Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Peace on Earth, Good-will to Men!


Peace on earth, good will towards men.” We hear that phrase a lot at Christmas time. Though it is often unclear what exactly people mean by these words, the phrase does seem to convey a vague sense of warmth towards humankind, together with attendant associations of brotherly kindness. Few people stop to ask themselves what this phrase would have originally conveyed in its 1st century context.
The sentence comes from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel where we read about the angels praising God for the birth of Christ. It follows directly after the angelic announcement of the “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Lk. 2:10) To a first-century Jew, phrases such as these would have bound together a whole network of associations and expectations.

The ‘good tidings’ come right out of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies. In texts such as Isaiah 40:9-11 and 52:7, we read about a royal herald announcing the glad tidings that Israel’s God has come to restore His people, to renew and reign on the earth. This was the great event that God’s people in the 1st century were waiting for. They were waiting for God to defeat the enemies of His people and establish a physical kingdom over the face of all the earth. As Messiah, this is exactly what Jesus came to do. Thus, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, Gabriel says that Jesus is coming to sit on the throne of David, to reign over the house of Jacob and that His kingdom will have no end (Lk. 1:32-33). These royal terms were not coded references to an invisible ‘spiritual’ work - rather, they indicated that God’s kingdom was about to be established on earth as it is in heaven. That is what the gospel (lit. “glad tidings”) were all about. No wonder the shepherds got so excited! When the angels announced ‘peace on earth, good will to men’, the context is still the same: this is a reference to the peace the Messiah brings when all the earth is submitted to His sovereign rule of justice (Isa. 9: 2-7, 11:1-5, 42:3-4; Zech. 9:9-10; Mic. 4:2-3). The great Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 points to this same reality:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called “Wonderful, Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Notice this prophecy referred to the Messiah’s government increasing. We must bear this in mind when we reflect that it’s been over two thousand years since Jesus inaugurated God’s kingdom, and the world still appears to be just as much a mess. Yet, contrary to appearances, Jesus kingdom has been steadily increasing, and it will continue to increase until it is culminated in the resurrection of God’s people. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and Christ (Rev. 11:15), and any leader or ruler who does not acknowledge this fact is a usurper. Christ’s kingdom is a subversive influence against all other thrones and powers because all authority on heaven and on earth now belongs to Jesus (Mt. 28:18). Jesus is king over all the arts, the sciences, the economies, the politics, the music, the philosophy, the educational systems, etc. of this world.

That is the true message of Christmas and that is what peace on earth, good will to men is all about. It’s not about human kindness and the goodwill of brotherly love, it is about the fact that king Jesus is now in charge. It is about the kingdom of Christ marching forward like an unconquerable army and consuming all the kingdoms of this world (Dan. 2:44).
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