“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done”
It seems clear that these words constitute a single petition expressed with Hebrew poetic parallelism, and not two separate petitions, since the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11:2 simply reads, “Thy Kingdom come,” omitting the further elaboration contained in Matthew’s more Jewish version.
The concept of the Kingdom of God was part of the Jewish apocalyptic inheritance. Suffering under the iron boot of Rome, Israel in the first century looked forward to a time when the Gentile kingdom would be no more and would give way to the Kingdom of God. In this kingdom, it was popularly thought, the hated Pax Romana would be replaced by a glorious Pax Hebraica, and the nation of Israel would be exalted to a place of supremacy in the world. Rome would no longer rule the nations. Instead, decrees of power and justice would proceed from Jerusalem, where the Messiah would rule the nations in God’s Name. Such a kingdom would come about by the power of God and His Messiah. It would be a political and military kingdom, swept to power by God’s miraculous wrath on the nations, though of course the people of Israel would have a hand in such a revolution. The Essenes,1 for example, called this the war of the sons of light against the sons of darkness.
This was the kingdom that most of Christ’s hearers were expecting that God would bring when Christ announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15), and so Christ took pains to correct their erroneous notions of the coming Kingdom of God. That was the point of all his parables about the Kingdom: it was not to be a political kingdom, nor one that would sweep evil from the earth. Instead, evil tares and good wheat would grow side by side until the end of the age. His Kingdom was not of this world. In fact, it was already present among them: whenever Christ healed and liberated the oppressed, there was the Kingdom of God (Matt 13:24f; Luke 17:20–21). In this age, the Kingdom was present as a sacramental reality, one which brought healing, forgiveness, and transformation to the human heart and bestowed eternal life.
But a more powerful manifestation of the Kingdom would come at length, as the kingdoms of this world became the Kingdom of the Lord God and of His Christ (Rev 11:15), and it was this Kingdom for which the Lord taught his disciples to pray. Currently, in this age, God’s will is not done. Rather it is the will of the rich and powerful that is carried out, the will of tyrants, liars, the elite, the 1%. One may imagine that where democracy is the prevailing form of government, the will of the people carries the day. This is not entirely true, since behind every democracy of any size stands a hidden plutocracy. In this age, people starve, and children cry and the rich grind the faces of the poor and go to their soft beds and sleep well afterward. Wars ravage the countryside and unjust death goes unavenged. When the violence takes place between nations, we call it war; when it takes place within a nation, we call it crime, but the reality is the same. God does not will such violence and injustice. In this age, God’s will is not done.
But a day will come when his will shall finally be done on earth as it is done in heaven, and the Kingdom of God shall replace the kingdoms of men. Then “the wolf will lie down with the lamb and the weaned child shall play over the adder’s den and they will not hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:6,8,9). It is this Kingdom for which we pray every day.
Thus, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are praying for the overthrow of the present order. One begins to see why it was that the Romans found the Christian faith somewhat threatening. The little Aramaic word maranatha— “Our Lord, come!” contained the whole of the Christian hope. Christians do not hate the world—how could we, since God made it? But we are strangers and sojourners in this age, which the Enemy rules as its effective god (2 Cor 4:4). And we long for liberation, and the day when children will cry no more. Thus, one of the earliest recorded Christian prayers, found in the Didache, dating from about 100 A.D.: “May grace come, and may this world pass away!” All true Christians have this prayer in their hearts as we look past this world’s horizons to the glory waiting just beyond it. Closely allied to our concern that God’s Name be sanctified in this age is our desire that His Kingdom come, and his will be done. Let the world pass away, O Lord! May Thy Kingdom!
The Essenes were an apocalyptic community of the 1st century living throughout the Roman Empire. They are particularly known for the deposit of scriptures and religious writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls, found at Qumran, in the Judean desert. ↩