The Sermon on the Mount—“You Must Pray, Then, This Way”
FOLLOWING the admonition that his disciples avoid hypocritically calling attention to themselves when praying, Jesus presented the famous Model Prayer. He introduced it by saying: “You must pray, then, this way.”—Matt. 6:9a.
The word “you” refers to Jesus’ listeners as distinct from the hypocrites whom he had mentioned earlier. (Matt. 6:5) The expression “this way” introduces a contrast with persons who had become accustomed to saying “the same things over and over again.” (Matt. 6:7) Hence, it should be clear that Jesus was not encouraging his listeners simply to repeat from memory the prayer that he was about to give.
The Model Prayer has seven petitions. The first three ask that God act with regard to the sanctification of his name; the remaining four are requests involving human needs. Let us consider them individually.
(1) “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matt. 6:9b) Due to his being the Creator of mankind who dwells far beyond the earth, it is proper for creatures to address God as “Our Father in the heavens.” (Acts 17:24, 28; 2 Chron. 6:21; Isa. 66:1) During the first century C.E., this expression was especially appropriate for Jews, since God had “fathered” that people by freeing them from Egyptian bondage and by entering into covenant relationship with them. (Deut. 32:6, 18; Ex. 4:22; Isa. 63:16) The use of the plural term, “our,” acknowledges that others besides the one praying have a close relationship with God and are part of his family of worshipers.
At times the word “name” appears in the Scriptures as a synonym for a person himself. For example, we read at Revelation 3:4: “You do have a few names [persons] in Sardis that did not defile their outer garments.” (Compare Isaiah 30:27; Malachi 3:16.) “Let your name be sanctified” includes the thought that God take action to sanctify himself by clearing away from his memorial name, Jehovah, the reproach that has been heaped on it ever since the rebellion of the first human pair in the garden of Eden. (Ps. 135:13; Hos. 12:5) In answer to this prayer, God will remove wickedness from the earth. Concerning that time, we read: “And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—Ezek. 38:23; also Eze 36:23.
(2) “Let your kingdom come.” (Matt. 6:10a) That “kingdom” is God’s sovereign rulership as expressed through a heavenly Messianic government in the hands of Christ Jesus and his associated “holy ones.” (Isa. 9:6, 7; 11:1-5; Dan. 7:13, 14, 18, 22, 27) Praying for it to “come” asks that God’s kingdom come against all opposers of divine rulership on earth. According to the book of Daniel, “the kingdom [of God] . . . will crush and put an end to all these [earthly] kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.” (Dan. 2:44) Thereafter, rulership by God will transform the earth into a global paradise of righteousness and peace.—Ps. 72:1-15; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5.
(3) “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matt. 6:10b) This does not request that God’s will be done by humans as it is done by angels in heaven, though that will certainly take place. (Ps. 103:19-22; 148:1-14) Rather, it is a request that God himself act in harmony with his will for the earth. Similar is the psalmist’s declaration:
“Everything that Jehovah delighted to do he has done in the heavens and in the earth, in the seas and all the watery deeps. He who struck down the firstborn ones of Egypt, both man and beast. He sent signs and miracles into the midst of you, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh and upon all his servants; he who struck down many nations and killed potent kings.”—Ps. 135:6, 8-10.
Asking that God do his will on earth is a request that he carry out his good purposes toward our planet, including the removal of his opposers once and for all, as he did on a smaller scale in ancient times.—Rev. 19:19-21; Ps. 83:9-18.
(4) “Give us today our bread for this day.” (Matt. 6:11) In Luke’s Gospel account the wording of this request is: “Give us our bread for the day according to the day’s requirement.” (Luke 11:3) Asking God to provide necessary items “for this day” promotes faith in his ability to care for the needs of his worshipers from day to day. It is not a petition for superabundant provisions, but one for daily needs as they arise. It reminds one of God’s command that the Israelites gather the miraculously provided manna “each his amount day for day,” and no more.—Ex. 16:4.
(5) “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12) Luke shows that by “debts” Jesus meant “sins.” (Luke 11:4) People may attain forgiveness from God only if they already “have forgiven” persons sinning against them. (See also Mark 11:25.) Amplifying this thought, Jesus added: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14, 15) God grants forgiveness only to persons who freely forgive others.—Compare Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13.
(6) “Do not bring us into temptation.” (Matt. 6:13a) This is not meant to imply that God tempts people to commit wrongdoing, for the Bible states: “With evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” (Jas. 1:13) The real “Tempter” who endeavors to maneuver people into sinning against God is Satan the Devil. (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5) However, on occasion Bible writers speak of God’s doing or causing things that he merely permits.—Ruth 1:20, 21; Eccl. 7:13; 11:5.
The request, “do not bring us into temptation,” asks God not to permit his faithful worshipers to succumb or ‘cave in’ when pressured to disobey God. In this regard, the apostle Paul writes: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Cor. 10:13.
(7) “Deliver us from the wicked one.” (Matt. 6:13b) This asks that the Devil not be permitted to overcome faithful worshipers of God. (Compare Psalm 141:8, 9.) Disciples of Jesus can be confident of God’s ability to answer such a petition. The apostle Peter writes: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial.”—2 Pet. 2:9; compare Revelation 3:10.