There's a concept among many which states that real "peace on earth" is only something to dream about. It's like "perfection"; something noble to contemplate, but not realistically attainable in this life. The reason many believe there can never be real peace on earth is because of man's failure to follow God's ways.
It's explained this way: When Adam ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden he was demonstrating that he could better decide what to do for himself than God could, and from that time forward, man has set his will against that of his Creator and has followed his own inclinations rather than follow the words of his God. The result of this rebellious attitude has been centuries of war, bloodshed and human suffering. And, without question, there are countless examples which can easily be cited to show how these atrocities have plagued the world from the beginning of time. In fact, the first murder was committed by Adam's second son. It has been said that God had designed a world that was to be full of peace and happiness, but instead, man, in his arrogance and rebelliousness, has turned it into a place fit for Satan and his followers.
Isaiah explained the reason for all this misery when he said, "There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked." (Isaiah 48:22) Since many believe that mankind is wicked, it follows from this scripture that no matter what we do, we, the wicked, cannot hope to find peace. It has often been pointed out that, although man has been trying for six thousand years to bring about peace, he has failed miserably. So, despite all of man's talk about peace, there are more wars being fought today than at any other time in the history of the world.
Yet the Bible foretells of a time when there will be peace on the earth. Isaiah prophesied that the day will come when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4) "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust shall be the serpent's meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the lord." (Isaiah 65:25)
Will this great event come about because man will finally have learned how to achieve peace? Not according to the scriptures. In the Book of Revelation, chapter 20, we read of a time when Jesus Christ will reign on the earth for a thousand years along with those who have been faithful to him. It is during this time when peace will finally come to the earth. However, it will not come as a result of anything man has done, but rather because of what God will do for man. According to the Book of Revelation, the Lord will destroy all the wicked at His second coming and the righteous, who are left, will then obediently submit themselves to the decrees of their God. Therefore, many believe that it is God who will show man how to finally attain peace, and for this reason Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace.
This concept seems to be scripturally based, while also sounding very plausible. Additionally, there are certainly many examples that seem to support such an idea. However, there is another way to look at this picture.
It's true there have been wars for centuries, but there have also been many periods of peace. Just as we can go through the Old Testament scriptures to produce evidence of angry, bloody confrontations between people and nations, we can also find just as many examples where people have lived together in harmony. The same can be said for our present day. For example, although Germany and Japan plunged the entire world into war in the late 1930s and early 1940s, today, more than fifty years later, there has been continual peace between the world and these two former enemies of mankind. On a smaller scale, there are people everyday who make peace with their neighbor, their employer, their spouse or their children, proving that man does have the ability to make and maintain peace through his own efforts.
There are those who have rightly pointed out that the results of these efforts are not permanent, but limited in their duration. While that is certainly true, the same could be said for war. Nations contend with other nations for a period of time and then, in one way or another, the hostilities come to an end. Therefore, if both war and peace are fleeting and temporary conditions, can we not say then that if limited war "proves" that wicked man is not capable of finding lasting peace, then limited peace must likewise "prove" that man is righteous enough to be incapable of lasting wickedness.
But this picture about the wickedness of man omits one very serious element - the devil. Yes, there is war and bloodshed and suffering caused by the wickedness of men, but not all men perform these acts of horror. Despite the atrocities of evil that have been committed, they have been carried out by a relatively small number of men. Satan goes about deliberately seeking to entice and lead people astray and there can be no doubt that he has been successful in his efforts. However, out of the four billion people who presently inhabit the earth, Satan needs to influence only a small minority of them in order to create a large amount of suffering.
Yet, rather than using this example to show the illogical claim that mankind as a whole is wicked and therefore incapable of a peaceful existence, let's ask ourselves what kind of a world would we live in if Satan wasn't around to incite us to violence? Would we still have the wars and hostilities we have today, or would we all live much more peacefully with each other? I think the answer is obvious. The real reason why there is no lasting peace on the earth is not because mankind refuses to follow God's ways, but because Satan is doing everything in his power to make sure that such a condition never occurs.
And consider how peace will someday be established on the earth as foretold in the Bible. As we saw in the Book of Revelation, Jesus will reign on the earth for a thousand peaceful years. However, before that event can happen, the apostle John told us, "I saw an angel come down from heaven...and he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled." (Revelation 20:1-3) Notice that when the Prince of Peace comes to rule the earth, Satan will not be allowed to deceive people. Without the influence of this master of terror, is it any wonder there will finally be peace on the earth?
Unfortunately, Satan is still very active in the affairs of this earth, therefore, since this is the condition we now find ourselves living in, how can we achieve peace until Christ's angels come to prevent the devil from continuing his destructive work? Let's look at the scriptures to see how God instructed ancient man to combat the damaging influence of the adversary.
In the days of Noah, God killed all the inhabitants of the earth with a flood because "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5) In the days of Abraham, God sent two angels to destroy all the inhabitants of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone because of their wickedness. (Genesis 18:22-32)
The Lord told Moses "in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their molten images and quite pluck down all their high places." (Numbers 33:50-52) Under the direction of the Lord, Joshua commanded his army to "utterly destroy all that was in the city" of Jericho (Joshua 6:21). After that, Joshua did the same to the city of Ai and then had the King of Ai hanged on a tree until eventide (Joshua 8.2,29). And there are similar stories of the righteous destroying the wicked told about Gideon, Saul, and King David.
From reading the Old Testament, it seems quite clear that the way God kept people from being influenced by those who were inclined to do evil was to remove the wicked from the land of the living. In order to accomplish this, the righteous often had to resort to war, bloodshed, and other acts of violence to bring about peace. Rather than condemning them for this action, God blessed the armies of Israel and gave them the victory in annihilating their enemies. When Israel didn't destroy their adversaries as instructed, they eventually adopted the paganistic ways of their neighbors, and, in time, the Lord then brought other nations to destroy the Kingdom of Israel because of their wickedness.
So we see that God's way of establishing peace in the Old Testament days was to destroy the wicked so the righteous could live in peace. And that sounds exactly like what the apostle John was shown in Revelation that God is going to do to the wicked at the second coming of Christ (Revelation 20:1-4). During World Wars one and two we fought a long, bloody conflict to rid the world of wicked people who sought to enslave all the nations of the earth. If that was wrong to do, imagine how much less peaceful the world would be today if we had not fought these wars. In light of this understanding, we can no longer say that war shows man's wickedness and defiance to God's ways. In fact, the scriptures and history many times show man's obedience to God by going to war.
Does that mean the way to have lasting peace is to kill everyone who is wicked? Without divine guidance, that approach has also been tried and failed. Consider what happened during the Crusades and the fighting in Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants. So we see that war, in and of itself, does not bring peace.
Then what does?
There are rules to achieving peace, and when we follow those rules we can expect to find harmony in our own lives and with those whom we come in contact with; when we fail to follow those rules, we usually find contention, bitterness and anger. This goes for the believer in Christ as well as the unbeliever. To those who feel that peace can only come through accepting Jesus Christ, such a statement seems blasphemous; after all, it was Jesus who said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you." (John 14:27)
But there are two types of peace - peace between people and inward peace with ourselves. The scripture just cited is referring only to the second type, although it's true that the Bible also teaches us how to achieve the first type of peace. In fact, The Book of Proverbs alone contains most of these principles. Therefore, as a believer in Christ we are taught through religious instruction to follow these rules of peaceful existence with our fellow man.
However, psychologists, mediators, councilors and many other professions have been able to successfully determined, on their own, the rules of how to get along with one another. These can be taught, studied, practiced and used to help avoid conflict between people, cities or nations. They are valid, provable truths. Anyone who uses them will have success as long as both sides are willing to follow them.
Inner peace, on the other hand, might be best described as "getting along with ourselves". Inner peace means having self-confidence and a feeling of self-worth, it means finding contentment in the way our life is going and possessing a faith that everything will work for our good no matter what happens around us or to us.
Knowing that Christ truly loves us, regardless of our faults, promotes a feeling of self-worth within us, and knowing that Jesus is always there to guide us gives us the confidence to do anything righteous we desire. Because of the Savior's teachings we gain an eternal perspective on life which inspires us to do those things that will make us eternally happy and contented; trusting in God's promises and goodness develops our faith that He will help us through all of life's problems. That is the peace the gospel brings to mankind.
Although many psychologists have tried to instill these attributes into people, these traits don't come from a text book, or from rational, practiced reasoning; they come from an inner conviction within our hearts. This type of peace requires a change in attitude about who we are, why we're here and what's really important in life and what isn't. That's something psychologists aren't adequately equipped to provide. On the other hand, those who accept Jesus Christ begin to see life in a different way than they did before, and, as they follow the teachings of their Master, they begin to develop all of these positive character traits as part of their new lifestyle regardless of what's happening in the world around them.
This is the real peace that lasts, this is the peace that Jesus promised all those who follow Him, this is the kind of peace that is not a dream but one that all of us are capable of achieving in our lives today.