God’s people are meant to be praying for the fulfillment of God’s prophecies. I don’t have space to argue that assertion here. I have tried to make the case for the importance of praying forward the prophetic purposes and promises of God elsewhere.1See Layton Talbert, Not by Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, Chapter 13, “Providence & Prayer.” Isaiah 62:6–7, when exegeted against the contextual backdrop of Isaiah 60–62, makes a strong argument for praying that God will accomplish what he has prophesied quite clearly and unconditionally. After laying out in astonishing detail what he promises to do in and for Israel, God issues an extraordinary command to his people to become co-laborers with him, through their prayers to him, in bringing about what he has already announced he will perform! It is an exhortation to pray without ceasing for the fulfillment of these prophecies and, through prayer, to not leave God alone about it until he fulfills what he has said he will do. Even though it will surely come to pass—precisely because God has unequivocally declared that it will—he calls his people to participate in praying for its fulfillment.
But why would God require that men unceasingly remind Him to fulfill what He Himself has already sovereignly purposed and faithfully promised to perform? And more to the point, does such an OT command have anything to do with us? Are there any parallel exhortations in the New Testament?
The Lord’s Prayer2Allow me to address a common objection to the use of the term “Lord’s Prayer” to denote the subject of this post (Mt 6:9–13 and Lk 11:2–4). The phrase is, of course, susceptible of two … Continue reading
Why did Jesus instruct His disciples specifically to pray, “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? I do not deny an applicational, personal component of praying this way; we should desire God’s name to be sanctified in us, and God’s rule and will to have free sway within us. That is, perhaps, the most common, universal application of these requests. But if the personal dimension was, in fact, the primary applicational intent of the Lord’s instructing his disciples to pray this way, there are much more obvious and straightforward ways Jesus could have expressed those model requests. After all, the second half of the model prayer is loaded with personal pronouns: give us our daily bread; forgive us our iniquities as we forgive those who sin against us; lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
The first half of that prayer focuses not on asking God to help us do things, nor on asking God to do things for us or even in us; it focuses on our asking God to accomplish certain things for himself: may your name be sanctified, may yourkingdom come, may your will be done. When we democratize these requests, isolate them from their cultural and covenantal context—a Jewish rabbi teaching his Jewish followers how to pray—and apply them only individualistically, we are missing important hermeneutical signals. And we’re missing the point of what we are supposed to be praying for, and why.
May Your Name Be Sanctified
Let’s start with the first request Jesus taught his followers to pray. Where does this language of hallowing or sanctifying God’s name come from? Originally, it is a stipulation of the Old Covenant.
You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be sanctified among the sons of Israel; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. After that, it surfaces exclusively in prophetic, and particularly New Covenant, passages connected expressly with the conversion of Israel.Leviticus 22:32
Therefore thus says the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face now turn pale; But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, They will sanctify My name; Indeed, they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob And will stand in awe of the God of Israel.Isaiah 29:22–23
Ezekiel 36 is the most thorough explanation of how God intends to see to it that his name is sanctified not only within Israel but internationally. Speaking of historical Israel (note the multiple references to both God’s name and the nations), Yahweh says:
When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name . . . . But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.Ezekiel 36:20–23, NKJV
How will God accomplish this national and international sanctification of his name? By sovereignly and graciously cleansing, converting, and restoring Israel . . . permanently. Yahweh continues in Ezekiel 36:
For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.Ezekiel 36:24–28; cf. 39:6–8, 25–26; 43:7–8
So when we pray for God’s name to be hallowed—if we are praying with theological, covenantal, contextualized understanding—we are praying (or should be) for the conversion and restoration of Israel in the sight of all the nations. That this is the intended meaning and focus of this petition is corroborated by the next petition we are instructed to offer.
May Your Kingdom Come
Continuing in the same New Covenant context of Ezekiel, Yahweh says,
Thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations . . . and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land . . . and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. . . . David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.Ezekiel 37:21–28
The establishment of God’s Davidic King over Israel will be the avenue through which Messiah’s reign will extend universally, as so many prophecies predict (Ps 2:6–8; Isa 9:6–7; 55:3–5; 60:3–12; 61:1–9; Jer 30:8–9; Dan 7:27).
In his recent commentary on Luke, OT scholar Dale Ralph Davis combines the first two petitions and makes the connection to Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 36 is essential for understanding this dual petition. In Ezekiel 36:23 [already quoted above] God speaks of how his name will be held sacred or holy. . . . He will show how holy His great name is, and He will do so by thoroughly restoring Israel . . . to the land (Ezek 36:24, 28–30, 33–36). . . . I am convinced this is the proper background for the first petition of this prayer. “Let your name be held holy.” . . . We are praying that He will bring about the final restoration of His people. The petition does not exclude other “honorings” of God, but it prays primarily for a “last thing” thing. The parallel petition “Your kingdom come,” supports this view. Yes, the kingdom in one sense had already come in the presence and work of Jesus (cf. Luke 11:20; 17:20–21). But by asking that God’s kingdom “come,” we are assuming that it has yet to come in its fullness, in all its power and glory—and that is what we especially pray for in this prayer.Davis, Luke 1–13, 197–99
Walter Liefeld, too, connects these first two petitions and sees in them a prayer for a specific eschatological event.
God told Israel that because they failed to honor his name, he would do it himself so the nations would know that he was Lord (Ezek 36:22–23). The aorist tense here suggests that a specific time of fulfillment is in mind. This may be the coming of the kingdom. The next clause, which is about the kingdom, also contains a verb in the aorist tense.“Luke,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 8:947
But it’s not just the first two requests that go together. Davis and Liefeld connect only the first two requests, because the text they are commenting on (Luke 11) does not include a third request found in Matthew 6:10. But a third New Covenant expectation follows naturally from the international sanctification of God’s name as a result of the international establishment of God’s reign—the doing of God’s will on earth.
May Your Will Be Done
The disciples expressed to the resurrected Christ their expectation of an imminent establishment of the kingdom (Acts 1:6). The Lord left intact all their notions about the nature of that kingdom. He only explained that the timing of its establishment was entirely in the Father’s hands (Acts 1:7)—which explains why Jesus taught us, in this model prayer, to direct these requests related to the coming of the kingdom to “our Father in heaven.”
Integrally connected to the coming of the kingdom promised in the New Covenant is not only the international sanctification of God’s name, but an international conformity to his will. That will be possible because one of the principal provisions of the New Covenant is the supernatural implanting of the divine law in the human heart: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33). Again, Ezekiel’s New Covenant descriptions both echo and expand on the description in Jeremiah:
I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances. . . . They will follow My ordinances and keep My statutes and obey them.Ezekiel 36:27; 37:24, HCSB
Again, this aspect of the New Covenant is echoed elsewhere (Isa 9:6–7; 60:21; 62:1–2; Zech 8:20–23; 14:16, 2–21).
On Earth as in Heaven
I set this phrase apart because it almost certainly is designed to modify not just the third request but all three, “in view of the careful balance of the three preceding clauses.”3R. T. France, Matthew, TOTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985, rpr 200), 135. His name receives the fame and reverence it deserves in heaven; restoring that to earth as well is an express goal of the New Covenant. His kingdom holds unquestioned sway in heaven and will one day on earth as well. His will is performed from the heart in heaven, and the full implementation of the New Covenant will implant his law in the hearts of an entire globe of redeemed people. In short, the model prayer given by the Lord as a paradigm for our praying is characterized by “(1) a theocentric worldview, (2) that is eschatological in focus, and (3) that calls for human partnership in the divine purpose”4Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 442.—which is the point with which this post began: the privilege and responsibility of God’s people praying forward his prophetic purposes and promises.
Learning to Link the Lord’s Prayer with New Covenant Fulfillment
The astonishing parallels between the promises of the New Covenant and the requests our Lord taught us to pray are neither accidental nor imaginary. The petitions Jesus taught us to forestage in our praying and thinking are requests of massive theological and eschatological scope, prayers that in a single breath encompass the whole breadth and sweep of God’s revealed purpose for the earth. Mean them when you pray them. Desire them when you pray them. Expect them when you pray them; they are requests that will be infallibly fulfilled.
Because their scope reaches far beyond just Israel to include God’s ultimate purpose to glorify Himself in His people and among the nations, they are pertinent expectations for the Church to keep in mind and to participate in praying forward.
Even though they are ultimately eschatologically focused, these petitions have immediate personal impact as well. Christ put a very practical edge on the blade of this prayer practice. A little later in this same context, he exhorts his followers not to fret about the most basic necessities of life—food and clothing—because our Father knows we need these things, and he will supply them (Matt 6:25–32). He does not say, “Don’t pray about them”; he actually taught us to do that in 6:11. Instead, he says, “Don’t fret about them.” Jesus directs our attention to where our prayerful concern ought to concentrate: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you(Matthew 6:33).
You can see the connection back to the prayer instruction Jesus had given earlier. Seeking God’s kingdom does not mean looking for it, as though it were hidden somewhere, but pursuing it. How? One way is through prayer (hence Jesus’ earlier instruction to pray “thy kingdom come”). Rather than being preoccupied in prayer with the mundane material matters of life, we are to make God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness a central concern and focus in our priorities and in our praying. When we do that, we are anticipating, participating, and hastening the coming of the day of the Lord, when God’s prophetic purposes will infallibly be fulfilled (Isa 55:10–13). In addition, something very important happens to us.
|See Layton Talbert, Not by Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God, Chapter 13, “Providence & Prayer.”
|Allow me to address a common objection to the use of the term “Lord’s Prayer” to denote the subject of this post (Mt 6:9–13 and Lk 11:2–4). The phrase is, of course, susceptible of two equally legitimate grammatical meanings: (1) A subjective genitive combined with a verbal use of “prayer,” signifying a prayer the Lord himself actually prayed; but that raises its own question, since we have the content of several prayers that the Lord prayed. (2) A genitive of source combined with a nominal use of prayer, signifying a prayer given by the Lord to his disciples as an instructional model. Consequently, the notion that some other label (such as “The Disciples’ Prayer”) is more accurate is misguided and grammatically short-sighted.
|R. T. France, Matthew, TOTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985, rpr 200), 135.
|Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 442.