Matthew 6:10a; Luke 11:2c
The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, like the first, is identical in all three versions—Luke [MT], Matthew, and the Didache:
e)lqe/tw h( basilei/a sou
elthétœ h¢ basileía sou
“May your Kingdom come”
Syntactically, this is perhaps the simplest and most straightforward of all the petitions in the Prayer, a fact which belies several difficult points of interpretation. In the shorter (Lukan) version of the Prayer, the first two petitions form a precise pair:
- “May your Name be made holy”
“May your Kingdom come”
- “May your Name be made holy”
The Matthean structure is more complex, due the inclusion of an additional (third) petition, to be discussed in the next note. A version in Aramaic, such as may have been spoken by Jesus, would perhaps be: Et*Wkl=m^ hyt@at@ (t¢°têh malkût¹k). There is a similar sort of petition in the Jewish Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer: “May he cause his kingdom to rule in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel” (Fitzmyer, p. 900).
The 3rd person imperative e)lqe/tw (“it must come”) is exactly parallel to the (passive) imperative a(giasqh/tw (“it must be made [i.e. treated as] holy”) in the first petition. As noted previously, the context of a prayer to God requires a slightly difference force to the imperative in translation, as an exhortative request: “may it be that…”, “let it be (so) that…”. The person praying urges God to bring it about that these things happen: (1) His Name is treated as holy by people on earth, and (2) that His Kingdom comes, or is made manifest, on earth. These two aspects, or attributes, of God—His Name and Kingdom—must be considered together, as a conceptual pair. The first of these was discussed in the previous note (on the first petition, cf. also the series “And you shall call His Name…“). I have examined the idea of the Kingdom of God in earlier notes and articles (see “…the things about the Kingdom of God“, Part 5 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and an article in the series “Birth of the Son of God”). Here I will be focusing specifically on the theme of the Kingdom in the context of the Prayer.
In Matthew, within the Sermon on the Mount, the expression “Kingdom of the Heavens” (the Matthean parallel to “Kingdom of God” in the sayings of Jesus) occurs eight times (5:3, 10, 19 [twice], 20; 6:10, 33; 7:21), including the opening Beatitude that begins the Sermon (5:3): “Happy are the (one)s…(in) that the kingdom of the heavens is theirs”. This serves as a keynote theme to the Sermon as a whole, and follows upon the initial proclamation by Jesus at the start of his public ministry:
“Yeshua began to proclaim and say, ‘You must change (your) mind [i.e. repent], for the kingdom of the heavens has come near!’…. And he led (the way) around in (the) whole of the Galîl, teaching…and proclaiming the good message of the Kingdom…” (Matt 4:17, 23 par)
It is interesting to compare these two pieces of tradition—if Jesus declared that the Kingdom of Heaven has (already) come near (h&ggiken, perfect form of the vb. e)ggi/zw), how is it that his followers should pray that the Kingdom might yet come (vb. e&rxomai)? The key to understanding this lies in the eschatological context of both Jesus’ initial proclamation and the petition in the Prayer. That the Kingdom of God/Heaven has come near (e)ggu/$) means that has not yet arrived, but is about to very soon. The use of e)ggu/$ and the verb e)ggi/zw in the New Testament, as well as elements like the verb me/llw (“about to be/happen”) and other vocabulary, provides clear and unmistakable evidence of an expectation among early Christians and Jews of the period that the end was imminent. God was about to appear to bring Judgment upon the world and to rescue the faithful ones among his people. Both John the Baptist and Jesus affirmed this in their preaching (Matt 3:2; 4:17 par, etc). I discuss the subject at length in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament” (soon to be posted on this site).
At the same time, there was still a longing and desire among God’s people for this eschatological moment to be realized, that it might come to pass even as the faithful are waiting for it to occur. We see this expressed at numerous points in the New Testament and the Gospel tradition—e.g., Mark 15:43 par; Luke 2:25, 38, etc.—and it is what is emphasized in the Lord’s Prayer as well. However, the significance of it needs to be considered in the context of the first petition. The wish that God’s name should be treated as holy by people on earth indicates that this is currently not taking place—human beings are not acting and thinking in a way that gives honor to God or that reflects His nature and character. Jesus’ true disciples, if they follow his teaching and example, will reflect God’s own character, and will be worthy of belonging to His Kingdom (Matt 5:3, 10, 19-20, 48; 6:33; 7:21, etc). What about the rest of humanity? They will only come to honor God’s “Name” at the (eschatological) moment when He appears to bring Judgment upon the earth (cf. Phil 2:9-11). Some will be converted even before this point, through the example and witness of believers (Matt 5:16; 1 Pet 2:12, etc). Paul envisions the conversion of “all Israel” as an end-time event prior to the Judgment (Rom 11:25-27).
Another important eschatological aspect to the Kingdom-petition in the Prayer is the fundamental idea of God as King, and the natural (religious) desire to see His power and influence exerted over the world, especially in regard to the elimination of wickedness and evil. This will be discussed further when addressing the last petitions of the prayer. This cosmic conflict, and its resolution at the end-time, is central to most eschatological frameworks, and certainly is evident among Jews and Christians in the first century A.D. Moreover, eschatological and Messianic modes of thought and expression go hand in hand, as I discuss in considerable detail in the series “Yeshua the Anointed“. A climactic expression of this for early Christians is found in the visions of the book of Revelation, especially the scenes of heavenly worship in chapters 4-7, and the hymn of praise following the heavenly battle-scene in chapter 12 (vv. 10ff):
“Now it (ha)s come to be—the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Anointed (One)…!”
Thus, the Kingdom-petition is finally realized in the context of these end-time visions. The general clarity and precision of this eschatological hope in the Prayer itself is complicated by two factors:
- The additional (third) petition in the Matthean version of the Prayer, and
- The variant reading, in place of the Kingdom-petition, in some witnesses of the Lukan version
These will be examined, respectively, in the next two daily notes.
These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.