“Your kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10)
Last week we traced the history of the kingdom of God (the rule or reign of God) on earth, as it existed originally in Eden and then as it took shape in ancient Israel, only to be lost through the period of the exile.
Finally, as prophesied, the heir to David’s throne arrived.
Jesus was born into the line of kings in direct fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is the Beloved King, the “Root and Branch of Jesse” (Isaiah 11) whose rule will fill all the earth with the personal knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.
This was Jesus’s message, his “gospel,” from the very beginning.
From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17)
The Kingdom Given to Us
The Sermon on the Mount is the first extended teaching we get from Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. It basically tells us what Jesus was preaching when he preached “the gospel of the kingdom.”
(By the way, “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are synonyms. Matthew favors the term “kingdom of heaven,” which refers to the spirit realm where God exists and from which he rules. It’s a term his Jewish audience would have understood. The other gospel writers, who write to more Gentile audiences, favor “kingdom of God.” But they are the same thing.)
A Twist in the Tale
It comes as a surprising twist, then, that Jesus doesn’t just preach “God’s on the throne; everybody bow or else!”
Instead he talks about the kingdom being given to us.
In Jesus’s wording, the kingdom is something we can “inherit” (or not); something we choose to enter (or not); something that must be sought and discovered (or not); something that is planted inside of us.
Jesus is generous in his giving of the kingdom. We qualify to receive the kingdom if we have nothing:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3)
That makes the kingdom open to anyone who will receive it. You can’t earn it; it’s a gift. The only thing that will keep you out is choosing not to come in—which is usually the result, in some sense or other, of pride.
But why? Why is God offering us such a gift? Why is God giving us his kingdom—not simply as subjects, but as rulers in some sense?
That’s what it means to be given a kingdom, after all.
How does that even make sense? Don’t we need to get mankind off the throne and God back on? Aren’t the two locked in eternal competition?
Why in the world would Jesus show up, bringing the kingdom—and then give it to a bunch of spiritually impoverished, made-of-dust human beings?
The answer lies way back in Genesis.
We first see the kingdom of God on earth in Genesis 1:26-31, where Adam and Eve are created in God’s “image” and then given rule over the earth and all of its creatures and resources. There’s no sense that God is giving up his rule here, or that they are in competition. Rather, Adam and Eve have been given delegated dominion—they are God’s representatives, his ruling agents, who are responsible to bring heaven to earth.
God, it turns out, isn’t into dictatorial rule. He likes to share.
But of course, we know the rest of the story: Adam and Eve broke faith with God. There was a kingdom split: earth became a rogue kingdom, a divided, warring mess.
But God always had a plan to reestablish his rule. The key is that he never gave up the original plan: the rule of earth was always supposed to be in and through human beings.
God doesn’t need to use people to accomplish his purposes. But he wants to.
This is where ancient ideas like “free will” become so important. We are the way we are—free agents with the ability to choose, to create, to enact—because that’s how God wants us.
God isn’t a puppet-master, and he’s not after our puppet strings. He’s after mature children who are shaped in his character and who love his will, and who purposely, freely manifest the character and will of God in the world.
That’s what we were created to do.
That’s the message of the whole New Testament, if you think about it. That’s what “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Kingdom of God Is Within You
After the fall and before Jesus came, the best picture of the kingdom of God on earth was the kingdom of David and his son Solomon. Theirs was a kingdom of incredible prosperity, wisdom, and might. During David’s reign Israel’s enemies were conquered one by one; during Solomon’s reign, the kingdom was at peace.
(Solomon’s name means “Peace”; he is a type of the “Prince of Peace” to come—Jesus.)
Jesus’s disciples expected him to restore the Davidic kingdom, in accordance with the prophecies of Isaiah and others. And he did. But not in the way they thought he would.
Instead, he taught them that the kingdom of God was already with them—“among” them or “within” them (Luke 17:21). He said the kingdom of God belonged to those who were like children, to those who were poor in spirit and would receive it.
And he called his followers “the church.” This is an incredible term. The Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia. Literally it means a governing assembly of citizens—something like a town council meeting.
To be church is to be kingdom citizens, and citizens who have some dominion—authority—within that kingdom.
That Jesus spent so much time in the Sermon on the Mount teaching on spiritual disciplines and walking with God tells me that the primary realm where we’re given dominion is over our own inner lives. Dominion doesn’t mean taking control, lording over others, or conquering by military means. It does mean “imaging” God, becoming spiritual people, and stewarding the resources and responsibilities God gives us in a way that brings his blessings and manifest presence into the world.
Why Do We Have to Ask?
Jesus was clear that the kingdom of God came when he did. Yet he teaches us to ask for it to come: “Your kingdom come,” or more accurately, “Let your kingdom come,” or “May your kingdom come.”
Why do we have to ask?
I see two answers to this question.
The first, incredibly, ties into the history we’ve covered above. God originally gave dominion over the earth to mankind. So when it comes to reinstating his own rule, he waits for us to request it—essentially, to give him permission.
He is still honoring the dominion given to us in Genesis 1.
Don’t get me wrong: there will come a time when judgment convenes, and God will not ask permission to judge. This isn’t about us being more powerful than God or having something we can hold over him.
It’s about his nature, about his choice to honor us, about his love.
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
(Hat tip to my good friend Sheila for these connections!)
The second answer has to do with timing.
Already, Not Yet
The kingdom of God has come—but it’s not fully here. It’s among us, but it’s not fully realized. It’s present, but it’s still, in some sense, invisible. It’s actively transforming the world we live in, but it has yet to be revealed.
The kingdom of God is an already-but-not-yet kingdom. There is a fuller realization coming after the day of judgment and the resurrection.
But right now, we have received the kingdom. It’s here—in seed form.
Everything the kingdom will be is already with us. The growth of the kingdom is already transforming the world, like the growth of a crop transforms a field. Much is still invisible, rooting and germinating under the ground. But it’s here.
As Jesus will later teach, we are the soil.
We have received a kingdom. But we also pray: Let your kingdom come.
Let it grow. Let it transform us. We give permission. We ask.
We want the gift, Lord. Your kingdom come.
(This is Part 62 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)