Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matthew 6:9)
Israel had profaned the name of the LORD by breaking covenant with him, turning from his ways and worshiping false gods. The northern kingdom, Israel, ended up in Assyrian captivity and its tribes scattered or assimilated into the nations. The southern kingdom, Judah, was led off into Babylonian exile, which it endured for seventy years until many were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the walls. Yet many others remained in exile and dispersed among the nations, although they retained their identity as Jews. However, even those who returned to Judea remained in a sort of exile, being ruled over by other nations and not by their own true king.
By the time Jesus came and began his ministry, Judea had long been under Roman rule and the Jews were waiting for the kingdom of God to come, although various groups had different ideas of how it would arrive and what it would look like. After his baptism and the temptation in the world, Jesus came preaching the gospel: “Repent for the kingdom of God has come near” (Matthew 4:17). That is what his “Sermon on the Mount” is about, to show what the kingdom of God looks like. Within that sermon, he teaches his people how to pray what is traditionally known as “the Lord’s Prayer.” It begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” — a very important petition.
The Greek word for “hallowed” means to render or acknowledge something as holy, to venerate it. To be hallowed, then, is to be acknowledged as holy. This first request is for God to cause his name to be recognized and honored as holy once again. It is a kingdom prayer, for it is exactly what God promised his people he would one day do when he set things right in the world. He spoke to them in their exile about the restoration he would bring. In Ezekiel 36, he spoke particularly about making his name holy before the nations.
Therefore say to the Israelites, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:22-23)What God was going to do for them, he would do because of his name, not because of anything they had done to deserve it. For they had been faithless, yet God remains faithful. They had failed to keep his ways but God would do a new thing for the sake of his holy name, and it would make all the difference for his people as well:
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)The prayer for God’s name to be hallowed, then, is very rich and deep. It is no less than the kingdom of God being revealed, transforming his people and putting the world right. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah,
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)