LCN Article
“Thy Kingdom Come”: What does this really mean to you?

May / June 2004

Douglas S. Winnail

Have you ever listened to your own prayers? Have you ever noticed what you pray about? Prayer is an important part of Christian life, yet people of many religions pray. Our prayers often focus on our personal needs or the needs of others. However, Jesus Christ taught that the primary focus of our prayers should be directed beyond ourselves and our immediate personal relationships. Jesus emphasized that our prayers should focus on a much bigger and more inclusive goal. He gave these teachings for very important reasons!

When Jesus’ disciples requested, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He began describing the “model prayer”—“When you pray, say, Our Father in heaven, hallowed [holy, revered] be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Luke 11:2). These very words have been recited endlessly for centuries, and millions repeat them today, in unison in congregations or alone in prayer. But what do these words really mean? Why did Jesus stress that prayers for the kingdom should have precedence over prayers for personal needs? How important is it that we actually follow this instruction in our personal prayers? What does the Bible reveal about this subject—and why is this relevant for Christians today?

The Real Gospel

Many professing Christians believe that the gospel is primarily about personal salvation—that God loves you, that Christ died for you and that if you accept Jesus as your Savior you will go to heaven. Yet the Bible reveals something quite different! In the New Testament we are told: “Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). Jesus told His disciples that their primary goal in life was to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Much of Jesus’ ministry centered on “preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). When Jesus commissioned His disciples, “He sent them to preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:1–2). After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). After Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples expressed a prime concern: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). When Philip went to Samaria, “he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). The Apostle Paul’s ministry had a primary focus on the gospel of the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8; 28:23, 31). The Bible reveals that just before the return of Jesus Christ, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). According to Scripture, the exciting message of the coming kingdom of God was—and will be—the primary focus of the true gospel!

The Bible also reveals specific details about the kingdom of God. The kingdom will be set up on this earth at Jesus Christ’s second coming (Daniel 2:44–45). Jesus will return to the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, to become king over all the earth (Zechariah 14:1–9). He will establish a world-ruling government, headquartered in Jerusalem, which will teach and enforce the laws of God (Isaiah 2:2–4). In the kingdom of God, the saints will rule with Jesus Christ as priests and kings (Revelation 5:10), and there will be a “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:19–21). Peace and justice will be established over the earth (Isaiah 9:6–7), and wars will cease (Isaiah 2:4). Cities will be rebuilt (Isaiah 61:4) according to child-friendly principles (Zechariah 8:5). Impressive highways will be constructed (Isaiah 19:23). Sickness and disease will be eliminated, and the environment will be restored (Isaiah 35:1–6). To be in this kingdom, a person must repent and begin to live according to the laws of God. This is the gospel that Jesus Christ and His disciples preached to the world! This is the real hope of true Christians—and the only hope for mankind. This is why Jesus Christ instructed His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”

A Different Gospel!

Regrettably, over the centuries, the true gospel of the kingdom of God has been twisted and perverted into a form that neither Jesus nor His disciples would recognize! Today, for many people, the concept of the kingdom of God is a pretty fuzzy idea. For many who call themselves Christians, the exciting good news of a world-ruling government of God has been reduced to little more than a warm feeling in the heart! This false notion of the kingdom is based on a misinterpretation of a solitary verse. In some common translations of Luke 17:21, Jesus tells the Pharisees that “the kingdom of God is within you.” Yet other translations read, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Moffatt) or “is among you” (Alford). Jesus, as a representative of the kingdom, was there among the Pharisees talking about the kingdom of God. He was not implying—nor does the verse state—that the kingdom was “in their hearts!” Some assume that Christians working together can bring the kingdom about on this earth. Others have erroneously taught that the kingdom of God is the Roman Catholic Church. Yet the Bible plainly states that the kingdom will not be set up until the return of Christ (Daniel 2:44–45), and that it will be brought about by God’s direct intervention—not by human efforts (Revelation 11:15–18).

With such mistaken and misleading ideas about the kingdom of God, it is no wonder that the phrase “Thy kingdom come” is a rather vague concept for many today. The real gospel of Jesus Christ—about the coming kingdom of God—has been replaced by a different gospel about being “saved” and going to heaven! Paul warned that this would happen (2 Corinthians 11:1–4). Jesus also prophesied that “many will come in My name… and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:3–5). The Bible reveals that Satan is the one responsible for deceiving the whole world and blinding human beings to the true gospel, which explains the real plan and purpose of God (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4). When the true gospel of the kingdom of God is watered down, and perverted to mere sentimental notions, the prayer “Thy kingdom come” becomes just so many words with little meaning or relevance!

An Irrelevant Prayer?

If the kingdom of God is already in your heart, or if it is the Roman Catholic Church, then there is really no need to pray “Thy kingdom come.” In fact, for many who live in the affluent countries of North America and Western Europe, there seems to be little interest—and no real sense of urgency—in praying for the kingdom of God to come to this earth. Many professing Christians drive new cars over paved roads to church services in climate-controlled crystal cathedrals, with padded seats, melodious choirs, stereophonic music, church schools, recreational facilities and even retirement homes located on the same site. These well-off people may feel that, for them, the kingdom has already arrived—so what is there to pray for? For affluent people in materially comfortable surroundings, it is understandable that personal prayers might focus on personal concerns about health, family or romantic relationships, job situations, and whether to buy a new house or move to a better neighborhood. A watered-down gospel about the kingdom of God “coming into your heart” does not generate a sense of urgency, or a need to pray fervently—“Thy kingdom come” is just not a pressing issue.

Regrettably, even for many who understand the true gospel, praying fervently for the kingdom to come is not the urgent issue that it should be. For many of us, the most pressing issues of the moment—personal health problems, financial problems, relationship problems—are the most real, and tend to take precedence over future concerns like the coming government of God. Yet this is exactly why Jesus Christ taught that, when we pray, we are to pray about the coming of the kingdom of God before we focus on our personal concerns. The saints will rule with Christ in the kingdom, but these future leaders must develop specific qualities of character. This is why Jesus emphasized that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and that His true disciples will “love their neighbors as themselves” and be willing to “lay down their lives” to serve others (see Matthew 20:26–28; John 15:12–17). We must learn not just to like people, but to develop real love for people—an unselfish outgoing concern and a real compassion for others. We must care enough so that we earnestly desire to change those circumstances that are hurting others. This is what leaders in the kingdom of God will do.

Back to Reality

If you take the time to step outside of the privileged lifestyle that you may enjoy, and consider the needs of the billions of human beings who struggle daily just to survive, you will be able to pray with more fervency and with a greater sense of urgency, “Thy kingdom come.” For anyone who has traveled outside the world’s most affluent nations (in North America, Western Europe and a few other spots on this earth), the grim reality of daily life for billions is sobering! Two-thirds of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Have you ever been so hungry that your body ached? Have you ever listened to your children cry because they did not have enough food to eat, and you had nothing to give them? Think about it—and pray about it—because this is something the kingdom of God will change!

Today, in many parts of the world, billions face poverty, disease, environmental devastation and widespread corruption. They may work in crumbling buildings, or have no work at all. They may live in windowless houses with dirt floors, with tattered clothing and no shoes to wear. Premature death—of both children and adults—is simply a fact of everyday life. Cooking may take place outside over open fires—or, if you are well-off, over charcoal or a kerosene stove. Water, when it is available, may have to be carried for some distance, and was likely obtained from a polluted source. Many have no electricity, and only a few have refrigerators. Cities are crowded, congested, dirty and dangerous. Transportation is irregular, undependable and often life-threatening. The most common means of travel is on foot, and miles-long journeys are common.

For most human beings living in less developed areas of the world, experiencing corrupt governments, pagan religions and false “Christian” teachings, life is difficult—and there is little expectation of real change. The kingdom of God is really the only hope they will ever have for a better life. Perhaps this is why people in these areas who hear the true gospel of the coming kingdom of God react with real excitement! They can relate to scriptures that speak of cities being rebuilt, major road construction, environmental restoration, the establishment of just government and the elimination of genocidal wars. For anyone who has walked some distance to fetch water from a polluted source, the scriptural references that “living [pure] waters shall flow from Jerusalem” (Zechariah 14:8) and “waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:1–7) carry real meaning. For hungry populations who battle starvation and struggle with the effects of periodic droughts and famines, prophecies about abundant harvests in the kingdom of God offer real hope—because that is what “Thy kingdom come” will mean!

However, the need for the kingdom of God to come is not limited to the Third World! For anyone who has eyes to see and a sense of history, the astounding social changes and the erosion of fundamental values in recent decades should be sobering and alarming. Belief in God and respect for Bible-based religious values are rapidly disappearing from the so-called “Christian” societies. Biblical admonitions against promiscuity, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, hatred, murder, stealing and lust are not only ignored today—they are despised by large segments of society! As a result, marriages and families—the building blocks of a stable society—are being ripped apart by infidelity and divorce. Generations are growing up without any sense of true morality. Through the ever-present media, our culture has become saturated and obsessed with sex and violence. For many today, the focus of life is self—personal health, personal wealth and the selfish quest for personal happiness and pleasure. We are kidding ourselves if we think that our culture has progressed beyond the need for the Bible’s directives about human behavior, which many “progressive” people naively call primitive, simplistic, unrealistic and restrictive. The lesson of history is that the changes in our society today are not signs of progress, but rather of the same moral decay that appeared in other great civilizations during their demise!

Today, millions trust that the United Nations and peacekeeping forces will eliminate war and create a peaceful world. Yet these humanly devised means are not working! The world continues to become more dangerous. Terrorist activities are spreading, in spite of the “war on terrorism.” Inter-racial strife is increasing, not decreasing. Attempts to build peaceful and tolerant multiracial communities are failing in many places. Human beings do not know the way to peace (Isaiah 59:8). World peace will only be achieved when the kingdom of God arrives (Isaiah 9:6–7). Until then, the world will become even more violent and dangerous (Matthew 24:3–8; 24:21–22). If we truly care about our fellow human beings, this is another reason to pray earnestly, “Thy kingdom come”—because unless Jesus Christ returns to intervene on this earth, “no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:21–22).

Redeeming the Time

So how can you motivate yourself to follow Jesus Christ’s instruction to pray more fervently, “Thy kingdom come?” Consider three simple steps. First, we need to remember that the good news of Jesus Christ’s return to establish the kingdom of God on this earth was and is the primary focus of the gospel. Jesus Christ will establish a world-ruling government that will resolve the problems we face on this earth. The coming of the kingdom is the only real hope for ending the suffering and deception that plague human societies around the world.

Second, we need to ask God to help us develop real compassion and concern for the plight of human beings wherever they are—whether struggling to survive in less developed countries or materially satiated into complacency in the world’s affluent nations. Do your biggest worries involve decorating your house, deciding on the shape of your swimming pool or wondering whether God will provide you with a better job or nicer clothes? If so, you might want to spend some time meditating on how little many other people have, and how difficult life is for millions around the world. Think about how you would feel in the shoes of the poverty-stricken who struggle daily to survive. Think of parents who watch their children die of preventable diseases—and of those who do not understand the gospel of the kingdom, and thus lack the hope that you have—and you will begin to pray more fervently for the kingdom to come.

Third, learn about the major problems confronting human beings today, and prepare to solve those problems. Read books about the problems, and understand their causes. Learn about sound principles of health, how to prevent major diseases and how to heal damage to the environment. Identify factors that contribute to happy marriages and families. Collect useful information about child rearing and what comprises a sound basis for education. Study your Bible, and learn which biblical principles can be applied to prevent or relieve problems that are causing people to suffer. Discuss these situations with God in your prayers, and express your desire to have a part in changing the circumstances that are hurting other people. Make the most of the opportunity that God has given you to know the true gospel, and prepare to serve God and your fellow human beings in the coming kingdom of God (see Ephesians 5:8–21). As you begin to “lay down your life” preparing to serve others, you will find that problems, solutions and the need for the kingdom of God will become much more real to you—and you will find yourself praying more fervently, “Thy kingdom come.”