The Prince of Peace
“Lo, Your Salvation Comes” – The Messiah in Isaiah Special Series
Some Bible phrases lose their meanings through overuse. Prince of Peace is a phrase that rolls off the tongue, yet its exact essence is hard to uncover. How is the Messiah to be a Prince of Peace? Does Jesus fit this description? How do Christians experience the peace of our prince?
Isaiah is commissioned to preach to Judah in a time of intense fear. The international scene is dominated by the looming Assyrian empire while closer to home, an alliance between Syria and Israel has resulted in devastating military defeats for Judah (2 Chron 28:5-8). Judah’s King Ahaz is fearful of this alliance, but God assures him through a series of birth predictions that these two nations are not the ones to fear and will soon be defeated. First, before “Immanuel” “knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted”(Isa 7:16). Then Isaiah also has a new baby. “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry “My father” or “my mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria’”(Isa 8:3-4). Though Ahaz resists the sign and the assurance it provides (Isa 7:12-13), Isaiah insists that Israel and Syria will soon be removed.
Yet these prophecies do not point to peace, but a more fearsome threat. Assyria is coming, pictured as a river overflowing its banks: “And it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck”(Isa 8:8). In all this fear, God urges the people through Isaiah to trust him. He wants them to be “firm in faith”(Isa 7:9), to “let him be your fear, and let him be your dread”(Isa 8:13), and to turn to his teaching and testimony rather than to false prophets (Isa 8:19-20).
Only after drinking in the despair of such people, tossed to and fro on the currents of world affairs, can we appreciate the beauty of God promising something better.
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations”(Isa 9:1). The same people God has allowed to be punished with contempt and anguish, he will bless. Isaiah looks forward to a time beyond the Assyrian threat when God will bring glory on Galilee (see Matt 4:15-16).
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil”(Isa 9:2-3). Beyond Assyria, God will again smile on his people. After darkness comes light; after despair comes joy. Why?
“For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire”(Isa 9:4-5). Judah’s oppressors will be removed! The residue of war will be burned. No longer will boots and battle gear be needed. Peace will reign because the threats to God’s people will be eliminated.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”(Isa 9:6). Continuing the theme of birth predictions (Isa 7:14, 8:3-4), the Messiah is described as a coming royal heir, born to the entire nation. He is born to govern, and his rule will bring remarkable blessings to God’s people. Four names are used to describe the character of the royal heir. He will be spectacular and superlative. “Wonderful Counselor” looks to his power (to do “wonders”) and wisdom (to give “counsel”). “Mighty God” speaks for itself, plainly stating that the Messiah will be divine. “Everlasting Father” creates the ever-challenging paradox of an everlasting being who is “born”—and connects the Messiah with a role as Father to the people. Prince of Peace speaks to the impact of his rule on the people. The Messiah’s role will be summed up in a simple, wonderful attribute: peace.
“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this”(Isa 9:7). The trajectory of the Messiah is infinite. Isaiah reminds us that he will sit upon David’s throne and that his reign there will be characterized by justice and righteousness. He will rule God’s way. The reign of this prince will always be expanding, and thereby peace will increase.
This text towers above the surrounding chapters, declaring God’s intent to bless his people despite their current unfaithfulness and coming judgment. The Messiah, in stark contrast to faithless Ahaz, will rule with wisdom, justice, and righteousness. He will bring peace where Ahaz is surrounded by enemies on every side.
Peace in the Messianic Reign
How are we to understand the peace promised in Isa 9:6-7? Many of the prophetic glimpses of the Messiah’s reign describe peace.
· “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills…He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore”(Isa 2:2, 4).
· “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse…righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them…They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”(Isa 11:1, 5-6, 9, see also Isa 65:25).
· “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from old, from ancient days…And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace”(Micah 5:2, 4-5).
· “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey…and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth”(Zech 9:9, 10).
The Old Testament record portrays life under the Messiah as full of limitless blessings. In exaggerated language the prophets foresee a time when war will be a thing of the past, natural enemies live next to one another, and all nations live in peace. The New Testament encourages us to take these prophecies figuratively. In NT terms, the Messiah brings peace with God (Rom 5:1) which leads us to be at peace with fellow believers (Rom 14:17) and all people (Rom 12:18). All this peace is possible as we submit to the reign of the Prince of Peace.
Peace as the Absence of Judgment
The prophets also frequently associate present turmoil with the judgment of God. As they look forward to a time when God’s anger is sated, they see peace as evidence of God’s favor returning. This is clear in Isa 9:1-7, as well as in these other passages:
· After the massive judgment of Isaiah 24, the prophet foresees a brighter day: “Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”(Isa 26:2-3).
· “And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places”(Isa 32:17-18).
· “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’”(Isa 52:7).
Enemies are often a sign of God’s disfavor (1 Kings 11:14, 23). He allows his people to experience war, hardship, and exile to soften their hearts and bring them to repentance. Yet peace indicates that God is again living among his people, smiling on them, and that judgment has ended. The Messiah’s peace, then, is possible because judgment has been removed.
Is Jesus the Prince of Peace?
So does Jesus fulfill this prophecy? New Testament writers don’t make this connection directly, but since Isaiah 9:1-7 is a Messianic passage, it certainly must apply to the Messiah.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth announcement and angelic witnesses certainly mirrors this text in Isaiah. Gabriel tells Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”(Luke 1:31-33). This connects strongly with Isaiah 9:6-7. It describes the birth of a son (Isa 9:6), the throne of David (Isa 9:7), a kingdom (Isa 9:7), and contains the exact phrase “there will be no end”(Isa 9:7).
At Jesus’ birth, Luke records the words of an angelic messenger sent to the shepherds: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ 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 among those with whom he is pleased!’”(Luke 2:10-14). Like Isaiah, this passage speaks to joy (Isa 9:3), a birth (Isa 9:6), reference to David (Isa 9:7), and peace (Isa 9:6, 7). Isaiah’s prophecy could be read almost verbatim as a birth announcement for Jesus.
Is Jesus a prince? Gabriel pronounces that Jesus will be given “the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”(Luke 1:32-33). Soon after his birth, the wise men travel in search of “he who has been born king of the Jews”(Matt 2:2). Jesus’ message is that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”(Matt 4:17) and almost all of his parables involve comparisons to the kingdom. When he arrives in Jerusalem, the multitudes celebrate him as a king (John 12:13, Luke 19:38). The Jews accuse Jesus as declaring himself king to the degree that it is part of Pilate’s questioning and the charge placed above his head on the cross (Matt 27:37). To Pilate he explains, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world”(John 18:36). Jesus was and is a king—a prince—and his kingdom consists of all who submit to his reign (Col 1:13).
Does Jesus bring peace? Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, prophesies that God’s visitation will bring salvation, forgiveness, and “‘give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace’”(Luke 1:79, cf Isa 9:2). The angels declare that Jesus’ birth means “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased”(Luke 2:14). Before his death Jesus assures his apostles, “‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you’”(John 14:27) and “‘I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace’”(John 16:33). Peter sums up Jesus’ ministry as God “‘preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ’”(Acts 10:36). We will explore the dimensions of this peace below.
But there is a passage which is troubling in light of the language of Isaiah. Jesus tells his apostles, “‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household”(Matt 10:34-36). How can the Prince of Peace declare “I have not come to bring peace”? Jesus’ mission, according to the New Testament, was to save sinners (Luke 19:10, 1 Tim 1:15), reconciling them to God (2 Cor 5:18-21). He came to make peace. Jesus’ statement, then, must refer to the effect of his coming rather than his purpose. The effect of Jesus’ coming is “division”(Luke 12:51). The call of the gospel forces difficult decisions that cut against the grain of families (Luke 9:59-62, John 7:5) and challenges us to surrender everything to Jesus. While this conflict is not the goal of the gospel, it is often the effect. Ironically, it is often only through enduring through such conflict that we find the peace we are seeking. Despite temporary troubles we experience as a result of our obedience to the gospel, Jesus offers us peace.
Life under the Prince of Peace
The importance of the Prince of Peace image for Christians rests in three dimensions of peace we enjoy.
Peace with God. Our sin has made us God’s enemies (Rom 5:10), which is a dangerous and terrifying state. Yet Jesus has died to give us peace. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”(Rom 5:1). This is the “gospel of peace”(Eph 6:15, Acts 10:36), that God is “making peace by the blood of his cross”(Col 1:20). It is only in Jesus that the terror of God’s wrath is turned away from us and new hope is born. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”(Rom 8:31-32).
Jesus gives us an opportunity to fully grasp the awfulness of our sin. We see the great concern God has for his lost people and the incredible price he is willing to pay for us. Yet even after this realization, it is only through Jesus’ sacrifice that we can move past our sins, find forgiveness, and change the dynamic between us and our God. This is a peace that we cannot forge on our own—a peace that can only be bestowed by the Prince of Peace as an act of God’s grace. Under the Prince of Peace, we can pillow our heads securely, knowing that whatever occurs in the world around us, we have reconciled to our creator.
Peace within. That peace with God is not static, however. It moves forward into a blossoming relationship with the God who loves us enough to have us back. And the Scripture makes clear that the fruit of this relationship is peace within our hearts. Jesus says to his disciples, “‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’”(John 14:27). This peace is the security of knowing that God has chosen and saved us, and this fact controls despite unwelcome circumstances. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful”(Col 3:15). This peace is about hearts—it is inner peace. Peace is also the answer to anxiety for Christians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Phil 4:6-7). Trusting that God hears our prayers and will care for us, we can forgo worry and find God’s peace within ourselves.
These passages stress that peace in Christ is otherworldly. It is different from the world’s peace (John 14:27) and “surpasses all understanding”(Phil 4:7). It is not the product of meditation or self-help techniques. It stems from hearing voices other than those around us and trusting the reassurance God provides through his word.
Christian peace is resolutely convinced that the great issues of life are settled because we belong to Christ. We trust a God who we know wants our best, and we rest easy in his care. Our past is not something to be hidden, but is simply the ugly first chapter in a beautiful story. There is nothing to fear because of the Lord we serve and no longer any cause for guilt (Rom 8:1).
Peace with others. This peace also filters out into our relationships. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace”(Gal 5:22). Our newfound state before God creates a shift in our dealings with others. Where before we pursued our own agendas, now we pursue peace (2 Tim 2:22, Rom 14:17, 19). Paul marvels that the Jew/Gentile distinction is eliminated in Christ: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace”(Eph 2:14-15). There is peace now between formerly warring races and nations and genders and classes. Peace (or unity) within local churches becomes a major focus of apostolic instruction because it reflects the agenda and rule of the Prince of Peace (Eph 4:3; 1 Thess 5:13; 2 Pet 3:14).
The difficulty is that though we have been changed by Jesus’ love, not everyone has. We still live in a world devoted to the service of Satan, and peace with some is difficult, if not impossible. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”(Rom 12:18-19). Our goal is to always live peaceably with others, although there are times when it is not possible or does not depend on us. Yet even in such situations, Christians are never to avenge themselves, but to trust God to judge justly on their behalf.
What is often overlooked in discussing peace with others is that it is difficult and ongoing work. Relationships require maintenance. Spouses, children, friends, and brethren will need sacrifice and patience to be at peace. Forgiveness must be offered. Anger must be held in check. We will need discernment to know when (and how) to confront or when to forget a slight. We will need positivity to be able to see good in others when it is easier to see annoying and frustrating habits. But the Prince of Peace shows us that peace is always the priority, never our personal agendas.
It is particularly striking that peace of this type and intensity is available in no other king. Jesus has no rivals in providing peace. Earthly rulers can forge a tenuous peace with other nations, but who can offer us peace within ourselves? Even in times of international calm, conflicts within nations persist. And no man promises peace with God. The Prince of Peace stands high above the kings of the earth, and we are the recipients of his greatness!
Isaiah’s vision of the Prince of Peace offers tremendous hope, blessing, and affirmation for Christians. Far more than using the words, let’s know the Prince of Peace! Far more than using the words, let’s live his peace!
By Jacob Hudgins
From Expository Files 22.3; March 2015