A Farewell To Mars

2014-05-30 13.22.04

A Farewell To Mars releases June 1. Here is a taste from chapter eight.

A Farewell To Mars
Brian Zahnd

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. 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. The cynic will laugh (for lack of imagination), but this is Isaiah’s vision. 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. (see Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:1-7)

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. We claim it every Christmas. 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; in our day, it’s war, war, war! They abuse Jesus’s 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 Jerusalem rushed headlong into the war that ended with its 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, hyperviolent, 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.

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 (Acts 2:14ff). The writer of Hebrews said that in Christ we have come to Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22ff). 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 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, Christ 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.

War is a thing of the past. War is anachronistic. War is regression. War is a pledge of fealty to a bloody past. War is a sacrament offered to Mars. War is a repudiation of the Lordship of Christ. The followers of Christ must lead the way in imagining something better than war.

War as a legitimate means of shaping the world died with Christ on Good Friday. Jesus refuted the war option when he told Peter to put up his sword. Killing in order to liberate Jesus and his followers from the violent injustice of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate would have been a just war — but Jesus refused to engage in a just war. He chose instead to bear witness to the truth, forgive, and die. Jesus took the death of a world framed by war into his body and he and it both died together. Jesus was buried and with him was buried the old world devoted to sin and death. On the third day Jesus was raised and a new world was born.

Does everyone accept this? Of course not. That’s why the anachronism of war is still with us. But those who confess Christ has been raised are to embody the reign of Christ here and now. No more eschatological shenanigans where we keep pushing the reign of Christ off until we’ve waged a few more wars. No! The lion of Judah has overcome the beasts of empire, and he’s done so as a slaughtered lamb. Now we are called to follow the Lamb and give incarnation to his ways of peace. We who believe that Christ has risen have heard our Lord say, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). What Jesus did to embody the will of the Father on the cross was not just done on our behalf; it was also done as the way we are to follow. Jesus did not renounce the way of violence for the way of peace so that we could renounce the way of peace for the way of violence. The long dark night of mankind’s addiction to violence has come to an end. The new day of Messiah’s peace has dawned, and we are called to be children of the day. Do we dare?