When Christians seek justice for the oppressed, or when World Vision mobilizes the church to care for victims of famine, or when churches in a community get together to build a house with Habitat for Humanity, you catch a glimpse of the peace that lies ahead. When a church group builds a home for people who have never before had adequate shelter or anything other than a dirt floor upon to sleep, you can see the dawning of the future. When a husband and a wife choose forgiveness over bitterness, or a person of power chooses the way of servanthood, you taste a morsel of the messianic banquet yet to come. When people whose lives have been imprisoned by brokenness find wholeness and freedom through Christ, you peek through a window into eternity. Every time God’s peace invades our present existence, we get a foretaste of the infinitely greater peace that will someday envelope heaven and earth. (Photo: Two of the leaders of Irvine Presbyterian Church in a building project in El Niño, Mexico, near Tijuana. Over the years, this church has build dozens of homes for families.)
God’s people have looked forward to this time for centuries. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, for example, had a vision of divine peace conquering the whole world:
In the last days, the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem will become the most important place on earth. People from all over the world will go there to worship. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Israel. There he will teach us his ways, so that we may obey him.” For in those days the Lord’s teaching and his word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will settle international disputes. All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end (Isa 2:2-4).
To update the imagery a bit, someday tanks will be turned into tractors and silos for nuclear missiles into grain silos. God’s peace will have won the war. Human fellowship with God and with others, damaged through sin but never completely lost, will be refreshed perpetually in the river of divine peace.
The last book of the Bible, the Revelation of John, reveals the future in images reminiscent of Isaiah:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” (Rev 21:1-4).
God will not obliterate his creation, but renew it to match his original intention. He will no longer be separated from us because of sin. The work of reconciliation will be completed and we will live with God, just as we were supposed to from the beginning. Intimate fellowship with God, lost in the fall, regained in the cross, will be fully restored. In place of sorrow, we will delight in the fullness of joy. Bathed in God’s peace, we will once again inhabit paradise.
Christians are people who live now in intimate fellowship with God and with God’s people. In these relationships we experience genuine peace, yet not the fullness of peace. By the indwelling Spirit, we step into the future, enjoying peace with God and all its benefits . . . but only in part. We walk intimately with God, even though sin keeps nipping at our heals, and, every now and then, tripping us up altogether. We share life with our Christian brothers and sisters, sometimes loving each other as Christ has loved us and sometimes clobbering each other like a bunch of squabbling siblings. Already we can see heaven arising on the horizon, but the dawn tarries.
The biblical vision of the peace that lies ahead helps draw us near to God. It enables us to trust him in the midst of a world so filled with brokenness and strife. This vision also motivates us to be peacemakers, even when our notions of peace and our approaches to peacemaking seem naive to a jaded, worn out world. Finally, the biblical picture of peace yet to come binds us together with other Christians in a fellowship of hope. To quote from the Apostle Paul once again:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13).