Beckett: Praying the Lord’s Prayer Eschatologically

In their early days of following Jesus during His earthly ministry, the disciples did not know how to pray. Contrasting the prayer He was about to teach against the fanciful, glory-seeking phrases of the Gentiles and the Pharisees, Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer with, “Pray then, like this” (Matthew 6:9-13).

Virtually all Christians have this prayer memorised. Every Lutheran congregation you walk into will have, at some point in the Divine Service, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, usually following the Prayers of the Church. The Lord’s Prayer is not only a perfect guide to pray when we don’t know what to pray for, but it is also the perfect prayer to pray when you don’t know what words to pray.

Whilst we usually pray for our present needs through the Lord’s Prayer—as we rightly should—the Lord’s Prayer can also be prayed eschatologically. As people of prayer, the prophecies of the Minor Prophets teach us how to pray eschatologically, specifically through the Lord’s Prayer.

In his exegetical work on Isaiah, Rev. Dr. Paul Raabe—prominent Old Testament Lutheran theologian—notes, “On the one hand, Isaiah’s threats and promises remain future threats and promises in our not-yet existence. On the other hand, the threatened and promised future has already broken into history ahead of time in a hidden way. In Jesus Christ all these threats and promises reached their fulfillment” (Raabe, 347). Raabe views Isaiah’s historical judgements “within the setting of an eschatological horizon” (344). In other words, the judgements Isaiah prophesied about are foretastes of the final, eschatological judgement.

Isaiah’s prophecies, then, have a twofold, now/not-yet reality: he prophesied not only about the judgement Israel would face in actual history because of their apostasy (the now), but also about the judgement the whole world will face because of its apostasy (the not-yet). Because this is true of Isaiah, I believe it is also true of the Minor Prophets, all of whom also prophesied of the coming judgement of Israel (as well as Judah) as a foretaste of the final judgement.

If one reads closely what the Minor Prophets are prophesying, one will notice patterns in their prophecies of each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. We are not only to pray for our present needs as through the Lord’s Prayer, but we are also to pray for Jesus’ second coming, which is also to pray for the judgement of the world (this is the final eschaton).

The whole Scriptures end with a short and simple eschatological prayer, “[Jesus], who testifies to these things, says, ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)! “Come, Lord Jesus.” This is our eschatological prayer. As the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray for our present needs, so we can pray the Lord’s Prayer eschatologically as it is elaborated throughout the Minor Prophets.

Introduction: “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven”

This sets the tone for how we approach God in prayer. We do not approach Him as Judge, but as our Father. We also approach God communally, as expressed with the plural relative pronoun “our.” (This does not neglect private, personal prayer, but prayer is first and foremost a divine practice of the Church community, both globally and locally.)

Martin Luther explains the introduction, “With these words God wants to entice us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father” (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 2). Prayer is the invitation of our heavenly Father. He makes people who are His enemies become His children.

We know this from Hosea 1:10, “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.'” God no longer viewed Israel as His people. This might seem contradicting in view of what He says later, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son” (11:1). Israel became God’s children when He brought them out of Egypt. So, how can God say they’re not His people?

Letting Scripture interpret Scripture, God commanded Hosea to marry a whore to symbolise Israel’s relationship with God: God being the husband and Israel being the wife who has gone astray and committed spiritual whoredoms (1:2). When Hosea had his second son, God said, ” ‘Call his name Lo-ammi [Not My People], for you are not My people, and I am not your God'” (1:9). God no longer considered Israel to be His people or His children because of their spiritual whoredom/apostasy. However, in 1:10 God promises they will become His children again.

It is no secret that many Christians have gone astray in the pagan society of our nation, committing spiritual whoredoms against God. They have forsaken their Father. So, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer eschatologically beginning with “Our Father,” we pray that the Christians who have fallen away return to their Father in Heaven, that they may not suffer His wrath.

We are to pray for them because they were once our brothers and sisters. As Malachi said, “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why, then, are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers” (2:10)? We all have one Father who has created us all, and His desire is for us to be His children. All God’s children who have gone astray will be welcomed as prodigal sons (Luke 15:11-32).

1st Petition: “Hallowed be Thy Name”

What does it mean that God’s name be hallowed? Luther: “It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.” How is His name hallowed among us? “Whenever the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it” (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 3-5).

This petition—and all the petitions that follow—are understood as being prayed to God our Father. Luther also understood the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Creed being in the context of the Ten Commandments (this is why Luther ordered his Catechism beginning with the Ten Commandments, then the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer). The First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” presupposes all the commandments that follow. In the same way, “Our Father” presupposes all the petitions that follow.

Furthermore, the First Commandment also presupposes all things concerning the child of God. Therefore, God’s name is kept holy among us in three fundamental ways: not misusing God’s name with erroneous or evil intent (see SC, “The Ten Commandments,” 3-4), worshiping only one God, and living (holy) lives as God intended us to live by doing the Law for the benefit of our neighbour.

Praying this petition eschatologically is ubiquitous throughout the Minor Prophets. The Israelites were guilty of erroneous worship of God in two ways: poor worship and idolatry. Beginning with Hosea again, the Israelites, when they did worship Yahweh, worshipped Him poorly. “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Here, God is not saying He did not want sacrifices, since the Law required this of the Israelites.

This is to be interpreted in light of David’s penitent psalm, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Both of these passages prohibit worship of Yahweh that is lacking in genuine repentance. Without genuine repentance, these sacrifices mean nothing to God.

It is not the ex opere operato (mere performance of the act) of the sacrifices God delights in, but the honest, genuine, broken, and contrite heart before God in repentance that He delights in. God delights in loyalty to Him and knowledge of Him, not apathetic worship and repentance. Because they were not worshiping God correctly—that is, apathetically—God’s name was not being hallowed among them.

God’s name was also not hallowed among Israel when they worshipped other idols—an explicit violation of the First Commandment. God made note of the futility of their idols:

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But Yahweh is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Habakkuk 2:18-20)

The language used here makes explicit not only the futility of our own idols, but also the stupidity of it. Today, these idols can be anything from other religions, to wealth, fame, family, our favourite sins, ourselves (individualism and anonymity), and so on. In this petition, then, we are to pray eschatologically for God’s removal of these idols not just in our own lives, but also the lives of others, both Christian and non-Christian, and to turn instead to the Lord. 

This prayer comes with a warning, which will be discussed in the second and sixth petitions. Nahum prophesies the warning well: “Yahweh has given commandment about you: ‘No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile'” (1:14). God’s deliverance from idols is not always pretty. So, when we pray this petition eschatologically, we must keep that in mind, which is further delineated in the petition that follows as well as the sixth petition.

2nd Petition: “Thy Kingdom Come”

Luther explains, “God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us. How does this come about? Answer: Whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through his grace we believe his Holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity” (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 7-8).

When the Lord’s Prayer is prayed eschatologically, this petition needs to be prayed with carefulness. This is because when we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”—that is, “Thy kingdom come”—we are not only praying for our salvation, but also for the judgement of the world—the condemnation of unbelievers. Amos 5:18-20:

Woe to you who desire the Day of Yahweh! Why would you have the day of Yahweh? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the Day of Yahweh darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?

The Day of the Lord will be a day of darkness for unbelievers, but a day of light for those in Christ. Thus, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” do we really understand what we’re asking? Our unbelieving friends and family will be judged in darkness. When you pray this petition, do you really know what you’re praying? Are you ready to see any unbelieving friends and family be dispatched to Hell? Of course, the point is not to be ready, because we cannot (Matthew 24:36), but to fully fathom what you’re asking.

When we pray for the Day of the Lord, we need to fathom we are not only praying for our salvation, but also for the eternal damnation of our enemies—all unbelievers, including friends and family. When we pray, “God bless America,” then, we are really praying for the nation’s repentance, which will come at a high cost, and it may well mean the judgement of our nation. So, when you pray this petition, or “God bless America,” take care to know what you are really asking.

The Day of the Lord, as Amos describes quite pictorially, will be inescapable for the damned. It will be like escaping from a lion, only to be met by a bear, then to escape the bear and rest against the wall only to get bitten by a snake. There will be no respite from God’s wrath. It will be like a horror movie, where we see the protagonists escape from the axe murderer, have a moment of respite, only to be met with more horror soon thereafter. Such will be God’s wrath, only there will be no protagonist who will survive except those who are in Christ Jesus.

Should we pray for God’s kingdom? Absolutely. But as we pray it eschatologically, we should understand what it is we’re asking.

3rd Petition: “Thy Will be Done on Earth As it is In Heaven”

Like the first two petitions, God’s will is already done without our prayer, “but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.” This is done “whenever God breaks and hinders every evil scheme and will” of our flesh, the world, and the Devil (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 10-11).

Jesus says that whatever we ask in His name, God will give (John 14:13-14; 16:23). This does not mean that literally whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name, God will give us. I might pray for five million dollars in Jesus’ name, but that does not guarantee God will make me a millionaire. So, what did Jesus really mean?

Franz Pieper, prominent systematic Lutheran theologian, interprets it well, “Christ assures the Christians that they shall obtain everything they ask for… However, we must not forget that the will of Christians, as far as they are Christians, coincides entirely with God’s will and that accordingly they ask God to give them not what their whim dictates, but what accords with His command and promise” (Pieper, III:82). If God did not command and promise me five million dollars, I am not going to become a millionaire; if it is not His will, it is not going to happen.

Amos prophesied, “For the Lord Yahweh does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets” (3:7). Whatever God’s will is, He lets us know what it is. We have God’s entire will in the Scriptures. What is God’s will eschatologically? This is to be revealed in all the petitions that follow, all of which are fulfilled in Christ. When we pray for God’s will eschatologically, we are to pray all the petitions that follow this one, and we know they are true because God’s Great Prophet, Jesus Christ, is the one who has revealed them.

4th Petition: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

God’s first will for us is that He give us our daily bread—that is, the daily things we need to live this life on earth. In this prayer, we ask “that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving” (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 13).

Our daily needs are to be sharply contrasted with our wants. I may want the latest gadget, but do I need it to survive today, tomorrow, and all those that follow? I do not. Daily needs can be things such as income (i.e. a job), food, heating and cooling, livestock, good health, good government, good weather, etc.

In light of this, how do we pray this petition eschatologically? Hosea gives us a good idea. Describing Israel, God said, “And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (Hosea 2:8). Likewise, Joel prophesied, “Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God” (1:16)?

The Minor Prophets like Hosea and Joel remind us that all things come from God. All things come from God because all things belong to God. God has ownership of everything—our money, our food, our bodies, etc. Thus, we pray this petition eschatologically by praying that we remember where all our needs come from: God Almighty, lest we forget why we are well and begin to use our good welfare for idols, such as our selfish wants. For if we forget where our daily needs come from, we will forget God altogether.

5th Petition: “Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us”

God’s second will for us is that He forgive us our sins and we forgive those who have sinned against us. This petition is also ubiquitous throughout the Minor Prophets. The Prophets are mostly known for their judgements against Israel and the nations (Law), but they also delivered God’s promises to Israel and the nations (Gospel). There is no single Prophet who does not provide the Gospel after condemning with the Law. Micah, for example, ends his prophecy with the following:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as You have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (7:18-20)

Micah brings to light that God is the one who moves the sinner from condemnation to salvation: “I will bear the indignation of Yahweh because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my cause and executes judgement for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication” (7:9). Micah’s prayer here is indicative of the fifth petition. He is an honest sinner.

Like Micah, the honest sinner, when he repents, acknowledges he has sinned against God and deserves His just wrath, yet at the same time trusts in God’s mercy in Christ to plead for his case until God executes His judgement (cf. 2 Timothy 2:5-6); furthermore, God vindicates us in Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-5). This petition, then, is to be a daily prayer—that we daily repent of our sins and pray for God’s final vindication of our sins to come when He judges the world. In like manner, we forgive those who have sinned against us as the eschatological sign of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

6th Petition: “Lead Us Not into Temptation”

God’s third will for us is that He not lead us into temptation: Luther: “It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the Devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” and that we may “finally prevail and gain the victory” against sin (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 18).

Zephaniah is exemplary of this petition. In a single verse, he shows how the fifth petition flows into the sixth petition: “Yahweh has taken away the judgements against you; He has cleared away your enemies [5th petition]. The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in your midst; You shall never again fear evil [6th petition]” (3:15). God has forgiven us our sins in Christ; we are justified by faith. By virtue of our justification by faith, God promises to be present in our midst to lead us away from temptation so we may never fear evil again.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” Or, as the modern proverb says, “God does not give us more than we can handle.” Yes He does! This is called sin and suffering. We cannot handle our sin and suffering on our own. This is why we call out to God! This modern proverb is a misinterpretation of Paul’s saying. He says that “with the temptation [God] will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

We go to God in repentance and seek comfort because we cannot handle our sin and suffering—what God has permitted we suffer. If we could handle it, we would not go to God; indeed, we would not need Him. He permits our suffering so we may continually lean on Him. When we pray that God lead us not into temptation, we pray that He provide us the strength to escape from our sin that we may endure it to the end.

Thus, we are to pray of suffering eschatologically. Jesus made it clear that we will suffer tribulation on His account (Matthew 5:11; John 15:18-21; 16:33). It is not easy being a Christian in a world that despises Jesus and wants nothing to do with Him. Because this is not easy, it is easy to give in to the temptation to be like the rest of the world. We begin to accept sin and advocate for sinners, we stop going to church, and we depose God altogether. Therefore, we are to pray that God provide us the strength and ability to endure to the end, whether that end be the end of our own lives or the end of time when Jesus returns in His glory.

7th Petition: “Deliver Us from Evil”

Finally, God’s fourth will for us is that He deliver us “from all kinds of evil—affecting body or soul, property or reputation—and at last, when our final hour comes, may grant us a blessed end and take us by grace from this valley of tears to himself in heaven” (SC, “The Lord’s Prayer,” 20).

This petition, in its very nature, is eschatological. We may pray for current evils that surround us—such as mass shootings, forest fires, hurricanes, terrorism, etc.—but ultimately in this prayer we pray for God’s final deliverance of us from all evil. Yet not just evil in the abstract sense, but also concrete evil.

The Greek here needs to be noted: ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ, literally, “but deliver us from the evil.” This, of course, does not make any sense in English. Most translations translate it “from evil” because the adjective, πονηρός (ponēros), is being used substantively (an adjective functioning as a noun), which makes it a fine translation. However, a more accurate translation, I believe, would be, “but deliver us from the evil one,” mainly because the existence of the definite article makes “evil” a specific thing. Therefore, in this petition, we are praying specifically for deliverance from the evil one, that is, the Devil.

Deliverance from the Devil and all his evil schemes is what we are praying for when we pray with the saints, “Come, Lord Jesus.” This petition is also ubiquitous throughout the Minor Prophets. Zephaniah: 

“Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says Yahweh. (3:19-20)

Nahum: “Yahweh is a jealous and avenging God; Yahweh is avenging and wrathful; Yahweh takes vengeance on His adversaries and keeps wrath for His enemies” (1:2). Jonah: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to Yahweh” (2:9)!

This petition as the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer is fitting because in it we pray for the final eschaton. Again, with the second petition (“Thy kingdom come”), this is not a happy occasion. It is for the children of the Father, but not for His enemies, especially the enemy the Devil. Here, too, we pray for the coming of Jesus to end all evil—all the evil workings of the Devil.

Conclusion

We pray the Lord’s Prayer not only presently, but also eschatologically. We pray not only for our current situations, but also for the final eschaton that Satan and his evil may be totally destroyed. We begin prayer with “Our Father,” coming before God as His dearly loved children with all our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the first petition, we pray for God’s name to be hallowed on our lips and in our lives that we may not worship God in apathy or stray to worship false idols lest we suffer His wrath.

In the second petition, we pray that God’s kingdom come—that He come to judge the world and finalise our citizenship in His kingdom. In the third petition, we pray God’s eschatological will to be done in petitions four through seven.

In the fourth petition, we pray that we remember who our Source is, lest we forget where all our needs come from and in the process forget God. In the fifth petition, we come before God as honest sinners in repentance, acknowledging our sins against Him and that we deserve His just wrath, trusting in His mercy to forgive us according to His will in Christ. 

In the sixth petition, we pray that God give us the strength and the ability to endure the temptations of sin and the world to the end of our lives and to the end of the age. Lastly, in the seventh petition, we ask that God deliver us from the Devil and all his evil wiles in the final hour of our lives and the final hour of the age.

“Come, Lord Jesus,” that I may no longer thirst and finally have life to the fullest!

Bibliography

Kolb, Robert, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Pieper, Franz. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. III. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953.

Raabe, Paul. “Look to the Holy One of Israel, All You Nations: The Oracles about the Nations Still Speak Today.” Concordia Journal 30, no 4 (Oct 2004): 286-420.

©Featured image is Benjamin West’s “Death on the Pale Horse,” 1796, oil on canvas, Collection of the Detroit of Institute Arts

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close