“Your kingdom come,” we pray, as Jesus taught his disciples to do. “Teach me kingdom ways,” we sing. But what do we mean? The concept of the “kingdom of God” of which Jesus spoke often, is a fertile one, rich with meanings.
The simplest definition of “kingdom of God” might be “the place God rules.” That makes sense, but it raises questions: Where is this place? Does God truly reign anywhere on Earth now? Or is the kingdom something in the future? And do we have a part to play in the kingdom’s coming?
How we answer these questions determines what we mean when we pray, “Your kingdom come.” Are we inviting God to reign in our world? In our own lives? Are we praying for Christ’s return?
Our prayer can carry all these meanings. The kingdom concept embraces many levels of truth.
The kingdom of God is a present reality. And a future hope. The kingdom is within me. And among us as God’s people. God rules in all these places and all these hearts. And God will rule in an even greater measure one day.
“The kingdom points us not to the place of God but to God’s ruling activities,” writes Donald B. Kraybill in The Upside-Down Kingdom. “The kingdom is present whenever and wherever women and men submit their lives to God’s authority.” Jesus used parables to describe the kingdom’s many attributes. In Matthew 13, Jesus says six times, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” It is like wheat and weeds growing in a field, a mustard seed, yeast mixed into dough, a hidden treasure, a valuable pearl and a net full of fish.
These six parables form three pairs, which teach three truths.
The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast show that God’s reign may look small and insignificant now, but in the end it will grow to have amazingly great results. Don’t underestimate the importance of small things done for God and for others.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the valuable pearl show that the kingdom is of infinite value. If living as Jesus’ disciple costs you everything you have, rejoice: It was worth it.
The parables of the wheat and weeds and the net of fish tell us about the kingdom’s future. In the first parable, the wheat and weeds grow together until they are separated at the harvest. In the second, the net catches good and bad fish that need to be divided later. Both parables, Jesus explains, describe a separating of the wicked from the righteous that will occur at “the end of the age.”
Praying “your kingdom come” can refer to the climax of history, when “the kingdom of the world [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:15). But it is also a prayer for today. Because of the promise that the kingdom of God will overcome the world, we know we do not labor in vain when we try to bring a bit of the kingdom of heaven to Earth even now.
Have you seen the kingdom of God today? Have you seen it in others? Have you seen it in yourself? Jesus said in Luke 17:21 that you can find it there. Have you sought it first, above all else? Those who seek will find, for as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is near.
This column was reptinted with permission from Mennonite Weekly Review.