There is something rather odd about the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In it, we ask for God’s kingdom to come to us. This seems so straight forward. It is not, of course, that God needs our prayers or our permission to establish his kingdom. Rather, here he guides us into praying that when he establishes his kingdom, we may receive a place in it. This all makes plenty of sense. However, it is the nature of this kingdom we wish to receive that is so odd to us.
This is no ordinary kingdom.
Before we move forward, it is worth noting that our word “kingdom” is not doing the Greek any favors, and thus, it does us no favors either. As my Greek professor Jeff Gibbs points out in his masterful commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, the idea of a “kingdom” misunderstands the nature of the Greek word βασιλεία. It doesn’t mean a kingdom as we might define it with borders and armies and castles. Rather, it denotes the idea of a reign. It would be better translated, “the active rule and reign” (Gibbs, 159-162, see also 328-329). This better captures the dynamic nature of this word.
We are praying here, not for God to establish some kind of earthly, political government, but rather, to draw us into his very active reign.
When Jesus began his ministry, he came proclaiming that this reign was inaugurated with his arrival: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:16). His presence is what establishes his reign. Now, this sort of preaching got folks all riled up! Especially after he started healing people and making all the mean religious folks look bad, it sounded to many as if Jesus was starting some sort of revolution. It was a Jesus-uprising! Soon, he would lead his disciples as they stormed Jerusalem, knocked off Herod, took down Rome, and God’s Kingdom would be established here on earth. Peter would fight beside Jesus to the death, if necessary. James and John would be comfortably seated on his right and left. This kingdom would exert its power from sea to shining sea!
And then Jesus died. On purpose. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t lead a revolt. He lost all his votes as he was led away to the cross. And it was in this way, this very strange way, that Jesus established his reign. Not from a throne, but from a cross with criminals on his right and left. His head was adorned, not with a crown of gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood. Bleeding and dying, surrounded by sinners? What sort of kingdom is Jesus establishing here? What sort of king is reigning? And, if this is how he establishes his reign, ought I not be a little nervous to ask to be a part of that?
He set aside all power he had over heaven and earth in order to take the form of a servant who obeyed his Father’s will to the point of death for those he loved.
Well, yes! You should be nervous to be part of this kingdom. Or, perhaps, exhilarated is a better word. Just look at the sort of King you have reigning! He’s the King who went to that cross for you! His death was not the result of some failed revolution. Rather, it was the goal of his ministry. For, it is on that cross that he did something that no king in our world would ever do: he sacrificed his life to save his enemies. He paid the penalty for sins that were committed against him. He died to take the punishment deserved by those who actually put him on the cross. He set aside all power he had over heaven and earth in order to take the form of a servant who obeyed his Father’s will to the point of death for those he loved. God raised him up, so pleased by this sacrifice, that he gave him all authority over heaven and earth. Every knee will bow and tongue confess he is Lord to the Father’s glory. And all of this he’s done for you in order to bring you under his reign of mercy and grace. His kingdom comes to you when he forgives your sins!
This Lord and King Jesus has now been established over his Father’s kingdom. And he bids you to pray to his Father that you too would receive the benefits of this reign. It is a reign of love and mercy, of forgiveness and grace. He has already established it in raising Christ from the dead and seating him in the right-handed position of authority. And you are now invited to ask this reign to be over you.
Jesus promises, “Ask and it will be given to you!” (Luke 11:9). And, sure enough, he answers this prayer by coming for you. His presence is what brings his reign.
His reign hits our ears and is established in our hearts.
Now, we are really asking for two things here: the present and the future. We are asking that God’s reign would be over us “here, in time, through the Word and faith and second, in eternity [when] it comes through the final revelation” (Large Catechism III, 53). Again, it is his presence that establishes and brings his reign. Here, in time, he is present with us by means of his preaching and sacrament (cf. Matt. 28:16-20). He is with his church until the end of the age as they go about baptizing and teaching, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name, and serving his true body and true blood in the bread and wine. There his reign hits our ears and is established in our hearts.
In this way, his reign will spread throughout creation. He won’t use wars and revolutions to take over this creation. Rather, the whole thing is already under his feet. He will spread his reign through preaching until he returns. Then, once again, his presence will establish his reign. But then, we’ll see it with our eyes. Then, faith will become sight and prayer will become praise!
We are praying here that in these ways, Jesus would reign over us. We are praying that he would give us preachers to place his word in our ears and hearts. We are praying that he will do this until he returns. At that return, he will take us into the new heavens and earth, where his reign will no longer be hidden from our eyes.
So, we pray, “Thy kingdom come” with confidence. After all, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)? What wonder and joy! The Father has given his Son to reign over you! He has answered your prayer!