Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount
August 2, 2016
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount
(You can read about the intent for and overview of this series in this introductory article.)
How to Pray (Part 4)
This is the fourth in a series of articles about the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus taught His disciples how to pray (and how not to pray).
After the introductory sentence of the Lord’s Prayer, which directs the prayer to our Father in heaven, Jesus followed with three phrases that have to do with God’s honor, kingdom, and purpose; followed by three which address our needs. The first three phrases which refer to God are:
Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.1
Here we have three petitions: may your name be sanctified, may your kingdom come, and may your will be done. These express our prayer for God’s glory in relation to His name, rule, and will.
Let’s look at the first: hallowed be your name. The word hallow (hagiazō in Greek) means to honor, sanctify, set apart, treat with the highest respect. When we pray hallowed be your name, we are honoring God and asking Him to help us give Him the reverence that is His due, and also asking Him to act within our world in ways that will cause those who don’t reverence Him to change and give glory to His name as well. While God’s name is fully given glory in heaven, and somewhat on earth, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking the Lord to cause His name to be glorified everywhere and fully.
In Scripture we read of God taking action in order that His name will be held in honor:
I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.2
The “name” of God in the Old Testament refers to what’s known as the Tetragrammaton (“four letters”), often spelled YHWH and sometimes Yahweh. Because of the command You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain,3 the Jewish people avoided (and still avoid) saying His name (YHWH) to keep from mistakenly taking it in vain. To this end, they developed ways of referring to God without pronouncing His name. As a rule, they substituted the words Adonai (my Lord) or Elohim for the divine name of God when reading Scripture. Sometimes the circumlocution “angels” or even “the name” served the same purpose.4 When we read the word “Lord” in Scripture in reference to God, the word is translating Adonai, since the Jewish writers of the Old Testament didn’t use the word YHWH. In English translations of the Old Testament, whenever the word Lord is written LORD, with all capital letters, it is the translation of the Tetragrammaton.
In ancient Jewish understanding, a person’s name wasn’t just what he was called—a name also referred to attributes of the person. Within the Old Testament we see a number of references to God mentioning His name along with a descriptive word, such as the LORD that heals,5 the LORD that provides,6 the LORD our peace,7 the LORD is present,8 the LORD our banner,9 the LORD our righteousness.10 The name of God is combined with attributes of God. In giving these various names to Himself, God was revealing Himself and something of His nature and being, character and attributes, to humanity.11
When we pray hallowed be thy name, we are asking God to cause His name (and thus Himself) to be honored in our world. Of course, His name is honored by some people; but sadly, it is also regularly dishonored and His reputation besmirched. In asking Him to make His name holy, we are asking Him to act in the physical world, and particularly through us, His people, so that all humanity may honor Him as God.
In reading the Gospels, we see that Jesus was always concerned about glorifying His Father. His actions caused others to glorify God.12 In His prayer in John 17, He stated: I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.13 I have manifested your name to the people.14 We too can manifest His name to others; we can cause God to be glorified through our words, our lives, by being a reflection of the greatness and glory of God and His glorious attributes.15
We are also reminded as we pray Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,16 that while He is Abba, our loving Father, He is also YHWH, our awesome God Almighty, and we should respect and revere Him.
The second petition, your kingdom come, is similar to the first in that it is a request for God to bring forth His kingdom in our world. We are praying for God to bring about His basilea17—His reign, power, and authority throughout the earth. The kingdom was inaugurated with Jesus’ entrance into the world. Though the kingdom wasn’t physical, it was nevertheless present through Him while He was on earth, and continues to be present today. He also spoke of it in future tense. The dynamic reign of God is both a present reality introduced through Jesus’ life and ministry as well as a future manifestation which will be made complete after He returns.
When we pray your kingdom come, we are asking God to move in ways that will cause the gospel to be preached throughout the world, so that people will receive the message and will enter the kingdom through belief in Jesus. We’re praying that those who come to believe in the Lord will increasingly let Him reign in their lives. At the same time, we’re praying that Jesus will return and fully consummate the kingdom of God. We’re looking forward to the time when all sin and everything opposed to God is done away with. We’re praying, like the words at the closing of the book of Revelation: Come, Lord Jesus!18
The third petition, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, builds on the second. When God reigns, His will is done. Here we pray for the full realization of all that the kingdom means. For God to cause His will to be done in our world, including through our actions and deeds.
In heaven, God’s kingship and will are already acknowledged and fulfilled, but on earth they are yet to be fully recognized. To some extent, the kingdom is present in the hearts and lives of believers, but not “as it is in heaven.” God’s will is already done in heaven; His name is already holy, He is already king, and there is nothing in heaven that keeps His will from being done. In praying the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking our Father to work in our world to change the hearts of humanity; and as part of that, to help us participate in bringing about change in the hearts of others.
In the present time, our world does not do God’s will as it is done in heaven; but at some future point, this will happen:
I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”19
This is the kingdom which is to come, where God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
When we petition our Father in heaven to make His name holy, and ask for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are setting things in proper priority—putting God first. Praying for our needs comes next.
By praying for God’s name to be made holy, we are committing to honor, love, worship, and praise Him, for He alone is holy.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!20 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.21
When we pray for His kingdom to come, we recognize that besides asking that He bring about His reign in this world, we are asking Him to reign in our lives as well. Asking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven is requesting that we become those who respond to His will now, as we will in heaven.
These first three petitions express our desire that God’s name be honored more than our own; that His kingdom, power, and reign be given greater priority than our own; and that His will be given precedence over our own.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew 6:9–10.
2 Ezekiel 36:21–23. See also Ezekiel 43:7–8.
3 Exodus 20:7.
4 Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 109.
5 Exodus 15:26.
6 Genesis 22:14.
7 Judges 6:24.
8 Ezekiel 48:35.
9 Exodus 17:15.
10 Jeremiah 23:6.
11 Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 334–35.
12 Immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God (Luke 18:43). Immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (Luke 5:24–25).
13 John 17:4.
14 John 17:6.
15 Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 336.
16 Matthew 6:9.
18 Revelation 22:20.
19 Revelation 21:2–3.
20 Psalm 66:1–2.
21 1 Chronicles 16:29.