Merry Christmas! War is Abolished!


Merry Christmas! War is Abolished!
by Brian Zahnd

Isaiah had a dream, a God-inspired dream.
Isaiah was a poet, a God-intoxicated poet.
He had a Messianic dream that he turned into a prophetic poem.
It goes like this—

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

-Isaiah 2:2–4

Swords turned into plowshares.
Spears into pruning hooks.
Tanks turned into tractors.
Missile silos into grain silos.
The study of war abandoned for learning the ways of the Lord.
Instead of academies where we learn to make war,
there will be universities where we learn to wage peace.
The cynic will laugh (for lack of imagination), but this is Isaiah’s vision.

And every Christmas we borrow another of Isaiah’s poems to celebrate the birth of the child who makes these dreams come true—

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who live in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined…
For all the boots of the tramping solidiers
and all the uniforms stained in blood
shall be burned as fuel for fire.
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son given;
the government shall be upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.

-Isaiah 9:2, 5–7

Isaiah in his prophetic poems frames the Messianic hope like this:

A Prince of Peace will establish a new kind of government, a government characterized by ever-increasing peace. Weapons of war will be transformed into instruments of agriculture. At last the nations will find their way out of the darkness of endless war into the light of God’s enduring peace.

This is Isaiah’s hope. Christians take Isaiah’s hope and make a daring claim: Jesus is that Prince of Peace! Jesus is the one who makes Isaiah’s dreams come true. From the day of Pentecost to the present this is what Christians have claimed.

But then a doom-obsessed dispensationalist performs an eschatological sleight of hand and takes the hope away from us. On one hand they admit that Jesus is the Prince of Peace who has come, but on the other hand they say his peace is not for now…it’s only for when Jesus comes back again. Bait and switch. Yes, swords are to become plowshares…but not today. For now plowshares become swords; but in our day, it’s war, war, war! They abuse Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century by always applying it to the latest contemporary geopolitical events. They replace the hope of peace with an anticipation of war! They find a way to make war a hopeful sign.

Think about that for a moment! And here is the worst irony: It was precisely because Jerusalem failed to recognize Jesus as Isaiah’s Prince of Peace right there and then, that they rushed headlong into a war that ended with their own destruction!

End-time prophecy “experts” keep trying to force the same mistake on us in our day. We should refuse. I am a conscientious objector to the doom-obsessed, hyper-violent, war-must-come, pillage-the-Bible-for-the-worst-we-can-find eschatology of Hal Lindsey and his tribe. We must reject that kind of warmongering misinterpretation of Scripture. Jesus doesn’t call us to give a “prophetic interpretation” to the latest war and rumor of war. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and lead the way out of the darkness of retributive violence into the light of Christian reconciliation. But we haven’t done a very good job of it. So it’s time we started believing what we say every Christmas: The Prince of Peace has come!

Isaiah says that in the last days the nations will come to Mount Zion and learn the peaceful ways of the Lord. That’s when weapons of war will become implements of agriculture. Well, let’s believe it! The Apostle Peter said on the day of Pentecost that the last days have arrived. (see Acts 2:14f) The writer of Hebrews said that in Christ we have come to Mount Zion. (see Hebrews 12:22f) Obviously, with the passing of two thousand years it should be clear that Peter didn’t mean the end of time was imminent, rather he meant exactly what Jesus himself had been saying — that the waiting was over, the time was fulfilled, and all that the prophets had foretold was coming to pass in the present. The writer of Hebrews means that what Isaiah and the other Hebrew prophets had described as the nations flowing to Mount Zion to learn the way of peace has been inaugurated with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Let me say it clearly: If you are waiting for something to happen before you beat your sword into a plowshare and your spear into a pruning hook, you can stop waiting! If you confess that Jesus is the Prince of Peace foretold by the prophets, you can start being a peacemaker…today! You don’t need to wait for anything else. You shouldn’t wait for anything else!

As followers of the Prince of Peace are we ready to bid farewell to Mars? We must be. The god of war has had his day. His day ended on the first Easter. In his death and resurrection, Christ has abolished war. Christ made it clear on the cross that war will no longer be the way the world is transformed. The cross exposes the use of violent force as a shameful practice to be renounced. Yes, Jesus has abolished war. The King of Kings won his kingdom without war. Jesus proved there is another way.

Jesus is the other way. The question, “what are you willing to die for?” is not the same question as “what are you willing to kill for?” Jesus was willing to die for that which he was unwilling to kill for. Jesus won his kingdom by dying, not killing. Ruling the world by killing was buried with Christ. When Christ was raised on the third day he did not resurrect war. With his resurrection the world is given a new trajectory, an eschatology toward peace.

Merry Christmas!
War is over!


(The artwork is my photo of Leo Tanguma’s The Children of the World Dream of Peace displayed in the Denver International Airport.)

So this is Christmas
War is over
If you want it
War is over

-John Lennon