How often do we almost thoughtlessly and mindlessly recite this opening phrase of what is known as 'The Lord's Prayer'? Do we truly realize what it means to call our Creator our Father, or that we are children of the One who set the universe in motion?
One thing that I believe many people miss is the context of Jesus' words!
When Jesus spoke these words, He was answering a question that had just been posed to Him by His disciples. His disciples asked Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.' Jesus' answer to them was 'When you pray, say, Our Father in heaven..............'.
Traditionally, these words are the beginning of what might also be called 'The Model Prayer'. Over the centuries, and probably even millenia, the exact words that Jesus taught His disciples to say have been taught to adults and children alike as The Lord's Prayer.
There a few things that we must understand about Jesus' words here. First, He was speaking directly to His disciples, the ones who were standing there at that time. This is not to say that we should not use these same words, though we must understand that there was an eschatological impetus to them!
As we continue to study this "Model Prayer', we will see more and more clearly the eschatological nature of these words.
As their Brother, Jesus wanted them to be clear that His Father was their Father. The relationship between a father & son is more precious than gold or silver! One reason for this is that the son will eventually, if all goes as planned, carry on his father's name, even his father's work, his legacy. What the father does, the son will one day do. Our fathers often seem harsh and brusque! They seem to be harder on us than anyone else. The main reason for this is that, one day, we will take their place; one day, we will have to fill their shoes!
Our Heavenly Father is definitely and infinitely different, and so, our relationship with Him takes a different attitude as well. We dwell with Him, as we dwell with our human, natural fathers, but with a huge difference; our human fathers are finite, limited to being in one place at a time. It is possible to go any number of places to escape his notice ( trust me, been there, done that )! Not so our Heavenly Father; David wrote ( Psalm 139:8 ), 'If I ascend into heaven, You [ are ] there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You [ are there ].' He realized that there is no escape from the Presence of our Heavenly Father! Not only is He infinite in His knowledge and being, as well as all encompassing; He knows our very thoughts, and our most secret desires!
As such then, it is infinitely amazing and overwhelmingly gracious of Him that He would deem, not only to preempt to have a relationship with us, but that He would make us, His People, His Temple, His Dwelling!
Matthew's record of Jesus' instruction to His disciples is a bit more clearly eschatological! First, He instructs them, 'when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites'. He is clearly speaking against the elements of apopstate Judaism that was prevalent in His day, those who 'seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God' (Romans 10:3 )! We do have hypocrites, actors today, those who think that 'they will be heard for their many words', but these hypocrites were the main focus of Jesus' indignation, their cup of wrath the one that spelled the end of the eschaton, fulfilling God's wrath!
Another thing we must understand about this 'model prayer' is that it was a reminder to His disciples, who were true Israelites, of their history! As we work our way through the The Lord's Prayer in these subsequent & sequential studies, we will see how this history unfolds.
In opening this model of prayer with 'Our Father in Heaven', Jesus made clear to His disciples that, although they were praying to their Father, He was not some human, finite Father! This was the Creator of heaven & earth, the One who dwelt in the heavens, who made the clouds His chariot, Who rode upon the wings of the wind! This is the One who claimed that 'Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool'!
David references throughout his many Psalms that Yahweh dwelt in the 'heavens'! It has been argued, quite successfully I believe, in certain circles, that these 'heavens' ( Hebrew-shamayim, Greek-ouranos, both of which mean, simply 'sky' ) referred, qualitatively and prophetically to His people, in whose midst He significantly dwelt ( Tabernacle /Temple ), rather than quantitatively to the 'place' where Yahweh dwells, apart from His People, often viewed as some 'pie in the sky' dream where His People will finally be ushered into His Presence upon their physical demise!
'Heaven' though, is more than just the dwelling-place of God, it is where He dwells with His People! In essence, you could well say; 'heaven is His people'! We ARE His throne, for it is through us, through His faithful ( and unfaithful ) people that He rules and reigns on this earth!
Finally, we must understand that this is 'a model for prayer'! Jesus was not ( necessarily ) giving His disciples an exact blueprint of what words they must use when they prayed. In Luke's record of this 'prayer', Jesus told His disciples 'When you pray, say', but in Matthew's record, 'in this manner, therefore, pray', and so this point could well be argued, but really, I believe, it is beside the point!
Whether Jesus meant for His disciples to recite His words as a 'mantra', or was just giving them a pattern for relating to His Father and theirs, it is fairly clear that this prayer is eschatological in nature. Although it IS eschatological in nature, there is no harm in using it for our prayers too, for it is really almost as applicable today as it was back then! The same God that the disciples prayed to in the first century is still our Father, we still seek our daily sustenance in Him, and although His Kingdom has been made apparent on earth as it is in heaven, we still do not see it evidenced in all His People, though throughout all the earth!
'Our Father in Heaven' perfectly expressed the hope of Israel that their Creator was truly their Father who dwelt with them and would rule through them! The time would come when their prayer would become reality, and His Kingdom would be united, on earth, as it is in heaven!
Charles Haddon Shank