A number of years ago, our church 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 do not desire world peace. Rather, we sensed 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.