The Jewish Prayers that Influenced Jesus' Life and Teachings

Prayer is the most important spiritual act of the Christian life. To be a Christian is to be a praying person. In fact, spiritual growth is impossible without it. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Jesus Praying Statue


The Main Themes of Jesus’ Prayer Life

Although Jesus prayed for many things, there are four central themes that must have consumed the majority of Jesus’ prayer time.


1. The Glorification of God’s Name on Earth.

2. The Arrival and Triumph of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

3. The Daily Sustenance and Protection of His Disciples.

4. The Redemption of the World from Sin and Suffering.


The rest of this article attempts to explain why.


Jesus and His Prayers

What did Jesus actually say in his prayers? Although we have evidence that prayer was a part of his daily regiment, we have only a few of his prayers recorded. Jesus certainly lived out his own advice when he said: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt. 6:6).

Can we uncover some of the themes that must have been a part of Jesus’ prayer life? I believe we can if we start with three basic premises.

1. Jesus was a man of passionate and disciplined prayer and the few recorded prayers were only the tip of the iceberg of his prayer life.

3. Jesus was a good Jew, and echoes of first-century Jewish prayers are found in his prayers.

2. The so-called Model Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) was a compendium of the themes of Jesus’ private prayers.


Jesus Was a Man of Prayer

If there’s anything everyone agrees on about the life of Jesus it is that he was a man of prayer.

  • Jesus said that he and the Father are one (John 10:30).
  • Jesus rose early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35).
  • Jesus prayed for his disciples (Lk. 22:32; Jn. 17).
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to pray (Lk. 18:1).
  • Jesus prayed at his baptism (Lk. 3:21).
  • Jesus prayed when he was thankful (Matt. 26:26).
  • Jesus prayed when he was anxious (Matt. 26:36).
  • Jesus prayed from the baptismal waters (Lk. 3:21)
  • Jesus prayed from the cross (Mk. 15:34).
  • Jesus prayed in the wilderness (Lk. 5:16).
  • Jesus prayed on the mountain (Lk. 6:12).

His disciples saw him praying and asked him to teach them to pray (Lk. 11:1). They weren’t asking him to teach them how to pray (they knew how to pray) – they were asking him to teach them how to pray, the way he prayed. They didn’t just want to pray – they wanted to pray with the same power and fervor and sense of intimacy with which he prayed.

Jesus was a man of prayer.


Jesus Was Also a Devoted Jew

Jesus never contradicted anything God said in the Hebrew Sacred Scriptures (basically, what we know as the Old Testament). In fact, Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of those Old Testament Scriptures and promised that none of it would be dismissed until all of it was fulfilled (Mt. 5:17-20).

Some confusion about Jesus’ stance on Judaism comes from his antagonistic relationship with the Jewish leaders of his day (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, etc.).  However, Jesus’ complaint against the religious leadership was not with their devotion to the Sacred Scriptures or the sacrificial system, but rather the ways in which they interpreted those Scriptures, and more importantly, the ways in which they corrupted Jewish faith and practice.

In other words, Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was their hypocrisy, not their devotion to Torah Law. Jesus’ problem with the Sadducees was their corruption of the temple enterprise, not their devotion to the temple. Jesus never questioned Judaism itself. Jesus was a good Jew.

  • Jesus respected the temple (Mt. 23:17; Lk. 2:49; 19:45-47a; Jn. 2:17).
  • Jesus participated in the annual Jewish festivals (Mt. 26:17; Jn. 2:23; 7:10).
  • Jesus encouraged the keeping of the sacrificial system (Matt. 8:4).
  • Jesus was raised by an earthly father who was a devout Jew (Mt. 1:19).
  • Jesus was raised by an earthly mother who understood the Scriptures (Lk. 1:46-55). 1
  • Jesus was circumcised in accordance with the purification laws in the temple at Jerusalem where his parents offered the appropriate sacrifices (Lk. 2:22-24).
  • Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the Jewish prophets, completely conversant in the Jewish Scriptures.

Therefore, it stands to reason, he was influenced by the well-known Jewish prayers of the first-century. In fact, whispers of five first-century Jewish prayers are found in his recorded prayers. 2 Certainly, these are prayers Jesus prayed regularly, if not daily.


1. The Shema

Hear O Israel: Adonai is our God; Adonai is One. Blessed is the One the glory of whose kingdom is renowned forever.  You shall love Adonai your God with all your mind and body and strength.  Keep these words, which I command you today, in mind. Instruct your children about them. Use them when you sit at home and when you walk about, when you lie down and when you stand up. Bind them to your head as a sign and set them between your eyes as a symbol. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The Jews were saying the Shema twice daily as early as the first century. 3 The Shema’s reference to God’s kingdom is important. Jesus preached a lot about the “coming of the kingdom” (Mt. 3:22; 4:17; 12:28; 16:19; Mk. 1:15; 9:1; 14:25; Lk. 9:27; 10:9; 17:21; Jn. 3:5).

The call for the Kingdom of God and his eternal reign on earth (both in the Model Prayer and The Shema) would have been viewed as a direct response to the rule of the Roman Empire. This was a powerful and dangerous prayer that Jesus probably recited twice a day.

Jesus’ Model Prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done” (Mt. 6:10).


2. The Tefilah

The Tefilah or Eighteen Benedictions was probably the most popular Jewish prayer, after the Shema. It, too, was recited twice daily. There are three benedictions that echo the words of Jesus in his Model Prayer and Priestly Prayer (found in John 17).


Benediction 3 (Sanctification of God’s Name) –

Holy are you and your name is revered; there is no god other than you. Blessed are you, Adonai, the holy God.”

Jesus’ Model Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name …” (Matt. 6:9).


Benediction 6 (Forgiveness) –

Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned before you. Wipe out and remove our transgressions from before your eyes, for great is your mercy. Blessed are you, Adonai, who is quick to forgive.”

Jesus’ Model Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Lk. 11:4).


Benediction 7 (Deliverance) –

See our affliction and fight our fight. Redeem us for the sake of your name. Blessed are you, Adonai, who redeems Israel.”

Jesus’ Priestly Prayer: “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (Jn. 17:2-3) 4 … “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (Jn. 17:11-12). 5


3. The Qaddish

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which he has created according to his will. May he establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire house of Israel, speedily and soon. And say: Amen.”

Jesus’ Model Prayer: “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” (Lk. 11:2). 


4. The ‘Ahabah Rabbah

With a great love have you loved us, Lord our God. Great and abundant mercy have you bestowed upon us. Our Father, our King, for the sake of our forebears who trusted in you, whom you did teach laws of life, be gracious to us and teach us likewise.”

Jesus’ Priestly Prayer: “… the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world … I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (Jn. 17:22-26). 


5. The Grace After Meals

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who sustains the whole world with goodness, kindness, and mercy. God gives food to all creatures, for God’s mercy endures forever. Through God’s abundant goodness we have never yet been in want. May we never be in want of sustenance for God’s great name’s sake.  For our is a God who sustains all does good to all and provides food for all the creatures he has created. Blessed are you, O Lord, who sustains all.”

Jesus’ Model Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). 


Conclusion: The Central Themes of Jesus’ Prayer Life

Based on these five first-century Jewish prayers, and Jesus’ Model Prayer (Matt. 6) and Priestly Prayer (Jn. 17), this must have been what Jesus was praying for:

1. The Glorification of God’s Name on Earth.

2. The Arrival and Triumph of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

3. The Daily Sustenance and Protection of His Disciples.

4. The Redemption of the World from Sin and Suffering.


These are the things we should be praying for as well.





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