The Names of God: Sar Shalom

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I doubt that many people would evaluate the age in which we live as one characterised by peace. Consider ongoing terrorist and military conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Yemen, among others. The three deadliest wars of the twentieth century—World War II, World War I, and the Russian Civil War—were together responsible for between 85.5M and 111.5M deaths. At least 28 additional distinct military conflicts could be mentioned in that century alone.

American President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation in January 1961, spoke of the “military industrial complex.” He argued that war has become an industry in which weapons manufacturers and world governments collude to create military conflicts as a means of power and financial gain. Governments gain power by obtaining military weaponry and defence contractors profit financially from selling this weaponry. The only way for both to gain is to constantly create military conflict.

But shift your mind for a moment from military conflict. Consider the seemingly increasing conflict that exists in countries across the world over disparate political identities. Consider the conflict that arises over debates to government regulations under pandemic restrictions, or even the varying, sharp opinions that exist over opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Consider strong conflict in churches over doctrinal and ecclesiological understandings. The word “heresy” is thrown around carelessly and we are far too quick to cancel people who don’t align with our precise theology, even if there is nothing unorthodox about theirs. In every arena, people seem more divided than ever over their strongly held opinions.

In the midst of this, we remember the Messianic promise that Jesus would come as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). This title, which translates the Hebrew term Sar Shalom, seems strange in our day given the distinct lack of peace and harmony around the world. How could Jesus be the Messiah in the face of such conflict when Isaiah specifically prophesied that Messiah would come as Sar Shalom?

As we consider what Isaiah meant when he prophesied of Christ as Sar Shalom, it might be helpful to first think about three important implications of this title.

First, if Jesus is Sar Shalom, it means that God is, essentially, a God of peace, not chaos. We frequently hear accusations that the God of the Bible is petty and vindictive—a God of chaos and not order—but nothing can be further from the truth. Without ignoring the reality that there are some accounts and commands in the Bible that are difficult to understand and explain, the clear teaching of Scripture is that God is a God of peace and order. “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Second, since he is Sar Shalom, Christ’s mission was to bring peace to the world. “He himself is our peace,” wrote Paul (Ephesians 2:14). Romans 5:1 is explicit: “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ’s mission in the gospel was to establish peace.

Third, since he is Sar Shalom, true peace is possible only in and through him. The world offers a superficial sort of peace, but Jesus said, “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). Christ left his followers with peace, albeit a peace that is altogether different from (and superior to) the peace that the world offers.

All of this raises some intriguing questions. If he is Sar Shalom, why did Jesus say that he had not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34)? If he is Sar Shalom, why do so many of his faithful followers face conflict after conflict? Why do churches seemingly war against each other? Why is peaceful harmony so often a vain pursuit?

This tension can be resolved only as we realise that the peace he spoke of was different to the peace the unbelieving world thinks of. To fully grasp what it means that Christ is Sar Shalom, we must consider his, and the Bible’s, definition of peace. Ephesians 2:13–18 offers some guidance.

First, we see in these verses the origin and definition of peace. Paul writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one” (v. 14). Jesus is the only true source of peace and his peace makes us “one.” His is a peace that radically transforms and unites us.

Christ’s peace does not merely cause amicable disagreement; it makes one. Opposing armies choosing to lay down weapons because a financial compromise has been reached is not peace. A married couple choosing to stay together only for the sake of the children is not peace. Sisters who have not spoken to each other for years finally agreeing to disagree and to start talking, but not actively seek one another’s company, is not peace. At least not as the Bible defines it.

Peace, biblically speaking, is more than the mere cessation of hostility. True peace takes opposing sides and makes them one. That kind of peace can come only through the gospel. Gospel peace makes us one with God and, therefore, one with those who are the people of God. This kind of peace is impossible apart from the cross. It is why Jesus is the Prince of Peace—Sar Shalom.

Second, Paul explains the threefold work that Christ accomplished to make peace.

To make peace, Christ removed animosity. He “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” (vv. 14–15). In the Jewish temple, there was a prominent wall that separated Jews from Gentiles, which prevented Gentiles from entering the Jewish section of worship. Christ removed this wall of animosity. He has removed every wall of animosity that exists between believers. Those who have been made one in Christ have no just cause for animosity.

To make peace, Christ made a new humanity. He removed the wall of animosity “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (v. 15). The ethnic discrimination that existed between Jew and Gentile was removed in Christ when he made a new humanity. Those in Christ are a new humanity—a new race of people—with no cause for animosity or discrimination.

To make peace, Christ reconciled the ultimate hostility. He worked to “reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (v. 16). Fundamentally, he worked to destroy animosity between humanity and God, making resolution of every other enmity possible.

What must we do to realise the peace provided by Sar Shalom? Essentially, we must preach and practise the gospel. “He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (vv. 17–18). As he preached his message of reconciliation, so he calls us to now be his emissaries of peace. And when we preach his message of peace, and people submit to that message, we “both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” That is, those who were formerly at enmity with one another are now brought together in Christ-bought unity. They practise the unity that Christ purchased for them. They find him, truly, to be Sar Shalom—the Prince of Peace.