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Thy Kingdom Come

December 26, 2015

Christmas celebrates the coming of the Messiah, the anointed king. And this king, Jesus, tells his disciples–his future kingdom–to pray to their heavenly Father: thy kingdom come (Mt. 6:10). This is the kingdom of their heavenly Father, and of the Father’s anointed king. The Greek word for kingdom here includes both kingship (kingly power) and the kingdom over which the king rules.

Father, it’s your kingdom that should come–rather than other kings and kingdoms that people want to come because they believe their promises (propaganda) and have faith in their power to improve their nation. Even within the kingdoms of earth, various political parties plot to gain power and rule over their kingdom; hope springs eternal for a great new leader who will rule a glorified kingdom.

Most Jews in Jesus’ time resented the kingdom of Rome, which had come and occupied Israel. Jews loyal to their local synagogues, led by scribes (rabbis) and Pharisees, hoped for a coming kingdom liberated from Rome and ruled over by the scribes and Pharisees–especially their most powerful rabbis (“fathers”), like those already in the Sanhedrin (in Jerusalem). When Jesus’ disciples pray for the kingdom of their heavenly Father to come, they also reject the hopes and dreams of those Jews who pray for their favorite national fathers to prevail as leaders of their Jewish kingdom.

Matthew’s gospel emphasizes the coming of the “kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven comes first of all from heaven. (The phrase can also be translated as the “kingdom from heaven.”) As at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit comes from heaven (Mt. 3:16); this Spirit will come to enlighten and empower new disciples on earth; they will then be part of the kingdom of heaven and please their Father, the one in the heavens (in contrast to the ruling fathers on earth). So this prayer asks the Spirit to come (as the kingly power from on high) and enable them to be obedient children as part of the family (kingdom) of their revered heavenly Father: thy kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth as it is in heaven.

Moreover, as disciples of king Jesus obey his commands, they will also be the light of the world. They will participate in a kingdom that comes to other kingdoms, the kingdoms of earth, and shines among them with the good works commanded by Jesus, so that some will glorify and revere their special Father, the one in the heavens (see Mt. 5:14-16; 28:18-20).

Beyond the daily coming of the Spirit and being empowered to do what the king commands, the prayer also looks forward to the final end of history; in the end, this kingdom of heaven will become the only kingdom on (the new) earth. And this kingdom will never end.

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