“…On earth peace…” declared the angels to the shepherds on the night of the Savior’s birth (Luke 2:14).
How shall we understand the expression “…On earth peace…”?
Does the angelic declaration of peace on Earth refer to some millennial peace during which Jesus allegedly returns to set up His kingdom on Earth?
Does it refer to a cessation of war and violence among nations and peoples?
The suggestion of a millennial peace we reject because the very premise is contrary to Scripture. The second suggestion sounds appealing because we pray for peace between nations and an end to violence among mankind. David said, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). However, when has there not been war somewhere on the globe? When has there not been violence since the time that Cain murdered Abel?
Were the angels then expressing an empty hope over the fields of Bethlehem? No, because the interpretation that society places on the message is wrong. The peace for which society yearns will not happen unless all people everywhere acknowledge and repent of their sin before the holy God and understand the meaning of the peace that the heavenly messengers proclaimed. This is outside the realm of possibility in a godless world.
Relief from evil in the world can occur only if the heart of man is changed, as Scripture says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). Unless sinners repent of their sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, things will continue as they are. Indeed, Scripture tells us that in the last times the downhill spiral will accelerate.
So, was the peace of which the angels sang an empty hope? No! They sang of peace which finds its substance in Jesus. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Jesus was the Father’s answer to the sin problem. The wall which separated fallen mankind from God was knocked down by the Christ, the Son of God, who removed the wall by taking the sin of mankind upon Himself, then shedding His blood on the cross for the sins of the world. Thus St. Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
The Christmas angels were speaking of peace that fills the sinner’s heart when s/he makes confession of sin and believes that Jesus made peace with God. The peace of the angels’ song is the rest from fear which Jesus pronounced to the disciples, saying: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world gives do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid…” (John 14:7).
The angels were not predicting a worldly peace in some distant time in the future, nor did Jesus speak to His disciples of some distant peace. He, the Prince of Peace, spoke of an immediate peace which He alone gives.
Note also this significant word of the Lord, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace: in the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Through faith in Jesus we have peace in the midst of tribulation!
Jesus’ first disciples indeed had tribulation. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples in this world of sin today have tribulation. Through much tribulation we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). The world hated Christ; it hates those who are Christ’s. Throughout the ages the blood of Christian martyrs has flowed.
“…On earth peace…” did not predict the cessation of trial, affliction, sorrow, or even death. It is a peace that fills the hearts of believers who find comfort in knowing that they have been redeemed—and knowing that they are known by the Father (Isaiah 43:1). It is the peace that fills the hearts of those who confess, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life…” (Psalm 27:1).
Though enjoyment of the peace of heaven lies in our future, believers have peace now through Jesus, even while the whole world without Christ is quaking in fear.
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).