Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
As always, so again this year, there is all kinds of talk at Christmas time of world peace. The citizens of this land will be urged to follow the example of Jesus and work for peace on earth. Many preachers, the vast majority in fact, will be telling their congregations that Jesus, the great Prince of Peace, is the only hope for peace on earth. These preachers will be exhorting their congregations to pray for world peace.
What these preachers and their followers ignore, or perhaps we should say reject, is the word of Jesus recorded in Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
There are some statements in Scripture which capture in just a few words the entire truth. This is one of those. The Savior is speaking about His purpose in coming to this earth. This is not the only such statement from our Lord. He tells us elsewhere, for example, that He is come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Or again, Jesus tells us that He is come to seek and to save that which was lost. We must not, therefore, conceive of this word of Jesus as an exhaustive definition of what He came to do on this earth.
This word does, however, get at the heart of the Savior’s purpose. Jesus came to save His people from their sins by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Thus Jesus fulfilled the eternal counsel of God; and in Him and His Body, the church, the glory of God shall be perfectly manifest in the New Creation. But all this is accomplished in the way of Christ coming not to send peace on earth but a sword.
The meaning of this word is obvious. Jesus did not come to send peace on earth, He came to send a sword. Jesus came to send conflict, war, battle. He came to cause division. According to the context, Jesus came to set people at variance, the son against his father, the daughter against her mother.
Is there a contradiction here? “I am not come to send peace but a sword” appears to be the exact opposite of what the Bible says elsewhere concerning Jesus. When they announce His birth the angels speak of “peace on earth and good will among men.” In the ninth chapter of His prophecy, Isaiah lists among Jesus’ names “The Prince of Peace.” Ephesians 2:14-15teaches that Christ is our peace, that He made both one, that He broke down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity between us, making one new man out of two and so making peace. And in Luke 1:79 Zacharias sings of Him as He who came to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” But here Jesus states emphatically, “I am not come to send peace, but a sword.” How must we understand this? How can Jesus be “The Prince of Peace” if He came to send not peace on earth, but a sword?
There is of course no contradiction. This statement of Jesus is precisely according to the eternal counsel of God. God’s eternal purpose in Christ according to which He saves His church out of the world is: war, division, strife, a sword!
God spoke of this immediately after the fall of man into sin when He announced to Satan, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). God said there is going to be hatred between the two seeds: that of the woman which is the elect church and that of the serpent which is the reprobate world. Between these two there is war, division, strife. The first instance of this soon followed when Cain slew his righteous brother, Abel.
The Bible from this point on records the history of that great battle. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of the imminent judgment of the ungodly and was translated that he should not see death. Noah for one hundred twenty years preached righteousness. Nimrod and the unbelieving world after the flood built their tower of Babel in defiance of God and His cause. The patriarchs were strangers in a strange land. It was the children of Israel in Egypt’s bondage. It was the heathen of Canaan against God’s chosen people. It was the whole world: Assyria, Syria, and Babylon, against God’s Israel. Wherever God’s cause is manifest in the world there is division, strife.
The climax came in the fullness of time when God sent His Son into the world. The sword was obvious already at His birth when Herod attempted to destroy Him, and it continued all through the ministry of Christ. Wherever Jesus appeared there was the sword. He was tempted of Satan. He was contradicted, denied, and rejected. Always there was the deliberate attempt to destroy the cause of God.
That became most clearly evident at the cross of Jesus. There the whole world cried, crucify Him, crucify Him! But, it was at the cross that the Prince of Peace crushed the head of the seed of the serpent. There Christ destroyed him that had the power of death. And in the resurrection of Jesus, death was swallowed up in victory.
Even though the issue had been decided, the battle continued after the ascension and return of Christ in the Spirit. If church tradition be correct, only one of the apostles died in bed. By means of false teachers in the church, by means of the temptations of the world, the devil and his host opposed the gospel and attempted to destroy the cause of Jesus Christ and His church.
This battle rages even within the lives of the children of God. It is the struggle between the old man of sin (the flesh) and the new man in Christ. The apostle Paul’s anguished confession of his own struggle against sin recorded in Romans 7 is testimony enough.
There is, therefore, no contradiction. Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace! But this is not the peace of which the world speaks. Jesus did not come to send peace on earth. The gospel of Jesus is not one of earthly peace and tranquility for all peoples of the earth. The message of Christianity is not one of reconciliation and harmony, or even one of co-existence among the peoples of this world. And the message of Jesus is not one of union between church and world, light and darkness.
Christ came to send a sword. He came to fight and destroy the ungodly. So God purposed from all eternity. According to the prophecy of Daniel Jesus is the stone cut out of the mountain by no human hand which grinds to powder the kingdoms of this world. Jesus dealt the death-blow at the cross! The cross of Jesus is the destruction of the forces of unbelief under Satan. And the Word of the cross destroys the antichristian wisdom of this world. By His cross Jesus brings the peace of the kingdom of heaven to His people.
Peace on earth? Yes, it is coming. Already in the very recent past we have seen startling evidences of this peace in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There will soon be peace on earth. But it will not be the peace of Jesus. It will be the peace of Antichrist and his kingdom of darkness. The unbelievable manifestation of sin in our time: the homosexuality, the lawlessness, the frightening apostasy in the church, all these are indications that there are already many antichrists in the world.
When THE antichrist comes, God’s saints will be able neither to buy nor to sell. God’s church will be persecuted, harassed, and His saints slain with the sword. But in that last great battle they are more than conquerors through Jesus. After only a little while the Prince of Peace will return on the clouds to destroy all His enemies and to take all His saints into the new heaven and earth. Then there will be perfect peace in Jesus for the saints of all ages. God’s glory will shine perfectly and forever.
Come, Lord Jesus, yes, come quickly is the prayer of every child of God at Christmas time and all the time.