Consider these fourteen words from the Sermon on the Mount. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Have these words lost meaning through over-familiarity? I suppose that’s a question each of us will need to ask ourselves. But let’s take a quick and simple look at these words.
Your kingdom. So we’re talking about something that does not belong to us; that is beyond us and transcends us. We are talking about honoring and serving God, the Sovereign One, the Holy One. We are facing here the Triune God and his priorities.
Your kingdom. The kingdom of God. In an important sense kingdom is a metaphor. We don’t fully know what we’re talking about, or praying for.
But the New Testament uses two other terms that help us: mystery and economy, or plan. Mystery: It’s much more than we can figure out, and comes in ways we often don’t expect. But there is a secret (mystery) to it that centers in Jesus Christ.
And economy, plan and purpose, oikonomia. God is up to something big, and it’s not vague. It has purpose and direction and ultimate finality to it. Its finality is everything in creation brought into proper reconciled relationship, shalom, under the mastery of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10).
In fact Jesus very nearly defines the meaning in the parallel phrase here: “your will be done on earth as in heaven.” What is the plan, purpose, and mystery? It is breathtaking in its ultimate simplicity: God’s will done on earth. So the other key word here associated with kingdom is will, the will and purpose and intention of God.
Come is the next key word—a stupendously rich word in Scripture, as we know. Come! “Come unto me.” The coming of the Day of the Lord.
Here the point of course is: May the full purpose, power, and reality of God’s kingdom really, actually appear now, in our midst and time, and also finally, ultimately.
Your will—these are the next words. The point here, in context, is this: The kingdom of God is not some abstract reality, not some theoretical social program or mere spiritual theorem. Not just a nice inspiring concept to make us feel good or comforted. It is much more even than a plan or project—though it is also, derivatively, that.
Your will means the kingdom of God is personal. The kingdom of God: God “takes it personal”! We are talking about what God wants, intends, desires, is passionate about. Delights in. Cares about and is invested in—invested to the cost of a cross and the patient superintendence of history.
Don’t take seriously God’s kingdom, and you are offending God personally. God’s kingdom is God’s will—the will of the Father, the passion of the Son, the personal project of the Holy Spirit.
Be done. These are the next words, and in fact they are one word in the Greek. “Let it come about,” it means, much like in Genesis 1, “Let there be….” But now humans are heavily invested and engaged in all the complex contingencies of the coming of the kingdom of God. This also is part of God’s will.
So, “your will be done” means: Let everything on earth be in fact, visibly, according to your purpose and plan, your wise shalom.
On earth. Two more key words. From a biblical standpoint, this is totally obvious: God’s whole plan is that things should be on earth consistent with the way they are in heaven. In other words: That things run on earth consistently with God’s own life and character.
Biblically, this is obvious, I say. For most Christians today, it seems not so obvious. God’s will done in heaven? Of course! So let’s all go there! But God’s will done on earth? Well—that seems kind of iffy. But at least we can, hope, I suppose….
No! Jesus is serious. Deathly serious. He says: Pray constantly that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Pray constantly that my disciples actually put into practice everything I am teaching you, as Jesus stresses in the Great Commission.
What Jesus is saying and praying, actually, is: May everything promised in the book of Isaiah and other high-point Old Testament prophecies actually come about now, in our history.
The final phrase: As it is in heaven. Now, our tendency is to think split-level here. So we tend to think: Heaven is the perfect place, where it’s easy to imagine everything running perfectly on God’s software, with no glitches or hacking. But here on earth? Things are really messed up; probably beyond repair. God just isn’t that great a software engineer.
Biblically, of course, this is wrong. Jesus’ project is precisely about God’s will being implemented and incarnated on earth as in heaven. Or better, more fully: Jesus’ project is the marriage of heaven and earth; the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb; all things in heaven and earth reconciled, so that truly we inhabit a new heaven and new earth. “All things made new” rather than taking the last exit from earth to heaven.
As it is in heaven means there is a realm where God’s will really is done perfectly, and God intends to expand and extend that realm, that sphere, to the whole creation. So Jesus says, in effect: Pray for this constantly! Implicitly Jesus is adding: And get on with it! This is your discipleship.
So there we have it: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The bottom line: May your kingdom come doesn’t mean, “Wouldn’t it be nice if,” or “I hope someday it might happen,” or even: “Sometime it will happen, in some other age or place or time unrelated to my own little life and space.
May your kingdom come. It means, in effect: Do it now! And do it through me in every way that I may be responsible for my part—and through your Body, where I find my community and kingdom comrades.
O God, Holy Father, may your kingdom come on earth in new ways today, and use me as you see fit. Even if the progress is measured in inches, or millimeters, or microns—or is unmeasurable—Lord, may your kingdom come! Amen.
Given as a devotional meditation, E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism, Asbury Theological Seminary, February 13, 2013.