Why and how we pray that our Father in heaven
will hallow his name
By Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
In this Applied Theology series of courses and books, you’ll learn a Trinitarian theology of faith, hope, and love by understanding and applying to your life what the Bible teaches about: 1) Faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, 2) Hope found in the Lord’s Prayer, and 3) Love found in the Ten Commandments. You’ll learn from God’s Word that:
A mind that is renewed by faith and a heart that is aflame with hope results in a life that honors God by loving him and others deeply and well.
In Theology of Hope Course Lesson 2, you’ll learn why Jesus teaches us to pray like this and how it gives us hope.
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Read Chapter 2 of the Theology of Hope: A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer below.
Learning Tip: Don’t miss reading the “going deeper” footnotes!
Chapter 2: Praying that Our Father in Heaven will Hallow His Own Name
A Biblical Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers
Introduction: Our Father
Jesus begins his teaching on prayer by instructing his disciples to address God not only on their own behalf, but also on the behalf of others saying, Our Father – not My Father.
Likewise, Jesus teaches that we should not pray “Give me this day my daily bread”, but “Give us this day our daily bread”, and not “forgive me my debts as I also have forgiven my debtors” but “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And he does not teach us to pray “do not lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil” but “lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.”
Jesus is not forbidding his followers to address God as “My Father.” He also referred to God as “My Father” (Jn. 5:17), and he said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
Nor is Jesus forbidding private prayer or prayer for one’s own needs. Just prior to giving his disciples these petitions, he encouraged them to pray privately, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6: 6).
By instructing his disciples to pray using the pronouns our, us and we, instead of me, my, and I, throughout the prayer, Jesus is emphasizing the communal nature of the Christian faith and the bond of unity in the family of God and the body of Christ. He is addressing the disciples as a group, as the nucleus of the future church. And he is telling them how the church ought to pray together.
Jesus then teaches his disciples to address God in their communal prayers for each other as “Our Father” to impress on them what the God they are praying to is like. Throughout Scripture, God reveals what he is like by revealing his names.
Prior to the time of Moses, God revealed what he was like by using simple, general Hebrew names, like El (אֵל), Elohim (אֱלֹהִים), El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), translated as “God” and “God Almighty”. These names reveal God’s sovereign power and might, and his transcendent nature as the Creator and Ruler of all things who is high and lifted up in heaven over all things.
Later God reveals himself to Moses using his Hebrew name יהוה (transliterated as YHWH – Yahweh) to show that he is also a personal, faithful, covenant-keeping God of grace who promises to deliver his people by his great power (Exod. 3:15).
By giving himself a personal name, God reveals that he is a person and not an impersonal force or higher power. In the New Testament, God retains many of these Old Testament names and translates his personal name YHWH as LORD using the Greek word κύριος (kurios) and applying that to Jesus.
But there is a new personal name for God added by Jesus Christ. It is the name Father from the Greek word Pater (Πάτερ) that is similar to the Aramaic word Abba used in Jesus’ time as an endearing expression of a child for a loving father.
Abba was not normally used for God by the Jews of Jesus’ day, so they were angry when Jesus spoke of God as “my Father (Abba)”, and taught his followers to do the same, in a way that implied, in their view, that Christ-followers’ relationship with God was closer than other Israelites. (John 5:17-18)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to God as Father seventeen times as he teaches his followers about the life and values of all who trust in God as their Father in heaven. And as Jesus suffered in the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to God saying, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you” (Mark 14:36).
The name Father indicates God’s astonishing familial relationship with his people through Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches that followers of Jesus share in the relationship that Jesus the Son has with God his Father. This means that the love that God has for all who are in Christ by faith is the same love the Father has for his one and only Son.
Through faith in Christ, we’re adopted into the life of God’s family. God the Father becomes our Father, and God the Son, becomes our elder brother. We who were once enemies and strangers to God are now in the high position of being his own beloved children. Paul writes, “You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)
To be considered right with God the Judge is wonderful, but to be adopted, loved and cared for by God the Father is even greater. The Apostle John writes, “To all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
One of the treasured rights as adopted children of God is our immediate and full access into God’s loving presence through prayer. Jesus knew that the only way his followers could enter into the fullness of their relationship with God through him, and not be crippled by their fear of God’s punishment for their sin, was if they first knew how deeply God loves them as a Father loves his own children.
Therefore, Jesus teaches his followers not to look to the eloquent prayers of the religious professionals as examples of how to pray, but to how children relate to and speak with their loving fathers. Only then will their prayers be genuine, heartfelt, and sincere, because they know that their Father will always care for them and give good things to his children who ask. (Matt. 7:9-11)
Our Father in Heaven
This biblical concept of our closeness and intimacy with God as “Abba Father” does not imply a lack of reverence toward God. We must always have a healthy tension between bold endearment and humble respect when addressing God as “Our Father.”
To help us strike the needed balance between understanding God’s closeness to us as our loving Father and understanding God’s transcendence as our sovereign King, Jesus instructs us to pray to God as “Our Father in heaven.”
The word heaven in Scripture has several meanings, including the sky with clouds, God’s presence, and the state of angels and humans as they share God’s presence. Jesus’ reference to heaven in this prayer refers to the manifestation of God’s invisible and transcendent presence, sometimes referred to in Scripture as God’s kingly dwelling place and his throne room.
The Bible teaches that God’s presence is everywhere in the universe – called the “heavens and earth” that God created in the beginning (Psalm 139, Gen. 1:1). But the concept of “heaven” that Jesus uses in this prayer refers to where God uniquely displays his presence in the universe.
In the beginning, before the Fall, God’s presence was uniquely displayed on earth with Adam and Eve in the garden paradise. It was literally “heaven on earth.” God is described as “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). There was no pain, suffering, disease, sickness, or death. The Hebrew prophets use the word “shalom” to describe this state of full peace, completeness, wholeness, and blessedness.
But because of the fall of humanity in sin, the fullness of God’s holy presence and blessing on earth had to be withdrawn. Heaven and earth are now tragically separated. The accomplishment of God’s will continues to be done perfectly in heaven, but no longer on the earth. This is why there is so much pain, suffering, disease, sickness, and death on the earth.
Apart from redemption, God is no longer down here on the earth “with us” as he was in the beginning. Instead, because of sin, God is pictured in the Bible as the transcendent, Almighty God who is now “up above” in heaven sitting on his throne, declaring, “‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49).
In the meantime, Jesus instructs his followers to address God in their prayers like he does – with the intimacy of a child coming up into the lap of a merciful, loving father, and the respect and reverence of a servant bowing before the throne of his powerful, sovereign king.
By instructing us to address God in prayer as “Our Father in heaven,” Jesus teaches us to address God who is both our all-loving Father who is near us and our all-powerful, sovereign King who is ruling over all things from heaven on our behalf.
Hallowed be Your Name
Jesus then teaches us to ask our Father in heaven for three things that are related to: 1) his name, 2) his kingdom, and, 3) his will.
The Greek phrase that is translated “Hallowed be your name” (ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου) is difficult to translate accurately. Since this is a petition to God, the best way this can be expressed in English is to pray something like, “hallow your name!” As strange as it may seem at first, we are to ask the Father to hallow his own name.
What does “hallow” mean? The Greek word (ἁγιασθήτω) translated by the old English term “hallow”, means “to set something apart“, “to sanctify it” and thereby “to make it holy”. So, to ask our Father to hallow his name means we ask him to “set apart his name”, “sanctify his name” and thereby “cause his name to be celebrated and esteemed as holy.”
The concept of “God’s name” is used throughout the Bible to describe the revelation of God’s being and presence. In Scripture, God’s name is inseparable from his person, it reflects his very essence – who he is and what he does. This is why God’s name is described in the Bible as especially sacred.
To hallow God’s name means to set apart and honor God for who he is in the fullness of his attributes and for what he does in the creation, redemption, and restoration of all things in Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit. God’s name is hallowed when he is exalted and when he receives the honor and glory he alone deserves as the Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer of all things in Christ.
The opposite of hallowing God’s name is profaning his name by not honoring and worshipping God for who he is and what he does. God said to Moses, “I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev. 10:3). But when Israel rebelled against God by disobeying his commands, he told Moses, “Speak to Aaron and his sons … so that they do not profane my holy name … you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel” (Lev. 22:2, 32).
Israel’s disobedience, apostasy, and exile caused God’s name to be profaned and mocked by all the other nations of the world since they had been named as God’s people. In response to Israel’s profaning God’s name, God promises, through the prophet Ezekiel, to honor and vindicate his own name among the nations.
I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezek. 36:23).
Likewise, in this first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to keep asking our Father in heaven to honor and vindicate his own name that is being profaned among the nations by their disobedience to his will. Throughout Scripture we learn that God has a great passion and zeal for his own name, honor, and glory. In Isaiah 48:9-11 God says to his people Israel,
For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off … For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
The most passionate heart to see God’s name honored among all nations is God’s heart. When God sees his name being profaned by the nations through their worship of false Gods, it awakens his holy and jealous zeal for them and for their worship. God’s holy jealousy for their worship is rooted in his knowledge that he created them so that they can only find ultimate happiness and joy in life by worshipping him alone.
Throughout the Bible we learn that God’s ultimate purpose for all things is to display the honor and glory of his name.
- God created us for his glory (Is. 43:6-7)
- God chose his people for his glory (Eph 1:4-6, 12,14)
- God rescued Israel from Egypt for his glory (Ps. 106:7-8)
- God restored Israel from exile for the glory of his name (Ezek 36:22-23, 32)
- Jesus teaches us to do good works for the Father’s glory (Matt. 5:16)
- Jesus teaches that God answers prayer so the Father will be glorified (John 14:13)
- God struck Herod dead because he did not give God glory. (Acts 12:23)
- God forgives our sins for his own sake. (Ps 25:11, Is 43:25)
- God instructs us to do everything for his glory. (1 Cor. 10:31, 6:20)
- Jesus is coming again for the glory of God. (2 Thess. 1:9-10)
- God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory. (Hab. 2:14)
- In the new heaven and earth the sun will be replaced by God’s glory. (Rev. 21:23)
God’s primary purpose for creating the world is so that all the nations would glorify, worship and find their joy in Him. This is why we exist – to glorify God by enjoying Him and helping to extend the worship and enjoyment of God to all nations.
The Christian hope is that when Jesus returns he will make all things new so that God the Father will be honored and glorified in everything forever. (1 Cor. 15:24-25, 28) In the meantime, Jesus calls us to join with him and pray to our Father in heaven that his name would be hallowed.
 Jesus’ emphasis on praying to the Father does not mean that we should not also pray to the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites his followers to join with him in the inter-Trinitarian fellowship of the Godhead as the Father glorifies his name through the Son by the power of his Holy Spirit.
 Augustine saw the Lord’s Prayer as beginning with an implicit declaration that we’re all one spiritual family: “You then who have found a Father in heaven, be loth to cleave to the things of earth. For you are about to say, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’ You have begun to belong to a great family.” (Id., Sermon IX)
 Bavinck writes, “YHWH is the highest revelation of God in the Old Testament. YHWH is God’s real, personal name.” Bavinck, H. (2008). Reformed Dogmatics. God and Creation, Baker Academic, p 95
 God is sometimes compared to a father in the Old Testament (Psalm 103:13). But most of the Old Testament references to God’s fatherhood refer to the entire Trinity, not just the person of the Father (Deut. 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, 64:8, Acts 17:24-29). In Isaiah 9:6, “everlasting Father” is a title of the coming Messiah. According to Bavinck, “Father” is thus the supreme revelation of God, and since the Father is made known to us by Jesus through the Spirit, the full, abundant revelation of God’s name is now Trinitarian: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Ibid. 97
 The Jews saw God as the Father of the nation Israel whom he delivered as his only Son.
 In the part of his sermon that addresses anxiety, he gives beautiful illustrations of the Father’s care for nature, including birds and flowers, which the Father values far less than his beloved children. (Matt. 6:25-34)
 In the New Testament, the name “Father” becomes the regular name for the first person of the Trinity, the person who sent Jesus into the world. The Apostles followed Jesus’ example and teaching by using the word “Father” in reference to the first person of the Trinity who is distinct from the Son and the Holy Spirit. (John 1:14, 18; John 5:17-26; John 14:16-17, Galatians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:17, 2 John 9)
 The resurrected Jesus said to his disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
 God declares that all who are in Christ have a relationship with him as his deeply loved and adopted children. The goal of Jesus’ death for us is “that he might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Paul also teaches that the ultimate goal of God’s election is adoption. “In love He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5).
 J.I. Packer writes, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.” Packer, J. I. (1993). Knowing God, InterVarsity Press.
 Jesus knew that the result of his followers believing that God is their loving heavenly Father would be that they would pray with the persistent, shameless boldness of a dearly beloved child like he did. The Apostle John describes the effect of believing this as, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:12).
 Early in his ministry Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). At the end of his earthly ministry, the disciples watched the resurrected Jesus return to heaven. “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).
 The Apostle Paul teaches that God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ is to restore cosmic wholeness by unifying heaven and earth again in the Messiah (Eph. 1:9–10) so that once again, God would be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
 One of the ancient dilemmas regarding a proper understanding of God involves understanding the relationship of God’s merciful love as a Father to his sovereign power as a heavenly King – especially when suffering.
 This is because ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου is in the third person singular aorist passive imperative and there is no exact English equivalent to express a passive imperative in the third person. We are used to seeing imperatives in the first and second person as commands, e.g. “Go dig a hole!” But a Greek third person imperative expresses strongly that an action should be taken “may a hole be dug!” And since this first petition uses the imperative of request ἁγιασθήτω as a prayer to God, it is asking and strongly calling on God to hallow his own name.
 The name of God signifies: 1) God himself (Ps. 5:11; 9:2, 11; 116:13; 1 Kings 5:5), 2) the will and authority of God (1 Sam. 17:45; Matt. 28:19), and 3) the object of our trust and profession of God (Acts 21:13; 2:38).
 See also the reason for God’s declaration of judgment against Sidon: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I am against you, O Sidon, and I will manifest my glory in your midst. And they shall know that I am the LORD when I execute judgments in her and manifest my holiness in her. So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 38:22-23). Here it is God’s name, LORD, that is at issue.
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