meanings and origin of the phrase ‘kingdom come’



The phrase kingdom come denotes the next world; hence also death, utter destruction.




The phrase kingdom come is a loose, originally slangy, use of the petition Thy kingdom come (= May thy kingdom come) in the Lord’s Prayer, from The booke of the common prayer and administracion of the sacramentes, and other rites and ceremonies of the Churche: after the vse of the Churche of England (London, 1549):

AN ORDRE for Mattins dayly through the yere.
The priest beyng in the quier, shall begynne with a loude voyce the Lordes prayer, called the pater noster.
OVRE father whiche arte in heauen; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heauen. Geue vs this daye our dayly breade. And forgeue vs our trespasses, as we forgeue them that trespasse agaynst vs. And leade vs not into temptacion. But deliuer vs from euil. Amen.

The English clergyman Edward Evanson (1731-1805) wrote the following in A Letter to Dr. Priestley’s Young Man (Ipswich, 1794):

If Dr. Priestley and other readers of the Acts of the Apostles for so many centuries have not read the Christian Scriptures with unprejudiced attention sufficient to observe [that Silas is the author of the Acts of the Apostles], there is no reason why you and I should give up the use of our understanding also in compliment to any groundless system however early formed. lf we do, we must not presume to understand the plain and only sense of the kingdom of God, nor the meaning of that prayer which it is our duty daily to use: for neither the writer of the Gospel of Matthew nor any of those who for so many centuries have received it as of apostolic authority can have rightly understood either. Indeed so little hath that petition of the Lord’s prayer been intelligibly explained, and so ignorant are the generality of people of its meaning in the end of the eighteenth century, that a ludicrous and popular Poet of our own times repeatedly uses the expression being sent to kingdom come, to signify being put to death.

The phrase is first recorded in The History of Jack Connor (Dublin, 1752), by the Irish writer of Huguenot descent William Chaigneau (1709-81):

‘My dear Father at last relented his hard Usage of me, and about four Months ago he took a Leap in the Dark to Kingdom come; and so I’m in Mourning for him, as you see.’—A loud Laugh ensu’d, and the Bottle took its Course.

In The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure (London) of March 1793, an article titled On the Misapplication of Wit contains the following:

Another very fertile subject of little wit among little wits […] is Death.—It is astonishing what pains are taken, that death should never be mentioned by its proper name. […] We hear of one man who has ‘hopt the twig’—a second has ‘kick’d the bucket’—a third ‘has supt up his liquor’—a fourth has ‘gone to kingdom come’—a fifth has been ‘fetched at last’—and a sixth ‘is dead as mutton,’ or ‘gone to Davy Jones,’ &c. &c. &c. Those, who think these expressions are witty, must, however, confess that they are not new; for they have been in vulgar use as long as the present generation can remember.

The phrase till, or until, kingdom come and variants are used to mean until some date in the impossibly distant future, for a very long time, for ever. The following is from Noctes Ambrosianæ. N° I, published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine of March 1822:

Odoherty. I have just arrived from London.
Editor. From London?—The Fleet, I suppose.—How long have you lain there?
Odoherty. I have been out these three weeks. I suppose, for any thing you would have advanced, I might have lain there till Kingdom-come.

But kingdom come is also used to refer to the millennial kingdom of Christ. In A Dedication to some new Friends, the foreword to Old Kensington (London, 1873), the English author Anne Thackeray (1837-1919) wrote:

Sometimes new friends meet one along the midway of life, and come forward with sweet unknown faces and with looks that seem strangely familiar to greet us.
To some of these new friends I must dedicate my story. It was begun ten years ago, and is older than my god-daughter Margie herself, who is the oldest among them. She is playing with her sister and her little cousins in the sunny Eton nurseries. […]
Eleanor cannot talk, but she can sing; and so can our Laura at home, and her song is her own; a sweet home song; the song of all children to those who love them. It tells of the past, and one day brings it back without a pang; it tells of a future, not remorselessly strange and chill and unknown, but bound to us by a thousand hopes and loving thoughts—a kingdom-come for us all, not of strangers, but of little children.

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