Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and in Him, we will have peace (John 16:33). But what is this peace exactly? How is Jesus peace (Ephesians 2:14)? And what does it mean when Jesus said that He would not bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34)?
In this study, we will look closely at what the Bible actually teaches about peace, and how we can truly experience it.
The Bible has over 300 references to the word peace, and to get the best idea of what Scripture teaches about peace, we should look at all of them. Don’t worry, I already did that for you, and so I can help you get the idea.
The Biblical meaning of the word peace
I think most people would describe peace as 1) a sense of tranquility and calmness, or 2) as the opposite of war. But the Biblical definition is more refined:
Six uses of the word peace
- The main word for peace in Hebrew is “shalom”, which also translates to wellbeing and ease. (See for example Genesis 43:23-28.)
- We can find examples in which peace implies the opposite of fear (Genesis 43:23, Leviticus 26:6, Judges 6:23).
- And sometimes peace means rest (2 Chronicles 14:6, 2 Chronicles 15:5).
- Throughout the Bible people were sent on their way in peace, often followed or preceded by a blessing by the Lord or someone else in authority (for example in Judges 18:6, 1 Samuel 1:17, Mark 5:34, and Genesis 44:17). The blessing could entail that no bodily harm would come to them along the way or that they would be provided for in some way. This peace then is like prosperity.
- Peace opposes disorder and confusion. So, Peace goes hand in hand with order and control (for example in 1 Corinthians 14:32-33).
- And last, but certainly not least, one could also be at peace with someone else, which means being friendly with each other and not at war (for example in Genesis 34:21, Mark 9:50, Romans 5:1, Revelation 6:4).
Of course, there might be even more uses you can find. But when you look closely, you’ll notice something important: Peace was not the natural state of a person, but it was granted and so given to them by God directly or indirectly.
It is important to realize that the natural state of mankind is subject to sin. This sinful nature causes people to be evil, unkind, vengeful, uncontrolled, unfaithful, and much more. While the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
A spiritual blanket
God-given peace serves as a sort of spiritual blanket that keeps you warm and helps you feel relaxed and safe. I say a spiritual blanket because a physical blanket can do nothing more than provide a false sense of security. On top of that, a physical blanket is subject to wear and tear, so its warmth and soft comfort are only temporary. God’s peace, on the other hand, comes in the form of an eternal covenant (Isaiah 54:10, Ezekiel 34:25).
Having Peace also means that you could be in a situation that is anything but peaceful, but because the spiritual blanket of Peace covers you, it doesn’t bother you as much as one might expect. In other words: Peace doesn’t always take our problems away, but it makes them way more bearable.
It’s like what Paul teaches us in Philippians 4: Know that the Lord is close. So, when you feel anxious, just pray to Him and the incomprehensible peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
How Jesus is Peace
Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:13-17 that Jesus is our Peace. He explains that Jesus made us all one in Him (Jews and non-Jewish people alike) and so made peace between all of His people. He also reconciled us with God, so that all Christians have peace with God instead of enmity. And He came and preached Peace to the people close to Him as well as to the people who were far off.
So there you have the most important function of God’s peace in our lives: it enables us to be united with each other and with God. Without peace with God through Jesus, we won’t have eternal life.
We find a picture of this in the Old Testament when God called Gideon in Judges 6, who was so afraid that a sinner like him would surely die in the face of the Lord. Then the Lord responded with a prophetic: “Peace be with you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” To which Gideon built an altar which he called The Lord Is Peace.
When Jesus told His disciples that He would be leaving (John 14), He also told them that He would leave them a Helper: the Holy Spirit. Then He tells us a couple of important things about the Holy Spirit:
- That He will teach everything and will bring Jesus’ words to remembrance (John 14:26).
- That the Holy Spirit is His own Spirit, since in His summary He says: “I am going away, and I will come to you.” (John 14:28).
- And that the Holy Spirit is peace, His peace (John 14:27).
He says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)
So Jesus tells us that He, through His Spirit, will put our hearts at ease. That is if we accept it. Because after He says that He will give us peace, He still commands us not to let our hearts be troubled or afraid. That must mean that it is a choice to accept His peace and rest in it.
The same goes for our reconciliation with God and our unity with Christ and each other. We can still willfully be foolish and choose to go another way. Jesus is the Way to Peace, but we have to actively walk in this Way to experience it.
Walking in Peace
Walking in God’s Peace comes with all the benefits we discussed in the first paragraph:
- A general feeling of well-being and ease, regardless of our circumstances.
- A boldness that enables us to do what God assigned us to do, and to come boldly before His throne.
- Resting in the fact that God is on our side. And when He is for us, who can be against us?
- The trust that God will provide anything we need on our journey: sufficient health, knowledge, food, etc. Just ask for it and He’ll give it to you.
- Self-control, and the ability to do things according to God’s orderly plan. This includes the ability to submit to the order God has set before us in hierarchic structures.
- Living in loving unity with God and other Christians.
But there is more:
Becoming a peacemaker
Because Jesus is our Peace, we who are called into Peace, have gained an important job. Look at what Jesus said during His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9, ESV)
This means that the children of God are now themselves bringers and makers of peace. By:
- Bringing Peace by interceding for all people, by praying to God for them, so that they might have Peace and we can lead peaceful lives ourselves.
- Maintaining peaceful relationships with each other by remaining in unity with Him, with each other, and thus with God.
- Communicating in a peaceful manner. As James says it: “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18, ESV)
- Sharing the Gospel of Peace with the rest of the world.
Spreading Peace wherever we go
When we share the Gospel of Peace, someone might accept it, and then that person will have Peace for themselves. One of the ways in which Jesus demonstrated this, is by giving seventy-two disciples the following assignment: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6, ESV)
This was foretold in the Old Testament when King David sent men to the rich man Nabal, to humbly petition him to receive David and his men and share some of his food with them.
David told his messengers: “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal and greet him in my name. And thus you shall greet him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have.” (1 Sam 25:5-6, ESV)
Which is the same greeting Jesus dictated to His disciples. Now, Nabal, whose name means “fool”, acted like a fool and did not accept the peace David offered. But thankfully Nabal’s wife Abigail did. She humbled herself, offered gifts, repented, and asked for forgiveness. David accepted and she indeed received her peace: “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have obeyed your voice, and I have granted your petition.” (1 Sam 25:35, ESV)
Nabal never had peace anymore, and died soon after, because the Lord returned Nabal’s evil on his own head. Abigail on the other hand was delivered from this evil man and became the king’s wife.
This is a great picture of what happens when we receive the Good News of Christ!
How Jesus brings a sword instead of peace
In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus says (ESV): “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.”
There are at least three meanings we can give to His use of the word sword here, and all three of them relate to the fight against sin:
At war with the world
Jesus speaks these words after telling the 12 Apostles to go out and spread the Gospel. He tells them that they will also be persecuted and hated by people, but that they should not fear them.
You see, there will always be a difference between those who belong to the world and those who belong to Christ. The people who belong to Christ will have Peace, even when they are hated and persecuted. The people who belong to the world because they won’t accept Peace will never experience peace and will always be in enmity with God and His people.
As the Psalmist of Psalm 120 says so strikingly: “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” (verse 7, ESV)
Your heart makes clear whether or not you belong to the world: A person who loves anything in this world more than Jesus (including mother, father, or child), belongs to this world.
The world hates Jesus, and that means that we who love Jesus, will also be hated by the world. And this is only going to be more visible as we grow to love Jesus more and more. But the good news is that as we grow to be more like Jesus, we will also grow in the level of Peace we experience.
At war with sin
Our flesh wants anything but to be truly righteous. That means that Christians will be in a constant battle with the temptation to sin. And as long as sin feels comfortable, we won’t wage war against it. The Spirit of Peace in us, makes sin feel uncomfortable in various ways so that we can find the motivation to fight it.
Due to our daily struggle with our own sin, the sin of other people, and the brokenness of the world, life on this earth will not be without suffering.
In fact, Jesus says that we should take our cross and follow Him. In essence, He says to do what He did: To suffer and die for the sake of the salvation of other people. That is an amazing privilege, but when you are in the midst of carrying a heavy cross, knowing that you will die a horrible death and suffer a great deal of pain, it will probably not always feel like a privilege.
Even Jesus asked God to take away the tremendous suffering He would endure (Matt 26:39). But the suffering was part of God’s plan, so He accepted His fate. It was the way to close the gap between God and His people.
The same goes for us. We don’t know how our lives will end, and what our persecution will look like, but we must be ready to accept it if we want to share eternal life with Jesus. So, again, thank God for His peace, which helps us to endure the suffering.
The Sword of the Spirit
The third way in which Jesus brings a sword is by giving us the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which is sharper than any double-edged sword. You can read more about this spiritual weapon in a dedicated article.
How to obtain Peace
Just like other abstract concepts like love and joy, it can be hard to generate a clear, exact description of what peace actually is and how to obtain it. It will be even harder to define if you don’t really feel like you have experienced peace before.
This is what it was like for me for over 35 years. Peace in my tormented mind had been something distant, something one could dream of, but which could never be experienced in this life. I literally thought you had to be dead to be able to experience true peace.
How I found Peace
All of this changed after I found Jesus and He gave me the peace I had been longing for so desperately. After battling depression, anxiety, and all other kinds of mental and physical problems that come with PTSD with some, but not nearly enough success, I had exhorted all of the options known to me at that time. Then God brought me to my senses by leading me further into desperation. And in that darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel appeared to be closer than I ever thought it would be. All it took was to give up the stubborn fight and accept Jesus as my Savior.
After that happened, I realized that nothing but me and my pride had stood in the way of getting better.
Easier said than done? Not exactly. Yes, I had made the best decision in my life – to start trusting Jesus. But Jesus was always right there, waiting for me with outstretched arms. I was simply too blind and foolish to actually walk into them. He had to heal me from this mad blindness before I could see where I belong. So, no, it wasn’t easier said than done, because I didn’t do it. He called me, opened my eyes, took away my foolishness, and I simply said from my heart: “Yes Lord, Here I am.” I can’t take any credit for this miracle.
Walk through the Door
Just like I did, everyone starts his or her life in opposition to God, living in sin instead of His eternal goodness. This way of life creates an unsurmountable spiritual distance between sinners and God. Like darkness vanishes in light, so the sinful person will be obliterated in the presence of God. The two are miles apart as they are opposites. But Jesus built a Way in for us. He became the Door to God, by dying for the sins we should have been punished for. And by entering that Door, we are clothed in undeserved holiness and can stand in the light of God without being obliterated.
So, by interceding and taking our punishment upon Himself, He made peace with God for us. All we have to do is accept the invitation to receive Peace.
As it was written in Isaiah 53: “…He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (verse 5, ESV)
How to maintain Peace
Obtaining Peace is just the start. After this, we need to continue walking in Peace.
Scripture tells us that we should continually seek and pursue Peace. (For example Psalm 34:14, Romans 14:19, 2 Timothy 2:22, and Hebrews 12:14.)
Many of these commands were meant to instruct Christians. So, it’s obviously of great importance that we keep looking for ways to exercise Peace. Thank God the Bible also gives us a lot of instructions on how to do it. These are just a “few” examples:
- Be righteous (Psalm 85:10, Isaiah 32:17, Isaiah 48:18)
- Trust the Lord and focus on Him (Isaiah 26:3)
- Have love for your brothers and sisters in Christ and maintain unity of mind (1 Peter 3:8-12)
- Love God’s Word (Psalm 119:165)
- Pray for all people, and especially people in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
- Don’t grieve or pass judgment on your brothers or sisters in Christ, but build each other up (Romans 14:13-19)
- Aim for restoration (2 Corinthians 13:11)
- Have nothing to do with foolish controversies (2 Timothy 2:22-23)
- Don’t be quarrelsome but kind and gentle (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
- Don’t allow roots of bitterness in the church (Hebrews 12:14-15)
- Seek and find wisdom (Proverbs 3:17)
- Don’t give in to worldly passions (James 4:1-4)
- Don’t give in to fear (Matthew 10:26-28, 2 Timothy 1:7, 1 Peter 3:14)
The key to continued Peace
Isaiah prophesies at least three times that righteousness is the key to peace. For example in Isaiah 32:17 (ESV): “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust [or: security] forever.”
When you understand how hard it is to achieve righteousness in the eyes of God, and see a huge to-do list like this, it seems like a really difficult, if not impossible task to maintain peace. And it would be impossible if we would have to do it on our own strength. And that is why we have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Peace. He will instruct you in the way of Peace (Luke 1:79). So, Just follow His lead!
Put to the test
There are many more things I could say about the topic of peace, and maybe one day I will. It is a very important topic and one that the Lord explicitly told me to teach about.
Although I understand the theory of Peace in the Lord, I have been put to the test often, to see how I grew in practicing it. Fittingly, God even put me to the test while I was working on this article. When I was writing the part of walking in peace and re-reading the Bible text about Nabal and Abigail, suddenly my laptop turned itself off with a sound as if something had snapped, and I could not turn it on again. It did not respond to anything I did. I know my laptop is old and unreliable and that the battery has been malfunctioning for years, but this had never happened before.
After a while of trying and praying, my laptop still didn’t turn on, and my anxiety started to rise. I thought of all the work that had been lost, and all the files that had possibly been destroyed. And about losing a lot of photos and documents, because – of course – I hadn’t saved or made any back-ups as I usually do.
As I started to feel anxious, I noticed that the enemy started shooting arrows at me, accusing me of being dumb, and telling me that God did not provide what I needed for this ministry, since otherwise I would have at least had a functioning computer. And then he proceeded to shoot at me that it was a sign from God. That I was not doing the right things, and that He pulled me out of the ministry as a result of that.
At that point, I remembered what I had written previously about the armor of God. So I ducked behind my Shield of Faith, made sure I had my Helmet of Salvation on, and checked the Breastplate of Righteousness for holes. I struggled with myself for half an hour or so, until I decided: “If God feels that it is time to stop writing now, I will submit to that and trust His plan.”
So, I had an early lunch and took out my phone to nourish myself spiritually too, because I could not shake the feeling of uselessness. I mean, the words were flowing, and I was writing good stuff, straight from the Word of God, so why would God stop me from doing what He assigned me to do? Why tell me to do something and promise me that He would bless my work, but then put a halt to it? It did not make sense at all!
Then I saw the Scripture verse of the day on my phone:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19, ESV)
Suddenly, all of my anxiety left me. I knew this was a test. And I knew God gave it to me so that I could grow and make this article better than it was. Filled with hope, I went back to my laptop and checked one last thing: the adapter. And yes, by some mystery, it had spontaneously fallen apart. After putting it together, everything was up and running again in a couple of minutes. My computer had indeed emptied its cache completely, but nothing from the ministry was lost, except for the last line I was typing in this article. And it gets even better: my broken laptop battery is now suddenly working again. So, eat your heart out devil. God does provide and He does keep His promises! Hallelujah!
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV)
You might also like: The armor of God part 3: The Shoes of Readiness