The Sermon on the Mount
The Lord’s Prayer
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”
What is probably the most well known and most often memorized portion of scripture? Without a doubt it would have to be Matthew 6:9-13 — commonly called The Lord’s Prayer. The words of this prayer are familiar to Christian and non-Christian alike. It forms an integral part of many weekly worship services, as worshippers chant the Lord’s words in unison in collective prayer. In addition to this the words of this prayer are ritually recited numerous times every day by multitudes of people endeavoring to gain God’s favor. Add to this the number of times the Lord’s prayer is cited at funerals, at the bedside of the sick, in times of crisis and the like, and it becomes apparent that these words of scripture are on the lips of someone somewhere just about every minute of every day. Yet in spite of all this, if the question was asked, ‘What is probably the most misused and abused passage of scripture?’ the answer would also have to be The Lord’s Prayer. For first of all these words of the Lord were never intended by Him to be used in mindless ritual or in “vain repetitions,”with Christians acting as if they were some sort of magic words that aroused God or invoked His blessing. But even more than this, these words of the Lord have absolutely nothing to do with the dispensation of the grace of God that is in effect today. Instead, they pertain to God’s program with Israel, and as such they do not belong to God’s program, purpose, or dealing with us today.
The Lord’s Prayer1 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. It is part of a series of corrective doctrines that the Lord set forth to the remnant of Israel that exposed the vain religious system in Israel, and equipped the remnant to separate themselves from it. [Note: See the previous articles in this series for a detailed examination of the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount.] Because of the apostate system that surrounded the believing remnant, and especially because of the hypocritical conduct, doctrinal corruption, and ritual of Israel’s religious leaders regarding prayer, the Lord taught His disciples how to pray intelligently and meaningfully in accordance with Israel’s program. This is what the Lord’s Prayer is all about and is what we need to understand and appreciate.
Prayer is the issue of enjoying the intimacy of focused fellowship with God. It especially involves communing with Him about what He is doing in His plan and purpose, and expressing to Him the matters of our heart regarding the details of our lives and their conformity to His will. As such, more than anything else, prayer is designed by God to be intelligent. It is not to be thought of as some dutiful performance that is ritually engaged in to satisfy God. Nor is it to be looked upon as a petitioning process, which when done often enough or with enough dedication will secure a hearing from God and a granting of one’s desires. Ideas such as these prevailed in heathenism, and Israel should have known better. Unfortunately, as Israel’s program entered its final stages when the Lord was here, apostasy reigned and the nation’s religious leaders were actually Satan’s men. They were blind hypocrites who, when it came to prayer, reduced it to nothing more than heathen ritualism. For this reason, the Lord exposed their hypocrisy to His disciples and taught them how to pray intelligently, especially in accordance with the climactic stage in Israel’s program that had now dawned upon them.
THE ISSUES IN THE PRAYER
The climactic stage in Israel’s program had arrived beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist. The “kingdom of heaven”was being preached to be “at hand”and the prophesied ‘days of the Messiah’ were present, which would culminate in the establishment of God’s kingdom on this earth in Zion. Since this was the time that had arrived in Israel’s program, and since the primary concern in prayer is intelligently communing with God and fellowshipping with Him regarding what He is doing, the Lord taught His disciples to express their understanding for the program when they prayed.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”(Matt. 6:9-10)
The hallowing (or sanctifying) of God’s name in all the earth is what God’s plan and purpose with Israel is designed to achieve. God created Israel to be His “great nation”on this earth, and through whom men would know that He, “whose name alone is Jehovah, is the most high over all the earth.”In accordance with this, God had said to Israel:
“AND I WILL SANCTIFY MY GREAT NAME, WHICH WAS PROFANED AMONG THE HEATHEN, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. (Ezk.36:23)
With the “gospel of the kingdom”being preached to Israel the time was “at hand”for God to be sanctified in Israel and for the eyes of the rest of the world to see it. Hence, the time was “at hand” when God’s name would be “hallowed”in all the earth, and His purpose with Israel would be fulfilled. In intelligent recognition for this the Lord taught His disciples to express their appreciation and desire for this to the Father in their prayers. Again, the means by which the hallowing of God’s name would occur would be by the establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel, just as was being heralded to them to be “at hand.” In connection with this, the Lord taught the remnant to express their understanding for this by saying, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
The climactic time that had arrived in Israel’s program, however, made it so that the Lord’s day of purging and avenging wrath was also “at hand.” In view of this, God had declared through the prophets how He would make provision for the remnant in those days. He would provide for them, seeing to it that they were sustained during that time and protected. For example, He declared through Isaiah:
“He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: BREAD SHALL BE GIVEN HIM; his waters shall be sure.”(Isa. 33:16)
In view of these miraculous provisions that God would make for the remnant during that time, the Lord taught the disciples that their intelligent prayer would involve them supplicating the Father to ‘give them their daily bread,’ just as He had promised He would do. In the time of the “great tribulation”when they would be so severely persecuted, would be fleeing to the mountains for refuge, and would be anxious about what they would eat and what they would drink, they would need such miraculous provisions. Because God had promised to provide for them in that day, they could confidently supplicate Him to give them what they needed, just as the Lord taught.
Intelligent prayer for the disciples also involved the issue of making requests in view of knowing that God wanted them to be ‘doers of the law in truth’ and not followers any more of Israel’s vain religious system. God had declared in Isaiah that He would “Bind up the testimony” and “seal the law among my disciples.” (Isa. 8:16) He also said that He would “magnify the law, and make it honorable” in the midst of apostate Israel. (Isa. 42:21) This is what the disciples were the fulfillers of. However, in addition to this God had also declared that the remnant would be rewarded in the kingdom only if they continued to be ‘doers of the law in truth,’ did not conduct themselves like their hypocritical leaders, and did not succumb to the temptation to return to Israel’s vain religious system. (See, for example, Ps. 15; 24; Isa. 33:10-24) With this in view, the Lord taught the disciples to pray:
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”(Matt. 6:12)
‘Forgiving their debtors’ was part of being a ‘doer of the law in truth’ and it was the opposite of what apostate Israel was doing. (Matt. 5:21-26) As the disciples did this they could expect God to forgive them their debts in accordance with the terms of the Law, and to be rewarded in the kingdom. (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35)
Finally the Lord taught the disciples that their intelligent prayer would involve making requests in view of the great temptations that were coming when they would be persecuted for His name’s sake, and when the policy of evil would be directed against them in Israel’s “last days.” In accordance with this they were taught to pray:
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.”(Matt. 6:13a)
The temptations facing the remnant would be very strong. They would be sorely tempted to cave in under the pressure and return to Israel’s vain religious system, and they would be subjected to tremendous seductions and deceitful tactics from Satan’s policy of evil against them. (See, for example, Matt. 10:16-23ff; 24:1ff) In view of this, but also in view of the special provisions that God would make for His disciples to endure that time, their intelligent prayers would call upon God to act in accordance with His promises to them and ‘deliver them from evil.’
These are the issues that comprised intelligent prayer for the remnant of Israel when God’s program with Israel was in its final stages. Everything is in perfect accordance with Israel’s program, with the provisions and promises God made to them, and with the way in which God was dealing with them. However, in view of the great dispensational change that God made when the Lord Jesus Christ unexpectedly returned from heaven and raised up Paul as a brand new apostle, praying after this manner today is not intelligent at all.
PRAYER IN THIS DISPENSATION
Our prayers today are to be the product of an intelligent understanding and appreciation for God’s program with us today, just as was the case with the remnant in Israel’s program. The portion of God’s word that describes this present dispensation of grace, and that is expressly TO us and ABOUT us today, is the epistles of the apostle Paul. Through Paul’s epistles God wants us ‘intelligized’ regarding His program and dealings with us today. He wants us to learn not only the distinction between His program with us and His program with Israel, but also the special way in which He is dealing with us today, with its new and different promises, provisions, expectations, and the like. The intelligent prayers of Christians today demands understanding these things. Otherwise our prayer-life is liable not only to be composed of requests and supplications that are not in accordance with how God operates today, but it is also liable to be a disappointment and a burden to us.
In this dispensation God has suspended His program and dealings with Israel, and therefore the issues in the Lord’s Prayer are not issues for us today. It is not a ‘model prayer’ that God has given to us today. Instead, God teaches us what to pray for today through the doctrines and examples He has given to us in Paul’s epistles.
– K.R. Blades
1. This really is a misnomer. The Lord Himself never prayed this prayer, nor could He have prayed it. The Lord, for example, never needed to be forgiven His debts, for He had none. A more appropriate name would be The Remnant of Israel’s Prayer, for the Lord taught it to them. However, I use the familiar title for simplicity.