The Prince of Peace in a World of War

This past Sunday, we lit the Candle of Peace, and in our Sunday school class we read these words:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end
(Isaiah 9:2-7).

As we read these verses, young men and women were dying on battlefields in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and Ukraine, among other places. The reading reminded us that the world is not as we wish it would be. At our Church and another we visited yesterday, there were Christmas pageants, and we were blessed to have a daughter and two of our grandchildren with us last week. Looking at the children, it is impossible not to remember that there are children all over the world suffering in places of war, oppression, disease, and death. How is it possible to take comfort from these verses in such a world?

Jesus was a Realist

When Jesus came, he recognized that the power of violence was great. He also realized that the violence and war of our world do not come from conditions outside of the human soul but from a deep disease within the human soul. It is not a disease that is easily curable. One of Jesus’s most depressing sayings is found in Matthew 25:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matt. 25:6-13).

Jesus was under no illusions. Our world is rife with the curse of violence and war.

The cure, according to the New Testament, involves the Cross. The Prince of Peace had to be a person of peace in a violent world right up to the end. The cure was not for the Prince of Peace to be a person of peace for a little while and then raise an army to defeat the Romans. The cure was to forgo the temptation of an earthly kingdom won by conquest and create another kingdom, a kingdom of Peace, in which the Prince of Peace rules within the boundaries of a broken and violent world. Jesus was a realist. He knew the end of wars, and rumors of battles could not be one last war.

A World of Violence

If nothing else, the past few years should have convinced all of us that we live in a world of war and violence. Immediately after the First World War, the “War to End All Wars,” the world experienced the Great Depression, the harsh treatment of Germany by the victorious allies, the emergence of Naziism, and finally, the Second World War. Then, China began to emerge and fought a proxy war in Korea, the Korean War. I was born during the Korean War. By the end of the 1950s, we were involved in the Vietnam War. When the Vietnam War ended, the Cold War finally ended, and one commentator unwisely proclaimed, “The End of History.” Radical Islam emerged as a reaction against Western ideas, and the United States was soon caught up in two Middle East Wars. We and the Europeans are involved in a War in the Ukraine against Russian expansionism, and the War in Gaza has emerged in the latest confrontation with radical, terroristic Islam. Some people feel that a war with Iran is inevitable. In other words, we are experiencing exactly what Jesus predicted, “Wars and Rumors of Wars.”

The Prince and People of Peace in a Violent World

Jesus speaks in two ways concerning the Kingdom of God he came to institute. Jesus does say that the Kingdom of God is within us.  “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). It is easy to think that the Kingdom is something spiritual. That is not what Jesus meant. The “within you” is plural and sometimes translated as “in the midst of you.” The Kingdom of God is both an internal thing and a communal thing. The people of God are the Kingdom of God working within history to exemplify the character of the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace as a body. We might say, “The Kingdom of God begins at home!” Jesus is present in our violent world wherever the people of God proclaim and live out the Gospel of Peace.

Stanley Hauerwas, in his book The Peaceable Kingdom, puts it this way:

…Jesus’s life is integral to the meaning, content, and possibility of the kingdom. For the announcement of the reality of this kingdom, of the possibility of living, a life of forgiveness and peace with one’s enemies, is based on our confidence that the kingdom has become a reality through the life and work of this man, Jesus of Nazareth. His life is the life of the end – this is the way the world is meant to be –and thus those who follow him become a people of the last times the people of the new age. [1]

Hauerwas constantly reminds his readers that this is the fundamental aspect of Christian ethics: the building of a community of character in which the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the foundation of life.

The Prince of Peace and a False Eschatology

Sometimes, Christians speak of Jesus coming once as the Lamb of God but will come again at the end of history as a conquering hero. This is a false and dangerous eschatology. God is the same: yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. Sometimes, this view is expressed as based on Revelation, which reads as follows:

Then I saw Heaven wide open, and before my eyes appeared a white horse, whose rider is called faithful and true, for his judgment and his warfare are just. His eyes are a flame of fire and there are many diadems upon his head. There is a name written upon him, known only to himself. He is dressed in a cloak dipped in blood, and the name by which he is known is the Word of God. The armies of Heaven follow him, riding upon white horses and clad in white and spotless linen. Out of his mouth, there comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations. ‘He will rule them with a rod of iron,’ and alone he will tread the winepress of the furious wrath of God the Almighty. Written upon his cloak and upon his thigh is the name, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS(Revelation 19:11-16, Phillips).

Some see in this verse a bloodthirsty Jesus now come to defeat the enemies of God in a battle just like all the battles that mar human history.

Note, however, the phrase “Out of his mouth there comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations” (Revelation 19:15). No ancient warrior put a sword in their mouth to fight an enemy any more than a modern soldier would put an AK-47 or M-16 in their mouth during combat. The sword is the sword of the Spirit, the sword of the Gospel of Peace. In other words, the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow can be counted on to defeat his enemies with Truth and Love within and at the end of history. The robe the victorious Christ wears is already stained in his blood, the blood he shed on the cross for the world’s sins, before the final battle even begins. [2] The only weapon the Risen Christ needs to defeat his enemies is the Gospel of peace [3] We Christians do not need to sharpen our physical swords in preparation for the last day. We need only live a life reflecting the wisdom and love of Christ.

Back to Our Broken World

Where does all this leave us? We stand in precisely the same position as did Isaiah and John in Revelation: We live as a people of peace, who seek a world of shalom, where justice and righteousness reign (Isaiah 9:7), the enemies of human flourishing have been defeated, and the King of King rules (Revelation 19:16). However, we should not and cannot delude ourselves. We are not in such a time. The battle is not over today. We are neither in Heaven nor the Heavenly City. We are here on earth in the midst of human history. There is no escape. There is only the call to “Follow me.”

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1983), 85. This is one of the finest books on Christian ethics ever written. While I cannot bring myself to subscribe entirely to his view, all Christians should hope his view is correct. As for me, Like Walter Wink, I find myself”not a very “nonviolent person” Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and resistance in a world of Domination (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 279). I do not regard this as a virtue.

[2] Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993, 2006), 91).

[3] C. B. Baird,  The Revelation of St John the Divine (New York, Harper & Row, 1966), 245,