The Counterpoint of Peace in a World at Enmity with God
This paper is an overview of the topic of peace in Biblical Theology. I start with understanding peace at the beginning of the Bible. When enmity enters the world, I explore the ways that peace plays as a counterpoint to the discord in the world giving the hope of the gospel. Christ comes as the beginning and end of peace, securing and finally accomplishing peace in the world.
THE MELODY OF PEACE
The story of the Bible begins with a prelude of peace. God has finished his work, and the totality of his creation rests with him, free from all disturbance, enjoying perfect tranquility. There is nothing to be found out of order, no discord or contention. No being strives against another for each delights to obey the command of their Master and be satisfied in his presence. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Gen. 1:31).
O happy fall. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field” (Gen. 3:1). Hardly does the blissful melody begin when it is interrupted by a dissonant chord. The heart of man, enticed by the deceiver, rejects his Creator’s command. The tranquil peace on earth is broken when man refuses to live in faithfulness to God. Thus, the serpent, woman, man, and earth are all cursed. That curse is enmity; God against man and man against his neighbor. Yet, God gives hope that this enmity would not last; it would come to an end. Sin will not always reign over man, but the offspring of the woman would crush it:
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.
(Holy Bible, New International Version, Gen. 3:15)
In the Pentateuch, the melody of peace with God is the centerpoint and refrain of the sacrificial laws. It breaks through the sin and corruption in the world as a chorus of hope for atonement. The cost of these peace offerings is significant, not only economically for the loss of capital but also for the exacting toll of life. “If his offering is a sacrifice of peace offering, … he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and kill it” (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Lev. 3:1–2). The price of restoring peace with God is high, for the shedding of blood is required, the giving of a life. The true aim of the peace offering is “pointing toward the demands of a righteous and holy God on his followers” (Alexander 682).
Through the wanderings in the desert, rest is sought for forty years. In the conquest of Canaan and rule under the Judges, peace is pursued but never wholly attained. Because of Israel’s continued disobedience, God said of the Canaanites, “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3). The people would continue to be entrapped in sin and futility until God raised up for them a king who would reign in righteousness. After uniting the kingdom, the Lord told King David, a man who shed much blood, “you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest” (Holy Bible, New International Version, 1 Chr. 22:8–9). While Solomon, whose name means peace, was blessed with a peaceful reign and a promised lineage upon the throne of his father, peace did not last. The people rebelled again and enmity again filled the land. Even as God provided the peace offerings and blessed his people with prosperity and rest, man continually failed to attain harmony.
The writings of the prophets are filled with laments and rebukes for the active hostility towards God’s commands. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Jer. 6:14). And for those who practice wickedness, “‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 48:22, 57:21). And while in their darkness, the light of the Lord shines out and proclaims hope: he will send a Prince of Peace who will establish a kingdom of lasting peace upheld with justice and righteousness and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isa. 9:7). This new kingdom is promised to restore the peace that was in the garden at the beginning. One day, this melody of peace will drown out the discord of enmity in the world. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).
Peace accomplished. Into this dark fallen world, this Prince of Peace is welcomed with the voices of a heavenly chorus enraptured with praise, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, Luke 2:14). Jesus entered a darkened world filled with men at enmity with God. As a light of hope, he “came and preached peace,” both to those near the gospel and to those unfamiliar with it’s hope (Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Eph. 2:17). His call of repentance struck the chords of lifeless hearts, enlightening them to the melody of peace and bringing redemption and restored communion with God. But his kingdom of peace would not appear as man imagined. Jesus said “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mat. 10: 32–33). This is the antithesis of the gospel: Peace with God will mean war with the world. The church is commissioned with the authority of Christ to wage war on Earth for the souls of men. “We are ambassadors for Christ,” charged with the ministry of reconciling the world to him (2 Cor. 5:19–20). When Jesus described his kingdom, his servants are those who proclaim the good news of God’s peace to the world. He gave us his spirit as a helper saying “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
To the church, a clarion call for peace is given in the epistles: “live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18) and “pursue what makes for peace” (Rom. 14:19). “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” but faith in Christ, who “himself is our peace,” reconciles us to God (Col. 1:20). If we proclaim his truth as we are obedient to him, the God of peace will be with us (Phil. 4:9). As we set our gaze on Christ, who leads the score, his Spirit turns our life into instruments of praise for his glory as we proclaim to a lost world the melody of peace.
The hope of all our endeavors is that God will soon crush Satan under foot and complete peace will be accomplished forever (Rom. 16:20). This promise is fulfilled in the new heavens and new Earth, where peace reigns and enmity is vanquished. The war has ended. Perfect Harmony and rest ensues as Christ will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col. 1:20). The melody of peace crescendos and overwhelms any last vestige of disharmony. The final lines of the drama played out by the saints from every tongue, tribe, and nation, rejoicing that “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jam. 3:18).
Throughout the Scriptures, we see enmity between man and God. Man is at a loss, haunted by hostility, dependent on God’s mercy; “thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help” (Holy Bible, King James Version, Hos. 13:9). Repentance brings renewal and man’s only hope for peace is found in God’s redeeming grace; “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Isa. 26:3). Christ is our peace offering, our ultimate source of freedom from disturbance, “for he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility … and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:14).
The Bible, Authorized King James Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 8 June 2019.
The Bible, English Standard Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 8 June 2019.
The Bible, New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 8 June 2019.
Alexander, T. Desmond. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Inter-Varsity Press, 2000.
Artwork: John Martin, “The Plains of Heaven,” 1851–3