“Peace on Earth” is phrase often spoken at Christmastime. This comes from the familiar announcement of Jesus birth by the angels to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV)
Peace on earth. How we need that in our day. And yet, two thousand years after Jesus’ birth, peace is very much lacking on earth. Did Jesus really come to bring peace on earth? Were the angels mistaken? Was this just a prophecy to be fulfilled only at Jesus second coming? How are we to understand this in light of our experience in the world today?
I began to get a clue to help understand this when I noticed that the ESV renders Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” This certainly puts things in a different light. The peace spoken of is not universal, but for those who please God. I checked other translations such as the NIV and NASB and found similar wording. NIV: “peace among men on whom his favor rests.” NASB: “peace among men with whom he is pleased.” Why the difference? It is not a difference in translation. It seems that the King James (and the subsequent New King James) translation is based on one Greek text, while the other translations use another Greek text. Such differences among ancient manuscripts should not trouble us, the overwhelming majority of the New Testament texts agree word-for-word, and when there are variations, they are generally minor. However in this case, the difference does shed some light on how we should view the peace on earth announced by the angels.
The truth is we can have peace on earth today, but only on God’s terms. Peace comes when we live a life that is pleasing to God. In Isaiah 26:3 he says “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” God promises peace to those who trust him and follow his ways. For those who do not, Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34) Those refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ can never know ultimate peace. But to his disciples, those who love him and serve him he says “Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)
Jesus did not come to bring “Peace on Earth” in the way commonly understood, as a lack of conflict. (That will only happen when Jesus comes again and the presence of evil is removed from the earth for good). In fact, Jesus presence in the world provokes conflict because there will always be those who refuse to acknowledge him as Lord. But to those who love and trust him, he promises true peace, the peace that “passes all understanding”. It is that peace we proclaim at Christmas. It is that peace we proclaim among the nations. It is that peace you can know today as you trust him and serve him. May this Christmas bring “Peace on Earth” in your life.