Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Asking God For His Kingdom Come
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 191, which asks, “What do we pray for in the second petition?” It gives the answer, “In the second petition (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.”
Kingdom is one of those words and concepts, which Christians often invoke and talk about, but which they not as often accurately portray. There are two main errors regarding kingdom, each of which can be equally disastrous to the faith of the believer. The first is to view the kingdom as entirely future. We read verses like those at the head of this article and if we are not careful to consider the context and the larger picture of the New Testament we can wrongly separate God’s kingdom entirely from this world in any sense. When He made this powerful assertion, our great king Jesus was answering the Roman governor Pontius Pilate’s interrogation as to whether or not He was the king of the Jews, and most immediately He was responding to the question, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” (John 18:35). And then Jesus responds with the statement that His kingdom is not of this world, as quoted above. “What have you done?” Pilate asked. In other words, “Why are they accusing you of being a king when I have no news or evidence of you leading any kind of rebellion? What is going on here? What did you do to make them want you executed?” This is the general tenor of their conversation.
Astonishingly to Pilate, Jesus in a sense confirms the accusation of the priests. He clearly affirms that in some sense He really is a king. The NIV translation captures Pilate’s surprise, “You are a king then!” Though Pilate makes no real attempt to understand the nature of Christ’s kingship or kingdom, the one thing that he clearly hears from Jesus is “Yes, I am a king.” However, Christ just as clearly states that His kingdom is not a worldly kingdom with a worldly army that would fight in a worldly way. That is, His kingdom is not physical but it is, and until He returns it will remain, spiritual. The spirit refers to the mind, heart, and will of man. This is where Jesus rules and reigns right now in this world: in the spirits of those who believe in Him. Thus, Jesus taught, “The kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:21). This important truth also tells us how to advance Christ’s kingdom in this world: not by armies and wars, not by politicians and elections, not by education, health, and poverty services (though Christians can, and sometimes should participate in all of these things), but by the Word of God proclaimed, believed, and kept in the minds and hearts (the spirits) of the sons and daughters of the kingdom. This is how His kingdom is here right now; His “rule in our hearts;” and yet His rule in our hearts must increase, and we see various petitions to this end in today’s Catechism answer.
However, the Catechism clearly affirms a future only aspect of the kingdom of God, as does all of the great creeds and confessions of the church. Thus the second error with reference to God’s kingdom is just as deadly and is probably much more common in Reformed circles. And that is to so overemphasize the “now” aspect as to view the kingdom as entirely, actually, and potentially present, with no real significant future only element. Today’s Catechism answer destroys such an unbiblical distortion, for it unambiguously affirms a future only aspect of the kingdom, in that it maintains that “all mankind” are “under the dominion of sin and Satan.” In other words, the understanding of the Catechism is that as long as Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come, they should do so while being conscious that they are currently, physically dwelling in Satan’s domain. The Catechism instructs us to pray for that dominion to end. But we will not be “reigning with Him forever,” until “the time of His second coming.” In these most significant and visible of ways, our Lord’s kingdom has not yet come. And so He has commanded us to pray, “Thy kingdom come!” It has come and taken root in our hearts. It is and still needs to grow there. Its spiritual presence is having an impact in this world: in bringing more light and in stirring up more opposition from the darkness. But until Jesus physically comes back, as long as our old nature’s remain, we remain under Satan’s kingdom in this world. And so we zealously cry “Thy kingdom come!” And the New Testament’s final petition is, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).