“On earth as it is in heaven.”
Key Word Analysis
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς
This phrase of the passage serves as a bridge connecting the Godly world and the earthly one. Its shows the intent of Jesus that all that is heavenly is also intended to be earthly in the life of the believer. Two of the key words describe the locations connected by the center phrase.
ἐπί/On is a primary preposition creating the distribution of ideas from the previous passage to those that follow. This form of the word is used 188 times in the Greek New Testament. It implies that the ideas being connected are in a similar position on, at or across from each other. Jesus intended that we praise the Father, declare his coming kingdom and express the desire that his will be done equally in both places. This is the beginning of the idea that Jesus would develop later in his ministry that the two places would eventually converge for his believers as well as all earthly inhabitants.
γῆ/Earth is the object of the opening preposition. This form of the word clearly indicates a tangible, human place. Used 250 times in the Greek New Testament, it indicates soil, arable land, ground that a man can stand upon, the land as opposed to the ocean or an established country with borders. It can mean a small place or the entire planet.
“And you Bethlehem, land of Judah” Matthew 2:6
“go into the land of Israel” Mathew 2:20
“for they shall inherit the earth” Matthew 5:5
“The news spread throughout all the land.” Matthew 9:26
“And he directed the people to sit down on the ground.” Matthew 15:35
“where it did not have much soil” Mark 4:5
“Other seeds fell into the good soil” Mark 4:8
“a man who casts seeds upon the soil” Mark 4:26
“he was alone on the land” Mark 6:47
“they came to land” Mark 6:53
The Earth as referenced in this passage is a real, tangible place. It is not just an idea or desired place, it is the place where the disciples live and breathe. This phrase of the passage connects the desired Heaven with the real Earth.
ὡς ἐν /As it is in connects the two places. It is translated as with, among,
throughout or with. It is used to link strong and significant ideas.
“she was found to be with child” Matthew 1:18
“spread the news about him throughout the land” Matthew 9:31
“they began to discuss this among themselves” Matthew 16:7
“he had his dwelling among the tombs” Mark 5:3
“among his own relatives” Mark 6:4
“among those born of women” Luke 7:28
The disciples understood the concept of Earth, the land where they lived. Now the passage will complete the connection from the Earth of men to the Heaven of God. οὐρανός/Heaven is the completion of this key phrase. It is the destination, leaving the earthly land and arriving at the abode of God.
This Greek word goes beyond the home of God. It also describes happiness, power and eternity, as well as the place God lives. Jesus teaches that we should desire all things of
Heaven to come to Earth and the two become one for the believer.
“the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” Matthew 3:2
“for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” Matthew 5:3
“glorify your Father who is in Heaven” Matthew 5:16
“greatest in the kingdom of Heaven” Matthew 18:1
“He saw the heavens opening” Mark 1:10
“a voice came out of the heavens” Mark 1:11
“looking up to Heaven” Mark 7:34
“Heaven was opened” Luke 3:21
“looking up to Heaven” Luke 9:16
“will not be exalted to Heaven” Luke 10:15
In this phrase Jesus connects Heaven and Earth. He models to his disciples the life that he leads, constantly thinking of one and living in the other, working to connect the two. He teaches them to ask their Heavenly Father to make the connection in their daily lives, to live in the will of God “on Earth as it is in Heaven”.
Historical Theology Analysis
The historical perspective of the disciples would have been clear for the disciples listening to Jesus on this day. Earth and Heaven are concepts firmly implanted in the Torah teachings given to the disciples and believers of that day. They start in the first chapter of the first book of Genesis.
“God made the beasts of the earth after their kind” Genesis 1:25
“no shrub of the field was yet in the earth” Genesis 2:5
“But a mist used to rise from the earth” Genesis 2:6
“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground” Genesis 2:7
“from the day that they came upon the earth” Exodus 10:6
“that your days may be prolonged in the land” Exodus 20:12
“You are to possess the land” Leviticus 20:24
“anything that creeps on the land” Leviticus 20:25
“and the ground opens its mouth” Numbers 16:30
“shall see the land” Numbers 32:11
“all the days they live in the earth” Deuteronomy 4:10
“anything that creeps on the ground” Deuteronomy 4:18
Many of these references to the earth, the land, the ground are very practical in their nature. The earth as described in the Torah is the dirt of the ground, the place to live, the place to build an earthly kingdom. There would have been no doubt in the minds of the disciples as to what Jesus meant by “on Earth”. It was the place that they and their ancestors lived and struggled to survive and sometimes thrive. It was the dirt upon which they stood.
Heaven was an equally well understood concept. It is referred to over four hundred times in the Old Testament. Unlike the practical dirt/ground references in the Old Testament to Earth, the references to Heaven are quite different. The Hebrew word for Heaven refers more to a region, all the visible heavens in the night sky, the place where God lives. Heaven is a very big and intangible place in the Torah. It is no less real and to some extent must be intangible since men live on Earth and God lives in Heaven. It is essentially the sky above us, the place where God lives.
“In the beginning God created the heavens” Genesis 1:1
“God called the expanse Heaven” Genesis 1:8
“the expanse of the heavens” Genesis 1:17
“the open expanse of the heavens” Genesis 1:20
“let Moses throw it toward the sky” Exodus 9:8
“stretch out your hand toward the sky” Exodus 9:22
“I will rain bread from heaven” Exodus 16:4
“Amalek from under heaven” Exodus 17:14
“I have spoken to you from heaven” Exodus 20:22
Earth and Heaven were clear concepts to the disciples. To connect Earth and Heaven was also a clear goal in their upbringing. The life of a Jew was to live on Earth knowing they would eventually be accountable for their actions. What Jesus did that was different in his teaching was to make the connection for “today”. His teaching was that it is not about tomorrow or an eternal set of consequences for earthly actions but about a daily live in search of creating Heaven on Earth. The contemporary implications of this passage are also clear.
Contemporary Theology Analysis
While the concept of a prayer is that we ask God to do things for us, in this passage Jesus tells his disciples that the Father is “determined that human beings represent him on earth” as well. Jesus models the prayer and the behavior that his followers on earth will strive to bring Heaven to Earth, to join the two as the Kingdom of God. God shows his love for us by allowing us to call on his power and bring his kingdom to where we live. He originally tried this with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with less than the desired results. But Jesus encourages us through this passage to continue to pursue this goal.
Jesus encourages us to “pursue the Father’s will on earth.” This is part of our path to Heaven, as he later stated in Matthew that “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” the heavenly kingdom. (Matthew 7:21) Jesus is the living link between the two places. As God has “brought the Father’s Son down from heaven to humility, obedience and suffering”, he has also created the path to “eternal life, exaltation and authority.” The path is to follow the words and example of the life of Jesus while he was here on Earth. He teaches and models to his followers by declaring that the will of God will be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
The example of Jesus follows the example of the Father in sending him, beginning the living link of Heaven and Earth that he leaves up to us to complete. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) God created this living connection between the two places by the ultimate sacrifice, by sending his Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.” (John 3:16) God connected the “exceptional in the ordinary.” By his presence on the physical planet, Jesus made the two places one. Here in our passage he teaches his disciples to continue that quest, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” “As my father has sent me I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
To the believer, Heaven and Earth can the same place. “Heaven is that place where God is and where we are totally with God.” It is up to the believer to make that connection. We must look for, see and follow God on Earth before we can do so in Heaven. Jesus lived that behavior and encouraged his followers in this passage to make that the continuous goal, to do the will of God in both places. Christian prayer and daily Christian life are about pursuing and following the will of the Father, not our own. Jesus even modeled that behavior. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to be delivered from the fate that was coming. The Father answered “no” in the events that followed. Despite an answer to his prayer different than he sought, he followed the will of the Father “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” There are other examples of this behavior.
Paul prayed to be delivered from his “thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7) The prayer was not answered in the way he desired. He prayed for this relief three times and in the end, accepted his circumstance “for Christ’s sake.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) He accepted the will of God on Earth. As far as we know Paul was only delivered from his suffering in death.
It is important to note that this part of the passage in in the present tense. It is not a prayer of aspiration for the future. Jesus stated that that the will of the Father should be done in both the earthly and heavenly kingdoms. He did not say this was about the past or the future. His words were about that day. He did not live on Earth in anticipation of his return to Heaven. He lived on Earth every day in the flesh and in the present. That thought would be more fully developed in the next phrase of the passage but it is important here as well. We should seek the will of God to be done today “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It is easier to see the will of God in the future tense, in our imagined eternal, heavenly future. “It is possible to see glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth, so there are times when we can experience or observe God’s will be done” today. We are not to wait for the will of God to occur in our heavenly future, but in today’s experiences; the experiences “on Earth”. The passage does not say “on Earth as it will be in Heaven.” It reads “on Earth as it is in Heaven”, today.
In another passage, Jesus encouraged his disciples to live for today, not for the future. He compared their lives to those of the ravens and lilies. (Luke 12:24-27) These simple creations live and exist for today with no apparent earthly worries. As God takes care of them he will care for us. Let us seek his will every day, “on Earth as it is Heaven.”
This phrase of the passage connects Heaven and Earth. Jesus prayed for, sought and lived the will of the Father in both places at the same time. He encouraged his disciples to do the same in his words and actions.
Heaven and Earth were places well known to the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were equally real places in their own ways. The difference Jesus sought to make in this passage was to make them continuously one place for his believers. They should all seek that the will of God be done equally in Heaven and on Earth. The will of God was not a concept for the future, for life in Heaven after death. It was and is the objective of the believer today.
In the next phrase, Jesus would take this concept of time to the next level. Heaven and Earth would not only be linked in the objective that the will of God be done in both places at the same time, but that this would occur at this moment, today! Our lives should be pointed toward the will of God every day, every hour, every waking minute. Our fulfilment in the Father does not come at some future date when we pass from this existence to the next. It is available “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” It is up to us to live it and claim it!