The Peace of the Cross
A number of years ago, the church I planted decided to include a section for “prayer requests” on a visitor card that we handed to first-time visitors. Needless to say, after numerous visitors took a cue from the world of celebrity award shows and wrote “pray for world peace,” we decided to discontinue that section of the card. It was obviously not because we did not desire world peace. Rather, we recognized that out of a sense of obligation, people were simply grasping for what they believed to be the greatest of needs. After all, it’s hard to top “world peace” as the greatest need for which one could intercede on behalf of humanity.
Quite significantly, the Scriptures have much to say about world peace. World peace belongs squarely within the realm of the horizontal dimension of the cross. One of the great implications of the substitutionary, atoning, propitiatory, Satan-conquering, fallen world-overcoming, new creation-securing work of Christ crucified is that of the reconciliation of a people out of every tongue, tribe, and nation. The cross brings about peace between differing people groups who once lived in hostility toward one another.
When Jesus reconciles His people to God through His death on the cross, He reconciles His people to one another. Jesus came into the world to redeem a people for Himself out of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. In Ephesians 2:14–16, the Apostle gave us what is perhaps the clearest statement about the horizontal dimension of the reconciliatory work of Christ crucified when he wrote:
"He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility."
The “both” and “the two” to which Paul refers in this passage are the Jews and the gentiles. No greater division existed in all of human history than that which stood between these two people groups. It was a division established by God Himself when He called and separated the theocratic old covenant church to Himself. God gave Israel a litany of laws that functioned as something of a wall of division to keep the idolatrous influences of the gentiles far away from His people. For instance, the dietary laws of the Old Testament served to represent these two groups. Israel was represented by the foods that God deemed “clean” and the gentiles were represented by the foods that God deemed “unclean.” One of the purposes of this division in redemptive history was to keep God’s people from having meals with the people of idolatrous nations. It would be very hard for you to engage in idolatrous practices if you couldn’t even have a meal with those who worshiped other gods. When Jesus came, He fulfilled all of the ceremonial laws that God had given to Israel in the old covenant so that there was no more need for them in the form in which they had been given (Mark 7:15; Acts 10:9–16; 11:4–17). Jesus came to fulfill the ceremonial laws that separated Israel from the nations. They were the shadows; He is the substance. This showed that he had come to break down the middle wall of separation between Jews and gentiles.
Simon Peter, of all the Apostles, should have understood the truth of the reconciliation of Jews and gentiles in Christ because he was the one to whom God had given the vision of the sheet with the clean and unclean animals (Acts 10:9–16; 11:4–17). However, when Peter purposefully separated himself and refused to eat with the gentile believers in Galatia, he was rebuilding the wall of division that was broken down by the death of Jesus on the cross. In this sense, he was denying the truth of the gospel by rejecting the implications of the gospel.There is nothing that cannot be remedied by the work of Jesus on the cross at Calvary.SHARE
In Christ, God “create[s] in himself one new man in place of the two.” Paul puts this new spiritual reality and new spiritual identity in the strongest of terms when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This does not mean that there are no more cultural distinctions or practices that distinguish members of different ethnic groups. What it does mean is that our union with Christ produces a union with one another that transcends any of our other associations in this fallen world. As blood is thicker than water in our natural relations, so the Spirit is stronger than both in our union with Christ.
We would sell ourselves short if—in our consideration of the vertical dimensions of the cross—we focused only on the way in which God reconciles different people together in Christ. The Apostle Paul takes the vertical dimension of the reconciliation accomplished at the cross to the cosmic and consummative realm when he intimates that Jesus died to reconcile “all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10). While the Scripture rejects any idea of universalism (clearly teaching eternal damnation of fallen angels and unregenerate men and women), it gives us the picture of the cosmic reconciliation of unfallen angels and redeemed mankind. The Scottish theologian John Eadie captured the essence of this aspect of the cross when he wrote:
"The one Reconciler is the head of these vast dominions, and in Him meet and merge the discordant elements which sin had introduced. The breach is healed. Gabriel embraces Adam, and both enjoy a vicinity to God, which but for the reconciliation of the cross would never have been vouchsafed to either. . . .Thus all things in heaven and earth feel the effect of man's renovation."
While Jesus did not die to redeem unfallen angels (Heb. 2:16), His death has implications even for their being secured in holiness and reconciled to the redeemed humanity for whom they served as ministering spirits. James Henley Thornwell explained this idea when he wrote:
"In his public character as the representative of men and unfallen angels [Christ’s] mission upon earth was to redeem the seed of Abraham and confirm the angels that kept their first estate. His work was much more extensive than that of Adam. The benefits of Adam’s obedience we have no reason to believe would have transcended his own race; those of Christ’s were to extend to principalities and powers, to angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim."
Cosmic, consummative worldwide peace is entirely dependent on Jesus’ death on the cross. The effects of creaturely reconciliation are felt for all of eternity on account of His saving works. The vertical reconciliation of fallen men to God is foundational to the horizontal reconciliation of man to man. The former necessarily accomplishes and secures the latter. Our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection reconciles us to God. And, since we are redeemed by the same Christ, united to the same Christ, and made the beneficiaries of the same benefits of union with the same Christ, we are thereby united to one another in the same body.
We must be exceedingly careful not to reverse the order or else we will inevitably fall into the snare of a humanitarian gospel—which is no gospel at all. All forms of the social gospel that pervaded the mainline churches in America throughout the twentieth century were built on the idea that Jesus’ death was primarily concerned with world peace and the reconciliation of men to men through the example of Christ. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not teach the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of men. Rather, Scripture holds out to us a far more glorious picture of reconciliation through the atoning work of Christ.
The cross of Christ provides everything that we need as individuals before God as well as everything we need as creatures living in relationship with other created beings. The cross is God’s great solution to all of the problems of this fallen world—whether it be our sin, the power of the evil one, the opposition of the world, the unrighteousness of the world, or the hostility of men toward one another. There is nothing that cannot be remedied by the work of Jesus on the cross at Calvary. May God give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand that we may turn to Him and be forgiven, healed, delivered, preserved, and made the beneficiaries of all the blessings that Jesus purchased for us on that cross.
*This post was originally published at Tabletalk Magazine Online in October 2018.