“Prince of Peace,” A Perplexing Title For Jesus

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called…Prince of Peace(Isaiah 9:6)

“Prince of Peace” is a beloved title for Jesus’s identity, foretold by Isaiah. In fact, it is the climactic title of the list! But the original Hebrew construction Sar Shalom is far more perplexing! Our English translations don’t quite capture the irony of such a title. The Hebrew says that the child will be the “sar shalom,” which is where we get the title, “prince of peace.” But a ‘sar’ is not a friendly title in the OT. ‘Sar’ has militaristic overtones, which denote a tyrant or war-lord.

Jesus is the “war-lord” of peace.

It sounds strange! “Prince of Peace” sounds a lot simpler. But we have to embrace the irony.  Because this tells us something incredible about the character of God. Between the writings of Isaiah and then the Gospel of Luke there was a transfer of power. At the time of the first Christmas, the Roman empire was in its heyday. How did it become so? Through brute force, military might, and political oppression upon anyone who would challenge them. 

Rome claimed it established Pax Romana (“peace of Rome”) but had it? Was everyone truly experiencing the tranquility they said to have brought? Not a chance. The famous philosopher Epictetus—a contemporary of Luke—observed:

“While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even for outward peace.”

Pax Romana was a political slogan, not a concrete reality. Part of the reason they had not succeeded at bringing peace is that their methods of achieving and maintaining “peace” were cruel and tyrannical. So, the world wearily waited for true peace to come.

The world needed a Savior, the One who would truly bring peace.

Enter the angels announcing to the shepherds the birth of Jesus. But notice how Luke tells this part of the narrative.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 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 2:8-14, NIV)

Quite a few details are relevant here, among those would be the arrival of the “heavenly host.” This was a technical military term. It was a euphemism for “army.” Heaven’s army was deployed to announce the birth of the king! The Sar Shalom had been born.

Here is where this gets especially odd. How will this war-lord establish peace? Will He do it just like how every world leader had in the past? Remember, mankind declared war against God (so to speak) when Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s authority in the garden. Since then, people have continued to reject God’s way of building a better world and have chosen to do egregious things instead. Humanity made their move. Now, the world awaited the coming of God.

Instead of coming as a blood-thirsty tyrant, Jesus was born with the very purpose to give His own blood to establish peace; something unprecedented from any ruler.

And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:20)

So, Luke tells of an army of heavenly angels announcing the birth of Jesus and singing a song about a peace offering from God. The paradox lies in the fact that the host of heaven, the heavenly army was deployed for peace rather than war. Imagine a nation’s military sending out their most highly trained men and women from all branches to go invade a foreign land, but instead of bearing arms, they bear white flags symbolizing the invasion of peace into that land. It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? In the ancient world especially, no army had ever been deployed to bring peace, except this army. They came to proclaim that the holy, almighty God has brought down the white flag from heaven in the face of Jesus Christ.

Instead of coming with the armies of heaven to wage war against people, Jesus came with the purpose to wage war against sin.

Christ did not wield a sword; He bore a cross.

He did not shed the blood of others to establish peace; He shed His own blood. This is good news!

For us, being part of the Lord’s army means that we are called to be agents of peace, not of war. That is how we follow in the footsteps of our king.

Jesus said this when He challenged His disciples to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). We receive the message of the gospel and then join the angels in announcing “peace on earth!” True peace, unlike the Roman peace through military might, our Prince of Peace (our Sar Shalom) secures the peace that our souls long for. 

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