Every believer is a citizen of the kingdom of God—but do we know why we pray “Your kingdom come,” as Jesus modeled for us? Alistair Begg delves into this well-known phrase, showing us that when we speak it, we pray for the kingdom’s growth through conversion, request that God become the sole authority of our lives, and look forward with a sure hope for His rule’s consummation at His return.
Well, again, in Luke chapter 11 we come now to the phrase in verse 2—the phrase which ends verse 2—“Your kingdom come.” And for those of you who’ve been present on the last couple of Sundays, you know that our attempted fly over the Lord’s Prayer has just not happened, but the undercarriage has come down with every phrase, and we’ve been taxiing up and down the runway, I hope with purpose rather than it being tedious in any way. I hope you notice as well that this whole prayer begins with God and his glory before it goes to man and his need, which, of course, is true of the worship of God’s people, which is true of our witness; it’s essentially true of everything in our relationship with God. And each of these phrases, and the subsequent phrase that is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, almost make the same petition: “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth.”
The kingdom of God is vastly different from any earthly kingdom that has existed or ever will exist. These earthly kingdoms have been under the sway of sovereigns whose power has been inevitably limited and whose power must inevitably decline. Even a cursory glance through the pages of history makes this perfectly obvious. The great kingdoms, for example, in the Old Testament of Babylon and of Assyria that were once so tremendously powerful are now simply a footnote in history; the empire of Rome, for all of its influence, has left us with ancient sites and Latin, which is essentially a dead language; the royal families of Russia are long since gone; Hitler’s Third Reich ended in total disgrace; the British Empire no longer rules the waves; and America as a contemporary superpower trembles on the brink of moral collapse.
Kingdoms may rise, and kingdoms may fall, and nations refuse to heed God’s call, but the Word of the Lord endures forevermore. And so, when we think in terms of the kingdom of God, we think in terms of something that is vastly different from anything that we have ever encountered or will encounter in the pages of history. Many hymns have been written to this end. For example, quoting from one,
His kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our [Savior] giv’n:
[So] lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
The psalmist, speaking in the same vein in 145:13, says, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.”
Now, in light of this we need to ask the question, What is it we’re asking for when we take up this phrase in our prayers, “Your kingdom come”? Well, we can say at least this: that we are asking that God’s sovereign rule might increasingly be established in the hearts and lives of those who acknowledge him as King, and also in the lives of those who are presently living in rebellion against God and who are currently held captive by the powers of darkness. Because one of the great distinguishing features of faith in Christ is that God has rescued us—and I’m quoting Colossians 1:13—“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and [he has] brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” We are, then, if you like, the kids of the kingdom by grace and through faith. And this dimension of the sovereignty of God we ought not to pass over too quickly—that in the phrase “Your kingdom come” we’re reminding ourselves of the fact that God is King, that he is sovereign over all; that, again as the psalmist puts it, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him”—Psalm 115:3.
Now, this is a vastly different worldview from that which we listen to on a daily basis on the radio and in television news reports. For man qua man is proud of all of his achievements, and we essentially figure ourselves to be in charge and really to be in control of so much. Perhaps the greatest Old Testament illustration of how limited is a king’s control and how vast is God’s sovereign purpose is that which is conveyed in the book of Daniel and in chapter 4 concerning this character by the name of Nebuchadnezzar. And I want just to refresh your memory of it for a moment, if I may.
Daniel 4:30, we find that King Nebuchadnezzar is walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon—that’s verse 29—and as he surveys all the vastness of the grandeur of his kingdom, he says, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Now, we ought not to be too hard on Nebuchadnezzar, because he really is a quite contemporary individual in this respect. This is, if you like, the proud boast that was immortalized by Ol’ Blue Eyes in the singing of “My Way.” This is essentially that great and striking song from The Man from La Mancha (which I can’t remember right now, fortunately for you). But it’s the same notion: to think, “I did all that, and may I say, not in a shy way. Oh no, oh no, not me. You know, I did it my way.” You can imagine Nebuchadnezzar playing this on the stereo as he stands and looks over his great kingdom, and he says, you know, “I have done an amazing job in Babylon. By my power and to the glory of my name I have all of this stuff.”
If your Bible is open, look at verse 31: “The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.’” “…until you acknowledge, Nebuchadnezzar, that all that you have is subservient to God’s sovereign power, which rules over your kingdom and over all the affairs of time.” All the rise and fall of nations is clearly established and is under the sway of God. And when we have prayed to God “Your kingdom come,” we’re acknowledging the fact that the real ultimate issue of life is not about a Republican Congress or a Democratic Congress; it’s not about whether there’s a Labour government or a Conservative government in the houses of Parliament in control; it’s not about whether communism is rising or waning; it’s not about the Cultural Revolution in China. It is about the kingdom of God. “Your kingdom, God—let your kingdom come. Let me remind myself that you are King, and that you do reign and you do rule.”
I had never noticed it this week; I thought I had done a lot when in the parable of the prodigal I discovered a picture of God running, for the father conveys a picture of God: “And when he saw him he ran out to him.” But I never found God whistling in the Bible until this week. And you have the description of God whistling. Isaiah 5:26, he is pictured as whistling for “those at the ends of the earth,” who in turn appear “swiftly and speedily.” The King whistles in the way that we might whistle for a dog to come, and he whistles and the ends of the earth come to him.
So remember this as you listen to the news before you go to sleep, and as you waken to a new day, and as you take the pages and as you open them up. Say the Lord’s Prayer as you’re driving to work in the car: “O Father, let your kingdom come, may your will be done.”
Now, when you come to the Gospels, you discover that Jesus is going through the towns and the villages, and he’s preaching the good news of the kingdom. And he is telling people, “There is a kingdom, and I’m the King. You’re not in the kingdom, but if you will follow me, you may become a subject of the King and you may become part of the kingdom.” And it is essentially this picture that we have in mind when we take this phrase and pray, “Your kingdom come.” And in addressing that, it is important for us to keep in mind that the emphasis of Jesus—indeed, the striking emphasis of the whole Bible—is upon the spiritual and inward character of the kingdom of God and the way in which he rules in the lives of men and women. Nowhere is this more clearly pointed out than in John 18, when Jesus, responding to Pilate’s question, says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Can I suggest to you in passing that when you find Christian men and women determined to fight and to hassle and to engage in the now as if this was the beginning and the end of our existence, it is partly due to the fact that they have not fastened on the real nature of this spiritual and unshakable kingdom which God is constructing within the fabric of the church and within the framework of the world in which we are living? And when you find men and women who are panic-stricken by this event and by the next event, who are tyrannized by all of these things, I can virtually guarantee you that they have not faced up to the wonderful truth of being able to pray, “Your kingdom come. God, you are sovereign over all these things. Yes, this is what I would like to happen. Yes, this is how I wish it would go. But it clearly hasn’t. But it hasn’t taken you by surprise, for you are Lord and King.”
And when the people of God fight, then it’s usually because they have not understood. And that, of course, was Peter’s problem as soon as he grabs his sword and goes whacking at people’s heads. And Jesus said, “For goodness’s sake, Peter, have I not told you enough about this stuff? Put your sword away. And sir, sorry about that; here’s your ear back again.” Can you imagine that fellow every time he rubbed his ear from that point on? He said, “You’re never going to believe what happened to me. One of Jesus’ disciples whacked the thing off; he picked it up immediately and put it right back on my head. I tell you, he is no ordinary man.”
Now, when you think in these terms you discover that there is both a present dimension and a progressive discovery, and then finally a permanent display of God’s kingdom—a present dimension, a progressive discovery, and there will one day be a permanent display of the kingdom of God. Those are not the points under which I want to gather the remainder of my address, but rather to suggest to you that when we think in terms of praying “Your kingdom come,” we should keep in mind C, S, C—C, S, C. (Now, those of you who were brought up under the tutelage of Jeff Mills in the high school will know that he is famous for these great little pieces, and I’m learning from him.)
So, first of all, C stands for conversion—conversion. When we pray “Your kingdom come,” we are praying that men and women would be brought by new birth into the kingdom. You remember Jesus made it perfectly clear that entry into his kingdom was by way of new birth. John chapter 3, in the encounter with Nicodemus, to which we return and turn so frequently—the conversation between this religious man who had a position of influence, who was a man of authority, but at the same time had a seeking heart. He may well be like some who are here this evening: involved in religious things, perhaps serving in a number of church-related boards and opportunities, and yet at the same time with a great hunger in your heart to know God in a personal way. And as he engages Jesus in conversation, Jesus points out that the necessary prerequisite for both seeing (verse 3) and entering the kingdom (verse 5) is new birth. “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Verse 5: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” And this is brought about, he says, not by the natural scheme of things but as a result of God’s Spirit working a miracle in the human heart.
On another occasion, you will remember, Jesus takes a little child, sets the child in the middle of the people to whom he’s speaking, and he says, “You know, unless you are humbled enough to receive me in the way in which a little child would receive from me, then you will in nowise enter the kingdom of God.” And that, of course, is why the arrogant and the proud and those who trust in themselves may become very religious, may be quite interested in all kinds of aspects of church and its gatherings, and yet have no understanding whatsoever of the kingdom of God.
Now, when you think about this, you think about individuals that you know, don’t you? As I was reflecting on this, I thought first of all of people in the biblical record for whom this was a total transformation: Zacchaeus up the tree, totally changed; he saw what he’d never seen before, he entered somewhere that he couldn’t go. Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the Christians, sees what he had never seen, and hears what he had never understood, and makes entry into a place that he never had conceived of. Lydia, you remember, the seller of purple who liked to attend the gatherings for prayer in Philippi, who was interested in God; suddenly through the teaching of the Bible her eyes are opened, and she enters into the discovery of God’s kingdom.
I think of the diversity of people in my previous congregation in Hamilton in Scotland: On the one end, a taxi driver by the name of Sam McCutcheon, with an accent that’s thick enough you could cut it with a knife. I guarantee you if I let him stand up here for five minutes you would think he was speaking a foreign language. He was as broad and as hard as nails; you had to be to survive as a Glasgow taxi driver. And what an amazing trophy of God’s grace! He saw, he heard, he entered, he was changed. God did this to him. At the other end of the spectrum, the nuclear physicist from the National Engineering Laboratory in East Kilbride—so sure of himself, so clear in his views of the world, so disinterested in anything that his wife or his children wanted to deal with: “Fine for the girls, fine for my daughters. Let them go down to your silly church and listen to your silly sermons. But not for me—not for me, the scientist.” And today if I brought him up here, he would tell you of the change that God brought about in his life. You see, his eyes were opened, and his ears were unstopped, and he entered in. “Unless you are born again,” said Jesus, “you can’t even see the kingdom of God. Unless you’re born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
When you go into the Acts of the Apostles, in the very beginning of it, you find them in the upper room on the thirteenth verse of chapter 1 of the Acts. And they go upstairs, arriving, and they begin to pray. And in the context of their praying they are joining constantly with one another, and “along with the women and [with] Mary the mother of Jesus, and [also] with his brothers”—a tremendous prayer meeting taking place. Now, it occurred to me just this week that they probably prayed the Lord’s Prayer in the course of their prayer time. After all, one of them would have said, “Well, I think it would be good for us to say, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, and your kingdom come.’ Let’s pray that God’s kingdom will come, shall we?” And so, they would have gathered together in this way, and they would have said the Lord’s Prayer. And did God’s kingdom come? The Holy Spirit came, they spoke the Word of God with boldness, and as a result of the preaching of Peter on that day, some three thousand were added to the church.
I think we can, and we certainly should, pray for God to do that in our day. We know that God is perfectly able to save ones and twos, but he’s also perfectly able to save hundreds and thousands—hundreds and thousands of people. And what I’m suggesting to you is that there is a direct correlation between the people in prayer in verse 13, a part of which doubtless would have been the prayer “Your kingdom come,” and the dramatic discovery as a result of the preaching of Peter as thousands of people are ushered into the kingdom. So, when we pray “Your kingdom come,” we’re praying at least for men and women to be converted. That’s C.
Secondly, we’re praying that we might live—those of us who know Christ—might live in submission to the King. Conversion, submission—submission. You see, because when God’s kingdom comes in our lives, when Jesus takes his rightful place upon the throne, it brings about a revolution. We are no longer what we once were. We have been transformed by his grace, and we are being increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. The King has taken up residence in our lives. So, we’re able to sing, “Love is a flag flown high from the castle of my heart, for the King is in residence here. Joy is a love flag flown, peace is a flag flown, love is a flag flown from the castle of my heart”—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness … gentleness and self-control,” replacing bitterness, aggravation, animosity, spite, jealously, hatred, and all those other things.
“What’s the big change in his life?” says someone in the hairdressing salon. “What in the world happened to him?”
“I don’t know. He’s on about something about ‘Jesus is King and I will extol him.’ He’s been singing something to that effect today. I really don’t understand what’s happened to him at all. I must ask him.”
And then, of course, you told them.
You say you want a revolution?
Well, you know,
We all want to change the world.
But we can’t change the world unless first our world is changed. And the ministry of the Spirit of God in the life of the child of God is to establish his kingly rule in all of the dimensions of our lives, so that our hearts, as per the Greek usage of the term, stand for the totality of our being—our emotions, and our intellect, and our wills; that the King comes into the control tower of our lives, as it were, and here the direction of our lives is set, here our basic convictions are established, here our commitments for the now and for the future are made.
Again, the hymn writer helps us with the words
My will is not my own
[Until] thou [make] it thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne,
It must its crown resign;
It only stands unbent
Amid the clashing strife,
[Till] on thy [shoulder] it has leant,
And found in thee its life.
You see, this is the great discovery for the Christian: the kingly rule of Christ . This is why we have the biography of a man like Hudson Taylor, because he lived in submission to the King. This is why we know of the little woman Gladys Aylward and her impact in the lives of countless orphan children, because she lived in submission to the King. This is why we know Jim Elliot, this is why we know Eric Liddell, this is why these people have left a mark in history—not by dint of their personalities, not because of the uniqueness of their background or their education, but because they lived underneath the King’s rule. And I’ve preached first to myself,
My will is not my own
Till thou hast made it thine.
Force me to render up my sword,
and [then] I shall be free.
You see this great paradox? It is as we bow before his kingly rule: “King of my life I crown thee now—thine shall the glory be.” Or, in the words of Paul to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 10, he says, “We take [every thought captive] to make it obedient to Christ.”
Now, clearly there is far more than this than can even be coped with in the scheme of this study. But may I say to you, as I think of this in relationship to myself: If Jesus is really my King, am I an obvious subject? Am I a loyal subject of the King? Would anybody in meeting me determine, “There goes a loyal subject”? God forbid that we should enjoy disloyalty or that we should ever, due to foolishness and perversity, become traitors.
“Your kingdom come.” We’re praying, Lord, for the conversion of those who do not know you. “Your kingdom come.” We’re praying, Lord, for the submission of our lives to your rule. “Your kingdom come.” We’re praying, Lord, that you will bring to consummation all that you have purposed in the establishing of a kingdom.
You see, one of the great challenges in relationship to this subject is that, as we have said, there is both a now and a not yet dimension to the kingdom. So, for example, Jesus spoke about conferring a kingdom on his disciples. And we anticipate a day when Jesus will say to the whole of his people—and I’m quoting, now, Matthew 25:34—“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” So, as much as we look for God’s kingly rule in the life of an individual who is presently in the dominion of darkness and is transferred into the kingdom of the Son he loves, and as much as we need to live in submission to his kingly rule in terms of the advancement of his reign within all the facets of our lives, so we look forward to a day when God will finally bring to completion this great master plan.
Right now, all that we can see is the scaffolding, in a sense, all erected. But he is building an invisible kingdom. He’s building a kingdom which the writer to the Hebrews says is an “unshakable kingdom,” which is a wonderfully encouraging picture, for so much of our lives are buffeted and shaken by all kinds of things. Our culture is buffeted and moved and debilitated by the inroad of all kinds of things which militate so clearly against the Bible and against the rule of God. What are we to do? Throw our hands up in despair? Become a dreadful irritant in the framework of our culture? No! We are to pray “Your kingdom come,” and to acknowledge the fact as we lay our heads on the pillow tonight, “God, I needn’t fear the destruction of my body, for you are building an unshakable kingdom. I needn’t fear the demise of our influence within the culture—and it may be far less than it is now in another decade here in America—we needn’t fear that, for you are building an unshakable kingdom.” We may appear completely insignificant to the world. We may appear to be totally politically irrelevant. And incidentally, the great machinations of the religious right and all of these things are directly related to a view of the world and a view of the Bible that I don’t believe is a viable position to take. Not that there is an irrelevancy in the exercise of our jurisdiction and democratic privilege, as I say to you all the time, but that is not the issue. That is not the issue! We must turn our gaze to this unshakable, unseen kingdom that he is building.
I think, as I speak to you, of the lady… and I know some of you are going, “Oh, here we go with that lady that had a stroke.” That’s exactly what I’m going to tell you about again, because she is stamped indelibly in my mind forever. In Charlotte Chapel, the wife of one of the elders had a wonderful sister who had a stroke fairly prematurely in her early sixties. It was very, very debilitating. She lost it all down one side, her mouth was paralyzed, and she essentially lost all speech, all ability to verbalize things. And I in the course of my privileged responsibilities would visit her on a weekly basis. And in the course of our meeting she would make mention somehow to her sister—I can’t remember if she was able still to scribble, or whatever else it was—but on a regular basis, not necessarily a weekly basis, but on a regular basis, she would have her sister and I sing to her one song. (Which, you can tell how ill she was that she wanted me to sing to her; might have taken her right into glory right there and then if it hadn’t been for her sister holding the tune.) But she wanted us to sing,
We are building day by day
As the moments pass away
A kingdom that this world cannot see.
For every victory won by grace
Will be sure to find a place
In that kingdom for eternity.
She drooled down one side of her body. She couldn’t dress herself. She had lost every ability to move around and enjoy the privileges of her life to that point. But what was she thinking about and where was she looking? What was she praying? “Your kingdom come.”
God has “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and,” to quote James 2:5, “to inherit the kingdom he promised [to] those who love him.” He has chosen us to inherit a kingdom. We are “heirs … and joint-heirs with Christ.” I know this is hard for you republicans to accept, but you’re going to be in a kingdom. And I know you got rid of one, but you’re heading right for another one in Christ. I know you were glad to get rid of the king and all of his nonsense, and there was some justification for that, but you’re heading for the ultimate King and for the ultimate kingdom.
For the King is coming, and the full disclosure of his reign, the ultimate establishment of his kingdom, awaits his coming. And when he comes, the visible establishment of God’s reign over all of the hosts and powers of evil will be seen. And for all the things that I don’t know and understand about the coming of the King, I do know and understand this: that the return of Jesus will be personal, and physical, and visible, and sudden, and glorious, and will usher his people into his everlasting kingdom . And it is the awareness of that then which brings transformation into this now. So it is only as we’re able to live with a genuine expectation of that consummation that we will then be prepared to live in such an expression of submission and we will continue to thank God for the wonder of our conversion.
And the demands are without question great, but the rewards are out of this world. When we are so clearly praying “Your kingdom come,” then we will be able not necessarily to take in our stride, but we will certainly be able to respond in a different way to the ravages of sin as we experience them.
On the July 25, 1993—some of you will remember this incident, although will have forgotten, as I had, the date—July 25, 1993, the congregation of St James’ Church in Cape Town was gathered as we are now for its evening worship. And you may recall that a hooded gunman broke into the worship service and fired indiscriminately into the congregation, killing eleven individuals immediately and seriously injuring a host of others. Before the evening was over, one of the church leaders emerged from this mayhem to make a statement so that it could be carried on the world news. And this was the statement: “While as Christians we must live in this fallen world, we do so knowing that at the end there is a new world coming, when Jesus will be acknowledged to be King. The members of St James’ seek no revenge and harbor no bitterness. We are content to leave justice in the hands of the Almighty who has appointed a day of judgment when all will have to give an account of their actions to him.”
Now, I say to you, how can you possibly make that statement if all of your focus is on the now and on the me and on the us and on the why? What is it that brings the change? An understanding that we’re looking forward to an unshakable kingdom, and “Jesus is King, and I will extol him.” Will you? Will we? I trust so.
Let us pray:
God our Father, we pray that the Word of God may dwell richly in our hearts; that we might allow the Word of God to dwell in us richly, and then be able to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, giving glory to Christ who is both Lord and King.
I pray tonight for some who are present who have never bowed before the kingly rule of Christ, who remain outside of the kingdom, have been unable to see or to enter. I pray that in your great mercy you might open their eyes and that they might hear you bid them welcome.
We confess to you tonight how keen we are, Lord Jesus, to wriggle out from underneath your rule, to keep little areas of our lives as our own private and pet areas where we play fast and loose with your kingship. We confess to you our sin, we ask you to forgive us, and we pray that you will rule and direct our lives. And thank you for turning our gaze to the day when Christ will come in all of his fullness and grant to us that which he has promised from all of eternity as an inheritance to those who love him.
And so, in the meantime, let’s allow the pessimists to look down and the fearful to look over their shoulders and around, but let us as Christians lift our eyes and look up to the throne from which Christ will come. To this end we pray, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Matthew 6:9–10 (NIV 1984).
 Charles Wesley, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (1744).
 Frank Sinatra, “My Way” (1969).
 Luke 15:20 (paraphrased).
 Luke 8:1 (paraphrased).
 John 18:36 (NIV 1984).
 John 18:10–11 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 18:3–4 (paraphrased).
 Acts 1:14 (NIV 1984).
 Acts 2:41 (paraphrased).
 Traditional children’s song. Paraphrased.
 Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV 1984).
 Wendy Churchill, “Jesus Is King and I Will Extol Him” (1982).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Revolution” (1968).
 George Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord” (1890).
 Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord.”
 Jennie Evelyn Hussey, “Lead Me to Calvary” (1921).
 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 12:28 (paraphrased).
 Fanny J. Crosby, “Building Day by Day” (1891). Paraphrased.
 Romans 8:17 (KJV).
 Source unknown.
 Churchill, “Jesus Is King”
 Colossians 3:16 (paraphrased).