“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
When the angels made this proclamation to the shepherds on that chilly evening so long ago, most of us immediately think that they were referring to a time immediately following of the birth of the Saviour, where there would be no more war or strife, and global peace would be the order of the day.
Two thousand years later, we’re all still waiting for that proclamation to be fulfilled. Did the angels miss the mark? Were they wrong? Was their prophesy of ‘peace on earth’ false? Let’s have a look at this for a moment to determine just exactly what the angels were referring to.
First of all, we need to understand the context of the angel’s proclamation. They were announcing the birth of a Saviour; One Who had come to rescue mankind from the clutches of sin and death. God in His infinite mercy, after the fall in the garden of Eden, had seen fit to provide a means by which mankind could be reconciled to Himself, and finally be freed from the ravages of sin. Actually, according to I Peter 1:18-20, this plan was established before the foundation of the world. It is first mentioned in Genesis 3:15, and it can be followed throughout the Bible via key verses as the ‘scarlet thread,’ leading all the way to Revelation 22:20. Indeed, someone once said that the Bible is a book of redemption. They went on to say that it is ‘not merely a book of history, or of science, or of anthropology, or of cosmology. It is a book of deliverance for lost mankind.’
So when the angels declared ‘peace on earth,’ were they in fact referring to some far-flung, future dispensation when the earth would be free of the effects of sin and death, including war and strife? I don’t think so. I think their meaning was much more immediate.
Think about the setting. The angels appear to a group of shepherds, and tell them that a Saviour has been born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies. They instruct the shepherds to go and seek Him out, then the angels offer clues that will identify this Saviour to the shepherds. Finally, the angels make their enigmatic blessing of ‘peace on earth.’ In the context of the situation, it’s my contention that they were declaring the outcome of the Saviour’s arrival. What do I mean by that? The Saviour would offer reconciliation between God and sinful man, and provide a means by which man can be reconciled to God, and have relationship with Him once more. The ‘peace on earth’ is a declaration that man is no more at enmity with God; he now has a means (through the newly Born Saviour) by which he can be at peace with God. This gift of salvation and reconciliation is for all men at all times, regardless of race creed, or nationality. As Revelation 22:17 says, “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” No one is exempt; the gift of salvation is for all who choose to accept it. It’s global, so the whole world can experience peace with God.
This is what the angels were referring to when they declared, ‘peace on earth.’ So yes; they were correct and accurate in their declaration that with the coming of the Saviour, Jesus Christ on that night two thousand years ago, there was peace on earth, peace between God and man. And a by-product of such an experience is this; when man is at peace with God, he can also be at peace with his fellow man, so the ‘no more war and strife’ issue is ultimately resolved. Those who use their religion to commit violence against their fellow man are either part of a false religion, or they haven’t truly experienced the peace that comes through accepting Jesus Christ as their Saviour, and been genuinely reconciled to God through Him. Jesus himself declared in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Through His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, Jesus truly did bring ‘peace on earth.’ A peace that dwells in men’s hearts, and by extension seeps into the world, as we who are believers and true followers of Jesus Christ, endeavour to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
The meaning of the angel’s proclamation is far more profound than a simple ‘no more wars’ statement. But then, all of what you find in scripture is like that.