by Rev. A. Brian Flamme
The devil hates and attacks the kingdom of grace. He stands in opposition with his weapons of the flesh, sin, and death. Therefore, Jesus wants us to pray that the kingdom that he purchased by his blood and resurrected life, that he extends to the ends of the earth by Word and Sacrament, may also come to us and sustain us in saving faith.[i] As Martin Chemnitz teaches concerning this second petition of the Lord’s Prayer,
We pray that we may be found in [Christ’s] kingdom, there abide, and be preserved. For if we are not found there, we may fall away from it and again slide back into the kingdom of Satan. We pray that God would set his own kingdom against the kingdom of Satan and the world. We ask that he would keep back and bind the Devil and that he would suppress, beat down and break the treachery and power of the Devil and of the world. We pray that he would mercifully defend and keep his Church from the same.[ii]
There are two temptations by which the devil would rob us of this petition’s comfort. They were problems for the Reformers and they continue to hound our faith today. First, we’re tempted to think that Christ’s kingdom on earth must come though some cooperation on our part. Second, we’re tempted to think that the kingdom must be identified and marked by something more glorious and beautiful than the “Word of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
At the time of the reformation, both errors were exemplified by the papacy on the one hand and the radical reformation on the other. According to the opponents in the papacy, gaining entrance into the heavenly kingdom required doing works in conformity with God’s will.[iii] More than that, they thought that their ecclesial hierarchy and loyalty to the Bishop of Rome constituted the church on earth. The answer to the question, “What is the kingdom of God on earth?” would invariably be answered, “The church that’s loyal to Rome.” Not only did the Pope claim authority over men’s souls, he also demanded power and obedience among princes.[iv] This was called bearing both swords of temporal and sacred authority. Philip Melanchthon writes,
Thus, the pope, contrary to the command of Christ, has not only violated sovereignty but even exalted himself tyrannically over all rulers. In this matter the act itself is not as despicable as the fact that he uses the authority of Christ as a pretext, that he transfers the keys to worldly dominion, and that he binds salvation to those impious and heinous opinions, claiming it necessary for salvation that people believe this tyranny belongs to the pope by divine right. Because these monstrous errors obscure faith and the reign of Christ, under no circumstances can they be ignored. Truly the results show what great plagues they have been in the church.[v]
After the Reformation started picking up steam in the early 1520s, radical spirits like Andreas Carlstadt (1486-1541) and Thomas Munzer (1489-1525) were likewise confused about the nature of God’s kingdom. Munzer, acting as spiritual head of the Peasant’s Revolt (1524-1525), thought that he could force Christ’s return through rebellion and bloodshed against his opponents. Through his acts of violence, he thought he could establish God’s present kingdom of pure and obedient saints and thereby hasten the day of judgment.[vi]
A modern-day example would be the so-called “social gospel.” It envisions the inbreaking of the divine kingdom by enacting justice at all levels of society. It’s the idea that God’s kingdom comes into the world in so far as we can achieve heavenly ideals among ourselves. Works and outward marks are supposed to gain the heavenly kingdom. The times change, but the temptations remain the same.
Against these attacks the Lutherans confessed that the only marks of the kingdom of grace are the Word and Sacrament. Rather than cooperating with our works to bring this kingdom among us. Jesus does it all through Word preached by his men. Melanchthon writes,
Christ gave to his apostles only spiritual authority, that is, the command to preach the gospel, to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, to administer the sacraments, and to excommunicate the ungodly without use of physical force. He did not give them the power of the sword or the right to establish, take possession, or dispose of the kingdoms of this world.[viii]
Should this spiritual kingdom of preaching offend our expectations of glory, Luther reminds us,
Of course, a scepter like this is no more than the mere word or oral preaching, a human voice. That is all the armor and armament with which such a powerful kingdom and might is begun, increased, and maintained. Really a poor, weak, yes, ineffective armament, as it appears, when compared with the power and might of the world! Nevertheless, everything pertaining to this kingdom is to be done and accomplished by this means, so that this kingdom might remain viable and might resist, shatter, and subdue its enemies, as the next part of this verse also says. For the kingdom has a strong supporter and protector behind it, who rules it and holds it up. He is called “the Lord.” He has strength enough to oppose all the devils and the world. The only might, armaments, or weapons He needs is this scepter which He has sent out, namely, the oral Word, or the office of the ministry.[ix]
Yes, Jesus teaches you to pray for his kingdom. But this isn’t anything to worry about. His kingdom is your joy and delight. He doesn’t bind you in oppression and tyranny in the manner of the princes of this world. He sets you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. As the Lord of Life, he gives you eternal life so that where he is you might be also (John 41:3). And so, we pray…
Dear Father, we ask you first to give us your Word, so that the gospel may be properly preached throughout the world and then that it may also be received in faith and may work and dwell in us, so that your kingdom may pervade among us through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit and the devil’s kingdom may be destroyed so that he may have no right or power over us until finally his kingdom is utterly eradicated and sin, death, and hell wiped out, that we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness.[x]
The Rev. A. Brian Flamme is a pastor at Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, Colo.
[i] LW 51:174 “Christ is the king of righteousness and life against the devil, sin, death, and all evil conscience. He has given us his holy Word, that it may be preached, in order that we might believe in him and live holy lives. Therefore we must pray that this may become effective and powerful, that the Word may go out into the world with power, that many may come into this kingdom and learn to believe and thus become partakers of redemption from death, sin, and hell.”
[ii] Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Prayer translated by Georg Williams, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007), 39-40.
[iii] The Catechism of the Council of Trent: Published by Command of Pope Pius the Fifth, (New York: The Catholic Publication Society, 1905), 349. “Not enough, therefore, that we seek the kingdom of God: we must also use our best exertions for its attainment; and it is a duty incumbent on us to co-operate with the grace of God, in pursuing the path that leads to heaven.”
[iv] Treatise 2 (Kolb-Wengert, 330). “[The Pope] claims to possess by divine right the power of both swords, that is, the authority to confer and transfer royal authority.”
[v] Treatise 36-37 (Kolb-Wengert, 336)
[vi] Check out these resources: Harold J. Grimm, The Reformation Era, 1500-1650, (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 142-144. Lewis William Spitz, 1987. The Renaissance and Reformation Movements Vol. II, (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1987), 341-346.
[viii] Treatise 31 (Kolb-Wengert, 335)
[ix] LW 13:266
[x] LC III 54 (Kolb-Wengert, 447)