I think that when we hear Jesus talked about as “Prince of Peace” or “Our Peace,” we usually think of Him making strife cease. We picture Him setting up a world without war and fixing the strife between human beings and God. Those are definitely part of what’s going on, but there’s also a whole lot more. We can dive deeper into what “peace” means — and gain a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and what He is doing — by studying into the Hebrew word shalom.
Shalom is a key Biblical concept. It occurs over 250 timed in the Old Testament, and that’s not counting related words like shalem. It’s most often translated “peace,” though the King James Version uses about 30 different English words. Those include prosperity (Ps. 35:27), rest (Ps. 38:3), safety (Is. 41:3), using shalom as a salutation or greeting (Judg. 18:15; 1 Sam. 25:5), and in reference to someone’s welfare (Gen. 29:6; Ex. 18:7).
The Hebrew word shalom comes from the root verb shalem, which means “completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment.” That’s all included in shalom as well, along with the English meaning of “peace” as an absence of strife. Also wrapped up in this concept is the implicit “idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment of one’s undertakings (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, entry 2401a). It’s a much more nuanced word than we give it credit for in English translations.
Restitution and Healing
Shalom is wholeness — nothing missing, nothing broken. It is a state that humans don’t end up in naturally. God created us perfect, but we’re now fallen people living in a fallen world. Peace is an elusive thing.
There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation, neither is there any shalom in my bones because of my sin. (Ps. 38:3, Hebrew word added, all quotes from WEB translation)
Sin is something we’re all guilty of, and it’s something that causes brokenness. We’re not whole or complete, and the covenants that people of the past made with God are broken by humanity’s sin. If you want to fix something that’s broken, missing, or stolen, God requires restitution (shalem in Hebrew) in order to satisfy the requirements of law (Ex. 22:3, 5-6, 12, 14). In order to fix what is wrong with us, the process of restitution required something on a greater level than animal sacrifice or paying some money.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in his flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility through it. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. (Eph. 2:13-17)
Jesus’ actions as Our Peace healed the breach between us and God and also created peace between believers. We are all a part of one new church, the body of Jesus Christ. He made shalom in and for and between all of us.
A Covenant of Peace
Peace of this sort cannot be found anywhere except with God. You might negotiate an absence of strife or feel at peace with yourself for a while, but peace apart from God is neither lasting nor complete. There is no shalom for those hostile to God and guilty of unrepented sin (Is. 48:22; 57:12, “wicked” translated from Heb. rasha). None of us can be fulfilled, made unbroken and whole, or enjoy perfect harmony within and without until we turn to God. We need Him to heal, restore, and forgive us, bringing us into His covenant of peace.
In overflowing wrath I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting loving kindness I will have mercy on you,” says Yahweh your Redeemer. … “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but my loving kindness will not depart from you, and my covenant of peace will not be removed,” says Yahweh who has mercy on you. (Is. 54:8, 10)
Covenants are the foundation of human relationships with God. He establishes the parameters of the covenant, initiates it (as Jesus did on Passover, see Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-13), and then invites us to participate. Once we commit to God, we’re also joining this covenant (2 Cor. 3:6; Eph. 2:12-13).
Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an eternal covenant, our Lord Jesus, make you complete in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)
Unending Increase of Peace
Establishing covenants of peace is something the Father and Jesus have been doing for a long time and plan to keep doing in the future.
For a child is born to us. A son is given to us; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on David’s throne, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this. (Is. 9:6-7)
This is a Messianic prophecy, and it’s also a promise for the future. The activity of Jesus as Prince of Peace is happening right now, and it will have no end. I’d like to quote from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament again, because they phrase their analysis of this verse really well.
“There is also a strong eschatological element present in the meaning of shalom. Messiah, ‘David’s greater son,’ is specifically identified as the Prince of Peace (sar shalom — the one who brings fulfillment and righteousness to the earth.
“Paul (Eph. 2:14) links these themes in his identification of Christ as our peace. He is the messianic prince who brings wholeness, but he is also God’s last word — the ‘concluding sacrifice’ that brings redemption to mankind.” — Harris, Archer, and Waltke, entry 2401a
These themes are also linked in Ezekiel 34, where the Lord talks about making a covenant of peace with people shepherded by His servant David. As the good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), Prince of Peace, and Our Peace, Jesus restored wholeness. He made reparations to heal broken covenant and joined us to God in perfect harmony. In Him, there’s nothing missing and nothing broken.
Jesus is accomplishing this healing, restorative, shalom-bringing work in His people right now and He won’t ever stop. The whole earth will eventually be caught-up in the peace that God is zealously working to accomplish. And won’t that be a wonderful thing? To see this world that’s currently so broken and filled with strife restored to the perfect shalom that can only be found through God? May the Lord haste that day!
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