When various leaders come to power, people have different reactions. With some leaders, it’s joy. With others, fear. Others still, uncertainty or ambivalence. In any case, when a new leader—a prime minister, president, or premier—takes charge, we find ourselves anticipating what this person’s rule or reign (or term in office) is going to be like.
It’s amazing how much people can invest in earthly authority figures or political leaders. Often people are disappointed or disillusioned and become cynical about the political process altogether. Or other times people are willing to throw their lot in with leaders who hardly deserve their trust and loyalty, all to have some degree of power and influence.
Interestingly, we even see this among the people of God in the OT. I think of that moment when the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king over them. In 1 Samuel 8:20 it says: We must have a king over us. Then we’ll be like all the other nations. A very interesting demand on their part, given that their mission as a nation was to be a light to all other nations! The Lord tells Samuel that in making this request they are rejecting him as king.
In John 18:36 Jesus tells his disciples: My kingdom is not of this world. This doesn’t mean his kingdom doesn’t involve our world or that it’s only about heaven. It certainly means his kingdom—the kind of rule it is and will be—is not like the kingdoms of this world: corrupt, manipulative, deceitful, oppressive, and violent. Even the best of the kingdoms of this world fail. And that’s why Jesus teaches us to pray Your kingdom come. And that we are taught to pray for God’s kingdom to arrive in all its fullness reminds us that the rulers of this world do not rule as they should. It’s an admission—indeed a confession—that we cannot run this world like it ought to be run. For the world to be run as it should, we truly need the King of kings. That’s why we pray Your kingdom come.
When you hear the word “kingdom,” what comes to your mind? When I think of the word “kingdom,” usually maps and geography come to mind. I think of places. Like the United Kingdom, for instance. But in the NT the word we translate kingdom is ‘basileia.’ It means “to rule” or “to reign.” It’s more about an activity than a place. It’s more about the kind of ruler the king is. What’s it like to have this king in charge? And when we pray Your kingdom come, we’re talking, of course, about the kingdom of God. Think of Jesus’ first sermon in Mark’s Gospel: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!
Now, when Jesus made this announcement, it had a political, even subversive edge. There’s a reason he disturbed the powers that be. Because kingdom talk would have been intrinsically threatening to those in power. Yet Jesus didn’t lead a revolution in the way some expected the Messiah would. He didn’t overturn Roman forces. He didn’t take over the temple in Jerusalem. He didn’t form a political party. He didn’t even create another religion. He didn’t manipulate. He didn’t deceive. He didn’t use violence. Instead, he revealed a heavenly Father. He revealed that God’s kingdom is characterized by the transformative power of truth and love. Indeed, again and again, Jesus demonstrated that it is in him—and in him alone—that the kingdom arrives. If we want to know what this kingdom is like, all we have to do is observe Jesus in action.
I love the message Jesus sends to an uncertain John the Baptist. We heard these words from Luke’s Gospel: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me. In the end, he did in fact offend many. His was an upside down kingdom. And because of this he was crowned with thorns and enthroned on a cross outside the city. Whatever this kingdom is that Jesus is starting with his earthly ministry, it is, as he said, not of this world. So the question: what is this kingdom supposed to look like? What are we praying for when we pray Your kingdom come?
I love how Wesley Hill puts it in his book: “’Your kingdom come’ means ‘Father, make Your healing reign more and more tangible and visible in our world. Let Your rule assert itself ever more concretely in the places where sickness and evil still seem to have the upper hand.’” It means praying that the world would look more and more like God was in charge. Think of those in our world who are exploited and objectified. Think of those trapped in cycles of violence and anger. Think of those who are unable to get out from under poverty and addiction. That’s why we pray Your kingdom come.
The presence and activity of the kingdom is also always personal. In other words: God’s kingdom never comes, is never at work, can never be seen or experienced, apart from the work and presence of Jesus himself. We can even come close to saying that Christ is the kingdom. And because it’s a prayer, it means we’re also acknowledging that we cannot usher in the kingdom with human means and power. We cannot make the kingdom come. Only God the Father can do this and he does it through the Son, Jesus. One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from Karl Barth: “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
So what does it mean to pray Your kingdom come? Praying this prayer is an indictment of the corrupt powers of our world. It’s also a confession that we can sometimes collude with these powers in our own lives. It’s a prayer that God would bring us to repentance and into a greater newness of life ourselves. Praying this prayer is to ask God to rule our hearts and minds, that he would transform us into kingdom-minded people, who long to see more of his will and his ways at work in the world. Praying this prayer is asking God to create in us a holy discomfort with what the world is like.
As we all well know, here in Canada we currently have a minority government. This means it’s likely that we’ll have another election sooner rather than later. So we can look forward to seeing who will be in charge when this happens! Who will be in charge next and what will that be like? We’ll have to wait and see!
You know, there are several times when Jesus basically says, The kingdom of God has come near. But one occasion when he says it, he’s not talking about either his earthly ministry or the disciples’ ministry. He’s talking about his second coming, and with his coming the arrival of the kingdom in its fullness. As one scholar notes, “The kingdom of God is a present reality but also awaits a fuller future consummation.” God’s kingdom is a “now” and “not yet” kingdom. It has come in Jesus’ earthly ministry and is at work now in our world through the church, but it will only come in its fullness with the coming again of our Lord Jesus.
For us, this means our world—this world, the here and now—will never be perfect. We will never eliminate all of the world’s problems and help every single person. In our world, there will always be brokenness—broken individuals and broken systems. There will always be sin. So we keep praying Your kingdom come.
Now let’s stop here. Remember when I said earlier: It’s more about the kind of ruler the king is? That’s why The Lord’s Prayer is given to us by Jesus and begins with the words Our Father in heaven. Because of who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus, we can pray Your kingdom come with joy and with hope. Because the rule of this king is going to be just and good. We should long for the coming of Jesus as much as we long for things to change in the present for the better.Now, is this always true of us? Probably not. But it should become more and more true of us—and especially as our way of seeing ourselves, life, and the world are shaped by a vision of who God is and what his kingdom will be like. And did you know that the book of Revelation ends with a prayer? First, we hear Jesus tell us, Yes, I am coming soon. And then the prayer: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
Praying Your kingdom come is to pray Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! They’re the same prayer! We’re asking God to bring the fullness of his presence and power to bear on the injustice and sin of our world. We’re asking for the end of history and the beginning of the new heaven and new earth. We’re asking for the good judgment of our good God to make all things right and new.
Can’t you see how The Lord’s Prayer challenges our prayer lives? To pray Your kingdom come means turning our attention from our immediate concerns about what we want for our lives to what God wants for the world. So things will not always be as they are. Now for us who live in very blessed, comfortable, secure, prosperous circumstances, we may not feel this with the urgency of those who don’t share our circumstances. Which is why this prayer turns our gaze away from ourselves to those around us. But it’s also an encouraging and hopeful prayer because it reminds each time we say these words—or words like them—that our God will one day arrive to set all things right. What began with Jesus’ earthly ministry will be brought to completion. By this prayer we are also reminded of the kind of world God has always intended and the one to which we can anticipate with gladness.
It also challenges us because it challenges the way we try to have control over our own lives. Because praying this pray means accepting Jesus as king in our lives. Because there is no kingdom without Jesus and no Jesus without a kingdom. Do you want to be a part of what he is already at work doing? Do you want to participate in what he is going to do in the future? It all comes down to whether or not you are willing to bow the knee to your rightful king: one who has revealed himself as good and just and worthy of your trust and loyalty.