Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 64 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last couple of episodes we started to look at the Sermon on the Mount. This specific teaching of Jesus is probably one of the most well known, even amongst those who don’t profess faith in Jesus. Some specific parts are more well known than others - for instance, the opening section we sometimes call the beatitudes. I talked about several of them in Episode 63. In this episode, I want to talk a little bit more about the Sermon. But first, let’s do a quick review on when and where Jesus spoke it.
First, we established back in Episode 62 that the Sermon was likely given in the hilly areas north of Capernaum and Bethsaida up in Galilee, in the northern part of the land of Israel. I talked about how Jesus probably began on the more level area by healing the crowds and then moved up a hill so that he could address the crowds and teach them. This is how both Luke and Matthew's record of the Sermon harmonize together. I also talked about when Jesus delivered the Sermon, and how it was not at the beginning of His ministry as is sometimes thought. Again, Matthew’s Gospel is arranged topically, and so even though the Sermon on the Mount is at the beginning of his Gospel, Luke is the one who places it chronologically, close to a year into Jesus’ two year ministry.
Now it’s important again to remember that from a chronological perspective, not everything we read in Matthew’s "version" of the Sermon on the Mount was spoken by Jesus on that occasion. As I’ve mentioned before back in Episode 7, Matthew is grouping Jesus’ teachings together throughout his Gospel. I’m saying all of that to highlight the fact that what we’re going to look at today, the portion of Scripture many people know as “The Lord’s Prayer”, was actually spoken on a different occasion than many of the other things in the Sermon on the Mount. The Lord’s prayer, according to the chronology of Luke’s Gospel, was actually spoken probably only about 8 months before Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. I will talk more about the context of the Lord’s prayer when we get to that time period, but because it’s commonly understood as being part of the Sermon on the Mount, I figured I would talk about some of the content of the prayer in this episode.
Well, let’s read the familiar version of the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6:
"Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13 ESV)
Alright, so there’s a lot I want to cover here, so let’s jump right in. First, for a little background on this prayer. Check out this quote from K. C. Hanson:
“Editor’s Foreword,” in Jesus and the Message of the New Testament,
At the time when the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were being composed (c. 75–85 C.E.), the Lord’s Prayer was being transmitted in two forms that agreed with each other in essentials, but which differed in the fact that the one was longer than the other. The longer form appears in Matthew 6:9–13, and also, with insignificant variants, in the Didache 8:2. The briefer form appears in Luke 11:2–4.
I’ll talk more about the background of this prayer in a future episode, but what I think is important for us to recognize before we start looking at each of the phrases is that this prayer is thoroughly Jewish in origin and in character. Commentator Donald Hagner says:
The Lord’s Prayer, in its eschatological orientation, is similar in a number of ways to the Qaddish prayer of the synagogue. This is true not only of the spirit of the entire prayer but especially of the content of the first three petitions.
This Qaddish prayer was a prayer that was prayed in the Jewish synagogues before and during the time of Jesus. Look at how similar it is to the Lord’s prayer. The Qaddish says:
“Exalted and hallowed be His great name in the world, which He created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and at a near time.”
Here’s the point - the Lord’s prayer, the famous prayer we find in Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, was an adaptation of a Jewish prayer called the Qaddish. Jesus reworked the Qaddish a little bit, and that’s how He’s teaching His disciples to pray. Remember, the hearers of Jesus’ words are not 21st century Gentiles - we can’t forget that, because it’s so easy for us just to read the prayer and think we know what it’s all about. It is thoroughly Jewish and that’s the place we have to begin when seeking to understand its meaning. So with this in mind, let’s look at some of the phrases in the prayer. I’m only going to give a short summary of each phrase, but for more I’d encourage you to listen to a more complete teaching and discussion on the prayer that I’ve linked to in the description below. So, the first phrase is: “Our Father in heaven”.
The first thing I want you to see is that the Lord’s prayer is a corporate prayer. Throughout the prayer, we see plural subjects like “our” and “us”. This doesn’t mean that we can’t and shouldn’t pray it as an individual prayer, but we shouldn’t forget that it’s first and foremost a corporate prayer. Now, this phrase “our Father” has its roots in the Old Testament and the story of Israel. God is Israel’s father, the one who chose them as the nation through which all the others would be blessed, He delivered them from Egypt, and He saved them from their enemies. We often see the Old Testament prophets calling Israel, God’s son, back to an honoring relationship with their Father, Yahweh. Check out a few verses that highlight this Father/Son relationship between God and Israel. First, Exodus 4:
"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son,” (Exodus 4:22 ESV)
Also, Deuteronomy 32:
"They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a crooked and twisted generation. Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” (Deuteronomy 32:5–6 ESV)
And also Isaiah 63:
"Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me. For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (Isaiah 63:15–16 ESV)
What I want you to see here is that Jesus is using the phrase “our father” in its corporate context to the Old Testament and the relationship that the Jewish people had with their God. That’s how this prayer opens up, and the story of Israel is one of the main things that we should have in mind when we hear this first phrase of the Lord’s prayer, “our Father in heaven".
Alright, let’s look at the next phrase. “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name”.
The word “hallow” here means to set apart, to treat as holy, or to reverence. Now in the Greek, this phrase is in the imperative form - what that means is that this phrase is not a statement, like “you’re holy”, but it’s a petition, like “show your name to be holy” or “set apart your name”. Does that make sense? So this part of the prayer is a request for God to act in such a way as to vindicate His name or His reputation. And how would He do this? Well it’s important that we see that God’s name, “Yahweh”, is His covenant name as the God of Israel. In other words, God makes His name or His reputation known in context to the promises He made to Israel. So the cry for God to vindicate His name or His reputation is not in some abstract or metaphysical way that is disconnected from the story of redemptive history as we see in the Scriptures. God will cause Himself to be revered, He will show His reputation to be trustworthy, He will cause His name to be hallowed all in context to His faithfulness to fulfill His covenantal promises to Israel. A passage that really stands out and makes this clear is in Ezekiel, specifically chapters 36 through 38. I don’t have time to put it all in here, but definitely go read it afterwards, specifically Ezekiel 36:23 - the Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the exact same word as Matthew 6, where the Lord says He will make His name hallowed among the nations. Commentator Hagner says about this part of the prayer:
In a Jewish context, this petition refers to God acting in fulfillment of the promises to Israel, and thus to the silencing of the taunts of her enemies. In short, God’s name will only be properly honored when he brings his kingdom and accomplishes his will on earth (cf. the Qaddish). Thus, the first three petitions of the prayer are closely linked, referring essentially to the same salvation-historical reality.
Let’s move on to the next phrase. “Your kingdom come”. There’s been a lot of confusion about what “the kingdom” is in our day. I don’t believe Jesus redefined it from how the Jewish people understood it and I don’t believe it is some spiritual reality that came through Jesus’ ministry. Just like the word “messiah” and “christ", the word “kingdom” has so much modern baggage. But put simply, the kingdom of God that we read about in the Gospels is the promised kingdom that is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David that one of his sons would reign on his throne in Jerusalem and rule there forever. The passages they would have had in mind were ones like 2 Samuel 7, Daniel 2, and Daniel 7. The prayer is not “let your kingdom come in fullness” as if some of it was already there in Jesus’ day, nor was it “let your kingdom come increasingly”. For the Jew, it was clear that there was no king from David’s line ruling over Israel and subduing their enemies. So this phrase of the Lord’s prayer really just echoes the petition in the Qaddish - that God would establish the king of Israel that would rule righteously from Jerusalem and crush their enemies. Author Adolph Saphir says:
The petition refers primarily and directly to the Messianic kingdom on earth, of which all Scripture testifies. The King of this kingdom is the Lord Jesus, the Son of David; the subjects of it are Israel and the nations,—the chosen people fulfilling the mission which, according to the election of God, is assigned unto them, of being the medium of blessing unto all the nations of the earth; the centre of the kingdom is Jerusalem, and the means of its establishment is the coming and visible appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ. When we pray “Thy kingdom come," our true meaning is, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
Well, once again we are out of time for this episode. But in the next episode we’ll continue looking at the last few phrases from the Lord’s prayer. I hope this is helpful to you - most importantly I want you to see how significant the prayer was in its original context in the first century and to its original audience of Jewish people. It’s from there that we can better understand what Jesus was teaching about prayer to His disciples. Well, as always, you can find all the other episodes of this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.