If you’re just joining us, we’ve been chatting about the background and implications of the Lord’s Prayer, as documented in Matthew 6:9-13. (Play catch up: Intro, Pt 2, Pt 3) Today, we investigate all of verse 10, which is straightforward enough: “Let your kingdom come; let your will be established; as in heaven also on earth.”
In our first three parts, we’ve made reference to the political situation of Israel at the turn of the eras. It is true, the Jews were living in their homeland (though not all of them were), but they were politically dominated by the Romans. Reminders of this were everywhere. And although a good Jew could live peacefully within Jerusalem or its environs under Roman rule, the pagan governors would not spare their political authority should too many Jews get too uppity.
We have already mentioned, in the introduction to this series, how the revolutionary mindset was common, and, frequently enough, boiled over among the Jews in Jesus’ day. That ought to say enough about how many Jews felt about their political situation.
So when Jesus says to the Lord (the one who sits in heaven scoffing at the pagan rulers of the world), “Let your kingdom come,” there is a relatively simple question we can ask to put us in the right frame of mind for interpreting this. In whose kingdom were the Jews living? The answer, on the surface, was simple. The Jews were in the midst of the vast kingdom of Rome, hoping that the Lord would someday soon bring a coup and institute the kingdom of God.
A similar thought is solicited in the next phrase, “let your will be established.” All we need ask ourselves is Whose will, or rule, is dominant in Jesus’ time? While a good first century Jew of Calvinist persuasion might say, “Well, ultimately, it is actually God’s will that is being done even when we think it’s not,” it is more likely that the majority of first century Jews would look at their own landscape and conclude that it was the Romans’ will that being done, day in and day out.
The longing, as in the previous sections of the prayer, is for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done precisely because it would not seem so to those on the ground at the time. There would have been no need to pray for God’s kingdom if it had already been established. There would be no need to pray for Yahweh’s will to hold sway if it were already the guiding force in the affairs the nation of Israel.
The Lord has always governed heaven. The longing is that He overthrow the pagans and govern earth as well.
As I read this prayer, I like to picture what it might have looked like for Jesus to have taught this to the crowds of Jews who followed him everywhere. How might have first century Jews responded to this prayer? I imagine them hearing “Our father, the one in the heavens,” and, one by one beginning to connect the dots between that introduction and Psalm 2, which contained so many national hopes. I picture the crowd beginning to raise their brows in recognition as whispered “Aha’s!” circulate. “This is about Yahweh finally becoming king,” they realize.
“Let your name be sanctified,” reverberates through the crowd. As the phrase hangs in the air, you see heads beginning to nod as they recall Ezekiel 36. Now they know for sure that this prayer has to do with the ultimate restoration of Israel.
“Let your kingdom come!” Yeah, we want God’s kingdom instead of this foul Roman kingdom!
“Let your will be established!” Yeah, I hate Rome too!
“As in heaven, also on earth.” I picture fists being raised. This crowd might be getting rowdy.
But then, the prayer shifts its focus…