Re-Thinking Peace on Earth

During the Christmas season, one of the more frequently-quoted passages is Luke 2:14, where the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Perhaps most of us are familiar with the  King James Version’s phrasing:

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2:13-14 KJV)

“Peace on earth.”

That’s the saying, we all know. Sounds so great, so glorious, so … perfect … for the Christmas season, doesn’t it?

And then we look around.



Peace? Where is the peace? There is no peace on earth.

How can this be, GOD?

How can the angels’ tidings be true? How could they ever have been true?

The band Casting Crowns captures this sentiment beautifully in their song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

When we compare English translations, Luke 2:14 varies considerably. I believe this variance is because the translators—like virtually evey English-speaking Bible student—grappled with this question as to how “peace on earth” can possibly be true.

I’d like to show you something cool which, I believe, brings substantial clarity to Luke 2:14.

Why ‘Peace on Earth’ is Misunderstood

If we look at Luke 2:14 in the Greek, here’s how it literally reads in English:

Glory in [the] highest to God, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!

The last word, which is translated “with whom He is pleased” is εὐδοκίας (eudokias). This is the same word found in Ephesians 1:5:

4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…
(Ephesians 1:4-5 NIV)

This word, eudokias, accounts for the bulk of the variance between English translations.

But I believe the root (pun intended) cause of the confusion likes in the word translated “earth.”

The word translated Earth in Luke 2:14 is γῆς (gēs). While it can mean “earth,” it is also translated “land” in many places. One such example is in Matthew 2:6.

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

(Matthew 2:5-6 NIV)

Everybody understands that, in Matthew 2:6, the word γῆς is referring to a territory and not planet Earth. We would not say “the earth of Judah.”

In my studies, I conclude that most of the time when the English word “earth” is found, the word “land” would be a clearer English translation.

Now, Let’s Remix (… er, rather, Fix!)

Okay, let’s now take the word “land” and insert it in its proper place within the KJV translation of Luke 2:14.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and [in the land,] peace, good will toward men.
(Luke 2:13-14 KJV)


That’s better!

Now, we can work with this! Let’s ask ourselves questions in order to understand the text?

What land were the angels referring to?

The land of Israel.

For centuries, dating back to Moses, prophets foretold that GOD was going to purify the land of Israel and bring about peace within that land.

Here is one example—perhaps the earliest example—which comes from the Song of Moses:

36 “For the Lord will judge His people,
And have compassion on His servants;
For He sees them disabled
And left in distress and weakened.
37 The Lord said,
‘Where are their gods in which they trusted?
38 Who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
And drank the wine of their drink offerings?
Let them rise and help you
And be your defender.
39 ‘Now see, I, even I, am He,
And there is no God besides Me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
Nor is there any who can deliver from My hands.
40 For I raise My hand to heaven,
And I swear by My right hand, and say,

“As I live forever,
41 for I whet My sword like lightning;
And My hand takes hold on judgment.
I will render vengeance on My enemies,
And repay those who hate Me.
42 I will make My arrows drunk from blood;
And My sword shall devour flesh
From the blood of the slain and the captives,
From the heads of the leaders of the enemy.”’

43 “Rejoice, O Heavens, together with Him,
And worship Him, all the sons of God;
Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people;
And let all the angels of God be strong with Him;
For He will avenge the blood of His sons
And render vengeance to His adversaries;
And the Lord will purify His people’s land.”

(Deuteronomy 32:36-43 OSB)

Oh the depth of this truth! Do you see it?!?!

Moses, and all the prophets after him, foretold a time when GOD would judge the world, starting with the children of Israel. And when that time would come, GOD would purify His people’s land.

Why would there be peace in the land of Israel?

Because the time had come for GOD to judge it and rid the land of the wicked among His people.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares?

34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
(Matthew 13:34-43 NIV)

Where is the land of Israel?

The location where the people of Israel live.

Who are the people of Israel?

GOD’s children, both Jew and Gentile, who possess(ed) the faith of Abraham, as Paul explained in Romans 9-11.

These people, the true Israelites, are the disabled and downtrodden servants about whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 32:36, 43. The people of Israel includes faithful Christians.

To what people was GOD’s peace pronounced?

The peace extended in Luke 2:14 was not to all humans on the planet for all time, but specifically to those who are GOD’s servants—the predestined as mentioned in Ephesians 1:5. (Any person who hears the good news and obeys is one of the predestined.)

I’m particularly fond of the NIV translation of Luke 2:14 because I think it best captures this distinction:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

(Luke 2:13-14 NIV)

Putting it All Together: What Luke 2:14 is Saying

I conclude that the angels’ message in Luke 2:14 was communicating to those shepherds that the time had come for GOD to fulfill the prophecies written about the Messiah and that GOD’s servants should rejoice because their deliverance from sin and from death was at hand. As long last, Israel’s “seventy weeks … to set an end to sin .. to bring in everlasting righteousness” (see Daniel 9:24) was nearly complete.

Now, close your eyes and picture the scene.

It’s night. You’re in the field with your fellow shepherds. It’s a quiet, common night, when all of a sudden, BOOM!!!

Imagine you were a servant of GOD at the time. Imagine you were in such despair about the state of your country. You knew the prophecies and were anticipating their fulfillment. And yet, they seemed so impossible at this point. After all, it had been centuries of disappointment, suffering, and wickedness dominating everywhere. Pure darkness.

Then suddenly, these angels—too many to count—appeared up above and they start telling you that it is time!

This doesn’t happen every day!

Not only is this astounding, terrifying, and shocking, but it’s also the best news ever!!

The time had come.

GOD’s peace was coming to cleanse the land. The vindication of the servants of GOD was finally here.

The Prince of Peace had arrived!

Can you feel it?

Let’s let the prophet Joel close it out for us. (Focus intently—meditate upon—how these statements link to the previous passages we’ve reviewed):

3:5 And it shall be that whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord Himself said, and there shall be proclamation of the good news to those whom the Lord Himself called.

4:1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2 I shall also gather all the nations together and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and there I will enter into judgment against them on account of My people and My inheritance Israel, who were dispersed among the nations—against those who divided My land, 3 and who cast lots over My people, and traded boys for prostitutes, and sold girls for the wine they drank. … 6 and because you sold the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the sons of the Greeks in order to exile them far from their borders. 7 Behold, I shall raise them up from the place where you sold them, and I shall return your retribution upon your own head. 8 I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hands of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them into captivity to a far distant nation, for the Lord has spoken.”

13“Bring out the sickles, for the harvest is ripe. Come in and tread the grapes, for the winepress is full, the wine vats overflow; for their wickedness is multiplied. 14 The news resounded in the valley of judgment, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of judgment. 15 The sun and moon shall become dark, and the stars shall withdraw their light. 16 And the Lord shall cry out from Zion, and He shall utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and earth will quake, but the Lord shall keep His people safe and shall strengthen the sons of Israel. 17 So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, the one dwelling in Zion on My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be a holy city, and no more will strangers pass through her.

18“And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip sweetness, and milk shall flow from the hills, and all the brooks of Judah shall flow with water. And a fountain shall flow out from the house of the Lord, and it will supply water to the Valley of Acacias. 19 Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a wilderness because of the wrongdoings against the people of Judah, because of the innocent blood shed in their land. 20 But Judah shall be inhabited forever and Jerusalem unto generations of generations. 21 And I shall avenge their blood and shall not let it go unpunished. The Lord shall dwell in Zion.”
(Joel 3:5-4:21 [2:32-3:21] OSB)

Peace in the land, indeed. Amen.





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