Often when people talk about “peace” they think in terms of not having war. That might be a form of national peace, but that is only a portion of what peace is in the Bible. In the New Testament times “peace” was used as a term to mean what some politicians describe today—peace through warfare, through conquest and defeating enemies. This stands in stark opposition to the peace of Jesus.
In the Bible, there are two main words used for “peace”. One is “shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament scriptures. In the New Testament, the Greek word “erine” was used as a replacement for “shalom” but they really meant the same thing. In both testaments it was commonly used as a greeting. We might think that the greeting was simply a general way of saying, “Hey, I won’t kill you,” like shaking hands used to mean that no one was holding weapons. But “shalom” meant more than that.
1. Peace is personal and national
Just like today, the term “peace” in the Bible is used as a personal, individual characteristic, as well as a community or national one. It is used as a characteristic for a church as well as being content with one’s lot. It also is used to express a lack of conflict between two people.
2. Peace means “complete well-being”
“Shalom” certainly stood for having a lack of conflict. But it also meant having one’s needs met, and not having anxiety. It meant being of good health and having good relationships.
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:10-11
3. Peace means both security and contentment
To have “shalom” was to be safe from harm. But it also meant that one’s mind was at rest from oppressions, whether real or exaggerated. To be at peace is to be free from both spiritual and inner demons.
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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
4. Peace is reconciliation
Paul the apostle especially uses the term “peace” to speak of the reconciliation of all peoples under God. It is the reconciliation of people with God and people with each other. This is the ending of false separations between races, sexes and religions, all unified under God through Jesus.
5. Peace is unity
Christian peace is seen as unity between all followers of Jesus, forgiveness and holding others as more important than oneself. Peace is love in community.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Colossians 3:12-15
6. Peace is often seen as an agreement or covenant
Peace is sometimes established by a covenant, like a peace treaty. Covenants, or permanent agreements between people, are tools for peace. So when Jesus established his “new covenant” is was a peace treaty.
They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'" Genesis 26:28-29
7. Peace comes from God
To truly be at peace is to receive peace from God. The Bible doesn’t deny that there are other places to obtain peace, but that such peace is temporary and sometimes false. God is the only source of peace that is complete and permanent.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. John 14:27
What is peacemaking?
Thus, when Jesus speaks of his people being “peace-makers”, he is saying not so much that they stop wars, but that they bring peace to all relationships, to communities at large. That they mend relationships, and create unity in Jesus. They meet human needs and so create whole communities.
Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14