Ask any beauty contestant, politician, or idealistic philosopher and they’ll tell you that ‘world peace’ is the perfect answer to every imaginable problem. Think about it. All conflict—globally, nationally, within communities, between races, amongst families—gone. The old order of things would pass away, walls of division would be shattered, and the chains of oppression would be no more, if only there were peace on earth.
2000 years ago, Peace did arrive on this planet called Earth. His name is Jesus. By all earthly standards, He came into the world humbly and without notice. But the heavens were a different story. A towering angel accompanied by hordes of heavenly hosts lit up the sky with praise to introduce our savior—the Prince of Peace.
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14 NIV).
Wait. Does something seem a little off with the version of Luke 2:14 quoted above? The words aren’t the traditional ones most of us memorized when we were kids. Linus didn’t cling to his blanket and recite those words in the old Peanuts Christmas special. Can you imagine that sentiment gold foil stamped onto a glittery Christmas card—or going viral in a Yuletide social media post? Probably not.
It may surprise you to know that every reliable translation of the Bible, except one, translates Luke 2:14 in a similar manner as quoted above. Why is this important? To understand the kind of peace the angel declared, we must first accurately understand why Jesus came.
What Does Peace on Earth Mean?
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t arrive one silent, holy night with a stockpile of God’s peace to scatter across the earth as a gesture of goodwill toward all mankind. Instead, Jesus came to BE our peace on earth (Ephesians 2:14, Isaiah 9:6).
Out of love, God sent His only Son as a gift to the whole world to bridge the gap that our sin had left between us and our creator. But the world at large rejected Him (John 1:10-11, Isaiah 53:3, John 3:19). Does God punish those who reject His Son? No, those who don’t believe simply remain in their prior state of condemnation. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son” (John 3:17-18).
In that condemned state, the world has no way of ever experiencing the kind of ‘peace on earth’ described by the angel at Jesus’s birth. To reject Christ is to reject God’s peace (1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12, 1 Corinthians 8:6).
But the good news is … “to those who believed in his [Jesus] name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). When we accept Christ as our Savior, we become recipients of God’s divine favor. Peace comes to live inside each person who receives Him (2 Corinthians 13:5, Romans 8:10). This is the miraculous blessing proclaimed by the angels in Luke 2:14; Peace has come to earth in the form of a baby—our Savior—He is our “peace on earth.”
How Can We Experience Peace on Earth?
If Jesus is our Peace, why don’t all believers enjoy a life free of conflict? This question gets to the heart of an issue that Jesus’s own disciples grappled with before His death and resurrection. The disciples had grown up believing that when the Messiah came, He would conquer their enemies, subdue all other nations, and set up a kingdom that would make everything right in the world.
But the disciples’ expectations were limited to an earthly understanding of what God’s kingdom really is. Before His death, Jesus explained to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36).
The other-worldly kingdom Jesus brought to the earth is a supernatural kingdom that does not receive its marching orders from any worldly source (Luke 17:21). It’s powerfully at work in the world, through the lives, and in the hearts of all believers. The Prince of Peace rules and reigns in His kingdom and our peace on earth can be experienced to the depths of our souls—as we abide with Him there.
This supernatural peace is not a worldly brand of peace that ebbs and flows with circumstance. It’s a perfect peace powerful enough to “serve as the very GUARD against the agents and circumstances of unrest,” says Shawn McEvoy in Peace on Earth? As the horrors of the physical world increase, we can have the assurance that the peace He provides will never fail.
Why Did the Angels Proclaim This Phrase?
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).
The angels made this proclamation as part of King Jesus’s birth announcement. They were bursting at the seams with joy and exaltation because they knew they were witnessing God’s plan of redemption through His Son.
The announcement was part of an invitation to ‘come and see’ God’s lamb, who had arrived to take away the sins of the world and bring peace to all—who believe in Him.
If that proclamation was written in the sky for all to see, it might seem exclusive, bigoted, or intolerant, especially when viewed out of context through the lens of our modern culture. Maybe that’s why so many, including myself, have clung to the less offensive version of the traditional verse for so long.
But the truth is the priceless invitation to become one of “those on whom God’s favor rest” is extended to all people, in all nations, of every culture, and every persuasion—through belief in Jesus Christ. God does not play favorites. It’s His desire that all should come to His son and receive salvation (1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Peter 3:9).
The angels didn’t make their proclamation to a group of wealthy, religious, or influential people. In What Do We Know about the Shepherds at Jesus’ Birth? Danielle Bernock explains that God gave a group of lowly shepherds the distinguished honor of witnessing the heavenly birth announcement first. “Many nativity scenes include the wise men alongside the shepherds, but their timing is different from one another. The shepherds were the first to be notified of Jesus’ birth and are an important part of the nativity story.”
The angel’s proclamation was an important part of God’s plan to introduce His Son to the world and show that His invitation to receive salvation extends to the humblest shepherd, the most esteemed leader, and everyone in between.
What Does the Bible Say about God’s Peace?
The Bible has a lot to say about God’s peace and how to obtain it. One of the reasons it’s important to avoid painting the angel’s proclamation of peace in generic terms like, “peace on earth to all men” is this phrase creates a blanket statement that misdirects the lost world from the true source of God’s peace—faith in His Son.
“Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” (Romans 5:1 KJV).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, KJV).
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Ephesians 2:13, 14 KJV).
Scripture also describes the true condition of Earth’s inhabitants, minus the covering of Jesus’s blood. The picture is far from peaceful.
“There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 10:3-18 KJV, emphasis mine).
“But whoever denies Me [Jesus] before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:33-34, KJV)
These scriptures would make a lousy Christmas greeting. But the hope that Christmas brings can’t be fully realized or enjoyed until we come to terms with our utter need for a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. That blessed hope provides peace on earth like nothing else ever could. It also gives every sinner the opportunity, through Jesus’s blood, to become a child of God, “on whom His favor rests.”
In What is the Peace of God? How to Have Supernatural Peace, Jennifer Waddle sums up beautifully the secret to true peace on earth. “There will be hard times; times when peace feels far away. But even in the darkest valley, we can know without a doubt that God’s peace is within reach. Each day, we can ask the Lord of peace to give us His peace at all times and in every way. We can remain in the fold of His presence by His Spirit who lives in us. And, we can embrace the certainty God offers through salvation in His Son.”
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Eva-Foreman
Annette Marie Griffin is an award-winning author and speaker who has managed and directed children’s and youth programs for more than 20 years. Her debut children’s book, What Is A Family? released through Familius Publishing in 2020. Annette has also written curriculum for character growth and development of elementary-age children and has developed parent training seminars to benefit the community. Her passion is to help wanderers find home. She and her husband have five children—three who have already flown the coop and two adopted teens still roosting at home—plus two adorable grands who add immeasurable joy and laughter to the whole flock.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.