The pastor of a local mainline Protestant church has a radio spot to encourage people to attend his church or at least to listen to the sermon he broadcasts on that station each Sunday morning. He invites listeners to come out and pray for the peace of the world as do the members of his church when they gather for worship each week. Desire for world peace—it sounds like a noble objective. Who could find fault with that desire? The Bible does have much to say about peace. And having just come through the Christmas season, we have been reminded of the oft-quoted scripture concerning the angelic announcement of Jesus’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Lk. 2:14, KJV). Furthermore, it is undeniable that one of Christ’s most revered names is “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
So what do we make of the stark reality that 2,000 years after the birth of the Prince of Peace, every corner of the world is still wracked with strife with no relief in sight? Was Christ deluded and is the Bible a lie? And how do we reconcile the announcement of the angels with what Christ later said to His disciples: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came 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 man’s enemies will be the members of his household” (Matt. 10:34-36). Does the Bible contradict itself? Space limitations will permit only the sketchiest of answers.
The Bible does promise world peace. But that peace was promised to and through Israel. Several events must occur prior to the fulfillment of that promise. First, the New Testament church must be raptured (I Thess. 4:13-18); then the events recorded in the book of The Revelation describing a universal seven-year period of unspeakable tribulation must come to pass. Third, Christ must return in glory, destroy the wicked, and set up His throne in Jerusalem; then ruling “with a rod of iron,” He will reign over a world in peace for 1,000 years. Prayers, expectations, and hopes for world peace prior to the unfolding of those events are both futile and unbiblical.
The peace that Christ brings now is to individual hearts. You will search the New Testament in vain for peace apart from that described above, namely, universal world peace during the millennial reign of Christ and peace in the hearts of individual believers. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find the Lord Jesus preaching a message of world peace. Where the Lord speaks of peace, it is always in relation to individuals. Most frequently, the word occurs in the form of a benediction, such as on the occasion of the healing of the woman with a twelve-year hemorrhage. To her the Lord said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Lk. 8:48). Christ used the word otherwise, only to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers. Just prior to His death, the Lord promised His disciples that He would ask the Father to send them “another Helper,” namely, the Holy Spirit. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). He spoke of individual, internal peace with God.
The message of the church is not one of universal world peace but personal, individual peace. As with the Gospels, so with the epistles. The church is never instructed to pray for world peace, to work to achieve world peace, nor to expect it prior to the advent of the Millennial Kingdom. Speaking to the church as a body of individual believers, Peter writes: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (II Pet. 1:2). Paul says that “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The peace associated with the message and work of the New Testament church, then, has nothing to do with eliminating warfare between nations. The Lord Jesus Christ is going to step directly into history in the future to accomplish that. The peace that the church proclaims and prays for is peace with God in individual hearts through justification by faith in the Christ, whose death on the cross redeems from sin and destruction all who believe.
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