Finally, we come to it – the very last phrase of the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s the phrase with which Jesus, ultimately, flips all his hearers’ expectations on their proverbial heads. Of course, everything is more glorious (and more tragic) when viewed in context: pt 1, pt 2, pt 3, pt 4, pt 5, pt 6, pt 7.
Yesterday, in looking at the phrase, “lead us not into the test,” we realized that the test to which Jesus was referring was, quite possibly, the test of thinking that God’s kingdom was coming in a particular way. The temptation was to believe that the Lord would overthrow the Roman oppressors through a military messiah, who would oust the pagans, and restore Israel to its rightful place as (1) an autonomous nation that (2) partnered with Yahweh in governing the world.
It’s true, the Creator’s desire has always been to justly govern the earth through His people. And it’s true, this righteous God has always been opposed to oppression. But to think that the Romans might be cast out of Jerusalem by the sword was far from the Lord’s heart. In fact, we find, as Jesus closes his messianic prayer, that the Romans are not even the enemy Israel ought to be opposing.
The King James Version of Matthew 6:13b, which most Christians I know have memorized, reads, “but deliver us from evil.” That’s a perfectly acceptable translation of the Greek, but most scholars now agree that the phrase ought to be translated, “but deliver us from the evil one.” Both are valid, according to the original language, though I think the context calls for the latter.
Deliver us from the evil one.
It is quite possible that many Jews, if polled, would have identified Caesar or one of his local representatives as the evil one. He held the sword, after all. He was the ultimate authority responsible for the brutality and economic hardship many first century Jews faced. Caesar had use of the cross, a tool of terrible torture, execution, and propaganda. And it is quite possible, as we have discussed earlier in this series, that those reclining on the hillside listening to Jesus might have been thinking of Rome as they picture the restoration of Israel alluded to throughout Jesus’ prayer.
But the more natural meaning of Jesus final phrase turns that expectation on its head. The evil one, classically, was the Satan, the demonic accuser. The enemy, it turns out, has never been Rome. The enemy has been a deceiving spirit all along.
This, of course, matches the rest of Jesus’ ministry, a piece of which finds its summation in Matthew 12. In that episode (vv. 22-32), Jesus is presented with a blind and mute man possessed by a demon, whom Jesus heals. Some wonder, rightly, if this Jesus could be the messianic figure come to restore the nation. (The symbolic act of free one Israelite could be seen as foreshadowing of his intention to free the whole nation.) But the Pharisees accuse him of executing this trick by the power of the Satan. But that’s a stupid notion, says Jesus: “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand” (v. 26, NIV)?
Then, Jesus gives his purpose in verse 29: “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.”
The enemy, in other words, is this strong man, the Satan, who has bound all Israel (and the whole world) in his deceptions. This enemy must be defeated (tied up) if that which he has stolen can be taken back.
So it turns out Rome wasn’t the enemy, after all. Indeed, Rome (and all other gentiles) had been held captive by the same force that held Israel captive. This was the same force that had convinced so many Jews that a militaristic revolution was the key to their redemption and the coming of the kingdom. The kingdom of God was indeed coming, but it was coming in a way they did not expect. And it was coming to deliver far more than just the Jews.
Hallowed by Thy name, indeed.