soon are suitable for the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus came to announce and bring the “kingdom.” Though its consummation is still future, in his ministry the kingdom was inaugurated in power. The form of the prayer in Luke lacks these words in Matthew: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10).
The Lord’s Response
And He said to them, “When you pray, say:” (2a)
The disciples had not requested that Jesus teach them a prayer to recite, but how to pray. He responded by giving them a prayer that, while it is recited and even sung, is not intended for merely that. Having warned against meaningless repetition in prayer (Matt. 6:7), Jesus would hardly have given His followers a prayer to recite mechanically. Nor is there any record in the New Testament of anyone subsequently reciting this prayer. Far from being merely another ritual prayer, it is a skeleton or framework for all prayer. As such, it is of great practical value, as the Puritan pastor and theologian Thomas Watson noted:
There is a double benefit arising from framing our petitions suitably to this prayer. 1. Hereby error in prayer is prevented. It is not easy to write wrong after this copy; we cannot easily err when we have our pattern before us. 2. Hereby mercies requested are obtained; for the apostle assures us that God will hear us when we pray “according to his will.” 1 John 5:14. And sure we pray according to his will when we pray according to the pattern he has set us. (Body of Divinity [Reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 400–401)
This prayer reflects the elements of prayer found in the Old Testament. There was a sense in which God was unapproachable, symbolized by the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, and the prohibition against touching Mt. Sinai when God appeared (Ex. 19:12). Yet while the people could not enter directly into God’s presence, they were invited to approach Him in prayer.“In my distress” David said, “I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears” (Ps. 18:6). In Psalm 145:18 he added, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.” In Psalm 50:15 God invited His people to “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me,” and in 91:15 He promised, “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”
Prayers in the Old Testament were characterized by several elements. First, they were marked by adoration, love, and praise, as the passion of the heart flowed out from the lips (Pss. 7:17; 22:23, 26; 34:1). Second, they reflected an attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving for God’s blessings and provision (Pss. 9:1; 30:4; 33:2; 50:14, 23; Isa. 12:1; Dan. 2:23; Jon. 2:9), Third, they recognized God’s holiness (Ps. 22:3), acknowledging His transcendent glory. Fourth, they manifested a heartfelt desire to obey God (Ps. 119:5, 8, 17, 34, 88, 134), which resulted in confession of sin (Ps. 51) when there was disobedience. Fifth, instead of focusing exclusively on the needs of individuals, Old Testament prayers also expressed the needs of the nation as a whole (Ex. 33:13, 16; Deut. 26:15). Sixth, prayer in the Old Testament also involved perseverance, such as that exemplified by Moses, who interceded on behalf of the people for forty days after the incident of the golden calf (Deut. 9:18, 25). Finally, prayers were offered in humility (2 Chron. 7:14; Ezra 8:21; Ps. 10:17). Those same elements are in view in Jesus’ prayer, as He reestablished the divine pattern that had largely been lost in Israel.
This rich, multifaceted template may be approached in several ways. It unfolds the various relationships between the believer and God: Father and child (“Our Father”), Holy One and worshiper (“hallowed be Your name”), Ruler and subject (“Your kingdom come”), Master and servant (“Your will be done”), Savior and sinner (“forgive us our debts”), and Guide and pilgrim (“do not lead us into temptation”). It also defines the proper attitudes for prayer: unselfishness (“our”), intimacy (“Father”), reverence (“hallowed be Your name”), loyalty (“Your kingdom come”), submissiveness (“Your will be done”), dependence (“give us this day our daily bread”), penitence (“forgive us our debts”), humility (“do not lead us into temptation”), and confident, triumphant joy (“Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”).
Focusing on God’s glory, Jesus ignored non-essential elements such as the posture of prayer. Scripture records people praying in every conceivable position: standing (Gen. 24:12–14; 1 Sam. 1:26), sitting (Judg. 21:2–3; 2 Sam. 7:18; 1 Kings 19:4), kneeling (1 Kings 8:54; Ezra 9:5; Dan. 6:10), bowing (Ex. 34:8–9), lying face down (Ezek. 9:8; Matt. 26:39), with uplifted hands (Ps. 28:2; 1 Tim. 2:8), looking up (John 11:41; 17:1), and looking down (Luke 18:13).
Nor is there any particular location that prayers must be offered, though Jesus did suggest a private place (Matt. 6:6) rather than a pretentious public display. Still, the men of Judah prayed in the midst of battle (2 Chron. 13:14); Elijah prayed in a cave (1 Kings 19:9–10); Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36–44), in the wilderness (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16), on a mountain, (Luke 6:12), and on the cross (Luke 23:33–34); the early church prayed in a house (Acts 1:14, 24; 12:12); Peter prayed on a housetop (Acts 10:9); Paul and Silas prayed in jail (Acts 16:25); Paul prayed on a beach (Acts 21:5) and in the temple (Acts 22:17); Hezekiah prayed in bed (Isa. 38:2); and Jonah prayed in the stomach of a fish (Jon. 2:1–9).
Nor did Jesus specify any particular time to pray. Scripture records people praying in the early morning before dawn (Mark 1:35), in the morning after sunrise (Pss. 5:3; 88:13), three times a day (Dan. 6:10 [morning, noon, and evening; Ps. 55:17]), at noon (Acts 10:9), in the afternoon (Acts 3:1), in the evening (1 Kings 18:36), during the night (Pss. 4:4; Luke 6:12), at midnight (Acts 16:25), all day long (Ps. 86:3), and day and night (Neh. 1:6; Luke 2:37; 1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:5); in short, believers are to pray at all times (Luke 18:1; Eph. 6:18), continually (Acts 1:14), and unceasingly (1 Thess. 5:17).
The Lord also did not mandate one particular attitude for prayer. On the one hand, some approached God with an attitude of sadness, grief, even despair. Daniel prayed wearing sackcloth, a manifestation of sorrow (Dan. 9:3); a repentant tax collector beat his breast, a sign of remorse, while praying (Luke 18:13); Hannah “wept bitterly” as she prayed (1 Sam. 1:9–11), as did David (Ps. 39:12); appalled by Israel’s defeat at Ai following Achan’s sin, Joshua and the elders of Israel put dust on their heads and tore their clothes when they sought the Lord in prayer (Josh. 7:6–7); after the devastating catastrophes that hit him “Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20); Moses (Deut. 9:18–19), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:4), Anna (Luke 2:37), the leaders of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1–3), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:23) fasted and prayed; Jesus, “in the days of His flesh, … offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (Heb. 5:7; cf. Luke 22:44); David exhorted the people, “Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8).
On the other hand, prayer can be offered with an attitude of joy. Paul wrote to the Philippians that he was “always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all” (Phil. 1:4); 1 Samuel 2:1 records that “Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation’ ”; David declared, “My mouth offers praises with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:5; cf. 71:23; 84:2; 92:4); Psalm 66:1 exhorts, “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth”; in Psalm 95:1–2 the psalmist exhorted, “O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms” (cf. 98:4–6; 100:1–2).
The petitions in the first half of this model for prayer focus on God’s glory, those in the second half on man’s need. Yet in reality the entire prayer is God-centered, since He glorifies Himself by providing for man’s needs. Prayer arises from the Word of God (cf. Dan. 9:2–3) and has as its ultimate goal the glory of God. It is not an attempt to change the will of God, still less does it attempt to manipulate Him to gain one’s greedy, selfish desires, as the “Health and Wealth” movement falsely teaches. True prayer puts God in His rightful place of sovereign authority and willingly, joyfully subordinates itself to His purposes. As Thomas Brooks noted, “Such prayers never reach the ear of God, nor delight the heart of God, nor shall ever be lodged in the bosom of God, that are not directed to the glory of God” (Secret Key, 235). Everything in Christ’s model prayer is in reality a rehearsal of what God has affirmed to be true, concerning both His person and His promises. Prayer seeks God’s glory and aligns itself with the promises He has made in Scripture.
All of the petitions affirm the supremacy of God. “Father” acknowledges Him as the source of all blessing; “hallowed be Your name” as sacred; “Your kingdom come” as sovereign; “Your will be done” as superior, “give us each day our daily bread” as supporter; “forgive us our sins” as savior, and “lead us not into temptation” as shelter.
This opening section of chapter 11 focuses on the importance of prayer. Verses 1–4 contain the Lord’s instruction on prayer, verses 5–8 reveal God’s eagerness to hear prayer, verses 9–10 teach the certainty that God will answer prayer, and verses 11–13 express God’s desire to give the best to those who pray. All of those rich truths will be the subject of the next several chapters of this volume.
Jesus’ Pattern for Every Prayer—Part 2: God’s Person
(Luke 11:2b, c)
Father, hallowed be Your name. (11:2b, c)
As it does all aspects of spiritual truth, false religion twists and distorts the true meaning of prayer. Some religions address prayer to false gods, or false misrepresentations of the true God. Others prescribe prayers to be recited ritually as one means of earning salvation. In other religions introspective meditation or the mechanical chanting of mantras—sometimes multiplied by writing them on a prayer wheel—takes the place of prayer. All prayer in false religions is addressed to gods who do not exist, and is therefore useless. It becomes nothing but a form of self-help, focusing on the needs, hopes, and aspirations of the one who prays in a vain hope for some supernatural aid.
Even some who profess to worship the God of the Bible think they can use prayer as a means of selfish gain. The Word Faith movement—known also as Positive Confession, Name It and Claim It, and the Prosperity Gospel—unabashedly proclaims the lying notion that the purpose of prayer is for the release of physical, financial, and material blessings. As the title of a book by one of the movement’s leaders proclaims, following the Word Faith principles will teach you “How to Write Your Own Ticket with God.”
The god of the Word Faith movement is a false god, not the true God, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth (Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21; Acts 17:24). This false god, say these deceivers, is bound by the law of faith that governs the spiritual realm, just as the law of gravity does the physical universe. Using the law or principle of faith, people can compel God to respond in whatever way they determine. Further, this false teaching claims that He is dependent on human faith and human words to accomplish His work. “Word-faithers” are, as their teachers with shocking hubris blasphemously assert, “little gods.” That satanically inspired (Gen. 3:5) lie removes any need for genuine, submissive prayer for God to act, since people’s own words supposedly have the power to bring them whatever they selfishly desire. (I critique the Word Faith movement in my book Charismatic Chaos [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992]; see also D. R. McConnell, A Different Gospel [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1988].)
But the true and living God is not an impersonal force or principle, nor can He be manipulated by egocentric people, especially greedy ones. He is the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3), who has “established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19; cf. 115:3). Far from being dependent on weak, sinful people, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6; cf. Isa. 43:13; 46:10; Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11). God rebuked those who would recreate Him in their own image, declaring to them, “You thought that I was just like you” (Ps. 50:21).
The fundamental error in all wrong thinking about prayer is that it is primarily for people to get what they want. In reality, it is the unfathomable privilege of communing with the sovereign God of the universe; of living in constant awareness of the One who is equally and perfectly aware of us. True prayer brings believers into the presence of God to submit to His will and see His glory on display in His answers.
Jesus specifically taught that prayer is to display God’s glory when He promised, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified” (John 14:13). Consistent with that principle, the Lord’s model prayer focuses on God, revealing His paternity (“Father”), priority (“hallowed be Your name”), program (“Your kingdom come”), plan (“Your will be done”), provision (“give us each day our daily bread”), pardon (“forgive us our sins”), and protection (“lead us not into temptation”). The first two truths, which focus on the person of God, are the subject of this chapter. Viewing God both as Father and as sacred preserves the balance between His transcendence and His immanence, between His compassionate love and His majestic glory, and between intimacy with Him and reverence for Him.
God as Father
The first word in Jesus’ prayer marks it as profoundly different from the Jewish prayers of that day. God is seldom referred to as Father in the Old Testament, and then only in a national sense to refer to Israel as a whole (Deut. 32:6; 1 Chron. 29:10; Ps. 68:5; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Mal. 1:6; 2:10), or its king (1 Sam. 8:7). Nowhere in the Old Testament is God addressed as Father in a personal prayer, which would have been considered presumptuous. For Jesus to address God as Father (as He always did except on the cross [Luke 23:34]), and to instruct His followers to do so was revolutionary and shocking.
One of the things that agitated Israel’s apostate religious leaders the most was Christ’s referring to God as His Father (e.g., Matt. 7:21; 10:32–33; 12:50; 16:17; Luke 22:29; John 8:54; 10:29). They correctly understood Jesus’ statement, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17) to be nothing less than a claim to full deity and absolute equality with God the Father. Because of that claim “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (v. 18).
But not only did Jesus call God His Father, He also declared Him to be the Father of all those who are in Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said to the disciples, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8; cf. vv. 15, 18). In Mark 11:25 He exhorted, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” “Stop clinging to Me,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’ ” (John 20:17).
The Greek word translated Father is patēr, but the Aramaic (the language commonly spoken by the Jewish people) term was abba (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Abba was an intimate term used by children, and was often one of the first words a young child learned to say. It emphasizes that prayer involves intimacy with God. Believers have the privilege of entering the presence of the Creator and sovereign King of the universe and addressing Him on tender, intimate terms. Addressing God as Father affirms that believers live in God’s eternal family and are partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Though sinners (1 John 1:8), they are nonetheless His beloved and redeemed children, to whom He has granted eternal life (John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 10:28; 17:2; 1 John 5:11–12).
It should be noted that the possessive phrase “our Father” (Matt. 6:9), referring to true believers, is the deathblow to the false teaching of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. God is the father of everyone in the sense that He created them (Acts 17:29), but not in a relational sense. Jesus made that truth clear when He said to the unbelieving Jews, “If God were your Father, you would love Me … You are of your father the devil” (John 8:42, 44). Only those who have received Jesus through saving faith are given “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Paul contrasted the “children of the flesh” with the “children of God” (Rom. 9:8) and the “children of the bondwoman [unbelievers]” with the children of the “free woman [believers]” (Gal. 4:22–31), while the apostle John differentiated between “the children of God and the children of the devil” (1 John 3:10).
The fatherhood of God is the foundation of all prayer. His children are invited to enter His presence and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [their] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). The best people without Christ cannot call God their Father, nor can they expect Him to hear their prayers. But the worst sinners, redeemed through Jesus Christ, become His children. To them Jesus made the staggering promise, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7–8). In the illustration of how fathers treat their children that follows, Jesus made it clear that the promise applies only to God’s children:
Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (vv. 9–11)
The fatherhood of God settles several key issues. First, it settles the matter of fear. The true and living God is a God of love (Deut. 23:5; Mic. 7:18; Zeph. 3:17; John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Gal. 2:20; 2 Thess. 2:16; Titus 3:4), mercy (Ps. 86:15; 145:8; Luke 1:72; 6:36; Eph. 2:4; James 5:11; 1 Peter 1:3), grace (Ex. 34:6; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 116:5; 145:8; Jer. 3:12; 1 Peter 5:10), compassion (Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:19, 27, 28, 31; Pss. 111:4; 112:4; 116:5; Lam. 3:22; Dan. 9:18; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2), and kindness (Rom. 2:4; 11:22; Titus 3:4). No such god exists in false religions; those gods are in reality demons impersonating gods (Deut. 32:17), and no demon would manifest such a fatherly, loving, compassionate, tender-hearted attitude. To come to know the true God is to be freed from the slavish fear associated with the worship of false gods; it is to approach the one who will have compassion on them just as a father has on his children (Ps. 103:13).
Second, the fatherhood of God settles the matter of hope. The world lives in hopeless despair, alleviated only by self-deception that will ultimately fail (Job 8:13; 11:20; 27:8; Prov. 11:7; Eph. 2:12; 1 Thess. 4:13). But the hope that is anchored in God will never fail (Prov. 23:18; 24:14; Jer. 29:11; Rom. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:16), because it is grounded in the believers’ union with Jesus Christ (Col. 1:27), guarded in heaven (Col. 1:5), and granted by the God of hope (Rom. 15:13).
Third, the fatherhood of God settles the matter of loneliness—not the momentary absence of other people’s company, but the cosmic loneliness that results from denying that God exists. Describing that loneliness James W. Sire notes that if God does not exist, “We have been thrown up by an impersonal universe. The moment a self-conscious, self-determining being appears on the scene, that person asks the big question: What is the meaning of all this? What is the purpose of the cosmos? But the person’s own creator—the impersonal forces of bedrock matter—cannot respond” (The Universe Next Door [Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity, 1988], 102). But God does exist, is a refuge for His children (Ps. 46:1), and is with them always (Ps. 139:7–12; Matt. 28:20).
Finally, the fatherhood of God settles the matter of resources. “My God,” wrote the apostle Paul, “will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Since our Father is in heaven, He is above all circumstances and beyond all limitations of time and space. His power is unlimited, His grace measureless, and His treasure house of benedictions boundless. The many blessings God graciously grants His children include instruction (Pss. 25:12; 32:8; 94:12), comfort (Ps. 23:4; 2 Cor. 1:3–4), correction (Heb. 12:6), protection from Satan’s assaults (John 17:15; 2 Thess. 3:3; 1 John 5:18), access to Him through prayer (Heb. 4:16), provision for all their needs (Pss. 34:10; 84:11; Phil. 4:19), and an inheritance that includes all the blessings of salvation (Matt. 19:29; 25:34; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 1:14; 1 Peter 1:4).
God as Sacred
hallowed be Your name. (11:2c)
The reality that Christians have an intimate relationship with their heavenly Father does not mean that they can treat Him with flippant, irreverent lack of respect. “A son honors his father,” God reminded wayward Israel, “… then if I am a father, where is My honor?” (Mal. 1:6). Understanding that God is sacred provides a necessary balance to viewing Him as Father. It guards against abusing the intimacy believers have with Him.
This first petition in the Lord’s model prayer stresses the point made earlier in this chapter that prayer is primarily for God’s glory. Every request must be subordinated to and in harmony with that goal. Selfishness has no place in prayer; God does not exist to fulfill people’s whims, but to glorify Himself. Prayer acknowledges God’s declaration, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 42:8; cf. 48:11). Therefore when believers approach Him they must seek to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name” (Ps. 29:2; cf. 66:1–4), desiring to see “the whole earth … filled with His glory” (Ps. 72:19). Like the psalmist they pray, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). Even their requests for His help are ultimately for the glory of His name (Pss. 79:9; 106:47).
Hallowed translates a form of the verb hagiazō, which means to set something apart as holy. It is related to the terms doxazō (“glorify”), eulogeō (“bless” or “praise”), and hupsoō (“lift up” or “exalt”). In this context, it means to acknowledge that God’s name deserves to be differentiated from and set above all that is created. God is supremely separate from what He made, exists in a different sphere, and has knowledge and wisdom far beyond our own. To hallow His name is to believe that God is who He has revealed Himself to be on the pages of Scripture (cf. Heb. 11:6) and to live a God-conscious life. It is to set His name apart from everything common, profane, earthly, human, and temporal, just as the Sabbath was to be kept holy by being treated differently than the other six days (Ex. 20:8–11); to hold His matchless name in reverence and awe; to honor God as unique and above everyone else; and to esteem, prize, honor, revere, and adore Him as infinitely holy.
At Meribah in the wilderness, Moses disobeyed God by striking a rock to bring water instead of speaking to it as the Lord had commanded him. For that act of disobedience he was forbidden to enter the promised land “because,” God told him, “you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them” (Num. 20:12). In contrast the Lord Jesus Christ, anticipating the cross with its sin-bearing and separation from the Father, said, “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Then, affirming that God’s glory was more important than the suffering He would endure, Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Your name” (v. 28). He was willing to endure the cross so that God’s holy wrath against sin, His justice, His grace, and His mercy might be put on display.
Living a life that hallows God begins in the heart. Using a form of the word translated hallowed in this passage, Peter exhorted believers to “sanctify Christ as Lord in [their] hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). It involves a constant awareness of God’s presence, a truth that David expressed when he wrote, “I have set the Lord continually before me” (Ps. 16:8). Most significantly, a life that hallows the name of God is inevitably marked by obedience in all aspects of life. As Paul exhorted the Corinthians, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). When believers’ lives conform to God’s will the unbelieving world will “see [their] good works, and glorify [their] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). They also hallow God’s name by confessing it (Matt. 10:32), trusting it (Ps. 33:21), refusing to profane it (Lev. 18:21; cf. Ex. 20:7), loving it (Ps. 119:132), and honoring it (Ps. 96:8).
God’s name is much more than merely a title; it refers to all that He is, including His nature, attributes, and character. In response to Moses’ plea, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” (Ex. 33:18) God promised, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you” (v. 19). In fulfillment of that promise God declared some of His attributes to Moses:
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34:6–7)
Throughout Scripture God’s name is equated with His person. When David declared that he would “sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High” (Ps. 7:17; cf. 113:1; 135:1; 148:5) he was not referring to a title, but to the person who bears it. Conversely, when the nations are said to “fear the name of the Lord” (Ps. 102:15), it is God’s majestic being that is in view. When the Lord Jesus Christ said to the Father in His high-priestly prayer, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world” (John 17:6), He meant that He had revealed God’s true nature to them. Understanding God’s name is a prerequisite to trusting Him. In Psalm 9:10 David said to God, “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You.”
The names of God revealed in Scripture identify the range of His glorious attributes. Elohim, the plural name of the triune God, describes Him as the Creator (Gen. 1:1); El-elyon (God Most High) as the sovereign ruler of the universe (Gen. 14:22); I AM as the eternally existing one (Ex. 3:13–14; cf. John 8:58); Jehovah-jireh (The Lord Will Provide) as the one who meets the needs of His children (Gen. 22:14); Jehovah-nissi (The Lord is My Banner) as the King under whom His people march (Ex. 17:15); Jehovah-ropheka (The Lord your healer) as the one who cares for their physical needs (Ex. 15:26). He is Jehovah-shalom (The Lord is Peace [Judg. 6:24]); Jehovah-roi (the Lord our Shepherd [Ps. 23:1]); Jehovahtsidkenu (The Lord our Righteousness [Jer. 23:6]); Jehovah-sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts [1 Sam. 1:3]); Jehovah-meqaddeskem (the Lord who sanctifies you [Ex. 31:13]), and, supremely, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6)—God incarnate who perfectly reveals Him (John 1:18; 14:9).
The Bible also lists many names and titles that unfold the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called the Amen (Rev. 3:14; cf. 2 Cor. 1:20), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13), the Advocate (1 John 2:1), the Apostle (Heb. 3:1), the Author and Perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), the Beginning (source, origin) of the creation of God (Rev. 3:14), the Branch (Jer. 23:5), the Bread of Life (John 6:35), the Author of salvation (Heb. 2:10), the Cornerstone (Eph. 2:20), the Consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), the Counselor (Isa. 9:6), the Sunrise from on high (Luke 1:78), the Deliverer (Rom. 11:26), the Door of the sheep (John 10:7), God blessed forever (Rom. 9:5), Eternal Father (Isa. 9:6), the Faithful witness (Rev. 1:5), the First and the Last (Rev. 1:17), the Firstborn (preeminent one) from the dead (Rev. 1:5) and over all creation (Col. 1:15), the Forerunner (Heb. 6:20), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14), the Guardian of souls (1 Peter 2:25), the Head of the church (Col. 1:18), the Holy One of God (John 6:69), I AM (John 8:58), Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), the King of Israel (John 1:49; cf. Zech. 9:9), King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15), the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the Light of the world (John 8:12), the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5), Lord (John 13:13), the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), the Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), the Messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1), the Messiah (John 1:41), the Mighty God (Isa. 9:6), the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16), the Only Begotten (unique one) from the Father (John 1:14), our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), the Prince of life (Acts 3:15), the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), the Righteous One (Acts 7:52), the Rock (1 Cor. 10:4), the Root and Descendant of David (Rev. 22:16), the Root of Jesse (Isa. 11:10), the Ruler in Israel (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:6), the Ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5), Savior (Luke 2:11; Titus 1:4), Servant (Isa. 42:1), Shiloh (Gen. 49:10), Son of the Blessed One (Mark 14:61), Son of David (Matt. 12:23; 21:9), Son of God (Luke 1:35), Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32), the Sun of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2), the True God (1 John 5:20), the True Vine (John 15:1), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the Word (John 1:1, 14), the Word of God (Rev. 19:13), and the Word of Life (1 John 1:1).
True prayer begins, therefore, with a proper understanding of God. Emphasizing the importance of the correct thinking about Him from which true, God-honoring prayer flows A. W. Tozer wrote,
We must think worthily of God. It is morally imperative that we purge from our minds all ignoble concepts of the Deity and let Him be the God in our minds that He is in His universe.… That God exists for Himself and man for the glory of God is the emphatic teaching of the Bible. The high honor of God is first in heaven as it must yet be in earth. (The Knowledge of the Holy [New York: Harper & Row, 1961], 42)
Such thinking and praying must begin, as the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in this passage reveals, with recognizing God as our sacred Father.
Jesus’ Pattern for Every Prayer—Part 3: God’s Purpose
Your kingdom come (11:2d)
Ever since the fall the human race has been in rebellion against God. Most people from earliest childhood mistakenly believe that they can set the direction for their lives, determine their own destiny, decide their own future, and chart their own life course. That is especially true in today’s narcissistic, self-exalting, ego-mad culture. The nineteenth-century English poet William Ernest Henley captured the essence of this defiant, man-centered view in his famous poem “Invictus”:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud;
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years Finds,
and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
Even Israel frequently chose to defy God’s authority and the Old Testament chronicles the nation’s long history of rebellion. “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day I knew you,” Moses told the people (Deut. 9:24). Later he added, “I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death?” (Deut. 31:27). Israel’s subsequent history showed that Moses’ fear was justified. Looking back at the cause of Israel’s exile to Babylon, Nehemiah acknowledged to God that Israel “became disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their backs” (Neh. 9:26). The Psalms frequently lament Israel’s rebellion against God, especially Psalm 78. Verse 8 describes the exodus generation as “a stubborn and rebellious generation”; despite all of God’s provision for them in the wilderness (vv. 11–16) “they still continued to sin against Him, to rebel against the Most High in the desert” (v. 17; cf. vv. 40, 56; 106:7). Psalms 5:10 and 107:11 also describe those who rebelled against God. Isaiah denounced Israel as “a rebellious people, false sons, sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the Lord (Isa. 30:9; cf. 3:8; 65:2). Israel’s rebellion had devastating consequences. Because “they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them” (Isa. 63:10). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God Himself declared of Israel, “This people has a stubborn and rebellious heart” (Jer. 5:23). He told Ezekiel, “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day” (Ezek. 2:3; cf. 5:6; 20:13; Hos. 7:13; 8:1). Repeatedly in Ezekiel God referred to Israel as a “rebellious house” (2:5, 6, 8; 3:26, 27; 12:3, 9, 25; 17:12; 24:3). In his passionate intercessory prayer for his people, Daniel also acknowledged that Israel had consistently revolted against God (Dan. 9:5, 9).
Revolt is inherent in the very definition of sin, the essence of which, the apostle John wrote, is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Paul paired lawlessness with rebellion (1 Tim. 1:9), and described the future antichrist, the ultimate rebel against God, as the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3).
But to come to Christ savingly is to forsake one’s pretended autonomy from God and acknowledge that He sets the course for our lives. It is to forsake self-centered living and replace selfishness with submission. In salvation the sinner bows the knee to the lordship of Jesus Christ, submitting to Him as King and acknowledging His absolute, sovereign authority (see the discussion below). One day “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and … every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10–11), as God sovereignly determined: “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession’ ” (Ps. 2:7–8).
The two petitions discussed in this chapter, one from Luke’s account and the other from Matthew’s, focus on God’s plan. Both acknowledge that all history is inevitably, inexorably moving toward the reign of Jesus Christ, and each expresses a strong desire for that to be realized. The nineteenth-century English hymn writer Frances Ridley Havergal expressed the cry of the believer’s heart in her hymn, “Thou Art Coming, O My Saviour”:
Oh the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own beloved Lord!
Every tongue Thy Name confessing,
Worship, honor, glory, blessing,
Brought to Thee with glad accord;
Thee, my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned:
Unto earth’s remotest end
Glorified, adored, and owned.
These next two petitions in our Lord’s model prayer introduce God as sovereign, and supreme.
God as Sovereign
Your kingdom come (11:2d)
There have been a multitude of states, empires, and nations throughout human history, but spiritually there are only two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (cf. Col. 1:13). All the kingdoms of this world are currently part of Satan’s domain of darkness. In the future, however, “The kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Having been “rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13), believers have as their highest goal the advancement of that kingdom. They do not love the kingdom of this world (1 John 2:15), but as Paul wrote they “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; cf. Matt. 6:33; Phil. 3:20).
Basileia (kingdom), which can also mean “rule,” or “reign,” refers to a sovereign realm. It is used most frequently in the New Testament to refer to the kingdom of God (called the kingdom of heaven in Matthew’s gospel), as it does here. Combined with the imperative form of the verb erchomai, this petition could be translated, “Your kingdom, let it happen”; “let it actually take place”; or “let it actually come.”To see God’s kingdom triumphant and His rule manifest on earth is the believer’s desire and prayer.
The word Your indicates that the kingdom of which Jesus was speaking is the one ruled by His Father. Earthly powers, such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome and, in more modern times, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and every other nation rise and fall (cf. Acts 14:16). Nations have their moment in the sun, but as their power grows, so does their pride, and sin brings about their fall. “Righteousness exalts a nation,” wrote Solomon, “but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Prov. 14:34). God sovereignly determines the nations’ extent and duration. Daniel declared to the Babylonian king Belshazzar, “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it” (Dan. 5:26), while Paul proclaimed to the Greek philosophers in Athens that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).
The sovereign rule of God was the context of all the teaching and preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the outset of His ministry “Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matt. 4:17). In Luke 4:43 He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God … for I was sent for this purpose” (cf. 8:1). The kingdom of God continued to be the theme of His instruction to the apostles even after His resurrection, when He “appear[ed] to them over a period of forty days and [spoke to them] of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Jesus spoke of the kingdom in three dimensions. First, He referred to it as existing in the past. In Matthew 8:11 He spoke of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as already being in the kingdom.
Second, Jesus spoke of the kingdom as present. In Luke 17:21 He told the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in your midst”; earlier the Lord had commanded the seventy to proclaim to the people, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9; cf. v. 11). He replied to the Pharisees’ blasphemous allegation that He cast out demons through the power of Satan by saying to them, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matt. 12:28). The Jewish people, and their leaders in particular, failed to recognize the presence of the kingdom, since they were not looking for a spiritual kingdom, but rather a political, social, military, and economic one. The kingdom was a reality, but unbelief blinded their eyes so that they could not see it.
But although the kingdom continues to be present today as the living God rules the hearts of the penitent who trust in Him, there is also a future, unique form of it. Jesus told the disciples in the Upper Room, “Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). At the sheep and goat judgment “the King will say to those on His right [the sheep], ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ ” (Matt. 25:34), but for those who reject Him “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when [they] see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but [they themselves] being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28–29). This refers to our Lord’s millennial reign on earth (Rev. 20:1–6).
By way of further distinction, two aspects of the kingdom of God may be noted. The universal kingdom encompasses God’s rule over the entire universe. As the Creator, He is sovereign over His creation. Psalm 29:10 says that “the Lord sat as King forever,” while Revelation 15:3 addresses Him as “King of the nations.” Psalm 103:19 adds, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” In 1 Chronicles 29:11–12 David prayed,
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O Lord, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.
The universal kingdom is eternal, providential, supernatural, and efficacious. Authority over it has been delegated to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God employed to create (Col. 1:16) and sustain it (Heb. 1:1–3).
But the universal kingdom is not in view here. There is no need to pray for it to advance, since it is eternal, comprehensive, and absolute. This petition asks instead that the redemptive kingdom, the sphere of salvation, the supernatural realm of believing people, advance. It does so in three ways.
First, through salvation; the redemptive kingdom grows one redeemed soul at a time. It is not a visible, earthly structure, nor can it be identified with any nation, denomination, or organization; it is the realm of souls ruled by Christ. The request “Your kingdom come” is first of all a missionary prayer, in which the petitioner submits his or her will, ambitions, plans, goals, and concerns to the life priority of advancing God’s redemptive kingdom by seeing sinners converted. “First of all, then,” Paul instructed Timothy, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1Tim. 2:1), because God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 4). The prayer of the believing heart is that people would “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; cf. 3:2). All else is secondary (cf. Matt. 6:33).
Contrary to much popular teaching today, entrance to the kingdom is not easy. Nor should we expect it to be; after all, the price of redemption was the sacrifice of God’s dear Son. Those who would enter His kingdom must force their way in (Luke 16:16)—not through meritorious good works that earn salvation, but through the self-denial that characterizes the truly penitent (Luke 9:23–24). Far from merely uttering a glib prayer and then continuing to live as they choose, those who would enter the kingdom must go through the narrow gate, jettisoning their baggage of good deeds, self-will, and selfish desires, none of which will fit through the turnstile at the entrance to the narrow way (Matt. 7:13–14). In words that are jarringly discordant with today’s man-centered gospel of self-fulfillment and easy believism, Jesus bluntly declared that following Him demands complete self-denial and total surrender to His lordship:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:27)
So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. (Matt. 7:21)
Why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. (John 14:21)
If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. (John 14:23)
He who does not love Me does not keep My words. (John 14:24)
You are My friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)
In His parables, Jesus likened those who enter the kingdom to a man who finds treasure in a field, or a merchant who finds a priceless pearl, and sells everything he owns to buy it (Matt. 13:44–46). (I discuss the high cost and infinite value of entering the kingdom by following Jesus in Hard to Believe [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003].)
Second, the redemptive kingdom comes not only through salvation, but also through sanctification. The kingdom progresses when people come in repentance and faith to Christ, and also when those who are His increasingly grow and submit to His lordship. The writer of the familiar hymn “Lead Me to Calvary” expressed the heart cry of every believer in this regard:
King of my life, I crown Thee now,
Thine shall the glory be.
The kingdom advances when its subjects see an increase of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17) in their lives.
Finally, the kingdom will consummate in the second coming of the King to establish His promised earthly millennial kingdom. To pray, “Your kingdom come” reflects a joyful, expectant desire for that glorious event to take place. Paul exclaimed in 1 Corinthians 16:22 “Maranatha,” an Aramaic expression that means, “O Lord, come.” Near the end of the book of Revelation John wrote, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). In their lives as well as their prayers, those who love the Lord Jesus Christ are always “looking for and hastening [eagerly desiring] the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). John described the coming of the kingdom in Revelation 20:1–6:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
To pray for the coming of the kingdom is to pray for the salvation of sinners, the sanctification of believers, and the second coming in glory of the Savior.
God as Supreme
This concept derives from the petition that follows the request, “Your kingdom come” in Matthew’s account: “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Honoring the Father’s person and desiring to see His kingdom advance requires an inseparable concern for His will to be done. The Christian’s desire and prayer is that God’s will, which is always done perfectly and completely in heaven, would be done on earth as well. This petition is the expression of a heart that seeks God’s glory and wants what He wants; it is an expression of worship.
During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly carried out the Father’s will. In Gethsemane, anticipating his forthcoming sin-bearing and separation from the Father, He cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). In Mark 3:35 He said, “Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” The Lord told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34), while in John 6:38 He said to the crowd, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
Ultimately, all things will resolve in accordance with God’s eternal purpose, which was established before the world began. Paul expressed that truth when he told the Ephesians that God “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). But most of what happens in this evil, fallen, sin-cursed world is contrary to God’s purpose. A proper understanding of the will of God reveals why that tragic reality is perfectly consistent with His absolute sovereignty. Theologians distinguish between three aspects of God’s will, as R. C. Sproul helpfully notes:
When we speak about God’s will we do so in at least three different ways. The broader concept is known as God’s decretive, sovereign, or hidden will. By this, theologians refer to the will of God by which He sovereignly ordains everything that comes to pass. Because God is sovereign and His will can never be frustrated, we can be sure that nothing happens over which He is not in control.…
Though God’s sovereign will is often hidden from us until after it comes to pass, there is one aspect of His will that is plain to us—His preceptive will. Here God reveals His will through His holy law.… This aspect of God’s will is revealed in His Word as well as in our conscience, by which God has written His moral law upon our heart.… We have the power or ability to thwart the preceptive will of God, though never the right to do so.…
The third way the Bible speaks of the will of God is with respect to God’s will of disposition. This will describes God’s attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, yet he most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked. God’s ultimate delight is in His own holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His own righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience. He is sorely displeased when we are disobedient. (Essential Truths of the Christian Faith [Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1992], 67–68. Italics in original.)
The petition for His will to be done especially considers that third feature, His will of disposition. Their heavenly preoccupation (cf. Col. 3:1–2) motivates Christians to pray that God’s will be carried out by obedience so that He may be honored by the testimony of the faithful.
There are several wrong views of God’s will that must be avoided. First, some manifest an attitude of bitter resentment. They acknowledge that what God wills is inevitably going to come to pass whether they like it or not. Therefore, they reason, it is useless to resist. Such people take a fatalistic, deterministic view of God’s will, and are angry at Him because of it. The medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam expressed this view in his poem “The Rubaiyat”:
But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss’d you down into the Field,
He knows about it all—He knows—HE knows!
Others pray with a sort of passive resignation. They are not angry with God, but their prayers reflect a sort of gray acceptance; a weary, tired, listless resignation that whatever is going to happen will happen. Such people pray very little and with no assurance that their prayers will have any impact. They go through the motions because it is their duty, but they lack the passionate heart that cries out to God and believes He will answer.
Even the early church fell prey to this attitude. When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, who had just executed the apostle James, John’s brother, the believers gathered to pray to God on his behalf (Acts 12:5). An angel miraculously released Peter from prison and he came to the house where they were praying. When a servant girl who had answered his knock at the gate excitedly told them that Peter was outside, they scoffed and “said to her, ‘You are out of your mind!’ But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, ‘It is his angel’ ” (v. 15). Despite their fervency, they really had not expected God to answer their prayers; hence their reluctance to accept that He had.
A third wrong attitude in prayer might be termed theological reservation. Some Christians take such an extreme view of God’s sovereignty that it paralyzes their prayers. Since God will inevitably carry out His will, they reason, there is really nothing to pray for. This view overlooks the explicit teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, who told “a parable to show that at all times [people] ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). That parable spoke of an unjust judge, who finally gave legal protection to a desperate widow because she kept hounding him (vv. 2–5). Driving home his point “the Lord said, ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly’ ” (vv. 6–8). This view also ignores the reality that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16)—a truth borne out by the numerous answers to prayer recorded in Scripture (see the examples listed in chapter 1 of this volume). Failure to pray is disobedience to the explicit commands of the Bible (e.g., Rom. 12:12; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17).
Nothing will destroy passion and effectiveness in prayer more than bitter anger, a defeatist attitude, or aberrant theology. In contrast to those wrong attitudes about prayer, true prayer manifests an attitude of rebellion. It rebels with holy indignation against everything that is contrary to God’s will. Jesus Himself rebelled against the terrible consequences of sin, which would result in His being made sin on behalf of the redeemed (2 Cor. 5:21) when He prayed in Gethsemane. In response, God strengthened Him to carry out His divine plan and purpose. Peter, James, and John, however, failed to heed the Lord’s command to them, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). As a result, when their time of trial and temptation came, they were defeated. Matthew 26:56 records that “all the disciples left Him and fled,” while Peter even denied that he knew Him (vv. 58–75). They forgot the example of their Lord who, as noted in chapter 1 of this volume, prayed before all the great events of His life.
To pray for God’s will to be done is to refuse to be resigned to the sinful status quo. It is to wake up and stop sleeping, fainting, or losing heart. It is to recognize that there is a cosmic war going on between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and to refuse to strike a truce with the forces of evil. True prayer focuses on God. It acknowledges His sovereign right to refuse any request that is not in keeping with His perfect will, as was the case with Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–10). In every circumstance the believer’s prayer is to be that God’s name be honored by His kingdom being advanced, and that by His will being done.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1476). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Lk 11:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1411). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.