Do not suppose that in the days of the Messiah any of the laws of nature will cease to exist or that new creations will come into being. In fact, the world will continue as it normally does, with the one exception, that Israel and her neighbors will coexist in peace.…In that era there will be an end to famine and war, envy and strife. Goodness will prevail and prosperity will abound; the universal occupation will be to know the Lord.*
More than eight hundred years ago, the great Jewish philosopher (Moses ben Maimon) Maimonides wrote the above as part of his main work, Guide of the Perplexed. He wrote this philosophical treatise to demonstrate that the teachings of Judaism do provide answers for life in turbulent times. People in Maimonides’ time needed peace. People today still grope for a way to peace. The headlines feature Bosnia one day, Liberia the next. The places are interchangeable—but the situations are the same. Internal strife, hatred, destruction, hopelessness. We all want peace. No one is against it.
But what is that very elusive quality we call peace?
To terrorists or tyrants, getting peace means eliminating those who stand in their way—but what they really want is complete control.
To followers of Eastern religions, peace comes from being one with the universe and having no awareness of self—but what they really mean is serenity.
The person who is trying to sleep while a loud party is going on next door also says he wants peace—but he really means quiet.
Peace is what we say we want when we’re worried about being able to pay our bills—but what we want is prosperity.
Peace of mind is what a person is hoping for while waiting to get the results back from a suspicious biopsy—but what she or he really hopes for is good health.
When we don’t have what we think we should have, when we don’t feel the way we think we should feel, we say we need peace! We often define peace as that condition of life that we think ought to exist. But in all of the turmoil of life, who really has the right or capacity to determine what should or shouldn’t be? If all of us could obtain the kind of peace we wanted, it would probably end up being at someone else’s expense.
The story is told of two men who were having a violent argument. The police were called, and when they arrived they found windows broken, furniture overturned, curtains torn down, one man dying and the other dead. They lifted the dying man, who whispered, We are two doctors of philosophy. We had agreed on our desire for universal peace, but we have disagreed somewhat on the proper methods for attaining it.”
So today where can we look for a peace that is right for everyone?
Webster defines peace as (1) a state of tranquility, (2) freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions, (3) harmony in personal relations, and (4) a state or period of mutual accord between governments.
These definitions can be broken down into two major themes: the cessation of hostilities and peace of mind. It’s helpful to see how these themes exhibit themselves in two distinct cultures. The English word “peace” came from the Latin “pax.” To Romans, “pax” meant the cessation of hostilities between the conqueror and the vanquished. This was always a temporary peace inasmuch as it was interrupted by changes in the balance of power.
The Hebrew concept of peace is rooted in “shalom,” which means wholeness, completeness, soundness, safety, health and prosperity. More than that, peace is experienced when that wholeness or health is expressed in our standing with the God of Israel.
In the Jewish definition, peace and God are intertwined. Knowing peace must begin with knowing there is a Creator who has established a standard for us. The Jewish Scriptures describe the first peaceful existence that humanity has known—in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were at peace with God, with the creation and with each other. All their needs were supplied. There was no disease or discomfort of any kind. They were surrounded by beauty so that they could experience and enjoy it. They weren’t lonely because they had each other. More importantly, they had an intimate relationship with the One who created them. If any people ever experienced peace, it was Adam and Eve. But peace, even in the Garden of Eden, was conditional. It was Adam and Eve’s only as long as they remained obedient.
The first man and woman lost their shalom because of disobedience. Similarly, the Jewish people were promised peace through obedience to the Torah. God told our people that our relative peace in the promised land was directly related to our obedience to him. In Deuteronomy 28, God promises that blessing will come with obedience. The description of God’s blessings in this chapter cover every area of life imaginable. In response to our obedience, God promises wholeness in the family, wholeness in the environment, wholeness in relationship to the surrounding nations. The promised land bore the promise of being another Garden of Eden, a land truly flowing with milk and honey. Yet the same passage that promises blessing and peace for obedience declares a curse, violence and strife for disobedience. There would be environmental crisis; drought would plague the land. Strife would occur in the family. Violence would be a characteristic of society. The very safety and security of living in the land would be jeopardized by our disobedience to God. The fruit of disobedience is no peace. Can it be that after these many centuries we still have yet to learn this most basic lesson from the Torah? We are unable to obey God. We are unable to achieve peace through our own efforts.
We spend countless millions of dollars and an endless amount of effort to negotiate peace among people and nations. We act as though peace could be achieved through social or political solutions. Yet racial strife has never been more prevalent than it is today, even after the American civil rights progress of the 60s. The Middle East, Chechnya, Liberia, Burundi, Bosnia—the list could go on and on—are hotbeds of warring. Even Jerusalem (the name means City of Peace) is a place where acts of terrorism abound.
So should we just pack it in?
Absolutely not. Peace that lasts transcends the situations and flaws of our own personal lives because it doesn’t come from our efforts. The peace that we long for is not based on political compromises or back room deals—it is based on righteousness and truth. You see, the only real peace, the shalom that is permanent, comes from God.
The Jewish sages teach that when the Messiah comes, there will be peace in the world. They taught that the Messiah is God’s solution for peace. The phrase “when the Messiah comes” is a synonym for “when peace comes.” The long—held hope for peace would be fulfilled in a person.
Two thousand years ago, a Jewish carpenter we know as Jesus—Yeshua—claimed to be that Messiah. He claimed to be the bearer of peace. And the prophet Isaiah wrote about him:
For unto us a Child is born, unto 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 increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6,7)
How was the Messiah to bring peace? Billy Graham once said, “The greatest warfare going on in the world today is going on between mankind and God.” A permanent end to that warfare is found in a relationship with the one who bridged the chasm between us and God—Yeshua. He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be dismayed.” It is a different kind of peace that Yeshua offers us. It is a peace not based on outward circumstances but on the reality of a restored relationship with the God of Israel. God himself became one of us because he chose to demonstrate his love as the way of peace. Isaiah explained this in a prophecy hundreds of years before Yeshua walked the earth:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4,5)
We can have peace, but for Adam and Eve and all who have come after, peace has come with a high price. It was Yeshua’s punishment that brought us peace. The peace he offers us is a permanent peace, but it is also conditional. It depends on our accepting the One who paid that price—the Prince of Peace, Yeshua. There is hope for peace. How much do you really want it?
*Mishneh Torah, Melakhim XII, 1,5″