When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he included beseeching the Father, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). If you are like me, you may have been exposed to at least two different interpretations what this request seeks. Is this a petition for the arrival of God’s kingdom at the end of time? Or was this an appeal for God to fulfill his will through events which were near?
Perhaps the most apt location for constructing an interpretative context starts within the Gospels themselves, since they contain this teaching. So what do the Gospels reveal about the kingdom and its coming?
From the very start of the Gospels, anticipation for a coming kingdom grows as Matthew and Luke herald the birth of a king (Matthew 2:2-6; Luke 1:32-33). Luke also foretold Jesus would sit on the throne of an everlasting kingdom. Jesus would rule.
As these narratives recount the ministries of John the Baptist, Jesus and Jesus’ disciples, the repeated content of their preaching emphasized the kingdom being “near,” “at hand” or even breaking in upon those listening (Mark 1:15; Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Luke 10:9,11).
We should note before preceding any further that Matthew’s terminology, “kingdom of heaven,” is equivalent to Luke’s expression “kingdom of God” (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15). Both refer to the reign of God over the hearts of people. Matthew’s expression reflects Jewish sensitivities by using a euphemism to refer to God.
In his teachings, Jesus associated both John’s ministry as well as his own with relational aspects of the kingdom’s arrival. For example, Jesus taught that while John was not in the kingdom, as great as he was, from John’s time forward the kingdom would be announced and people would stampede into it (Luke 7:28; 16:16; Matthew 11:11-12). His parable about a Sower was a story about how people would respond differently to this message about the kingdom and whether that message would produce fruit within their lives (Matthew 13:19,23).
Moreover, Jesus claimed that if God was working through him this meant God’s kingdom was breaking into history (Luke 11:20; Matthew 12:28). In Christ, the kingdom had arrived in their midst (Luke 17:20-21).
Jesus further heightened their expectations for the kingdom’s arrival when he taught that some of them would experience it come with power during their lifetime (Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27; Matthew 16:28). Not unsurprisingly then, some took his approach toward Jerusalem as indicating the kingdom’s inauguration. However, in spite of a royal welcome, the kingdom would not arrive immediately with this triumphal entry (Luke 19:11).
According to Luke’s account of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, all of this anticipation reached fulfillment with Jesus’ resurrection. With his resurrection, Jesus was exalted to David’s throne as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:30-38). Paul’s writings concur that Jesus is Lord and now reigns, since God is placing those who become Christians into the Son’s kingdom, and Jesus must continue to reign until the end when at that time he will hand over the kingdom to the Father (Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; cf. also Revelation 1:5-6,9).
Thus, within the synoptic Gospel context with its emphasis upon the kingdom’s nearness, it would appear Jesus trained his disciples to pray for God’s will to be achieved in the soon-to-arrive kingdom, a kingdom where he would be exalted as Lord and Savior. Paul’s pen echoed these sentiments when he described it was God’s will to work through Christ and to exalt Christ above all other rule and dominion (Ephesians 1:3-11; 1:20-23).
To be objective, we should also note that within the Gospels Jesus’ teachings regarding the kingdom both describe the nature of the kingdom which was “at hand,” as well as what would transpire with the kingdom at “the end.” Such descriptions of the end do not nullify the kingdom’s earlier arrival.
It should also be noted that within the New Testament the language of inheriting the kingdom often points to the final reward of God’s people. Once again, such verses do not deny the reality that the kingdom has come and that today Jesus rules as Lord.
Therefore the Gospel’s perspective regarding Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come,” would seem to be asking them to request the establishment of God’s rule through Christ as Lord over his people, the church. Matthew 16:18-19 does associate the kingdom with the church. This is not to deny that other dimensions of God’s kingdom exist past and future. Rather this reign of God through Christ is one aspect of the good news early Christians preached (Acts 8:12; 28:23,31).
The next article in this series is: Kingdom Now