Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 48 Question 123. Which is the second petition? Answer. Thy kingdom come; that is, rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to Thee; preserve and increase Thy church; destroy the works of the devil and all violence which would exalt itself against Thee; and also, all wicked counsels devised against Thy holy Word; till the full perfection of Thy kingdom take place, wherein Thou shalt be all in all.
In this second petition, which has to do with God’s kingdom, our request concerns both God and ourselves. It is a prayer for the advance of God’s kingdom and a prayer for our submission to God’s rule. That makes this petition very comprehensive, as God’s rule is comprehensive, as well as very practical and personal.
To understand the meaning of this petition, we must first understand what is meant by the words, “Thy kingdom.”
So, what is God’s kingdom? That question raises much controversy today, not only between dispensational and covenantal Christianity, but also among those who are Presbyterian and Reformed. The general misconception of the kingdom is that it is future and earthly. Generally speaking, this is both the view of the premillennialists, who expect Christ to come and establish His rule over all the earth from a throne in Jerusalem, and of the postmillennialists, who expect a future golden age of worldwide revival and Christian dominion.
Here we do not have the time and space to enter into these views of the kingdom, except to say two things: 1) this was the same misconception of the kingdom that the Jews and disciples had during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 6:15; Acts 1:6); and 2) the Heidelberg Catechism obviously has a different understanding of the kingdom than it being “future” and “earthly.”
This is evident from the very first line of the Catechism’s answer: “‘Thy kingdom come’; that is, rule us so by Thy Word and Spirit,” and “preserve and increase Thy church.” This speaks of a “present” and “spiritual” rule that has to do with hearts and the church, rather than a future kingdom of earthly, international dominion. Further, in the last line of the answer, the “full perfection” of this kingdom is not something that will be realized here on earth, but is a reference to the heavenly kingdom in which all things will be made new and in which righteousness will dwell (Rev. 21:5; II Pet. 3:13). There and then, God will be “all in all” (I Cor. 15:28).
Biblically, these are the characteristics of the kingdom of God, which is also called in Scripture “the kingdom of Christ” and “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:44; Col. 1:13).
First, the kingdom is spiritual in nature. Jesus said it was not earthly but spiritual (Luke 17:20, 21; John 18:36). “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor 15:20). Its citizens are brought into the kingdom by a work of the Spirit (John 3:3, 5; Col. 1:13; Phil. 3:20). Its enemies are spiritual (I Cor. 15:26; Eph. 6:12). Its weapons and warfare are spiritual (II Cor. 10:4-5; Eph. 6:13-18). Its exploits and victories are spiritual in the conquering of sin (II Cor. 2:14; 10:5; Heb. 12:4). The rule of the King is by grace in the hearts of the citizens (Rom. 6:14; Heb. 12:28). What this kingdom produces is spiritual (Rom. 14:17).
Second, the kingdom is a present reality. It has already come. It came when Jesus was born as King (Luke 1:31-32). It came when John the Baptist and Jesus began to preach the gospel (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 12:28). It was established by the cross where the “prince of this world” was defeated (John 12:31). It exists today in Christ’s rule and authority over all things in heaven and on earth from His exalted heavenly throne (I Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20-22). It is manifest on earth in the church and her work of preaching the gospel (Matt. 13:47; I Pet. 2:9).
Third, the kingdom is progressive, that is, it is advancing toward its full perfection in the life to come. This does not mean that Christ is not King at present, nor that He will have a different kind of kingdom (an earthly one) in the future. Instead, with the gospel He rides “forth conquering, and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2; 19:11-16). “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (I Cor. 15:25). This progress and advancement of the kingdom happens in two important ways: first, by the “increase” or growth of the church as the gospel is preached to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14; Acts 28:31); and second, in the spiritual growth of the individual citizens of this kingdom (Matt. 6:33; Rom. 14:17). There is an already and a not yet. Already Christ has begun a good work in us (Phil. 1:6), but it will not be complete until the day when, seeing Christ, we shall be perfected (I John 3:3).
Praying for the kingdom
We pray for the “coming” of the kingdom. That is a prayer for the advancement of the spiritual rule of Jesus Christ in the present, as well as a prayer for the full perfection of His kingdom in the new heavens and new earth in the future.
The Catechism identifies four different ways that we make this petition. The first is personal, that God would rule in my heart by His Word and Spirit so that I, more and more, submit myself to Him. “More and more” refers to progress in personal sanctification. It is a prayer for a greater recognition of my own sin and rebellion, as well as a prayer for a greater understanding of how God’s Word should be applied to my personal life. The true clash of the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of God takes place in my own heart, in my personal struggle with sin. The enemy is within—in envy, pride, bitterness, discontent, lust, hatred, anger, love for money and pleasure, unbelief, and more. Victory over sin begins with God’s Word and Spirit breaking these strongholds. The answer to this prayer is my advancement in holiness of heart and life. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17).
How much do you pray for holiness in your own heart, and in your life and relationships? Oftentimes we think of the first three petitions as having to do with God, His name, His will and His kingdom; but His kingdom and my holiness are together in this petition. Is your desire for the coming of Christ’s kingdom reflected in a desire for godliness and a fight against your own sin?
The second important way that we make this petition is in our prayers for the church. Think of all the different ways that we pray for both the preservation and the increase of the church. We pray for missions and for men to be gospel preachers. We pray for unity among believers and faithfulness to God’s Word. We pray for persecuted Christians and for all of God’s people in their trials. We pray for our officebearers as well as for the activities of our local church. We pray that God will add to the church through our evangelism and witness. All of these are included in our prayer for the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Included in this would also be our prayers for those who are not yet believers but who have heard the gospel or seen our witness. As we pray for the salvation of wandering sheep or of our own covenant children, we are praying for the coming of the kingdom of Christ.
Third, we pray for the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ when we pray against all opposition to Christ. These are the imprecatory prayers of the book of Psalms (Ps. 69 and 109, as well as Ps. 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 137, 139 and 143). These are prayers against those outside the kingdom (Satan and the wicked world), as well as prayers against evil within the church. Satan uses many means to attack Christ and His people, including persecution, false doctrine, enmity between believers, temptations to worldliness, pride, and much more. We pray that God would curb the power of these attacks in the present and that He would, in the end, deliver us from them completely in our future perfection. Our prayer for the coming of the kingdom assumes that there is opposition to its advancement and, again, that opposition is first resident in our own hearts. Pray that God would help you to see and put to death the deeds of the flesh in your own life (I John 3:8).
Finally, this prayer looks forward to and expresses a longing for the “full perfection” of the kingdom in which God will be all in all. This will take place when Christ shall “appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28). Then, all the works of darkness will be destroyed. Then, our own remaining sin will be completely eradicated. Then, the righteous and the wicked will be separated. Then, we will be made perfect in our obedience.
And then, God will be all in all. Then, all our thoughts, which now often wander, will be focused on Him forever. Then, all our actions, which are now so self-serving, will be to His service and glory perfectly. Then, all our words, which often now are wasted, will be words of praise to Him who is worthy of all praise. Then, we will see that all the events of history, which perhaps now seem disconnected and aimless, have served the coming and perfection of His kingdom. And then, as He reigns over all as King of kings, we shall also reign with Him.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Questions for Discussion