The Biblical narrative of the Christmas story tells us of angels, a great company of the heavenly host, who appeared to shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)
This proclamation tells us that now that the Savior has come, there will be peace on earth, right? So why has there been so much war?
During the life of Christ, Israel was occupied by the Romans. A commonly-held belief among the Jews of the time was that the Messiah (anointed one) would come to rescue them from the Romans and set up a Jewish kingdom. When Christ was executed by the Romans, most Jews, even the twelve disciples, thought that perhaps they had been mistaken in their belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the real Messiah.
On one occasion, when the resurrected Christ met with His disciples, they asked him, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” So I suppose it is understandable that in our time, almost two thousand years later, we are still wondering why there is no peace on earth.
One explanation could be that the proclamation made by the angels was misunderstood, or that we are not to take the promise literally. Perhaps “Peace on Earth, Good will to Men” is just a nice song lyric for Christmas carols.
Further evidence that “peace on earth” was not meant to be at face value is that the gospel records of Matthew and Luke both quote Christ as saying, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law– a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36, NIV, see also Luke 12:49-53)
This sounds more like what human history has shown – that religion divides people, and that Christianity has not brought peace on earth. Critics point this out as a failure of Christianity, and some have made the accusation that Christians have been responsible for more wars and bloodshed than any other organization of mankind.
So what about “peace on earth, good will toward men? I contend that the Christmas carol has provided the English speaking world with a misquote of Scripture. As I quoted earlier in this article, the KJV translates Luke 2:14 as
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Slightly different from the song, but still not quite right. If we go back to the original Greek New Testament, the verse is:
‘Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας.
The word translated as “good will” is eujdokiva, which is usually translated as “good intention, benevolence, well pleasing.” It is not something that is given to all men; rather, the peace is given to men who are of good will. The New American Standard Version, which is a more word for word literal translation, gives Luke 2: 14 as:
And in the New International Version:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
The proclamation that the angels made on that first Christmas was not “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” It was not a promise for world peace. Jesus Christ did not come to rescue Israel from the Roman Empire, or to set up a kingdom on earth. The kingdom that Christ invites us to join is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The sword that Christ came to bring is the Bible, the word of God. The passage in Ephesians 6 about putting on the armor of God includes the “sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. “In 2 Corinthians 10 the apostle Paul describes the type of warfare that we are called to take part in: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
The peace that He offers is not an end to wars and conflicts, but rather a peace within our hearts, despite external conflicts and trials. This is the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”