Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 48 - Your Kingdom
Question 123: What is the second petition?
Answer 123: Your kingdom come.
So rule us by your Word and Spirit
that more and more we submit to you.
Preserve and increase your church.
Destroy the works of the devil,
every power that raises itself against you,
and every conspiracy against your holy Word.
Do all this
until the fullness of your kingdom comes,
wherein you shall be all in all.
The coming of God’s kingdom will eventually mean the end of our country and of all sovereign states. The answer to this petition will bring about the greatest power shift of all time. The world will change beyond recognition.
Where is this kingdom? Is it advancing in our direction? Is it near? What is holding it back? Such questions indicate how timely and urgent this prayer is.
We first encounter the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” in the Bible with John the Baptist. He announces that it is “on hand”.1The tension is in the word “near” (NIV, NRSV). Does it refer to time? If so, it indicates that this kingdom will be here in the very near future. Or does it say something about distance? If that is the case, John means that it is on its way and already close by. The one does not preclude the other. A train that will enter the station in a few minutes is also close by in distance.
The kingdom of heaven is almost here. Just a little longer and everyone will see it. It cannot take long, because its coming coincides with that of the King, Jesus. He is imminent and comes “after me,” says John.2 With Jesus close at hand, the kingdom is near.
That the kingdom of heaven has come near does not mean that it has approached the earth as a complete entity. It has come near in the person of Jesus. Just a little while longer and he will appear. And where he is, his divine reign comes into effect.3 Where he comes, the kingdom comes closer.
Therefore, immediately after his coming, he can seamlessly connect with John’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”4 One difference is that with Jesus the kingdom of God comes closer in deed. This was notable. John did not perform a single miracle but Jesus, through his many miracles of healing, confirms that the kingdom of heaven is truly near with him: “even death has to make way!”5 The kingdom becomes reality in every word that he speaks. He himself is that kingdom.6 The kingdom of God is the kingdom of Christ and vice versa. That is why it can be called in the same breath “the kingdom of Christ and God”.7
The expectation of a coming kingdom did not begin with John. The prospect of it is already found in the Old Testament. This teaches us, on the one hand, that God was also King over all nations during all those centuries. Even a pagan world ruler (Nebuchadnezzar) praised him because “His dominion is an everlasting dominion and his kingdom endures from generation to generation”.8 This was true of the dark period when the kingdom of Judah was subject to that same man. God ruled unabated. This reality runs like a key theme throughout all of the Old Testament.9
On the other hand, he only called Israel “my kingdom”.10 In the full sense of the word, his kingdom is where he is acknowledged as King. Likewise, the Old Testament contains promises of a coming kingdom and a coming king.11
With his coming into the world, Jesus brings this kingdom of heaven near. As mentioned, this does not mean that the kingdom, including the throne and all, is in the process of coming down into the world. Pilate, Herod, the Dutch government and the European Union could or can remain in their seats for the time being. Ostensibly, nothing has changed with the coming of Jesus. John the Baptist had his struggles with that. After his arrest, he waited in vain in the dungeon for his release. He heard nothing about any real change. Where was the fire that would burn the chaff? John must have expected that the kingdom of heaven “on hand” would make its definite appearance through the coming of Jesus.12
Unbelieving contemporaries of Jesus mockingly asked when the kingdom was coming. They did not realize that it had already arrived “within the proper ranks”.13 They were like people scouring the sky for a long-awaited plane and being told that it has already landed. The kingdom of heaven is already on earth, because Jesus is there. It shows itself in his liberating words and deeds. In this it comes “near”. It comes even closer when Jesus brings about reconciliation with God through his death on the cross. Then he finally opens the way for a kingdom on earth in which God receives all the glory.
Today — multiple centuries later — it is closer than ever. But as long as the whole world does not bow before him, it is not yet present in its full glory. That is what makes the call that it will “come” so urgent in this petition.
Your Kingdom Come
The aorist imperative “come” of this prayer is as radical as the words “hallowed be” of the first petition.14 The person who is praying is not thinking of a gradual coming of that kingdom. He is appealing to God to make the whole earth into his realm once and for all.
Illuminating the power of this prayer is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream found in Daniel 2. The colossal image has a golden head, the chest and hands were made of silver, the middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. From top to bottom the colossus represents the successive world powers from that time until the end of the world. After the realm of Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar’s day (the golden head) come the Persians (the silver chest and arms) until in the final phase of history only the feet remain. It is “in the days of those kings” (of the final phase) that God establishes a kingdom that will stand forever (v. 44). That is the kingdom of Christ. It is not number x in the line of successions. It is not part of that image and comes from somewhere else. It is like a stone, high up on a mountain, which, without human intervention, lets go, rolls down, collides head-on with that great image and pulverizes it. It is very striking that this stone, although it especially touches the remaining feet of the statue, at the same time crushes the whole colossus — up to and including its head (vv. 34, 35). The kingdom of Christ and God not only brings about the downfall of the last remaining world power (the feet), but with one stroke it puts an end to all the world powers of the past. So it was not the Persians who destroyed the empire of Babel. And it was not the world-famous Macedonian Alexander the Great who conquered the Persian Empire. It was the kingdom of God that did that. We could go on like this. It was not the Allies who put an end to Hitler’s regime. It was the stone that did that. Ultimately this boulder crushes all human powers. God’s kingdom does not appear as a final act on the world stage. It is there when Nebuchadnezzar is at the apex of his power. It dominates — for the time being invisibly — the history of all nations. The “come” of the petition is already a full reality. The kingdom is busy conquering the earth throughout the centuries. What resistances does it encounter?
So Rule Us...
Creation is out of balance. Terrible things are happening. It goes on and on. The world can never solve its own problems all by itself. There are no hairline cracks in creation that can easily be fixed. The cause of all calamities is rebellion against God. In Paradise, a rebellion broke out against the kingship of God. That is where things went wrong. Adam and all his family after him wanted to be “like God”. People created their own kingdoms and empires. Since then the issues piled up: issues concerning war and peace, refugee issues, the environmental issue, the food crisis, and so on. There is no prospect that all these problems will ever end. Even if one would ever overcome them, there is no guarantee of a happy world. What remains is the utter selfishness and individualism in which the curse of God takes shape.
The only way out of all misery is: allow God to be King again. The core of this petition is: “so rule us...that we submit to you”. The King of this kingdom is all-powerful. He demands complete submission. Yet his kingdom is definitely not a dictatorship. That is why his citizens do not ask if he will rule them by his power, but rather: rule us by your Word and Spirit. Convince us thus, that we submit more and more to you because deep in our hearts we are in complete agreement with you. Make us convinced citizens of your kingdom.
For now, they have dual passports. As loyal citizens of their country, they participate in a positive way in society. They are committed to their country and the world. In reality, they are citizens of the kingdom of God and of Christ. When it comes down to it, they are not ruled from some capital or residence, but from the throne of Christ in heaven. They do not know what the future of their own country may hold. Perhaps they are not comfortable with where society is heading. Not to worry, for the kingdom of God is coming and it will have no end.
Preserve and Increase Your Church
The church and the kingdom of God are two different entities.15 However, the church is of the greatest importance for the coming of this kingdom. This has to do with the fact that the Head of the church is also the undisputed Head of the world. He is both one and the other. They are not two separate functions, just as a mayor can possibly also serve as an elder. God gave Christ as the head of the world to the church.16 This gave the church a staggeringly high position in the world. God gave to it Christ who is seated on the world’s throne. With such a Head, the church is no longer under the power of men on earth, but within the sphere of power of Christ. He is its supreme King.
What makes the church so useful to the kingdom of God is its message about the coming of that kingdom. It talks about nothing else. That is why the message of the church can be characterized as “the gospel of the kingdom”.17 This does not mean that the church is a news bureau or an information centre where one can find out everything about the kingdom of heaven. It is much more than that. The church also received from Christ the keys to this kingdom.18 So it not only informs people about the coming of this kingdom, but also opens its gates to all who believe. Via the open church doors people flock into that kingdom. This is all the more an urgent reason for the petition: preserve and increase your church.
Destroy the Works of the Devil
The trail of a crime never leads to the devil. He does not get indicted at any tribunal. His name does not appear on their list of suspects. If the Bible did not reveal it, no one would even know of his dark existence.
He showed his worldwide power when he offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”.19 Jesus did not dismiss that as a bluff. He called him “ruler of the world.”20 At the time the devil had a hold on the vast majority of the world and was a prominent world leader. The first time Jesus calls him that he immediately announces that this ruler would be “cast out”. This does not refer to his removal and fall from heaven but to his dethronement as world leader. Through Christ’s death he would lose his hold on humanity.21
Jesus came to earth to “destroy the works of the devil.”22 That word “destroy” was also used for pulling down buildings. Think of the stone in Daniel 2, which left nothing in its place. This prayer has everything to do with this. Christ broke the dominion of the devil. He did so by taking upon himself the guilt for Adam’s rebellion. As a result the devil lost his claim on this world. That is how Christ dethroned him.23 His cross became, as it were, his victory chariot.24
The devil is not yet powerless. He “prowls around like a roaring lion” that “roams everywhere, making the world unsafe”.25 Paul is not telling fictional Wild West stories when he points to the sky as the place where the devil is managing his operations. He is close to us as “the prince of the power of the air...now at work in the sons of disobedience”.26 The image from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream remains his proud edifice, though it is severely damaged each time. When one kingdom is destroyed, the devil forms the next. But one time it will come to a full stop. The feet and toes of the statue are the deadline for his building frenzy. He will never recover from his defeat at Calvary. His attacks “are countermeasures of a conquered enemy”.27 There is no need for anyone to panic. He who belongs to Christ has been delivered from the devil (Lord’s Day 1). In this confidence, Christians rally behind their King and pray with good cheer for the radical destruction of the devil’s kingdom.
... and Every Conspiracy Against Your Holy Word
As far as the devil is concerned people may believe anything but the Bible. He hates this document, which exposes him as the great liar of all times. Therefore he devises evil plans against this book. Ideally, he would like people to think that it makes no sense. Around the year 130 AD a certain person named Celsus tried to make the Bible appear as a ridiculous book. In a thick volume he mocked the Jesus’ birth from a virgin, called his resurrection a hoax, scorned the creation story and Noah’s ark. It is striking how “arguments” of this calibre are still around.
Others are diametrically opposed to views such as propagated by Celsus, but they claim to fully understand the critical questions of modern man. They try to accommodate him in this regard, and so they adapt the gospel. They do so with the best of intentions. The Catechism does not philosophize about any good or evil intentions but speaks of “every conspiracy” devised against the gospel.
The Bible represents the only vital connection between God and the people. He rules them through his Word. That is why the devil was already keen to cut off this lifeline in Paradise. He succeeded by providing misinformation about God. And he is still doing that. This prayer is an urgent cry for help from God to keep the only connection between him and us open.
God: All In All
At the imminent return of Christ, all governments resign en bloc. The whole world will then be at his feet. He will judge it. That will be the dizzying end of this world. Yet the Catechism does not conclude with Christ’s final judgment, but with his submission to the Father thereafter. The “fullness” of his kingdom has come when God is all in all.
That is when even Christ submits himself to God (1 Cor. 15:28). Earlier Paul wrote that after his total triumph Christ delivers the kingdom to God the Father” (v. 24). Christ is then at the height of his kingship. Everything is subject to him with the exception of God, for whom he did it all. He has completed his mission with flying colours and goes to God with the magnificent end result. To him this is not a step backwards, but the crowning of his life’s achievement. His submission to God can therefore hardly mean that he renounces the throne and steps down as mediator. After all, the “throne of the Lamb” is also present in the new Jerusalem.28 The fact that the Son himself will submit to God is therefore understood to mean that from his throne he will rule in such a way that God is all in all for eternity.
Christ puts a very far-reaching petition on the lips of his followers. They may pray to God for the most beautiful thing imaginable: to live and to work in perfect harmony with him on his new earth. It may seem unattainable. Yet there is a way. Pray! A few words are enough: Your kingdom must come.
Nothing will change the world so radically as the power of these words. “By way of this petition such powers are unleashed that it is no exaggeration to say that, more often than not, one is not aware of what one is doing when one is praying for the coming of the kingdom.”29