When I was in high school, I heard my Bible teacher say “To pray ‘Your kingdom come’ is to pray for judgment.” He excitedly told us how the Israelites had found a legitimate red heifer that might allow them to restart the sacrificial system, should the Tribulation come upon us soon. We had just witnessed the 9/11 attacks, and talk of the end of days was common. Our teacher explained that, in praying the Lord’s Prayer, we were inviting those final judgments and the Millennial kingdom of Christ.
I was a bit skeptical then, and I am even more skeptical of his interpretation now. So what does the phrase “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” actually mean? That is a difficult question to answer, because while the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated, it has not yet been fully realized.
The kingdom of God is chiefly a spiritual and heavenly reality rather than a physical and earthly one. This is not to say that it has no impact on the physical world, but Christ Himself told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) By the same token, the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” seem to be essentially interchangeable in the Gospels.
Christ’s kingdom was inaugurated with His saving death and resurrection. During His ministry, He often proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 3:2) whereas prior to His ascension, He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Was there ever a time when creation was not under God’s authority? No, but scripture suggests that the sacrificial humility of Jesus Christ caused Him to be exalted and glorified by God the Father “…that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-10)
We gain a further clue about the nature of this kingdom when we see a distinction made between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Those who belong to Christ are citizens of His kingdom in the here and now, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13) However, as we have already seen, a day is coming when every person on planet earth, from the least to the greatest, will be forced to recognize the authority of Christ. As John prophesied about the last days, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
To say that the kingdom of God is chiefly a spiritual kingdom is not to imply that it is not a real kingdom. While the regimes of this world pass away, Christ sits on the throne of David for all eternity. This was granted to Him on account of His saving work, for which the Father said, “Sit at My right hand / Until I make Your enemies a foot stool for Your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)
So what exactly are we praying for when we say “Your kingdom come” if it has already been inaugurated? Note that the Lord’s Prayer links the coming of Christ’s kingdom with His will being done “on earth as it is in heaven”. This reflects a longing for two things. First, that the gospel of Jesus Christ will go forth to the ends of the earth, and that more and more people will become heirs with Christ. Second, that the final consummation of the ages will come about, in which all of creation is restored, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23)
This prayer also reflects our desire that all things be brought in accordance with God’s will. That which is under the rule of the kingdom of God is subject to the will of God. Yes, the whole world is under His sovereignty, but at the same time, those who have been transferred to the domain of Christ have been regenerated by the Spirit and may act in obedience to God’s will in a way that is not possible for others. As Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Therefore, when we pray this prayer, we are submitting our own wills to the divine will and acknowledging Him as our rightful sovereign.
The kingdom of God is not to be associated with any political entity on this earth. It is that land sought by Abraham and the saints of old by faith. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:15-16) This is the heavenly kingdom, which will endure forever. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe…” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.