You know the message, [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all. (Acts 10:36)
For he [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility… (Ephesians 2:14)
Because I thought Willard Swartley’s book, COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS , was such an excellent look at “peace” in the New Testament as well as a superb scripture study, I decided to comment on the book in a couple of posts, hoping to encourage others to read the book. The previous post is The Covenant of Peace.
Swartley argues that peace – shalom – is a central theme of the Covenant that God made with Israel. That peace/shalom comes from God for His people, but the people have to uphold their part of the covenant by living the peace that God commands.
… shalom is a gift of God, but the people must actualize that reality by living in accord with the righteous and just statutes that God gives and prescribes in the covenant (Ps 119; Exodus 20; Deut 18:16-18). (p 30)
Thus the New Testament use of peace is not introducing something to people of God which didn’t exist in the first covenant, but rather expands upon it and fulfills it. Swartley offers many examples of the New Testament building upon and expanding the theme of peace found in the Old Testament. The New Testament often focuses on a peace theme that may not be mentioned directly in an Old Testament text but which the New Testament writers draw out of the text. So, for example, Genesis 14:18 reads:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.
Hebrews 7:1-2 making use of this Genesis text in reference to Christ makes a clear connection between Melchizadek and peace:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.
Heb 7:1-3 is plainly Christological in its use of eirene. As commonly recognized, it is a midrash on Gen 14:18-20. (p 254)
In another instance Swartley looks at Acts 10:36 –
You know the message, [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all.
Swartley points out:
The key phrase in [Acts] 10:36, ‘preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all’ … Its significance is … First it is a quotation from Isaiah 52:7 (LXX)… This is one of the Isainic texts announcing that God’s good news of peace will be heralded to and embraced by those at ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Isa 52:10; cf Acts 1:8). (p 161-162)
What the New Testament does is link God’s good news promised through the prophets with Jesus the Messiah. Jesus heralds the coming of God’s peace. The notion of peace/shalom is part of the covenant with Israel, but the New Testament fully connects this peace to Jesus Christ and expands upon the ideas presented in the first covenant.
Jesus as the Messiah shows Himself to be the King of Peace. Unlike earthly kings he does not rely on weapons of war to establish His Kingdom. He does not rely on threats of violence, on revenge, on self preservation or self defense.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
He shows Himself to be the Son of God precisely by acting in humility, willing to suffer for and because of humanity. Commenting on Mark 15:39, Swartley notes:
For this is the treasure of the Gospel: the One who did not retaliate against the evil plots of the leaders, but willingly offered himself as suffering servant, in accord with God’s purpose… is the true Son of God. (p 115)
Swartley says this same idea of the suffering Messiah – the One willing to suffer but not afflict suffering on His enemies shows Himself to be from the God of Love. Even in the Book of Revelation, Swartley claims the same theme is evident.
The theology is similar to that of John’s Gospel, in which death and exaltation are viewed as one: in being ‘lifted up’ Jesus fulfills his commission to glorify God. The drama of Revelation is of the same moral fabric: through the Lamb’s suffering and the suffering of the believers God’s victory over evil is won. (p 334)
The paradoxical image of victory through suffering love forms the heart and soul of Revelation’s Christology. Suffering love marks the authentic followers of the Lamb. (p 343)
The up-side-down Kingdom of Heaven is inaugurated by a King whose weapon against evil is humility, suffering and the cross. Indeed as we sing in Orthodoxy, “the cross is the weapon of peace.” The incarnate Son of God chooses to suffer as his weapon and warfare. He teaches his followers to deny themselves and to take up the cross to follow Him. We are to stand our ground against evil, but not with weapons which can kill, but by laying down our lives because we completely trust God and see ourselves as belonging to His Kingdom more than to this world and its way of war.
As Swartely nicely states it:
Rather than thinking first and foremost about peace with security, the exposition leads one to think about peace through repentance. (p 2)
The Gospel is a challenge to how we want to deal with evil through self preservation and self protection rather than through self denial. Many an Orthodox saint thought self-preservation did not prevent evil but rather was the cause of much evil – making us think that killing and harming others is a good.
Finally, Swartley points out that in the Tradition we have received from the people of the First Covenant, that the use of war and military weapons to achieve one’s goals is introduced to humanity by those angels who themselves rebelled against God and God’s Kingdom:
It is striking that the various conceptualizations of evil in and behind biblical thought link war and military weapons to evil itself: in the ‘Watchers Myth’ (Azazel) gives to humans the knowledge of weapons for war (1 Enoch 8:1) (p 107, n 35)
“And Azaz’el taught the people the art of making swords and knives and shields and breastplates . . .” (1 Enoch 8:1)
Death entered into the human condition as a result of sin. “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— ” (Romans 5:12). It was humans who then used this sin caused death to inflict further death on other humans. but it is Christ who uses death – His own – to defeat death and bring peace with God to all humans.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)
Instead of death stopping us from sinning, we humans used death to stop other people from living. In so doing we made ourselves enemies God who is the Giver of life. Christ undoes all of this by using death – His own – to conquer death, to give life to all, and to reconcile all of us to God. No longer are we at war with God, but in Christ we are at peace with God.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
Next: Peace in the Epistles of St. Paul