The Lord’s Prayer and the New Exodus
by Brant Pitre
For almost two thousand years, Christians have recited the words of the Lord’s Prayer, the only one that Jesus is recorded as having taught his disciples (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). In the second century, Tertullian declared it to be “truly the summary of the whole gospel,” and, much later, St. Thomas Aquinas deemed it “the most perfect of prayers.”
But what does the prayer actually mean? More specifically, what did Jesus himself mean when he taught it to his disciples? And how would they, as first century Jews, have understood its language and imagery? These are important questions, and modern commentators have spilled an enormous amount of ink in the attempt to understand the prayer in its first-century context. Despite the widespread agreement that the Lord’s Prayer reflects the heart of Jesus’ message, questions still remain regarding exactly what the prayer reveals about how Jesus understood himself, his mission, and the coming of the kingdom of God.
Several years ago, N. T. Wright published a brief but thought-provoking article in which he argued that the Lord’s Prayer should be understood as a prayer for the “new Exodus.” Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets had expressed the hope that God would once again redeem the people of Israel in much the same way that he had done in the Exodus from Egypt. In this new Exodus, God would release his people from slavery to sin and death, put an end to their exile from the promised land, and gather them, along with the Gentiles, into a restored kingdom and a new Jerusalem. According to Wright, the ancient Jewish hope for a new Exodus is the key to unlocking the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer:
The events of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, the people’s wilderness wandering, and their entry into the promised land were of enormous importance in the self-understanding and symbolism of all subsequent generations of Israelites, including Jews of the Second Temple period. . . . When YHWH restored the fortunes of Israel, it would be like a new Exodus—a new and greater liberation from an enslavement greater than that in Egypt. . . . And the Lord’s Prayer can best be seen in this light as well—that is, as the prayer of the new wilderness wandering people. . . . This can be seen more particularly as we look at each of the clauses of the Lord’s Prayer from a new Exodus perspective.
For more information on the New Exodus, especially as it relates to the fulfillment of end-time prophecy, check out my updated New Exodus page.
For more of Brant Pitre’s analysis of the Lord’s Prayer, click here to read or download the 28-page study.