Jesus asks us to pray for the Father’s kingdom to come. This matter is important to him. He has been sent into the world to fulfil prophecies about God’s reign in the world. He wants it to be our desire too and says we should seek the kingdom above all else.
This prayer comes down to the question, ‘Whose world do I want to live in? The world I make, or the world God makes? If God’s kingdom ‘comes’, we have a world run according to his design, by his powerful presence and arriving at his goal. The alternative is for us to be at the centre of our own world, judging things by how convenient they are to our interests and hoping for a good outcome.
In one sense, the whole Bible is the story of the interplay between God providing for us to live in his creation and us trying to rearrange things to suit ourselves. There are stories of God’s powerful action that sets up a family or a kingdom where people can live with justice, peace and hope. And then, there are other stories where these same people choose to live in their own way and run into conflict with God himself.
In this setting, God promises that his kingdom will come. Some of the descriptions are stunning and can make your mouth water, and you’d like them to come tomorrow! For example, ‘… They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9). Peace at last! Because the Father is King.
This theme goes on into the New Testament. Jesus comes as the King appointed by God. He says he will send out angels at the end of history to ‘weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear’ (Matthew 13:41-43).
Imagine a world where everyone loves the Father and does what he asks. Everyone knows they are loved by God and don’t need to justify themselves. (This is what makes us such unpleasant people!) And they serve their neighbours with the same care they give to themselves. There is no more crying, sickness, pain or death (Revelation 21:3-5).
It really does demean God if we imagine that what we have in this world is all he can do. He called his creation ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), but it’s not very good at the moment. There’s still so much around us—and in us—that’s not good: conflict, suffering, meanness, lies, injustice, and death.
The future he plans is going to be better than that. And it will need us to have a better body than the one we have at the moment. ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:50). Mortality must be replaced with immortality. Death isn’t God’s idea of a good future!
Impossible? Not at all! Not if God is God and means what he says. He makes it abundantly clear that he will have the world the way he made it to be.
We pray for this to come, not because it is in doubt but because we can’t help but long for it, and God is pleased to hear our prayers and give us, not just what he plans but what we have desired.
But there is another way in which his kingdom ‘comes’.
Jesus tells people who have seen his miracles or heard his teaching that the kingdom has ‘come to you’ or ‘is among you’ (Luke 11:20; 17:20-21). He is the King appointed by his Father and is exercising his authority.
If you are a leper and Jesus heals you, you will know God is in charge! If your life has been taken over by demons and Jesus delivers you, you know God is in charge! If you listen to Jesus teaching, you may be persuaded that God is in charge. And Jesus says at this time, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ (Luke 10:18). So something is happening.
But none of this kindly demonstration of power and authority makes the kingdom come. Before long, the nation God prepared to receive his King conspires to have him executed—and succeeds. It doesn’t look as though he is in charge of anything!
But Jesus has always been looking forward to his main task. If he cannot erase our guilt, he will never have willing subjects of the Father. Our basic position has been keeping God at a distance—or nonexistent. The shame and culpability of this is enormous—whether we recognise it or not. What will Jesus do to erase this, and so, to establish the kingdom of his Father?
One example may show what I mean. Two thieves are being crucified with Jesus. They throw insults at him. But something about these events brings a change to one of them. Does he hear Jesus say, ‘Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing’? Does he come to the end of his own resistance?
Here is what he says, first to the other thief, and then, to Jesus. ‘Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence. We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’.
And then he says, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus replies, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:40-43). He is dying, but his reign is about to launch.
Our aversion to God’s reign is real. Even if we sit in a church and do good deeds, it doesn’t come naturally to prefer God’s reign to our own. But if we can see a man who has done nothing wrong pray for our forgiveness, and if we can see through all the cultural confusion to recognise that Jesus is God’s reigning King, and especially, if we have come to the end of our resources, we will want to have his help as well! ‘Remember me too!’
You can’t have willing subjects if people are odds with the King and avoiding a showdown. Jesus, as God’s promised deliverer removes our guilt by bearing it himself.
And God authenticates this launching of his kingdom by raising Jesus from the dead. Being killed looks weak, but there is nothing weak about rising from the dead. He is ‘declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:4).
In fact he has been taken into heaven, as the human being he is, to conduct all God’s affairs (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 1:4-6). He commands that his good news of restoration through his death be announced in all the world. This is the exercise of his power (Romans 1:16). This is why the kingdom is often called ‘the kingdom of Christ’ (Ephesians 5:5). He is going to reign until the end and then hand his completed handiwork to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
This reign of Christ—as the present phase of God’s reign—cannot be seen. We embrace it by faith. But it is far from insubstantial! When we confess that this man is God’s King and that God raised him from the dead, we are transferred out the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Colossians 1:13).
Think about that! We were controlled by the world, our own passions, and, through these things, the devil himself. Now we feel and know the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). Love lives, not because we are nice people but because Jesus has taken us into the kingdom where his Father’s love rules everything.
Christians around the world are persecuted because they believe in a gracious but absolute authority of the Christ appointed by the Father to rule. He is their truth, their justification, their delight. Human rulers want to claim this place and are jealous of a rival (Matthew 27:18).
The church responds as those who know they are in a kingdom of love. They pray like the early church did: ‘Sovereign Lord…you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. … Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. … Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness’ (from Acts 4:24-31). They are living in and experiencing the powers of the kingdom.
Our prayers are not a mere whimper but a sharing in the authority now given to Christ. We work and pray to ‘take every thought captive to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If this is what has happened to us, this is what we will pray for when we say, ‘Your kingdom come!’ We are asking for others to share in the blessings of the kingdom now, and to be able to live in hope of its full display. When God’s Spirit reveals the grace of God to someone and they experience the joy of reconciliation with God, they have no trouble at all in knowing that they are, already, included in the kingdom of God’s loved and loving Son.
God’s kingdom will come—both now and finally because all authority has already been given to Christ. But knowing the certainty of the coming kingdom does not makes our prayers redundant. God gives us the pleasure of sharing with him in his kingdom’s coming. He responds to our prayers. So well may we say, ‘Bring it on!’