In Scripture, the word translated “heaven” has three meanings: the atmosphere/sky, the universe, and the dwelling place of God and the angels. The meaning is determined from the context in which the Hebrew or Greek word is used. In this article we are looking at the heaven where God is.
Revelation 21:1 – 22:5 is the main Biblical passage about the eternal state, which we call heaven. This passage describes the change from time to eternity.
Everything is new
Chapter 21 begins: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (21:1NIV). Here we see that God will create a new heaven and a new earth. The creation of the first heaven and earth is described as the beginning of the Bible (Gen. 1:1-2:4). The change described in Genesis was from eternity to time, while that in Revelation is from our temporal world where there is past, present and future to eternity where time is meaningless. Of course, the heaven that will be renewed is not the place where God lives, but the universe that has been affected by the sin of mankind.
When we become a Christian, our soul is redeemed. It’s like a new life has begun – it has been called being born again (2 Cor. 5:17). It’s a new spiritual creation that is not completed until our bodies are also redeemed at the rapture. In fact all of God’s creation is looking forward to when Christ returns to the Earth when it will be changed and redeemed. In this part of Revelation we read about the final change into the eternal state. The old universe is transformed and replaced with the new. It will be free from death and decay, which are the results of sin (Rom. 8:20-21). It will be paradise, like in the Garden of Eden before sin entered. Also, believers will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
God says I am making everything new! (21:5). Then He says It is done. When He has created the new universe, redemption is complete. God has finished His great plan of salvation. So, what is heaven like? It’s different to anything that we have experienced. One of the reasons it’s so hard to describe is that it is not just another place but another dimension, another creation.
No more …
The Bible says that in heaven, He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (21:4) and No longer will there be any curse (22:3)
In heaven there will be no more: pain, crying, sorrow or death (21:4). No more sin or its consequences – the curse of God (22:3). Everything that caused pain and sadness on earth will not be present in heaven. The old sinful world has passed away, and Satan, his demons and those who chose to follow him will have been cast away from God’s presence (Rev. 20:10-15).
Besides no more crying, sighing, or dying; there will be: No hospitals or graves! No aging or wrinkles. Nothing will ruin, rot, or rust. There will be no thirsting, or hungering. No itching, no blindness, no deafness, no diabetes, no cancer, or heart attacks, or scars, no witchcraft, no drugs, no alcohol, or tobacco! No divorce, child abductions, accidents…and no more bills! What a place to look forward to!
So pain is replaced by peace and joy. Heaven is a place of relief. There will be no need to worry. As we found out earlier, it’s different to anything that we have experienced.
John wrote The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city (22:3) This is the city in heaven, which we will look at shortly.
“The throne” is mentioned four times in this passage and 39 times in Revelation. When John was taken to heaven, the first thing he saw was the awesome throne of God the Father (Rev. 4). The throne is central in heaven and in the book of Revelation. From it God reigns over the whole universe; both physical and spiritual. He is the Lord God Almighty (21:22).
“The Lamb” is mentioned four times in this passage and 26 times in Revelation. In heaven John “saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre before the throne” (Rev. 5:6). It symbolises that the Lord Jesus Christ was a sacrifice for our sin. He receives honor and praise because he died so that many people can be in heaven. He paid the price for their entry.
So heaven is God’s home.
The home of the redeemed
An angel told John, Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9)
“The bride” is mentioned twice in this passage and 4 times in this context in Revelation. It refers to “God’s people” or those whose names are written in the “book of life” (Rev. 19:7; 22:17). This metaphor illustrates the close intimacy we will have with the Lord in heaven, who is the bridegroom. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads (22:4) – just as a bride bears her husband’s name and sees his face, the redeemed have a close relationship with the Lord.
This intimacy is also shown by Him calling us His children (21:7). God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (21:3). Like in the Garden of Eden, they will be able to walk with God in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). It will be Immanuel, “God with us” and us with God; forever.
Paul wrote about the rapture: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:17). Heaven is being with the Lord forever.
So heaven is also the home of the redeemed, our common home with the Lord.
The new Jerusalem – city of light
Jesus told the disciples “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2). This place is described in our passage as a spectacular city. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband (21:2) and One of the … angels … came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (21:9-10).
As the city comes down towards the earth from heaven where God lives, we see that in the eternal state the distinction between heaven and earth loses its significance. God now lives with the redeemed and the redeemed live with Him.
It (the city) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal (21:11). Is this literal or symbolic? I think it is both at the same time. God loves to use literal things as symbols. For example, the prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament opens with a vivid description of a plague of locusts that ate up every green thing. Joel describes them in dramatic and accurate terms but his description soon becomes a description of the invasion of a great army from Babylon that would come into the land. So the plague was also symbolic of the invasion.
God also pictures something invisible by means of a literal event. For instance, the sun is literal, but it can be a symbol of light, knowledge and truth. Likewise, fire is literal, but it can be symbolic of torment, torture and judgment.
Revelation is an unusual blending of the literal and the symbolic– many events and things in it are both literal and symbolic. Fortunately, most all of these symbols are given to us elsewhere in the Bible.
The New Jerusalem seems to be a great visible magnificent city which will also illustrate activities and relationships of the redeemed (21:12 – 22:3). What can it symbolise?
|City||A community; filled with people who interact with each other|
|High wall||Protection; separation from others; intimacy|
|Brilliant appearance (eternal light, no darkness)||God is light|
|12 Gates (entry and egress; always open)||None of God’s people will ever be shut out from His presence; Widespread service|
|Names of tribes of Israel on the gates||A reminder that salvation came from the Jews (Jn. 4:22)|
|12 layers of foundations||Stability; permanence|
|Names of the apostles on the foundations||Taught the gospel; enabled it to spread across the world.|
|Number 12||The number of government (12 tribes; 12 apostles)|
|Shape (maybe a pyramid; symmetry)||Perfect proportions; harmony|
|Building materials (precious gemstones)||Valuable|
|Pearl gates (beauty out of pain)||Christ sacrificed His life for the redeemed (a pearl of great value; Mt. 13:45)|
|River||Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:38-39)|
|Tree of life||Jesus; spiritual nourishment|
What a wonderful place! A place of great beauty.
What will we be doing?
You may wonder if we don’t have to work to pay the bills, what will we do in heaven? Here are three things that are mentioned in Revelation.
First, offering thanks and praise. Worship and praise to God characterise all the descriptions of heaven in Revelation (Chs: 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, 19). For example, after God has dealt with sin and the fall, He will be honored universally (Phil. 2:10-11; Rev 5:13). Second, serving the Lord (22:3). The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him (22:3). We will be active. Third, reigning with the Lord (22:5). As God reigns over the whole universe, I’m sure there is a lot to look after.
So in heaven we will be worshipping, serving and reigning.
Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in his millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur. Later in Revelation 22, Jesus says three times “I am coming soon”.
But you may think, John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet. Remember, we have just looked at our destiny and the transition from time into eternity. For us, this transition happens the minute we die, which could be very soon. Although there may be some time before the events described in Revelation occur, it will not be long before each of us leaves time and enters eternity. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.
Lessons for us
John has given us a glimpse into what Heaven is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?
Firstly, will you be there? The Bible clearly states that heaven is only for God’s people; those who have trusted in Christ’s sacrifice for their sin. The rest are said to be outside suffering in the lake of fire. They are unbelievers and their names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 20:12; 21:27). If this is your case, please consider God’s gift of salvation and eternal life in heaven. The Bible says that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16).
Christians have a wonderful destination. Knowing our destination is important because it provides direction for the journey of life, makes it meaningful, and fortifies us when the journey is difficult. It doesn’t matter what we face, if we have the hope of heaven, we don’t have to give in to fear.
All the above is a promised inheritance for the redeemed; it’s also called “the heavenly prize” (21:7; Phil. 3:14). Peter calls it a living hope for an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Pt.1:4).
Heaven means being forever with the Lord; Paul says it’s being “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6). Peter wrote: “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). Are we all looking forward to heaven?
Written, May 2010
See the other article in this series:
- What is hell like?
Peace in a world of trouble
In the beginning of time, the Garden of Eden was a paradise and there was peace on earth. People had peace with God and peace with one another. But soon after this Adam and Eve disobeyed God and there was a radical change in the world. They attempted to hide from God; there was fear instead of peace. People had enemies; there were conflicts, disagreements and war rather than peace. They were banished from the garden and God’s presence; there were physical and spiritual barriers between them and God (Gen. 3:8-24).
We can identify with this because problems, conflict and differences of opinion are facts of life. There are two obvious reasons for this situation. Firstly, we are not clones, but are all different, having individual personalities and opinions. This is God’s design and it is good (Gen. 1:31). Secondly, we are all sinners who are selfish, and many disagreements are the direct result of sinful motives and behavior.
Jesus Christ told his followers, “In Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NIV). So, peace is possible; trouble is inevitable.
There is trouble and conflict across the world, between nations and within nations. Religious and ethnic tensions abound. Disagreements form barriers to peace in our families, our businesses and our churches. Fortunately God has provided a solution to our troubles in the peace process. It is possible to have peace with God and with others, and peace within ourselves, by following our Maker’s instructions in the Bible.
Peace is harmony and unity, understanding and goodwill. It is not just the absence of difficulties or conflict. For instance, Paul had peace in prison: he sang praises to God, while his feet were locked in stocks!
God is deeply interested in peace. He is often described as “the God of peace” (Rom. 15:33). Christ was the “Prince of peace” and “He Himself is our peace” (Isa. 9:6; Eph. 2:14). The word “peace” occurs in all the books of the New Testament except 1 John.
Jesus said: “Blessed (or happy) are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Peacemakers reconcile or restore relationships. Reconciliation is the means of restoring and maintaining peace and unity. The Greek word for reconciliation means to “change” or “exchange,” especially money. When applied to people it means to change a relationship from hostility to friendship.
The attempt to build the Tower of Babel was a vivid illustration of the power of unity (Gen. 11:1-9). The people desired to build a tall tower as a monument to their greatness. They were unanimous in their opposition to God’s will. God stopped them by giving them different languages, so they couldn’t understand each other. Once they were unable to communicate, they were unable to build. The barriers between them were their different languages. Likewise, if we cannot communicate we cannot build anything together. We cannot build a marriage, a family, a business, a community, or a church if we cannot communicate.
To ensure harmony we must keep the doors of communication open. Each of us must make it a priority to stay in harmony with God and with each other. But, how can we maintain these relationships?
The Bible teaches that there is a process for dealing with the barriers that hinder our peace. This requires effort, and there is a cost involved; but we are encouraged to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). The process involves recognizing barriers to peace, destroying them and being reconciled via confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Confession is acknowledging our role in allowing the barrier to develop and being genuinely sorry for this. It reveals a change of heart and a willingness to destroy the barrier. Repentance is changed behavior; living as though the barrier has been destroyed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier down. Although barriers may be caused by either or both of the parties involved, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. As it takes two to form a relationship, two are required to heal and restore a broken one.
We all want an inner peace. The Bible teaches that this is not possible until we have peace with God and with others.
Peace With God
One reason why there is so much difficulty in achieving peace on earth is that we are not at peace with our Maker. Our sinful thoughts and behavior have separated us from God. Sin is the barrier that keeps us from having any lasting peace. We cannot have peace until we are right with God.
God says, “There is no peace … for the wicked,” and by His standards we are all wicked (Isa. 57:21). When Christ was born the angels said “peace on earth,” so God has provided a way to peace (Lk. 2:14). Jesus Christ destroyed the barrier by suffering the punishment for our sin. So, we can have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” because Christ made peace through His sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:19-22). This is possible by confession, admitting our sins to Him, and believing that He will forgive us and give us peace through His Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). Our change of heart is evident by repentance – a change in our attitude and behavior (Acts 2:36-38).
For example, after his conversion, the Philippian jailer washed his prisoners’ wounds and invited them into his house for a meal (Acts 16:33-34). In this case the barrier was caused by humans, who were God’s enemies due to their evil behavior (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21). Only one party, God, was able to destroy the barrier and offer reconciliation to humanity (2 Cor. 5:18-19). As it takes the agreement of both parties to have peace, reconciliation only occurs when people recognize the barrier and accept God’s generous offer (2 Cor. 5:20).
“Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God. The barrier has been destroyed!
He wants to make peace with us. He wants us to be reconciled to Him. Jesus sacrificed His life and paid the full penalty for our sins, so we could experience peace both now and forever. God is the greatest peacemaker of all, as He plans to make peace with everything in the visible and the invisible world (Col. 1:20). The price was the horrible execution of His Son in the greatest injustice ever committed.
Peace With Others
Peace with other people is often referred to as “unity” – and it is wonderful and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). We are commanded to live at peace and in harmony with each other (Mk. 9:50; Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 7:15).
We are to try to live at peace with everyone: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14). There are no qualifications to this statement, which is consistent with the great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39).
The illustration of the barrier to peace comes from Paul’s description of the “dividing wall of hostility” that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph. 2:14). They were enemies who lived in separate worlds, just as Adam and Eve were separated from the presence of God. We still see this today, as national and cultural animosity occurs across the world.
Paul claimed that Christ destroyed the barrier and enabled unity between the Jews and the Gentiles. As believers they could be “fellow citizens” and “members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:14-19). This demonstrates how peace with God should lead to peace with each other.
So, the Jewish and Gentile believers were reconciled completely, with all hostility removed and no impediment to unity and peace. Likewise, Paul urged the Corinthians to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). He states clearly that there should be unity, not divisions, in the Church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-23).
It is particularly important to make every effort to maintain peace and unity among Christians (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 4:3). After all, He died to bring together all of God’s scattered people and make them one (Jn. 11:51-52). Unity among believers was so important to Jesus that it was the subject of His prayer for them during the final hours of His life on earth: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (Jn. 17:20-23).
The Greek word for “one” appears four times in these verses, the last occasion being translated as “complete unity.” Here “one” is a metaphor for union, concord, and unity and the example to follow is the unity that exists between God the Father and God the Son. The same word was used when Christ said “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30).
The reason for this unity is repeated in the above verses: so the people of this world will know that Christ was sent by God. Another reason is so they may know something of God’s great love for humanity. This means that Christ tied His reputation and the credibility of His message to how well His followers display unity and oneness.
Peace and unity among believers are so important that Jesus commands us to seek reconciliation with a believer even ahead of worship: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). This means that the peace process – of destroying barriers and seeking reconciliation through confession, repentance and forgiveness – should be applied regularly to maintain our relationships with others.
Peace With Self
Internal peace is a sense of wholeness, contentment, order, rest and security. Although nearly everyone longs for this kind of peace, it eludes many. If you want to experience internal peace, you must seek harmonious relationships with God and with those around you.
Christians can experience peace within: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
Although sin hinders our peace, God has provided a way to destroy this barrier: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). After confession and repentance we experience God’s forgiveness that removes guilt and restores peace. In this way, we should regularly apply the peace process to ourselves in order to ensure peace and communication with God on a daily basis.
Inner peace and security is a gift of God to those who believe in His Son and obey His commands, including loving one another (1 Jn. 3:21-24). It is a result of right living: “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Rom. 8:6).
Those who have not come to trust in Christ do not know what true peace is (Rom. 3:17). They oppose Christianity; there is division instead of unity, war instead of peace, and hate instead of love (Mt. 10:34-36; Lk. 12:51-53; 1 Jn. 3:12-13). In this sense the gospel divides people according to whether they accept it or not (Acts 14:4). God wants peace, reconciliation and unity in our world; not conflict, separation and division. Peace is the result of reconciliation and unity. Do you have peace with those around you? Do you have peace with God?
Published, November 1999
Also see: Dealing with disagreements
Preparing for the holiday
Christmas is coming! It’s a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It’s when Christians remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Everyone is friendly at this time of year.
The Christmas story is in the context of a bigger story. We learn about it from the Bible, which is God’s historical message to humanity. Some would ask, “Why bring God into Christmas?” Because He was behind the special Babe born in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago.
But hasn’t science explained everything without the need to bring God into it? No! It can’t explain the complexity of life. We live in a world of many living things, so complex that science is unable to create it from non-living matter. Scientists can’t even manufacture a single living cell, like an amoeba. Furthermore, living organisms have the unique ability to continually repair and maintain and reproduce themselves – an ability that cannot be replicated by science and technology. Also, the origin of the “software” of the DNA molecule can’t be explained by science. The origin of life is beyond the realm of science, as is the origin of matter, energy and time. Why is there anything at all? These “why” and “origin” questions are beyond the realm of science.
The Big Picture
In the beginning of time God created life on earth. The first people, Adam and Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. It was utopia, but it didn’t last long. God tested their obedience by telling them not to eat from one of the trees in the garden. But they were tempted to eat from this tree and when they did, they disobeyed God. This brought evil and rebellion into the world, and we have all inherited this sinful nature. The world changed completely when God cursed it; He introduced death and put a barrier between people and God. That’s why we live in a tough, disappointing and decaying world – a world of disease, suffering and injustice. That’s why life is a struggle and our relationships are fractured – with each other, with the physical environment and with God. No one can have utopia today. If that was the end of the story, then there would be nothing lasting to live for and we would be disillusioned, depressed and pessimistic.
Fortunately that’s not the end of the story. God had a rescue plan for mankind; it’s recorded in the Bible by eyewitnesses. Here’s a summary of that plan. God would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to fix the relationship between us and God. He entered our world in a personal way. He’s on our side and did everything possible to rescue us. Jesus lived like a human being, except without being sinful since He was the divine Son of God. He lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to God; something that Adam and Eve didn’t do. Then He was killed to rescue us – to take the punishment for sin that we deserve. Only a perfect person could do that. This plan took about 33 years – from Jesus’ birth until His death. We remember His birth at Christmas and His death at Easter.
These occasions remind us that Jesus had a unique birth and a unique death. To show that He was not an ordinary person, after He was buried He came back to life and then went back to be with God. Only the God who created life has such power. People are given the opportunity to accept or reject God’s rescue plan. This has been happening for almost 2,000 years. Finally, God will return to judge the world and restore it to be like paradise. All who accept the rescue plan will enjoy God’s new creation. When God personally steps into His creation, big things happen. He has done this once and will do it again. The rescue plan gives us Someone and something to live for with purpose, confidence and optimism.
The big picture is visualized in the diagram. God created a perfect world. This world was changed and spoiled when humanity sinned. God sent His Son to take the punishment by dying for us so that those who accept the rescue plan can enter into God’s new creation. That’s the background to the Christmas story.
The First Christmas
All these things are real historical events; we acknowledge Christ’s existence whenever we write the date. The current year is 2008 AD, which means 2008 years since His birth. The word “Jesus” is not just a swear word, but the name given to this baby before He was born. “Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua” which means “God saves” – because “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). God sent Him to be the Savior of the world (1 Jn. 4:14). Like a lifesaver rescues those who are drowning, Jesus can rescue us from God’s eternal judgment. His name reflects the fact that He is the most important part of God’s rescue plan.
After His birth, an angel told the shepherds, “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody. The Savior, who is Messiah and Master has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David” (Lk. 2:10-11 MSG). Christ’s birth was announced as good news of great joy for everyone because this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah. He was God in human form – “God with us” – the Messiah that the Jews were looking for (Mt. 1:23). That’s why His birth, life and death were unique. He’s also called Master and King because He is the leader of God’s new creation.
Angels sang the first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They praised God for this Baby who would enable people to have peace with God and be rescued from the coming judgment (Jn. 3:17; Eph. 2:14-17). The most important thing we can do is make peace with God by admitting that we’re less than perfect, deciding to turn away from our sins, asking God to forgive our sins and control our life. When we accept His gift of pardon, forgiveness and reconciliation with God, we gain inner peace and can look forward to the paradise of God’s new creation (Rom. 5:1). It’s like being reborn into a new life. Then we have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming to the world.
God doesn’t force any of this on us. It’s like a gift that can be accepted or rejected – Jesus is God’s gift to us (Jn. 4:10-14). We have a choice. God lets us manage our own lives, but we receive the consequences of our choices. We will all face God one day. Will you face a lifesaver, or a judge?
Published, November 2008
Since the conflict in Iraq began, we hear about war and peace every day. Of course, conflict has existed on earth since the days of Cain and Abel; Lamech was known for his violence and in the times before the Flood people were “full of violence” (Gen. 4:1-8; 23-24; 6:11,13 niv). In fact, the history of our world is marked by wars. Likewise, today there are many barriers to peace with God, peace with each other, and peace with self.
How can we have peace in a world of strife? The Bible says that strife is due to envy and selfish ambition – seeking pleasures, possessions and prestige (Jas. 3:16; 4:1-3). But it also says that Christians have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This is consistent with the promised Messiah being called the “Prince of Peace” and the angels proclaiming “peace on earth” at Christ’s birth (Isa. 9:6; Lk. 2:14).
Peace Is Possible
Did you know that Christians can have peace in a war zone! Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The disciples were about to face persecution and suffering (Jn. 16:2, 32). The purpose of their conversation with Jesus was to help them experience peace with God internally while they faced “trouble” externally. The source of the peace was “in Me” – that is, Jesus.
Similarly, we live in a world where trouble is inevitable, but peace is possible in Jesus. The purpose of God’s message to us in the Bible is to explain how we can have this peace. Through Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace, we can have victory over the problems we face in the sinful world (1 Jn. 5:4-5). It’s like having peace in a war zone. This peace is only possible through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross (Eph. 2:16).
A Lasting Peace
After telling His disciples that He would be betrayed, and that Peter would deny knowing Him, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). They knew the religious leaders planned to kill Jesus, and they feared the future as they had left their jobs to follow Him. How could they face life without Christ to lead them?
How did Jesus reassure them? He promised peace and security through a place and a person. First, He promised them a future place with Him in heaven (Jn. 14:1-4). Second, He promised that they would not be alone, but the Holy Spirit would always be with them (Jn. 14:15-18). Both are consequences of Jesus’ destroying the barriers to peace. So rather than despairing of the uncertainty of facing a future that was not according to their expectations, they had peace of mind. This was not a temporary peace based on circumstances, but a lasting peace based on their relationship with Christ. They knew God was with them and they had hope for the future. This is the only real peace that is possible in a war zone.
There can be no lasting peace without the Prince of Peace. God made peace with enemies through Christ’s death on the cross (Col. 1:20-23). As rebels and sinners, we are all separated from God. Peace with God is only possible through Jesus; He has removed the barrier between us and God. We can be forgiven and reconciled to God through confession and repentance. Confession reveals a changed heart, being genuinely sorry for letting the barrier of sin develop between us and God. Repentance is changed behavior; living a life in which the barrier has been destroyed.
Destroying The Barriers
What about the barriers between us and others? Peace can only be restored if these barriers to peace are destroyed. For example, West Berlin was isolated from East Germany, from 1961 to 1989, by a concrete wall, 13 feet high and 103 miles long. There was jubilation when the Berlin Wall was demolished and the people of Germany were reunited.
There was also a “dividing wall of hostility” and animosity between the Jews and Greeks in New Testament times (Eph. 2:14). They despised each other. This barrier was caused by the Old Testament Law that made promises to the Jews based on their nationality (Eph. 2:11-13). The Gentiles were excluded from these promises.
Paul taught that Jesus abolished the Law, and now both Jews and Gentiles could be reconciled to God; there was no barrier between them (Eph. 2:14-19). Jesus had “destroyed the barrier” to peace. These great enemies could be reconciled with each other because they both had equal access to God, and were “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” They were now to express the unity of the body of Christ. The old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was now obsolete and they could both be members of the Church (1 Cor. 10:32).
So Christians are all one family. When Christ removed the barrier between us and Him, He also tore down the barriers that we build between ourselves and others! The Church is to be a place where all people can come and share together (Gal. 3:28-29). It is a place of reconciliation, where barriers are destroyed and real relationships are formed.
Believers are encouraged to “live in harmony with one another” and “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:8,11). This requires recognizing barriers to peace, removing them and being reconciled through confession, repentance and forgiveness. Confession reveals a willingness to remove the barrier. Repentance is living as though the barrier has been removed. Forgiveness keeps the barrier removed. Although barriers may be caused by either party, both must be involved in the process of reconciliation. It takes two to form a relationship, and two to restore one.
The Message Of Peace
While conflict is inevitable in our sinful world, peace is possible through Jesus. Christians should be ready to spread the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). “Peace” summarizes the gospel message: “You know the message God sent … telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). The good news is that you can have peace with God, because the barrier to lasting peace has been removed! And you can be a peacemaker for Christ in a world at war.
Published, May 2005
The message of the first Christmas carol
Christmas is a great time of festivity, celebration, exchanging gifts and expressing love and goodwill toward one another. It is one day of the year when conflicts and wars are often suspended and there is a semblance of “peace on earth.” The spirit of Christmas is expressed in the words joy and peace. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come” and “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
The Need For Carols
But life is not always joyful and peaceful. We have uprisings in African nations, strife in the Middle East, guerrilla warfare in South America. These bring fear rather than peace. Even in democracies, governments can act like dictators. And so can people.
My wife and I usually go to a restaurant to celebrate Christmas with our friends. On one occasion after most of us had eaten, we were rudely asked to leave to make room for more customers. The manager acted like a dictator; there was no joy, peace or goodwill in his attitude.
Of course we all face troubles and barriers to peace from time to time – at work, among friends, within marriages and families. How do we react? Do we ignore them and battle on, like an ostrich putting its head in the sand? Do we attack like a dictator, always wanting our own way? Or do we try to resolve the matter by removing the barrier and restoring peace? This is the approach we should use, as we are reminded at Christmas of how God reacted to our troubles.
There is a great need for peace in our world. The main purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. They have peace-keeping missions in many places around the world including the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, East Timor in Asia, Haiti in the Greater Antilles, Kosovo in Eastern Europe and Iraq in the Middle East. Like the peace at Christmas, these places show us that peace in our world is often very temporary.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa deals with racism, discrimination and the human rights violations that had occurred under the policy of apartheid (strict separation of races). Its aim is threefold: to uncover the truth of what happened in the past, to enable national reconciliation, and to prevent more racial and ethnic strife. They had the right idea – find the truth and seek reconciliation. But they found that reconciliation is difficult: when the guilty refuse to apologize because they say they have done nothing wrong; when there are others who wish they could forgive, but feel too deeply hurt; and when there is little conviction of wrongs and the need for forgiveness when God is left out.
We all need to face the truth and seek reconciliation if there is to be any lasting peace in our lives. At Christmas we remember the coming of the Savior who brought truth and reconciliation to our world (Jn. 14:6; Rom. 5:11; Col. 1:20).
Carols Are Songs Of Peace And Joy
There is much truth in Christmas carols; they are not all about snow, sleigh bells and reindeer. The word “carol” means “a song of joy and peace.” And so we sing, “Come sing a song of joy, for peace shall come my brother” and “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
But singing about peace will not bring peace. One Christmas carol is titled “The Tradition of Christmas.” Traditions do not bring lasting peace either. We can’t have peace without involving the Peacemaker. Jesus Christ is known as the Prince of Peace and we sing “Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.” He came to make peace (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 16:33; Eph. 2:14-17). True and lasting peace only comes when the Prince of Peace is allowed to control our lives.
Christ’s birth was announced as “good news of great joy … for all people” (Lk. 2:10). That’s unusual. How could so many benefit from the birth of a baby? The answer is given in the very next verse of Luke 2 which tells us that this baby was the Savior and the promised Messiah.
Another response expressed in Luke 2:14 was, “Glory to God … and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” Peace and goodwill are part of the “good news.” In a sense Jesus was “Peace on earth,” as He is the Peace-maker; He came to earth to destroy the sin barrier so we may have peace.
Later, Jesus promised His followers the gift of peace, and Christians are said to have “peace with God” (Jn. 14:27; Rom. 5:1 niv). Do you have this peace? Do you know “the way of peace” (Rom. 3:17)? Are you willing to seek this peace? It takes two parties to make peace. God has done His part. What about you?
Many of the Christmas carols contain the secret to true joy, peace and goodwill. They concern historical events that occurred about 2,000 years ago, that are recorded in the Bible as the life of Jesus Christ, whose birth divided all history into B.C. and A.D. These carols speak the truth about our need to be reconciled to God and to one another.
The First Carol
The words of the angels after Christ’s birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk. 2:14), can be viewed as the very first Christmas carol. The angels told of Christ and the salvation He came to bring to earth. This is a salvation that brings glory to God and peace to mankind. It is the theme of later carols such as “The First Noel,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” and “Angels From The Realms Of Glory.”
The angels announced “peace on earth” – a place where there had been no peace since Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Real peace can only be found in the message of Jesus. It transcends all understanding and will guard our hearts and minds as we live in relationship with Him (Phil. 4:7).
And they announced that peace to “those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They are those who respond to the Good News by repenting of their sins and receiving Christ as Lord and Savior. They have accepted God’s generous gift of salvation.
The angels announced Christ’s birth with gladness and rejoicing, and the shepherds responded by glorifying and praising God. Likewise, Christians should be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation that was achieved through Jesus. Christians should be full of joy and rejoicing at Christmas time and all during the year (Phil. 4:4). Similarly, they should communicate the good news with a joyful confidence.
This first carol of the angels also has a future aspect. Today, very few people praise and honor God, and trouble seems more prevalent than peace. But there is a time coming when God’s kingdom will come and His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and there will be peace on earth (Mt. 6:10). Also, in the future everyone will offer praise, honor and glory to God (Rev. 5:13). Why not praise Him now and be one of His agents for peace and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21)?
Your Own Carol
How can you put Christ in your Christmas, making it one of true peace and joy? The first and most important thing you can do is make peace with God. Admit that you’re less than perfect and decide to turn away from your sin. Ask Christ to forgive your sin and control your life. After doing this, make peace in your family and peace with others (Rom. 12:18). Then remember that regular prayer, confession and repentance are needed to maintain inner peace (Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 1:9). By doing this, you will come to share the joy, peace and goodwill of the Christmas carols, and have a real reason to celebrate Christ’s coming.