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The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6.9b-15).

We should note in using the description ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ that this is not to be seen as how the Lord Himself actually prayed, although He no doubt followed much of this pattern in as far as it applied to Him. This was a prayer give by Him to His disciples telling them how they should pray. For instance Jesus would always pray ‘My Father’, for His relationship with His Father was unique. The disciples were always to pray ‘our Father’ for they came as one body together.

This provision of a new prayer stresses that Jesus sees them as a new community. Israel had its united common prayers, repeated constantly in the synagogues, which were mainly based on the Scriptures. John the Baptist had also taught his disciples to pray (Luke 11.1). So Jesus could have pointed to either of those had He simply wished to guide their praying. But He chose not to do so. He instituted a new prayer. And necessarily so for it is a prayer that sees life from a totally new angle. It is based on the new factor that the Messiah was here among them. It was in recognition of the fact that the old prayers would not do for the current occasion. They needed a prayer to be prayed in the light of the fact that the Kingly Rule of Heaven was here. Thus as we look at the Lord’s prayer we should not ask ‘how is it the same as the prayer of others?’ We should ask, ‘in what way does it differ?’

As we consider the prayer we should note how much it is based on Old Testament ideas, including especially those of the Pentateuch. In many ways it could have been prayed by Israel as they were on the verge of deliverance. When Moses was originally sent to call Israel out of Egypt (which Jesus in symbolism was now also doing (2.15)) it was in order to lead them into the land promised to Abraham (Exodus 3.7-10; Psalm 105.8-11) so that God might there establish His Kingly Rule among them, the Kingly Rule which He had already made real in the wilderness (Exodus 19.6; 20.1-18; Numbers 23.21; Deuteronomy 33.5; 1 Samuel 8.7, and see Exodus 4.22-23 where Israel as the Lord’s son are compared with Pharaoh’s son; compare also Psalm 22.28; 93.1; 95.3; 96.10; 97.1; 99.1-5; 102.12). Note the threefold aspects of His Kingly Rule to Moses, the first with YHWH depicting Himself as in contrast to Pharaoh, with Israel as YHWH’s son in contrast with Pharaoh’s (Exodus 4.22), the second as they went through the wilderness, with YHWH as their Overlord (Exodus 20.2), and the third to be established in the land promised to their forefathers, a Kingly Rule which they surrendered (1 Samuel 8.7), so that it became a future Kingly Rule regularly promised by the prophets, which latter was put in such terms that while the description was earthly (they would have understood no other) in substance it was clearly heavenly. It was to be an everlasting Kingly Rule (Ezekiel 37.25-28; Isaiah 9.7; 11.1-9; Daniel 7.14), connected with the destruction of death and with resurrection (Isaiah 25.6-8; 26.19; Daniel 12.2-3).

It is worth at this point considering some of the parallels with the Pentateuch:

The aspects of God being in Heaven and of forgiveness being available to men are also prominent in Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8.27, 30, 32, 34, 36, 39, 50. So Jesus is making clear that He has come so that through His disciples He might fulfil all the hopes of the Old Testament, that is, that He might ‘fulfil the Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5.17).

The prayer given here is to some extent paralleled in Luke 11.1-4. But in Luke it was given in response to an off the cuff request to be taught how to pray. Jesus therefore there gave them a briefer answer covering a number of essentials. He gave them pointers. Here in Matthew the prayer has to some extent been smoothed out and slightly extended, even though its simplicity, brevity and overall pattern have all been retained. The obvious conclusion from this is that the difference in form here is due to the fact that Jesus had by this time had plenty of time to put it together in a more patterned and rounded form. Even practically speaking it is hardly likely that Jesus would have been satisfied with leaving them with an incomplete pattern.

Both forms betray their Aramaic background, but given the smallness of the scope there are sufficient differences between them to demonstrate that they are not simply different renderings of the same source, in spite of the attempts to demonstrate otherwise. Had both been citing the same source there is simply no reason why some of the changes in question should have been made. Such attempts are, of course, always highly speculative anyway, in spite sometimes of the credentials of those who suggest them, and they are rarely compelling (providing plenty of scope for scholars to exercise their talents and disagree with each other). However, one good thing about them is that they do help us to think more carefully about what we read. But they should on the whole never be taken too seriously. They are largely speculation.

(They are not quite as speculative, however, as those who invent out of nothing a whole community and thus unnecessarily deny to Jesus the credit for the completed prayer. For in fact this prayer is clearly Jesus’ work. Its simplicity and genius bear His hallmark. Once men got to work on it, it would have been expanded until it became unrecognisable. That was the tendency of the age. It remained simple precisely because they were acknowledged to be His unchangeable words).

The length of time over which Jesus’ ministry lasted is against the constant suggestions that the sources for Jesus words were as few as is often suggested, so that any coincidence between sayings is to be seen as indicating only one source. Those who had memorised much of what He said, or had even taken notes, would have a number of varieties of similar teaching given by Him at various times and in different contexts, as Jesus repeated the same truths in slightly different ways, in order to ram them home to the memory, while inducing those who heard them to think. Different Apostles, for example, would have remembered different things. And Matthew and Luke probably spoke with many such people, and then confirmed their words with the others who would then call them back to memory. We are probably therefore to see Matthew and Luke as presenting two different forms of what Jesus established as a pattern for prayer, two forms given by Jesus on two different occasions. As with the beatitudes, Luke’s source is more craggy, Matthew’s is more rounded, the latter probably bringing out how Jesus’ ministry had to some extent mellowed and developed.

We must first attempt to see the prayer as a whole. There is a beautiful balance to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew which contrasts vividly with the cragginess of it in Luke. The one is the rough outline giving indicators, the other the polished final result, and in the latter each final phrase has its antecedent. Possibly we may make this clear by presenting it in this way:


Our Father ------- the One Who is in Heaven,
Be hallowed Your Name, Come Your Kingly Rule, Be done Your will -------- as in Heaven so on earth.
Our bread for tomorrow ---------- give to us today,
And forgive us our debts -----------as we forgive our debtors,
And do not lead us into testing ------- but deliver us from evil (or the Evil One).

Note how, having begun with the idea of God as Father over the new community, it continues with Him in Heaven where their Father reigns (Psalm 29.10; 103.19; Isaiah 6.1). Then by means of a trilogy it emphasises the coming of their Father in Heaven down to earth, as they call on God to bring about His plan of taking over in the world (Psalm 2.8-9; 22.27-31; 110.1-6); He is called on to act to hallow His Name on earth (Ezekiel 36.23-28), to bring about His Kingly Rule on earth (Psalm 22.28; 47.2-3; 103.19; Isaiah 43.15; 45.22-23; Zechariah 14.9; see also Jeremiah 23.5-6; 30.7-11; Ezekiel 34.24; 37.22-28; Hosea 3.4-5), and to bring about the doing of His will on earth (Isaiah 48.17; 54.13; Jeremiah 30.11; 31.33; Ezekiel 37.23-24), in precisely the same way as is true in Heaven where He is Lord of all.

He is to come in the same way as a great Conqueror goes out to regain territory of his that has been usurped (Isaiah 59.16-20), in order to restore the honour of his name, to establish his rule and to ensure that his will is put into effect. And all these three aims are then also seen as following the pattern of what is true in Heaven where He reigns as their Father. For in Heaven His Name is hallowed, He rules in complete unanimity, and His will is done. And that is what must also be the aim on earth in the establishing of His Kingly Rule.

Thus ‘the One in Heaven’ is not just to be seen as indicating a Jewish way of protecting the Name of the Father from presumption, it is very much a reminder of the contrast between Heaven and earth, and of the need for the new community to be involved in heavenly things, ‘as in Heaven, so on earth’. The words are there because their Father in Heaven wants them to introduce Heaven to earth.

Then follow the disciples’ prayers with this in mind. They are to pray for heavenly (Messianic) food to sustain them on the way, they are to pray for the forgiveness of the load of debt that they continually owe to God because of their daily sins, so that it will be constantly removed, and this against a background of themselves revealing to others the forgiveness that has come from Heaven (5.45, 48), and they are to pray that they may not be involved in the judgments that are coming on the world, but may be delivered from all evil (and from the Evil One) as the go about their mission. All these are things are seen to be very necessary when God begins to act on earth. They need to be fed by Him with the Messianic food (Isaiah 25.6; 40.11; 49.10; Jeremiah 3.15; 23.4; 50.19; Ezekiel 34.13-15, 23; Micah 5.4; John 6.27-63), they need to be forgiven by Him with the Messianic forgiveness (1 Kings 8.30, 34, etc.; Isaiah 43.25; 44.22; 55.7; Jeremiah 31.34; Ezekiel 37.23), and they need to be preserved by Him from the Messianic judgments (e.g. Isaiah 2.10-21; 4.4; 24.13; and often) so that they can be involved in His work of establishing His Kingly Rule. In each case what follows is then particularly pertinent. They not only need Tomorrow’s food, they need it ‘today’ (see below), they are in a position to receive forgiveness because they have shown themselves to be Messiah’s people by the demonstration that they have a new heart, something revealed by their being willing to forgive others. And in avoiding divine testing on a rebellious world, they especially need deliverance from all the evils coming on the world, including what will come on them from the Evil One, who will run rampant in Messiah’s day, and whose kingly rule Jesus, and they with Him, have decisively rejected (4.10).

The prayer may also be seen as naturally falling into two threefold divisions following an opening appeal to their Father in Heaven. The concentration of the first part is then on God being glorified by what happens on earth through the activity of His true people. Through them His Name will be held in awe (for His Name compare 21.9; 23.39; 28.19 and see 7.22; 10.22; 18.5, 20. 19.29; 24.5, 9), His royal power will be revealed, and a light will shine in the world (5.16). The concentration of the second part is on their being made fit to have their part in that work, revealing how His people will be established. Jesus’ assumption in the prayer is that what is prayed for here will be the thing that is of most concern to His disciples and His people. It indicates the mindset that should be theirs.

In view of this we do not have to choose between whether it is to be seen as considering on the one hand the contemporary situation, or on the other the eschatological. It is to be seen as both contemporary and eschatological, for that is how the disciples would undoubtedly have seen it. They would have seen it as referring both very much to day by day life, and at the same time to the eschatological future that was breaking in on them. For to them the two were combined. John had made that clear. The time of the Coming One and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and fire was here. The Kingly Rule of Heaven was upon them, and they were very much aware that they were now in the days of the Coming One, ‘the last days’, because the King had come and ‘the end of the ages’ had come upon them (1 Corinthians 10.11; Hebrews 9.26; 1 Peter 4.7). As far as the disciples were concerned they were in ‘the last days’ (Acts 2.17; compare Hebrews 1.2). To them therefore the prayer was both eschatological and contemporary. (Scripturally we too are in ‘the last days’ and the ‘last day’ prophecies are even now in process of fulfilment. It is simply that God’s time scale is a little different from ours, as Peter will later point out (2 Peter 3.8-9)).

However, while the prayer must clearly be seen as a part of the call to action contained in the Sermon, and as encouraging the programme that they are to follow, it does not, of course, forbid wider praying. We have, for one thing, also to pray for those who persecute us (5.44). It is assuredly, however, a warning that the concerns expressed in the prayer are what should be the central thoughts in our praying. And we should certainly not be spending too much time in praying for what will in the end simply pass away. Our concentration should rather be on preparation for the end of the age, and expanding the work of God. And Jesus could well have added, ‘For we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen. Because the things which are seen are temporary and temporal, the things which are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4.18). But instead He emphasised the new world which He was introducing, a world where men forgave each other when they repented (14-15).

Analysis of 6.9b-15. p>

  • a Our Father who is in heaven,
  • b May Your Name be set apart as holy,
  • c May Your Kingly Rule come,
  • d May Your will be done,
  • e As in heaven, so on earth,
  • d Give us this day our tomorrow’s bread,
  • c And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,
  • b And bring us not into testing, but deliver us from the Evil One.
  • a For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
  • a But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Note that in ‘a’ the prayer is to their Father in Heaven, and in the parallel is on what their Father in Heaven will or will not do for them. In ‘b’ they pray that their Father’s Name might be ‘set apart’ as holy (by what happens in and through them) and in the parallel that they might be set apart by Him from evil and the Evil One. In ‘c’ the prayer is for the coming of the Kingly Rule of God on earth, and in the parallel this includes the forgiveness of their failure in the past to observe His Kingly Rule and give Him what was His due, and the revealing of that Kingly Rule in their hearts by their being forgiving. In ‘d’ they pray for His will to be done, and in the parallel His will is done in the provision of their deepest physical (daily bread) or spiritual needs (Tomorrow’s bread). And centrally in ‘e’ all this is to be achieved on earth as well as in Heaven.

Before we look at the prayer in more depth we should perhaps consider it as a whole, and as we do so we learn how to pray. It commences with a simple but profound description of God. This is not just to be seen as an introductory formula with little more meaning than ‘dear sir’. It is a reminder that as we approach Him we must consider the very nature of the One Whom we are approaching. For before we do anything else at prayer we need to get this sorted out. It is only as we do so that our prayers will follow the right course.

Our Father Who is in Heaven’. A pattern Jewish Father was both authoritative and loving. His children would be aware that he would welcome them but also that they must not treat him lightly. So as their Father God too must be respected as such. Honouring father and mother was basic to God’s covenant. And this would especially be so with the ‘Father in Heaven’. ‘He is in Heaven and we are on the earth’. Thus Jesus point is that they must approach Him in ‘awed love’, in godly fear. It must be done remembering Who He is, and yet aware that, if our hearts are right, we are welcome in His presence as His sons.

Our next concern is to be the glory of God, ‘May your Name be made holy’. To the Jew the name represented what a person was, and to them therefore God’s Name indicated His essence. That He is God and there is no other like Him. And to ‘make holy’ meant to set apart to a sacred purpose. So here our intention is to be to express the desire that all in Heaven and earth (verse 10) should be made aware of the remarkable nature and being of God, and should remember Who He is and honour Him accordingly. The point is that they should set Him apart as sacred in their hearts.

It is a reminder to us again that although He is our heavenly Father, the prototype of all fatherhood (Ephesians 3.15), He is not to be treated lightly, and that therefore we should be constantly concerned for the honour of His Name. As we pray this we are still rightly adjusting ourselves to the idea of Who it is Whom we are approaching. We may remember again the words of Ecclesiastes 5.2, ‘God is in Heaven and we are on the earth, and therefore let our words be few’. For this is something that as we enter His ‘experienced presence’ we must never forget. Yet we have now moved from contemplation to beginning to pray, for we are praying for His holiness to be revealed by His activity on earth. That is one essential way in which His Name will be hallowed (Ezekiel 36.23).

Then following that our prayer should be that He might be established in His authority over men, ‘may your Kingly Rule come’. We are still meditating on God as King over all, but we are also praying. And yet our prayer is still concentrated on our desire for God to be all in all. We are demonstrating our longing that He should have His rightful place, and be acknowledged as Lord of all.

So in a few short words Jesus has summed up the honour due to His Father, without diminishing it a jot. And we should note that it is only now, having reminded ourselves of all these thing, that we turn our thoughts to the world, and what it should be doing, and even then it is not in order to obtain what we want for ourselves, it is out of concern that men might do His will, as it is done in Heaven. So for the first half of our prayer, God and His glory is still to be the centre of our thinking. And in the prayer we will now pray that what we have learned, and will learn, from the Sermon on the Mount, might be the basis on which men live in order that His honour might be upheld. ‘May your will be done.’ For the aim of that Sermon is that His will might be done on earth as it is in Heaven (7.13-29).

And then having appreciated our Father’s presence, and having ensured that our hopes and aims are allied with His, we can go on to pray that we might be aligned with His purposes, and might ourselves be what He wants us to be, by recognising that our sustenance must come from Him, by admitting our own failure and seeking forgiveness for it, on the basis that as His disciples we are forgiving of others, and by being delivered from all evil, including the Evil One himself. We can sum it up as continual dependence, continuing cleansing, and continuing confidence in His saving power. Our prayer is thus that we might be wholly His, and as such, aligned with His will, and fashioned by Him.


“Our Father who is in heaven.”

The disciples can now approach God as their Father because they have come to Him as His ‘sons’ (5.9). They have come under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and their delight is now to do His will. He is their Father in Heaven (5.16, 45; 6.1). The stress on this throughout the Sermon is remarkable (6.14, 26, 32; 7.11, 21). It is something that they must not forget.

Note that it is a joint prayer. They are to pray ‘our’ Father. They are to come as one ‘body’ together, as the new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18). There is to be no thought of their just being individual disciples, although that is not to say that they cannot pray this prayer individually. But when they do it will always be with the recognition that they are a part of God’s holy nation, God’s true people (Exodus 19.6; 1 Peter 2.9). They pray as one.

And they recognise that they cannot approach Him lightly. For while He is their ‘Father’, He is their Father ‘in Heaven’. This last addition may seem to make it to a point typically Jewish (to some extent in contrast with the prayer in Luke, although the idea is still intrinsically present there), but the emphasis is different from what would be intended by a Jew. For the idea is not in order to make God somewhat remote, but in order to emphasise His very nature and being. He is ‘heavenly’. And therefore as we pray we are to be concerned about heavenly things.

No non-Christian Jew ever actually spoke of God in a way remotely as personal as this until well after the time of Christ, and even then there were only indications of a part of the idea that lay behind it. It is true that a similar phrase (‘our Father’) is found as purported to be on the lips of late first century Rabbis, but it is only in later literature, and not as a direct address (compare also Deuteronomy 32.5 where the idea is exemplified). It did not have the same personal emphasis, but was more secondary.

The Jews did, however, see God as Father in a general way, and the prophets did sometimes border on approaching the idea found here. The words of Jeremiah 31.20 are, for example, moving and explicit,

"Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him,
Says the Lord".

Here there is a clear invitation for Israel to respond to a loving Father, for we have the picture of a Father yearning for the loving response of His son, even though His son has been recalcitrant. It presented Israel with a joint opportunity (it was not individual), but it was not one that they ever took. God might look on them in this way, but at their worst they ignored Him and at their best they would never dare to presume because of their unworthiness.

We can compare here Deuteronomy 32.5, ‘They are not His children. It is their blemish. They are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise people. Is He not your Father Who has bought you, Who has made you and established you.’ Here the thought is very much that of Exodus 4.23, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn’, where as His son He had redeemed them. But then it records their refusal to accept the honour, because they were unwilling to fill the position that was there demanded. So all through their history God offered to be their Father, but all the time they refused.

The same offer to be their Father and Redeemer is spoken of in Isaiah 63.16-17 where the prophet declares to God, “You are our Father. Though Abraham does not know us, and Israel (Jacob) does not acknowledge us, You O Lord are our Father, our Redeemer from everlasting is Your Name.’ The thought there is, however, of a powerful and authoritative Father and Redeemer, not the personal Father that Jesus had in mind, and it goes on to say that because of their recalcitrance and refusal to respond to Him He actually causes them to go astray.

Indeed Hosea reminds us that He had ‘called His son out of Egypt’, but that when they had come they had brought Egypt with them in their hearts, and He had thus had to return them there again (Hosea 11.1-6), because they had not come fully.

God’s offer to them continued while the prophets were still prophesying, for in Malachi 1.6 God declares:

‘A son honours his father, and a servant his master.
If then I am a Father, where is my honour?
And if I am a Master, where is my fear?
Says the Lord of hosts.

Here the father is seen as a figure of authority, in parallel to a master and his servant. It is a reminder that the offer of Fatherhood brings with it a requirement to fulfil the responsibilities that went along with the idea, but the invitation to be His sons was still there, even though again there was little response.

The same option was opened to them in Jeremiah 3.19-20, where it is connected with the final time of restoration. There Jeremiah has in mind the time when Jerusalem will once more be ‘the throne of the Lord’ (5.24; compare also ‘the city of the Great King’ - 5.25.), and all nations will gather to it (compare Acts 2.5). And His offer is, ‘You will call Me “my Father” and will not turn away from following Me’. But he adds that their response at that time was to ‘deal treacherously with Him’ like an unfaithful wife. It may, however be seen as significant that here the final restoration was seen as being in terms of His people coming to Him and calling Him, ‘My Father’. And that this is what Jesus is offering them now.

For other references to God as Father in the Old Testament see Psalm 103.13 (where it is indirect in the form of an illustration, thus God is seen to be ‘like a father’); and Malachi 2.10 (where it is again as Creator).

The Jews did not totally ignore the idea of God as their Father in accordance with these Scriptures, but it was very much as One Who was kept at a distance, lest they be too presumptious. Indeed they would no doubt have seen this prayer, with its lack of qualifying phrases, as presumptious and blasphemous. (Jesus, on the other hand, while wanting them to respect their Father ‘in Heaven’, intended His disciples to know how dear they were to God). The references are few and sparse. In the Qumran literature we find a depiction of Joseph as addressing God as, ‘my Father and my God’. This lacks quite the personal note found here and is on the lips of a patriarch. In the Wisdom of Solomon 14.3 the writer can say, ‘your providence, O Father, guides it (a seagoing vessel) along’. The thought is thus fairly austere as of One Who watches over the world as its Creator. And in 1 Chronicles 29.10 in LXX David is portrayed as blessing the Lord before the congregation, and saying, “Blessed are You, O Lord God of Israel, our Father, from everlasting and to everlasting.” But the translators would have had an exalted view of David (probably considering that he could pray what others could not) and there is even then a suggestion of remoteness about an ‘everlasting Father’, and it is based on the fact that He is ‘the Lord God of Israel’. Certainly nothing in all this tempted Israel to address God as ‘our Father’ in the personal way intended here by Jesus. The address of ‘Father’ also occurs in the fourth and sixth of the eighteen benedictions regularly repeated in the synagogues (of uncertain date), but both times connected with the address ‘O Lord’. There is nothing in all this of the intimacy portrayed by Jesus, and the idea was almost always accompanied by exalted titles.

So Jesus is calling on His disciples to recognise that because the time of restoration is here (Jeremiah 3.19-20), and they have responded to it, they can call on God as ‘our Father in Heaven’, and the personal nature of the reference comes out throughout the Sermon (‘Your Father’ occurs nine times in verses 1-18 alone. See also 5.26, 45, 48; 6.26, 32; 7.11). But it is very much because they are living as His sons (5.9, 45). Because of His working in their hearts He has a people fitted to be His sons.

Paul brings out the intimacy of the way in which Jesus calls on His disciples to address God as ‘our Father in Heaven’ when he tells us that because we have received the Spirit of sonship we can call Him ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8.15). And this is because the Spirit Himself testifies within us that we are children of God (verse 16). But he too would have insisted that we should remember that He is our ‘holy Father’ (John 17.11).

We should perhaps again draw attention here to the fact that Jesus never speaks of God as ‘our Father’ as if He was including Himself. This was a prayer for the disciples. Jesus always addresses God or speaks of God as ‘My Father’ or the equivalent, or, when speaking of the disciples, as ‘your Father’ (note verses 14-15) and even speaks of ‘My Father and your Father’ (John 20.17), but He never speaks of ‘our Father’ as including Himself. This use is consistent throughout the Gospels demonstrating Jesus’ view of Himself as unique. But it does also serve to bring home the wonder of the privilege that is ours, that He is our Father too.

So this approach puts us in mind of the wonder of Who it is to Whom we are coming. He is in Heaven, He is our Creator, and yet He is also our personal Father, for He has called us into a personal relationship with Himself through His Son (John 1.12), and by the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.15). This is not the ‘fatherhood of God’ as a universal Father. It is the personal Fatherhood of those who have, by believing in Jesus, become His Messianic children.

We can compare with this opening to the prayer here how Jesus approached His Father in John 17.1-5. He calls Him ‘Father’ and makes the relationship between them quite clear before continuing His prayer, stressing the part He has played in Their plan of salvation, and seeking restoration as the One Who had been the possessor of His Father’s own glory (John 17.5). Thus He too opens His prayer by making clear His relationship with His Father, even though in His case it is an exalted one. He does not just race into His Father’s presence.


“May Your Name be set apart as holy.”

This and the following petition closely parallel, but in a far more succint form, the words of an ancient synagogue prayer, “Exalted and hallowed be His great name in the world which He created according to his will. May He rule his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon. And to this, say, ‘Amen’.” This too is seeking to ‘hallow’ God’s Name, and is seeking for God to intervene in order to establish His Kingly Rule. But we must remember in making the comparison that Jesus saw things very differently from His contemporaries. Jesus possibly took over the pattern but not necessarily the ideas. They looked to a remote future. He saw God’s Kingly Rule as already breaking in upon men.

So in order that we might consider carefully the fact that although He is our Father we must not be presumptious, our attention is now drawn to His holiness, that is, to the fact that He is distinct from us and ‘set apart’ from all things by what He is, so that to approach Him is a great and exalted privilege which can only be ours when our hearts are right. He is ‘the high and exalted One Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is holy, Who dwells in the high and holy place, with those who are of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart on the contrite one’ (Isaiah 57.15).

And our first concern and prayer is therefore to be that both in Heaven and earth His holiness be recognised. It is to long that all creation should know Who and What He is, and honour Him accordingly.

This idea of God’s Name being made holy is found in the Old Testament, from which no doubt Jesus was taking it. The purpose of God’s deliverance of His people was so that they might hallow His Name by obeying His commandments (Leviticus 22.32), and He ‘proclaimed His Name’ before Moses in order to hallow it (Exodus 33.19; compare Deuteronomy 32.3). His holiness was further revealed by His judgment on Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10.3); and the whole purpose of the Tabernacle ritual was in order to keep holy His Name (Leviticus 22.2, 32). Indeed their failure to maintain the holiness of God was the cause of the downfall of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20.12; 27.14; Deuteronomy 32.51).

In Isaiah 29.23 we are told that Israel will ‘sanctify His Name’ and will thus ‘stand in awe’ of Him when He brings about His deliverance of them, and the result will be that they will come to understanding and will listen to His Instruction. So the prayer ‘may your Name be made holy’ includes this desire that God’s Name might be held in awe, and honoured and worshipped because His people are in awe of Him as a result of what He has done for them. For as we have seen the Name of a person indicates what he essentially is. Thus to ‘set God’s Name apart as holy’ (hallow Him) means to honour what He is fully and without reserve.

It is, however, in Ezekiel that the ‘sanctifying’ (setting apart as holy) of God’s Name by His own action receives a major emphasis (20.41; 28.22, 25; 36.23; 39.27). In Ezekiel the idea is again that God will be ‘sanctified’ (totally justified in all eyes and seen to be unique in the goodness, mercy and power), by the deliverance of His people. But this is then especially connected with Him as acting to sanctify His Name. In Ezekiel 36.23 God is seen as declaring, “And I will sanctify (make holy) My great Name which has been profaned among the nations, --- and the nations will know that I am YHWH , says the Lord YHWH, when I will be sanctified (made holy) in you before their eyes --- and I will take you from among the nations --- and I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean -- a new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh, and I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36.23-27). So God is to be ‘made holy’ in the eyes of men by what He accomplishes in salvation and deliverance, in the bringing of righteousness to His people This confirms therefore that ‘hallowed be your Name’ is partly to be seen as a prayer for the pouring out of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36.27; Isaiah 44.1-5; Joel 2.28-29) and the renewing of the new covenant (Ezekiel 36.26; Jeremiah 31.33) so that God’s unique holiness might be made known. It will be praying that the work that has taken place in the disciples will spread more widely and will take in many more people so that through it God’s Name, as He acts in gracious sovereignty, might be seen to be holy. It is praying that 3.11 might be fulfilled for many.

And finally His name will be hallowed at the final judgment when all sin is done away and the perfect everlasting Kingdom is established. Then God will be fully known for what He is. Men may see God’s day of judgment as a time of terror and horror. But that is because of what they are. To Heaven it is the time when all will be set right, when wickedness and selfishness will be done away, and when God will become all in all. And that is why His people pray for it and look forward to it (2 Peter 3.12; Revelation 6.10). So by praying ‘may your Name be made holy’ we have these three things in mind, a desire that men may be in awe of Him and give Him the praise due to His Name, a cry that God will act to bring honour to His Name by pouring forth His Holy Spirit in the cleansing and transformation of a people for Himself, and a longing for that day when God will bring about His judgment and will set all to rights (compare Revelation 6.10).


“May Your Kingly Rule come.”

Unless we are to see these three prayers that make up the first part of the Lord’s Prayer as totally independent of each other, and as having different time references, this must be seen as including the prayer that the Kingly Rule of Heaven might begin to come on earth within the experience of the disciples who were then listening to His words, for it follows the desire to hallow His Name as described above, and it precedes the request for the doing of God’s will on earth (and the prayer in Luke 11.1-4 omitted the latter because it was seen as having already been said in the previous two requests). Furthermore, as a primary emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Matthew (and the total emphasis in respect of the Kingly Rule of God) is on its being experienced and spreading in the present this is what we would expect (see for this The Coming of the King and His Kingly Rule in the introduction). This is thus not just a pious hope that God’s everlasting Kingly Rule will come about in the eternal kingdom, or even a yearning for that situation to come about, looking at things at a distance, in a kind of passive way, as the Scribes and Pharisees did. This is a recognition that the Kingly Rule of God has already begun to exert its power on men and women as revealed in chapter 13, and a prayer that that will be effective, and will continue to come, in order that then it might lead on to the establishment of the everlasting Kingly Rule of God, when all will own His sway (Isaiah 45.23; Philippians 2.10). Both ideas are intrinsic within it. Note especially how the establishment of His Kingly Rule in this way is connected both with the offer of salvation (Isaiah 45.22) and His word going forth in righteousness (Isaiah 45.23).

Thus it is a cry for His Kingly Rule, which is already established in Heaven (Psalm 103.19), to break through on earth (Psalm 22.28; LXX 21.29 tou Kuriou he basileia), so that some on earth may become a part of Heaven (Isaiah 57.15; Philippians 3.20; Ephesians 2.6). For ‘His Kingly Rule reigns over all’ (Psalm 103.19, LXX 102.19 he basileia autou). Indeed the suffering of God’s king is to lead on to the kingship becoming the Lord’s (Psalm 22.12-18 with 28; Isaiah 52.13-53.12). It is a call for His people to hunger and thirst after righteousness (5.6) as they await and participate in the establishment of the Kingly Rule of the righteous Branch, the Messiah Who will make real to them ‘the Lord their righteousness’ (Jeremiah 23.5-6, He will ‘reign as king’ - LXX basileuo basileus). It is a cry for His deliverance and righteousness to be revealed with power in such a way as to effectively work on earth in the saving of men and women in the forming of the new Israel, as a fulfilment of the Isaianic promises. God had promised, ‘I will bring near My righteousness --- and My salvation will not delay, and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory’ (Isaiah 46.13; see also 51.5, 8; 56.1), which would result in the establishment of His righteous King (Isaiah 11.1-4), and that is what is being sought here. It is a prayer that God’s Kingly Rule may spread effectively and powerfully and possess the lives of men and women on earth today, in the way that is described in chapter 13 and elsewhere, so that God’s glory may be seen on earth, although certainly then leading on to its final fulfilment following the judgment, as indeed it also does in chapter 13.

For before there can possibly be an everlasting Kingship there must first be a conquest on earth in the name of the Messiah (28.19-20) which will then subsequently result in His final everlasting Kingly Rule being established, with that in itself handed over to the fullness of the Godhead at the consummation (1 Corinthians 15.24). It is thus a prayer for the establishment of the Messianic reign by the power of God as they go forward to make disciples of all nations (28.19-20), that He and they might reign on the earth under God’s Kingly Rule (19.28; 28.18-20; Romans 5.17; Ephesians 2.6; Colossians 1.13; Revelation 1.6, 9; 5.10) in preparation for their being carried up into Heaven (13.30, 43; 24.31; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17) as already under His Kingly Rule (Colossians 1.13), and that they may be citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3.20), a situation which is potentially theirs (Ephesians 2.6). It is a prayer that God will fulfil His purposes on earth and bring glory to His Name and to the Name of Jesus, as the world is brought under His sway, something which will then finally result in His perfect everlasting Rule in Heaven. Thus it is the Kingly Rule of God for which the prophets longed and waited (Isaiah 24.23; 33.22; 52.7) which would come about through His Chosen One (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; 32.1-4; 42.1-4; Ezekiel 37.24-28; Daniel 7.14), which would be gradually established on earth in the new Israel (13.1-52), as a result of the activities of His disciples (28.19-20), and consummated in Heaven in the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26; Hebrews 12.22).


“May Your will be done.”

This petition is then a continuation of the same prayer as the previous one, but seen from the point of view, not only of God’s activity (‘bring about the doing of Your will’), but of men’s response (‘let them do your will’), and put in more basic terms. It has very much in mind how Jesus will close the Sermon, emphasising the doing of the will of God (7.21, 24-25). ‘Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter under the Kingly Rule of God, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven’ (7.21). It is thus a prayer that God will work in men’s hearts and minds and wills in such a way that they will ‘will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2.13), and that that may be accomplished in order that God’s will might be done on earth and be seen to be done. It is a prayer that what Jesus speaks of in 5.3-9; 7.13-27 might become a reality for His disciples.

But we must here solemnly keep in mind also 26.42 where we have similar words, ‘Your will be done’. For there we have the reminder that His will also comes about through suffering, and especially through the suffering of His Son. Thus by this prayer, quite unknowingly, they will be praying for the successful carrying through of His crucifixion in the will of God, and of their own persecution as they filled up what was ‘lacking’ in the sufferings of Christ (the sufferings of His body as His witnesses). As can be seen it is no light thing to pray for the doing of His will. This may therefore be seen as very much leading up to the prayer not to be brought into the trials that the world will have to face but to be delivered from evil and the Evil One. For while triumphant, it carries within it the idea of the persecution and martyrdoms that lay ahead.

It is interesting that this last petition is not found in the initial giving of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11.1-4. It is surely therefore to be seen as a clarifying and expanding on the previous two requests so as to make their meaning unmistakable, and attach them firmly to the present time, precisely because Jesus did not want men just to project them into a distant future. In reviewing the prayer He had Himself seen the danger that this might occur.

(If this were not so we would be suggesting that in His Lucan prayer Jesus had not been much concerned about the current doing of His will on earth but had only been interested in the more distant future, something which does not in fact tie in with the second part of the prayer which very much has in mind the present. Thus the second part of the prayer would then lack anything to tie itself to in the first part of the prayer).


“As in heaven, so (kai) on earth.”

And as we pray this we are to do so remembering the perfect pattern of obedience. For Heaven is the place where all race to do His bidding, where there is no thought of disobedience to His will, where there is not a whiff of dissent. Once men are there they do not question His will, for they are in a place where God’s will is all. So in Heaven they do not obey Him because they are in subservience and dare not disobey, but because they recognise that what He requires is wholly right (Revelation 5.13). They therefore delight to do His will.

This reminds us how much easier our lives would be if only we would take time to live in the light of Heaven. And that is in fact what Scripture constantly exhorts us to do, for we are to recognise that we have been seated at His right hand in the heavenly place, and that we have been made citizens of Heaven, and are therefore to set our minds on things above where Christ is enthroned at the right hand of God (Ephesians 2.6; Philippians 3.20; Colossians 3.1-3), recognising at the same time that all things are open to the eyes of Whom we have to do, whether in earth or in Heaven ( Hebrews 4.13; compare 1 John 1.7). Compare again the promises attaching to 5.3-12, and see 6.20. But instead we allow the distractions of this world to take our eyes off our heavenly heritage, and, before we know where we are, we find ourselves once more engaged in disobedience, and ‘the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things, choke the word and it becomes unfruitful’. This can even happen to some extent in a Christian when he takes his eyes off things above. Here therefore Jesus seeks to turn our thoughts in prayer back to our spiritual home. We are to make Heaven our pattern and our home. We are to be homesick for Heaven, and in the light of it ever active on earth.

Note the use of ‘kai’. Kai is a loose and indefinite conjunction, which makes a connection but without emphasising how. Often it is almost redundant. Among other possibilities it can thus be translated as ‘and’ or ‘so’ or ‘even’ (‘that is to say’). A good rule that has been suggested is that its significance should always be understated so as to add as little as possible to the meaning of a sentence. Here that would support the translation ‘so’. ‘On earth as in Heaven’ conveys the right meaning.

But, as we have seen above, the pattern of the prayer suggests that this additional phrase should be seen as applying to all three of the previous petitions, for in Heaven His name is hallowed, in Heaven His rule is unquestioned, and in Heaven His will is done with alacrity and delight. Indeed a major emphasis in the Old Testament is that the Lord already reigns in Heaven. He is the King Who sits above the flood (Psalm 29.10) as King over all the earth (Psalm 47.2). He is high and lifted up and seated on a throne surveying the situation on earth (Isaiah 6.1; Psalm 53.2). It is there in Heaven that His Kingly Rule (LXX he basileai autou) is established (Psalm 103.19). And this Kingly Rule is the Lord’s so that He might rule over the nations (Psalm 22.28). Thus it is right and Scriptural that His disciples should pray, ‘Your Kingly Rule come, as in Heaven so on earth’.

The significance of ‘Heaven’ here must clearly be that it represents the ‘place’ where God dwells with His heavenly hosts, for that is where He is hallowed, where He reigns, and where His will is done without question.

A Change in Focus.

Up to this point the whole prayer has centred on God and His will. The emphasis has been on ‘Your -- Your -- Your’. And rightly so for this should ever be the focal point of discipleship. But now there is a sudden change, for from this point on the focus is on ‘us -- us -- us’, not in any sense of thinking mainly of ourselves, but having in mind our dependence on Him and our need for His constant help if we are to have the ability to fulfil His commands and do His will. In the light of what we have prayed for in the exalting of His Name, and the establishing of His Rule, and the doing of His will, we are now to seek the means by which we may ourselves have our part in it. This in itself confirms that the first part of the prayer very much refers to the position as it is found on earth. It is that which they need help in facing.

We have suggested in the chiasmus above a parallelism in inverted form between the prayers concerning the performing of His will, and these spiritual requests that now follow, and that still holds, but as regularly in this Sermon they may also be seen from another angle. For the giving of their ‘tomorrow’s bread’ (see below) ties in well with His hallowing of His Name by sending His Holy Spirit to feed their hearts (Ezekiel 36.23-27), the coming of His Kingly Rule very much involves the forgiveness of those who come under that Kingly Rule, (they could not be under His Kingly Rule without its continual provision), and the doing of His will, (and even more so in so far as it leads to suffering), necessarily requires deliverance from trials and from evil and the Evil One.

There are two ways of looking at this part of the prayer depending partly on the significance we place on the first petition. The first is to see the petitions as involving the recognition of:

  • A continual requirement for physical provisioning, ‘give us today our bread for today’ (or ‘sufficient for today’).
  • A continual requirement for spiritual restoration, ‘forgive us what we owe to you for failing to do your will’.
  • A continuing need of both physical and spiritual protection, ‘lead us not into testing, but deliver us from evil and the Evil One’.

But note that on this interpretation there is lacking here any idea of a request for positive spiritual good and sustenance. In a sense they would seem to be praying, ‘Lord, somehow keep us going’, rather than, ‘Lord make us strong to do your will’.

Alternatively we may see all three as referring to Messianic provision; a continual requirement for spiritual sustenance, for spiritual bread (‘Tomorrow’s bread’), that is, to partake of Christ and His words (4.4) as the bread of life (John 6.35), followed by a continual requirement for spiritual forgiveness, and spiritual protection. But either way we should note that unlike the previous three petitions these three are connected by the word ‘and’. It is a reminder that all three are necessary together. It is not a question of one or the other.

Having this in mind let us therefore consider them in more detail, .


‘Give us this day our tomorrow’s (epiousion) bread.’

How the significance of this petition depends very much on the meaning of ‘epiousion’. The problem is that this word is otherwise unknown to us prior to the date of this Sermon, and is rarely found, if at all in secular literature, certainly not as meaning ‘daily’. Nor are we helped much by Luke’s present imperative followed by ‘kath hemeron’, ‘Give us day by day our daily/tomorrow’s (epiousion) bread’. We may well ask in this case, why, if Jesus meant physical food, He did not simply repeat the idea of ‘today’, or why in fact the translater into Greek did not make it clear? In Luke especially ‘daily’ would have been so easy to say.

This is further accentuated by the fact that Jerome (c. 342-420 AD) tells us that in the lost Aramaic Gospel of the Nazarenes the term mahar, which means ‘tomorrow’, appears at this place in the Lord’s prayer, which suggests therefore that the reference is to bread “for tomorrow”. The Gospel of the Nazarenes was not, of course, as old as our first three Gospels. Rather it depended on our Gospel of Matthew. But the Aramaic wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Gospel of the Nazarenes (“bread for tomorrow”) must surely be seen as representing the ancient form of the prayer in Aramaic, and therefore in that regard as older than the Gospel of the Nazarenes itself, and older even than our Gospels. For in first-century Palestine the Lord’s Prayer would almost certainly have been prayed constantly by Aramaic-speaking Christians in an uninterrupted Aramaic form, right from the time when the words were first taught by Jesus, so that a person translating the gospel of Matthew into Aramaic would undoubtedly translate the Lord’s Prayer in terms of the original Aramaic which they knew to be the Lord’s words, especially if there was any ambiguity or doubt as to the meaning of the Greek word. Thus when the translator of Matthew into Aramaic came to Matthew 6.9-13, he would naturally write the prayer down in the way that he knew that it was prayed day by day by Aramaic-speaking Christians, as it had been through the years. In other words, the Aramaic-speaking Jewish-Christians, among whom the Lord’s Prayer lived on in its original Aramaic wording in unbroken usage from the days of Jesus first giving of the prayer, prayed, “Our bread for tomorrow give us today.”

Jerome also tells us that, “In the so-called Gospel according to the Hebrews --- I found mahar, which means ‘for tomorrow,’ so that the sense is, ‘Our bread for tomorrow – that is, our future bread -- give us today.’ ”

It has therefore been suggested that in mind here is the provision in Exodus 16.22, 29 where on the sixth day they were given not only sufficient for the sixth day but also bread ‘for the morrow’, that is, ‘for the Sabbath’, with the Sabbath then seen, as it often is, as the coming (and now come in Jesus) Messianic age. This provision of ‘bread from Heaven’ by Moses was probably expected to be repeated by the Messiah (see John 6.30-31). And to this Jesus replied that His Father was giving them the true bread from Heaven in the giving of Himself.

So the best explanation for this reference to “tomorrow” is probably that it refers to the great ‘Tomorrow’ as anticipated by the Jews, the bread that they would eat at Messiah’s table at the Messianic Banquet at the coming great Sabbath rest. That would not exclude the idea of their receiving their physical ‘bread’ from their heavenly Father as well as their spiritual bread, for such Messianic provision was also expected, but it would seem to encourage the idea that, either way, they are to be seen as receiving not just physical food but God’s Messianic provision of blessing in every way. And this is brought out even more emphatically in Luke where the prayer is preceded by Jesus receiving food at the house of Martha and Mary, at which point He specifically directs Martha’s attention to the greater importance of spiritual food by listening to His words (Luke 10.38-42), and is followed by a parable which uses ‘bread’ as a picture of the need to pray for the ‘good things’ that their heavenly Father has for his children, including the Holy Spirit (Luke 11.5-13). And this is especially so in view of the fact that in the sermon Jesus will shortly stress that their eyes are to be Heavenward rather than earthward (6.20).

Three facts very much favour this interpretation. The first is the emphasis that Jesus has laid on their Father already knowing their physical needs (verse 8). This brings out the fact that they are therefore not to be anxious about food and clothing (verse 25), because God is the great Provider, providing such things to His creatures without any need for prayer. And this is then underlined by the fact that that is precisely the kind of things that the Gentiles do seek when they pray (verse 32), an example which they are not to follow (verse 31). It would seem strange then if physical bread were to be made their first request in the Lord’s prayer. While if this prayer was for Messianic provision, including both physical and spiritual, it is perfectly explicable. Such provision would be seen as a special promise of God (e.g. Isaiah 25.6) and would only be available for those who are His.

The second is that what they are rather to be ‘anxious about’ is the Kingly Rule of God and His righteous deliverance (verse 33). It is those things which they are to seek. And while this idea may certainly be seen as in mind in their being forgiven and in their being kept from evil, we see at once that there is no request in the second part of the prayer concerning their need for positive strengthening or positive righteousness. Was Jesus really saying that apart from food, all that they needed was forgiveness and protection from evil? That is a very negative way of seeing the Christian life.

The third is that there can be no question but that Jesus does constantly very much emphasise their positive need for spiritual bread, in contrast with physical bread. In His temptation in 4.4 He had declared that ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Given Luke’s clear connection of the Lord’s prayer with spiritual bread in 10.38-11.13 (even putting it in a bread sandwich) that must surely be seen as significant. Furthermore He then asks in 7.9 what father will give a stone to a son who asks for bread, and refers it to the ‘good things’ of the Messianic age which will be given to them by their heavenly Father (compare in Luke where the good things specifically refer to ‘the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 11.13). Note especially how on both occasions when He gives the prayer to His disciples He follows it up with this need to ask for spiritual benefits (7.7-12; Luke 11.5-13), spiritual benefits which are not actually otherwise included in His model prayer, and yet are spoken of in terms of bread. It strongly suggests therefore that the bread that He has in mind in the prayer refers to the blessings of the Messianic age into which they have now entered so that they can enjoy ‘Tomorrow’s bread’, that is the blessings seen by Israel as coming in the great Tomorrow.

References to the spiritual significance of bread can be multiplied. In 15.26 the ‘bread’ for the children signifies Scriptural truth, in 16.5, 7, 8, 11, 12 where the disciples make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is speaking of physical bread He points out that He means ‘the leaven (teaching) of the Scribes and Pharisees. And finally in 26.26 , while there is certainly physical bread in mind, it is as a picture of the Lord’s body which will be given for them. So in all such cases where He speaks of bread He has in mind spiritual bread.

And greater weight can be added to this argument when we consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke and John. Indeed in the very context of their not seeking physical bread (Luke 12.22-34) Jesus immediately describes how when He comes again He will sit His disciples down to eat meat and He will serve them (12.37). But the idea is not really of a great party where Jesus will act as servant and indulge their appetites. It is rather a promise of the great blessings that He will pour on them in that Day, and as a lesson in humility. In all His provision for us God is acting as our Servant, for the point is that He not only makes the gifts, but also applies them Himself. And the portion of food that the unfaithful servant was supposed to give to his fellow-servants, and failed to give (12.42), was surely more than just bread. The point behind the descriptions was that the servants appointed by God had failed to provide His people with what they needed in their spiritual lives. Furthermore the Pharisee who said, ‘Blessed is he who will eat bread in the Kingly Rule of God’ (14.15) is unquestionably thinking of Messianic blessings, and Jesus follows it up with the parable of the Great Supper, which surely has in mind more than just physical bread, as in fact does the feeding of the five thousand (and the four thousand) which while it involved physical bread was pointing to something greater (John 6.35). The Kingly Rule of God might often be depicted in terms of bread, but surely more than that was regularly intended. And while the husks, bread and dainties of the parable of the prodigal son were very real (if fiction can be real) what they really represented in the interpretation of the parable was spiritual food. So the disciples were aware that when Jesus spoke of bread they must regularly recognise that He meant spiritual bread. And when we come to John we have the well known picture of Jesus as the bread of life, which will take away the hunger (and thirst) of men and women (John 6.35). For the one who eats of that bread will live for ever, for it is His flesh which He will give for the life of the world (John 6.51). And He then goes on to point out that they must therefore feed on Him. More could be added but we think that we have said enough.

But it may be asked, if that was the meaning why did Jesus not make it clearer? Why have Christians down the ages seen it as referring to physical bread? One answer to that is in fact that it is not true. In the early church that we do know about it was seen as referring to spiritual bread, and in fact mainly to the bread at the Lord’s Supper. Indeed the whole prayer was probably reserved for use within the fellowship, especially at the Lord’s Table, and not expected to be used by those who were not accepted members of their spiritual community. Interpreting it of the Lord’s Supper is probably too narrow an interpretation, unless widely expanded on, although it was certainly understandable. It is the ideas behind the Lord’s Supper that are in mind. However, in fairness it should be pointed out that the more enlightened preachers did make clear that the Lord’s Supper was a picture of great spiritual blessing available to His people. Thus the bread indicates the fullness of the blessings of Christ. It may be seen as rather the later pedantic interpreters who turned it into a request solely for physical bread, and that because the Lord’s prayer became the common lot of men who only thought in terms of physical benefit, although it was also possibly as a reaction against the misuse of the bread and wine by the mediaeval church.

What it does seem rather to signify is all the blessings, both physical and spiritual, which were to come to them because they belonged to the Messiah. It signified the full provisioning of both body and soul as Messiah’s people, both the Messianic banquet and the Messianic blessing. It is ‘Tomorrow’s bread’ available ‘today’ for those who are His. So what they are to pray is, ‘Father in Heaven, we are Messiah’s people, grant us Messianic provision.’ Compare Isaiah 25.6; 40.11; 49.10; Jeremiah 3.15; 23.4; 50.19; Ezekiel 34.13-15, 23; 36.29-20; Micah 5.4; Psalm 23.2-3, 5.

So yes it does include a promise that God will provide His people, as Messiah’s people, with what they physically need, and that they can therefore ask Him for it with confidence, but it is not in the way in which the world asks for it. It is asked of Him by Messiah’s people, and expected by them to be provided for them by their Father, because they are within His favour, and as part of a far more abundant provision in spiritual power and blessing. It signifies all that they need which can be found in Him, food for body and soul, and not just physical bread, which for most people should in fact be the last thought on their minds (6.33). It is praying, ‘Father, feed us body and soul with all the Messianic blessedness’, with Your word that is better than bread (4.4), with the righteousness which You will pour down from above (Isaiah 45.8; 44.1-5; 32.15-18) for which we are to hunger and thirst (5.6), and we may possibly add, especially with what is expressed in the beatitudes.


‘And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors’.

‘Forgive us our debts.’ The meaning of this petition, as Luke specifically brings out, is that we are to pray for the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 11.4). The Jews saw sin as being a debt owed to God. They rightly saw it as a failure to give Him His due. Thus the Aramaic word for debts came also to mean sins, and this idea is regularly found in the Targums (Aramaic translations or paraphrases of the Hebrew text for the benefit of Aramaic-speaking worshippers who lacked a knowledge of Hebrew). That is why Luke translates whatever the Aramaic word was as ‘sins’ (Luke 11.4).

Luke, however, then goes on to speak of ‘every one who is indebted to us’. This last fact would seem to demonstrate that either he or his source knew that the original Aramaic in the first phrase was also ‘debts’ but saw ‘debts’ as signifying ‘sins’, and wanted this to be clear to those who received their words. Possibly he left the second part as ‘indebted to us’ in order to bring out that any way in which others have sinned against us cannot be compared with the awfulness of our having sinned against God and His laws. Jesus Himself used the same idea of sin being like a debt in certain of His parables (18.23-35; Luke 7.40-43), where He specifically linked it to the forgiveness of sins (18.21-22, 35).

The idea here is of day by day sins, not the initial forgiveness required in order to make men right with God. It can be illustrated by Jesus’ words to Peter in John 13.8, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet’. It is a reminder that daily we do come short, and therefore daily need forgiveness. Compare here 1 John 1.7-10.

In the Old Testament God is revealed as a God Who is very willing to forgive the truly repentant (Exodus 34.7; Numbers 14.18; Daniel 9.9), and such forgiveness was regularly receivable through the offering of sacrifices (Leviticus 4.20 and often; Numbers 15,25, 26, 28). Thus the Psalmists constantly rejoiced in His forgiveness (Psalm 32.1; 85.2; 86.5; 103.3; 130.4). But the coming Messianic age was to especially be a time of forgiveness when God would blot out their transgressions and not remember their sins (Isaiah 43.25; 44.22; 55.7; Jeremiah 31.34; Ezekiel 37.23). Thus His disciples can now approach their Father for forgiveness without doubt in their hearts.

‘As we also have forgiven our debtors.’ This is not a bargaining counter as though we have deserved forgiveness because we have forgiven others. It is a declaration that every disciple is expected to be able to make, precisely because he is observing Jesus’ teaching in 5.43-48. For one sign that they are truly His will be found in this readiness to forgive others. It is one of the badges by which we are identified as the light of the world. Note that it is ‘those who sin against us’ that we forgive. We cannot forgive their sins, but we can forgive the fact that they have sinned against us, and love them for His sake. It should also be noted that the assumption here is of people who seek our forgiveness, not of inveterate enemies. Thus when Peter says ‘How often shall we forgive?’, it is of those who come and say ‘I repent’ (18.21-23). The same principle is also brought out in the parable (18.23-35). This must be so because such forgiveness involves treating the people who have sinned against us as though they have never done so, in the same way as we know that God will treat us. But we cannot expect to take up such a position with someone who has not revealed, at least outwardly, a change of heart. We may refrain from feeling bitter against them, and be prepared to act in love towards them, but that is not full forgiveness. Forgiveness involves putting them back in a position of trust, in the position that they were in before they sinned. So while people are unrepentant we can love them, and act in love towards them, but we cannot treat them as though they were repentant. We cannot restore them to full trust, because their attitude is unchanged.

Such forgiveness is a sign that God’s Kingly Rule has broken forth on the earth in His people, so that His disciples have become forgiving like He is. And the point is that it is because they are His people as revealed in this way that they can come to Him confidently expecting daily forgiveness. It will be because they are walking in His light.


And bring us not into testing,
But deliver us from evil (or ‘the evil one’).

The assumption behind these words is that the world faces positive testing and trial by God, and endures various evils, partly at His hand and possibly partly at the hands of the Evil One. This is an indicator that Jesus recognises God as ever active in the world, shaping history, and aware of man’s goings on, and that in various ways He intervenes in judgment. It is an idea that appears in the Old Testament again and again, see for example Psalm 34.21; 37.19; 140.11; Isaiah 13.11; 31.2; 45.7; 47.10; Jeremiah 6.19; 17.17-18; 18.11; 19.3; 23.12; etc. Amos 3.6; Micah 1.12, and in Daniel 10 it is connected with the activities of the Evil One and his minions (Daniel 10.11-21).

We need to recognise what ‘evil’ as used here represents. It represents whatever is seen as contrary to man’s good, whether natural disaster, war or civil commotion. It is the exact opposite of what is of benefit to man (that is, of what is in that sense ‘good’). Thus Job could say, ‘shall we receive good at hand of God and shall we not receive evil?’ (Job 2.10). It is in fact the sense in which God ‘creates evil’ in Isaiah 45.7. Thus God boldly takes responsibility, not for the sin that is in the world, for that He lays firmly at man’s door, but for the fact that history often does not fall into line with man’s plans, and regularly results in unfortunate circumstances for man. It is a reminder that God allows things to occur which are by no means a blessing for man, and can in some way be seen as responsible for them. It is through such things that men learn righteousness (Isaiah 26.9), for there is nothing that shakes men up like disaster.

Thus God is seen as constantly at work against sin, however much man seeks to buttress himself against its consequences. The affluent world may avoid the more obvious evils, (although it still suffers its share of disasters, and will probably do so more and more), but evils still pile on it in the form for example of the effects of drunkenness, drugs, extreme boredom, depression, and disease brought on by sin and man’s own carelessness.

So this third petition is a confident request by His disciples that they may be delivered from the trials of God which will be brought on the world as a result of sin, and from all the common ‘evils’ (see Psalm 5.4; 23.4; 37.19; 49.5; 91.10; 121.7; Isaiah 26.20-21; Jeremiah 15.11; 17.17; see also Ephesians 6.13) and from the machinations of the Evil One (Ephesians 6.11). They are to know that as they look to Him God will have a special watch over them and will not bring them into unnecessary testing, especially as such affects the world, but will lead them in the right way, and will keep them from personal spiritual harm. The point is that the lot of the world is not on the whole to be the lot of His disciples. This is clearly portrayed in Revelation 7.3 with 9.4; (compare also Revelation 3.10), where those who are His are seen as sealed by God against the judgments of God and the assaults of the Enemy so that they cannot be harmed. That book, however, also reveals that this is no proof against persecution. God’s people will face persecution, but they will not suffer directly under the judgments of God, except incidentally. Persecution is the lot of every Christian in one way or another (John 16.2-3, 33; Acts 14.22). But the point is that as they pray they will be protected from the worst of the types of judgments that the world has to face (see 24.20; Isaiah 26.20-21; Jeremiah 17.10; Isaiah 2.10-21; 4.4; 24.1-6, 18-20; 42.24; etc).

Only eternity will reveal how often this prayer has been fulfilled. A remarkable example of this was the way in which, being warned by God by means of a ‘prophecy’, the early Jerusalem church fled to Pella at the first indication of the Roman invasion, thus obeying Jesus’ exhortation (24.15-18) and escaping the horrors of the Jerusalem siege. They were not brought into testing but were delivered from evil.

But this also includes the idea that no disciple is to be so overconfident and arrogant as to seek to be tested, or to become relaxed about evil. No disciple is to behave so foolishly as to court trouble. They are not to rush into martyrdom. (It was often those who courted persecution who in the end failed to maintain their endurance until the end). They are to pray not to be brought into testing. Testing of sorts may come, but if it does, it will not have come from God. So rather they must pray that they may escape the testings that constantly come on the world because of its sin, testing brought on it by God (Isaiah 26.20-21; Revelation 3.10). As we have seen the Old Testament makes clear that that there are ways in which God does bring into testing those who are in rebellion against Him, and while His people know that they cannot expect to avoid the general trials that the world must face, they can expect to be kept from the trials that come on a rebellious world because of their sin and failure to repent To be ‘brought into’ such testing by God would be a sign that they were not His.

The lack of the definite article on ‘testing’ is against it signifying only the period of testing called the Messianic woes, (and this even though to them the Messianic woes were already approaching), although they may be seen as included. It is a prayer to be spared all types of the testing that faces the world. It is also the prayer of those who are confident of the protection of God under all circumstances. They are confident that they will be protected by His shield (Genesis 15.1; 2 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 3.3; 18.35; 28.7; 33.20; 84.9, 11; 91.4; 119.14; 144.2; Proverbs 30.5).

The corollary of this is that they will be delivered from evil. The ‘but’ is emphatic (alla), God watches over those who have made Him their refuge (Psalm 91.9), leads them in the right way, and will not allow His people to stub their foot against a stone (4.6; Psalm 91.11). Yet they would also have been aware that in the time of Messianic testing Satan will be let loose on the world as never before, and the idea may be included therefore that they are to pray that they will be delivered from his power.

Some, however, would retain the idea of ‘temptation’ to sin. ‘Peirasmos’ means all kinds of testing (26.41; Exodus 17.7 LXX; Deuteronomy 4.34; 6.16; 7.19; 9.22; 29.3 LXX; Psalm 95.8 (94.8 LXX); Luke 8.13; 22.28; Acts 20.19; Galatians 4.14), and can include temptation to sin (Luke 4.13; 1 Corinthians 10.13; 1 Timothy 6.9). Against this is the fact that God is said not to cause His servants to be tempted (James 1.13-14), so that this therefore could not be seen as bringing them into temptation, but the argument given in reply is that the idea is not that God might lead them into temptation, but that as He leads them temptation might arise, and they are praying that this might be avoided, and thus showing that they are aware that without God’s help they dare not face such temptation. Whether included or not this is also true and necessary.


For if you forgive men their trespasses,
Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
Neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Jesus then adds a rider, stressing the kind of people that they must be if their Father is to have dealings with them in a continuing forgiveness (note the emphasis of His words here on God as their Father). If they are to see God as their Father, and enjoy His continual forgiveness, they must be those who, like Him, love their enemies, and who are peacemakers. The blessings of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (which include God’s continual forgiveness) are for those who are truly under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. How could they be otherwise? Thus those who would enjoy them must themselves be under the Kingly Rule of Heaven and thus be involved in dispensing the forgiveness of the new age (18.21-22). Indeed they cannot be Jesus’ disciples and yet not be involved in being forgiving. For being unforgiving is as bad as clinging on to riches. It sets them against God.

The point is thus that if they are not willing to reveal themselves as true sons of their Father (5.9, 45) by being forgiving to those who seek their forgiveness, they cannot very well expect to be treated as such. They have proved that they are not. Forgiving others is not seen here as a condition of their being forgiven, it is rather seen as a ‘not without which’. It is seen as one of the signs that give them right of entry to their Father. That is, it is an indication that they are of those who walk rightly with God and as such can therefore expect forgiveness from their Father.

So Jesus is not saying here that they will be forgiven if they forgive. That would be impossible. Forgiveness from God cannot be bargained for, nor can it be earned. He is saying rather that if they want God to treat them as His sons by forgiving them, their grosser sins, they must be revealing in their lives that they are true sons by forgiving others their lesser sins. It is not a tit for tat, otherwise we might as well give up. If God’s forgiveness was dependent on the level of ours we would have no hope. What is in mind is that our hearts are revealed as having the right attitude. We can compare with this how they are also to be reconciled with those who have things against them before they bring their gifts to God (5.23-24). In both cases they must approach God having put behind them all that might offend God. How could someone with the spirit of the servant in 18.23-30 possibly approach Someone like the God of infinite mercy and compassion?

‘Trespasses.’ Note that here ‘debts’ has now become ‘trespasses’, confirming that the ideas are synonymous. The principle described here is so important that it is repeated in 18.23-35 where the new community is being described. It also occurs in a different context in Mark 11.25.

There is an interesting parallel to this in Ecclesiasticus 28.1-2, ‘he who takes vengeance will find vengeance from the Lord, and He will surely make firm his sins. Forgive your neighbour the hurt that he has done you, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray’. The same principle lies behind it. It is caught up in the basic principle, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. But whereas in Ecclesiasticus ‘neighbour’ probably meant very much their fellow Jews, with Jesus the requirement was to forgive ‘men and women’. It was universal.

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