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Swords into Plowshares

World peace is something we all desire. But is it attainable? Isaiah the prophet wrote of a time in which "nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore." In this lesson, we discuss the meaning of this prophecy for the original audience, implications for the world today, and the unique role that Jesus and His teachings play in ushering in world peace.



Outside the United Nations in New York City stands an interesting work of art crafted by a Soviet sculptor named, Engeniy Vuchetich. The statue was gifted by the Soviet Union to the United Nations in 1959, and it depicts a man beating his sword into a plowshare. A plowshare is a tool used by farmers to prepare their soil for planting. The United Nations website says that this statue “symbolizes man’s desire to put an end to war and transform tools of destruction into tools to benefit mankind.” The sculptor took his inspiration from a verse in the Bible written by the prophet Isaiah.

 

It says in Isaiah chapter 2, “The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (4, NLT).

 

No more war? That’s a lovely thought. But what does it mean? Because in all my years and in all my reading of world history, I’ve never observed a time in which there has not been war or conflict in some part of the world. In fact, as I’m recording this, there are currently conflicts being fought in Ukraine, and even in Israel, the very nation Isaiah was addressing. So, is this really attainable? Should we interpret the Bible to mean that there is actually a time being prophesied in which there won’t be any more war?

 

Peace is something we all long for. If you’re looking to Jesus, the commander of heaven’s armies, then your hope isn’t empty. You can look forward to a world in which peace prevails. But the meaning and implications of this prophecy is a little more complicated than that. Hang in there with me as we discuss the meaning of this prophecy of no more war on three different levels. First, we’ll see what it meant to the original audience. Then, we’ll discover the implications for Christians today. And finally, we’ll discuss whether we can really look forward to a time when there’ll be no more war.

 

Podcast Intro

Hello everybody. This is the Relentlessly Knocking podcast. I’m Scott Ihle, and I’m the Executive Director of Logos Answers, and the missionary in residence at Woodstock church of Christ in Atlanta, GA. Jesus told His disciples that if they knock, the door would be opened for them. And on this podcast, we are knocking relentlessly and unapologetically as we try to discover the truth about God the Creator, the Anointed Son of God, Jesus, and their Spirit-inspired Word as found in the Bible.

 

The people of Judah and Jerusalem were overwhelmed by the prospect of war and destruction

In Isaiah’s time, the nation of Israel faced adversaries on every side. Israel, once a unified and thriving kingdom, was increasingly losing their land to the nations around them. At the same time, they were facing the looming threat of an invasion by the dreaded and violent Assyrian Empire. But their biggest problem wasn’t their enemies — it was their abandonment of God. They gave up doing good, seeking justice, helping the oppressed, defending the cause of orphans, and fighting for the rights of widows (1:17). Instead, they became like all the godless, idol worshipping nations around them, filled with prostitution, murders, thievery, bribery, and injustice. Consequently, they were faced with the judgment of Yahweh for forgetting about His righteous ways. This meant that war would be inevitable, and their destruction was at hand.

 

Yet, whenever God prophesied judgment in the Bible, there was always a bright side—if the people changed their ways. Even if they didn’t, there was hope for the faithful few who remained. This cycle of judgement, purification, salvation, and renewal is repeated frequently throughout the prophets using many different metaphors that would have been understandable to the people at the time. The image of a sword being turned into a plowshare, is one of those symbols used in Isaiah to represent the hope of a brighter future in Israel. The full passage in Isaiah chapter 2 says this,

 

“This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. People from many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of Jacob’s God. There He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For the Lord’s teaching will go out from Zion; His word will go out from Jerusalem. The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (1–4).

 

The image of a sword being turned into a plowshare symbolized a time of peace. In those days, iron wasn’t readily available for everyone, so the same material used for weapons of war could be reheated and reshaped into a tool for peaceful farming. This imagery indicated hope for a farmer. They could be confident in their prospects to settle down and live in peace. And this was the hope that Yahweh was providing for His people. Sometime after judgment, in the later times, there would be a time of peace and prosperity. There would no longer be conflict with the nations around them. In fact, the nations around them would also worship Yahweh! And all the nations would be unified by His wholesome and righteous teachings.

 

The nation of Israel continues their struggle with other nations until God sends them their Savior, Jesus Christ

The fact that this imagery is highly symbolic should make us pause before interpreting it too literally. The prophet refers to “the last days,” a common way to describe a future time of hope after judgment. Historically, Israel was conquered by the Assyrians, and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Yet, even after returning to their land 70 years later, the hope for peace remained elusive. The covenant people of God continued to fall short and faced oppression from the nations around them. Perhaps they misunderstood the prophecies.

 

What many had always assumed is that God’s restoration of Jerusalem’s power and influence would immediately follow their present crisis. So, future peace was typically from the perspective of worldly kingdoms, political boundaries, and human saviors. By this standard, peace would always be elusive.

 

Still, Yahweh always wanted peace for His people, wanting them to depend on Him and represent Him on earth. Yet, His covenant people continued to trust in chariots, armies, and kings. That’s why God had to personally bring His salvation and peace to this earth, in the form of the humble servant, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our peace.

 

Nearly 600 years after the prophet Isaiah, after many wars and multiple desolations of Jerusalem, Yahweh’s peace finally came to earth as Jesus. In Luke 2, we read about shepherds who were pasturing in the fields outside Bethlehem when suddenly an angel appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shined all around them. The passage says,

 

“They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!... Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased’” (9–14, NLT).

 

Jesus came to teach people about peace and unity by reminding them not to trust in chariots and kings and to put away their weapons of war. God’s people would win victory through righteousness. He told them, “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back… Love your enemies! Do good to them” (Luke 6:26–35).

 

Jesus taught them about peace and unity by reminding them that race and national boundaries didn’t matter in God’s kingdom. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed that even a Samaritan, one of greatest adversaries of the Jews, could be a true neighbor. Jesus Himself spent time in Samaria, teaching and being cared for by the people there. This was a typical representation of Isaiah’s prophecy that “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.”

 

When it was time for Jesus to be killed, the religious leaders sent an armed mob in the middle of the night to arrest Jesus. Luke chapter 22 says,

 

“When the other disciples saw what was about to happen, they exclaimed, ‘Lord, should we fight? We brought the swords!’ And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this.’ And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him, ‘Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” He asked, ‘that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns’” (49–53).

 

Even after his death and overcoming the power of darkness by His resurrection, some of His disciples were still confused by the nature of their future peace. They expected Jesus to win a military conquest on behalf of the nation of Israel.  Jesus reminded them that peace would proceed from Jerusalem into the whole world. The Bible says in Luke chapter 24,

 

“Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And He said, ‘Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.” You are witnesses of all these things. And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven’” (45–49, NLT).

 

One of the Scriptures Jesus was referring to is Isaiah chapter 2. So, Isaiah the prophet was looking forward to a time when world peace would proceed forth from Jerusalem and go into the entire world, led by the Messiah Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. This wouldn’t be a military conquest of the world. Instead, it would be a spreading of peace into the whole world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our saving sacrifice on the cross leading to our forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ is the one who overcame death and promises us the hope of a resurrection. Jesus Christ overcame sin and promises us an eternal life free from the shackles of sin. He offers us a peace that is incomparable and unparalleled. And He did all of this without using swords or horses. He accomplished this world conquest through the Holy Spirit empowering His disciples to spread the gospel, the preaching about this good news of peace.

 

Today, Christians get to experience a preview God’s idea of world peace

The future Isaiah is ultimately seeing when he writes, “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes,” is a future in which people are brought together by the unifying power of the gospel of Christ. Since the writing was highly symbolic anyway, we shouldn’t take it so literally to mean that Christianity would usher in a golden age of material peace and prosperity. Those would be the ideals of a worldly kingdom. On the contrary, the earliest disciples of Jesus learned well that great tribulation and painful deaths awaited them as they stood up for the gospel of peace. They would even be disowned and humiliated by their own loved ones. They would be tortured for confessing their belief and not denying Jesus. This is even true up until today in many parts of the world.

 

But that should cause us to wonder. Why would someone be willing to suffer and die for their belief in the peace that Jesus offers? The reason is because a Christian believes in a peace and unity that transcends the politics of the world. The kingdom of Christ knows no race, no social status, no political ideals, no international boundaries. While it’s true that sects and divisions remain among those who identify as Christians, that isn’t God’s design, and He knows the difference between His true people and everyone else. His people are sealed by the Holy Spirit and distinguished, in large part, by their choice to remain pure and useful to their Master (2 Timothy 2:19–21).

 

Within this framework, we can more confidently say that Christians, throughout the world, are unified and at peace within themselves and with one another. The Christian who has been taken out of the unholy and unhealthy environment of the world, by their choice of lifestyle, can truly be at peace within themselves. They don’t have the same burdens they had before they were Christians, tied up in selfish desires. In Christ, they can experience a sense of freedom and wholeness that the world can’t offer. Likewise, Christians share a pure and noble ambition with other believers throughout the world. So, when Isaiah writes, “Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore,” the idea is that Christianity is an international peacekeeping force. Jesus Himself said, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” That means that each individual Christian does their best to reflect Jesus in their lives. In doing so, they share the peace of Christ with their neighbors and also strengthen other fellow believers. When the church gathers together as a community, they magnify the peace of Christ through their praise and through their service, spreading the love of Christ throughout their communities. And all of this is happening at a global scale, across borders and continents. Isaiah’s prophecy finds at least its initial fulfillment in the establishment and growth of the church of Christ.

 

As a Christian, we have a hope of ultimate world peace in God’s newly created world

Today, the Christian only sees this peaceful world in part, by faith. Christians know that their struggle is not with flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness. The Christian also knows that their treasures are stored up in heaven, along with all the abundantly rich promises of God through Christ Jesus. What that means is that while the promise made to the prophet Isaiah began to be fulfilled and revealed at the coming of Jesus and establishment of His church, there is a sense in which it still yet remains open to completion. Today’s life among Christians won’t be without its struggles. However, as Christians, we know that we’re looking forward to the unveiling of a future world, in which there will be truly perfect peace and harmony under the kingship of God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son in heaven for all eternity. The apostle John writes of his vision of this place in Revelation 21 saying,

 

“I saw no temple in the [new, holy Jerusalem], for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (22–27).

 

In the ancient world, gates were for protection. “Its gates will never be closed at the end of the day” is symbolic of the peace in that heavenly city, similar to the image of swords to plowshares from Isaiah. In other words, in the new heavens and earth, there will truly be no more war and no more conflict.

 

Summary and Conclusion

World peace is something we all desire. Many people, especially those in war-torn regions, long for nothing more than peace and security. While it may be elusive in terms of the nations of this world, the real hope for peace is found in the kingdom of God. Even if national security and material prosperity doesn’t come in this lifetime, there is hope in the eternal life offered by Jesus Christ. Through His forgiveness, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, Christians can live lives of hope and peace beyond comprehension.

 

Even those in peaceful parts of the world face daily struggles with temptation, division, and persecution. Yahweh’s promises of peace through Isaiah and Jesus offer comfort to all of us. Giving up our dependence on weapons of war, and trusting in the implements of peace found in righteousness, we can find unity and prosperity in this life and for eternity.

 

I hope this lesson has been helpful for you. What do you think? Do you struggle to find the peace of Christ in your life? Let us know how we can help. Do you have questions about this lesson or any passage in the Bible? Reach out to us, and we’ll do our best to address them. Until next time, I hope you find the peace of God in your life and in your interactions with other people.


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