“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King: peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!'” These are the words of a well-known carol by Charles Wesley. The song describes the scene in Luke 2, in which angels are announcing the birth of Jesus. The angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (vs. 13-14). But does the birth of Jesus really mean peace on earth? If so, why is there still war and conflict? And if his birth means peace on earth, why did Jesus say, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51)?
The Messiah and Peace
There was a very good reason for people to expect the Messiah to bring peace on earth: The prophets said he would bring peace on earth. And just to be clear, the prophets said the Messiah would bring peace on earth, not just peace with God. Isaiah said the Messianic age would be a time when nations would not go to war with one another anymore:
The Lord will mediate between nationsIsaiah 2:4 (NLT)
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.
The age of the Messiah’s reign was described prophetically as a time when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat” (Isaiah 11:6). Isaiah even said, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra” (11:8). Of course, this is figurative language, but even figurative language has real meaning.
In more literal language, God promised, “I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety” (Hosea 2:18). So, it was not an unreasonable expectation to hope the Messiah would bring “peace on earth.” This was about the most biblical hope a person could have.
Not Peace, but a Sword
It is only when we understand the biblical promise of peace on earth that we can be properly surprised by the words of Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:34-39
Why would Jesus say, “I have not come to bring peace”? Didn’t the angels declare at his birth, peace on earth? Didn’t the prophets say the Messiah would bring peace on earth? Isn’t Jesus the Messiah? What are we to make of Jesus’ words here?
Jesus is preparing his followers for persecution. He is not saying his followers should participate in a war or armed conflict. Jesus is saying that by following him, his followers would be hated and even killed. He is not telling his followers to wield a sword, but rather to suffer a sword (or even a cross).
The peace Jesus brought to the earth is somewhat one-sided. Like Jesus, his followers make peace but sometimes suffer violence.
Peace Among Those With Whom He is Pleased
Let’s consider again the angels’ words from Luke 2:14. The angels blessed God, “Glory to God in the highest” and blessed people, “and on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Notice that the blessing of peace is specifically for “those with whom he is pleased.”
As Jesus made clear, as long as evil is in the world, believers will continue to suffer violence. However, “among those with whom [God] is pleased,” there can be peace. In many ways, this peace—among those with whom he is pleased—is what the majority of the New Testament is all about.
The reign of Jesus has been making peace between people of every nation, tribe, and language for 2,000 years (see Ephesians 2:14-16). And his reign continues to do so. When we truly trust in Jesus, we…
- forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15)
- love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10)
- bless those who persecute us (Romans 12:14)
- do what is honorable in the sight of all (Romans 12:17)
- speak evil of no one (Titus 3:2)
- avoid quarreling (Titus 3:2)
- show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:2)
The life of a follower of Jesus should exemplify Isaiah’s prophecy, “They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). This prophecy ought to be true of all those who call Jesus their king.
Conclusion: Make Peace on Earth
Until Jesus comes again, there will be unbelievers (those who reject the truth that Jesus is reigning as King). And as long as there are unbelievers, people will suffer violence. But because we believe Jesus has already begun to reign, we make peace (James 3:18).
The world tries to solve its problems, and even bring peace, through the sword. This only results in perpetuating the cycle of violence. Jesus does not bring peace in this way (John 14:27). The King who was laid in a manager as a child brings peace through meekness, gentleness, and self-giving love.
The world scoffs at this idea. In fact, many who wear the name of Christian scoff at this idea. They reject the notion that meekness, gentleness, and self-giving love can actually result in peace on earth. But as unbelievable as it may seem, Jesus promises the meek, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, they are the blessed ones. They are the ones who will inherit the earth and see God (see Matthew 5:2-12).
Both now and forever, peace on earth is for those who believe in Jesus, who walk by the Spirit, and who make peace. Peace on earth is for those with whom the Lord is pleased.
I love you and God loves you,