One of the perks of parenthood for me was discovering for the first time (I had a deprived childhood) the joys of Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. From the moment I read the tale of Pooh and Piglet's pursuit of the Woozle I was hooked. And now, after almost twenty years, I find another dimension to the Pooh stories. According to John Tyerman Williams in Pooh and the Philosophers, the entire history of Western philosophy is to be found in Pooh, and the "Bear of Very Little Brain" has the answers to life, the universe and everything!

Now, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I saw years ago that there were also deep, spiritual lessons to be learned from, for example, the story of Eeyore's birthday. For culturally-challenged Herald readers who are unfamiliar with the story, Pooh and Piglet decide to cheer up their friend Eeyore the donkey by each giving him a birthday present. Pooh's choice is a jar of honey which, by the time it reaches Eeyore, is empty, and Piglet chooses a balloon that bursts on the way. Nevertheless, Eeyore is delighted with his gifts because the empty honey jar becomes a "Useful Pot" into which he can place and remove Piglet's burst balloon. In like manner, for some Christians the doctrine of the return of Christ is a Useful Pot into which burst prophetic balloons can be placed. Permit me to elaborate.

A common Jewish objection to the messiahship of Jesus is that Jesus failed to inaugurate the universal reign of peace foretold in the Hebrew prophets. After 2,000 years of Christianity, the argument goes, the nations have not transformed their military arsenals into agricultural implements nor do wolves lie with lambs, therefore Jesus could not have been the Messiah. The stock Christian answer has tended to be that Christ will inaugurate the messianic universal reign of peace when he returns. And there is, of course, a biblical basis for such a hope. But unless we are careful we can make the second advent appear to be a Christian "Useful Pot" in which we place prophetic difficulties.

The problem originated when Jewish thinkers began to teach that the reign of peace will be established instantaneously when Messiah appears. It is interesting to note that the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of Messiah's peace more than any other Old Testament author, does not share this relatively recent view. The prophet first uses the word in chapter 9 when he prophesies the birth of the Prince of Peace whose government and peace will endlessly increase. This statement alone demonstrates that Messiah's peace does not simply drop from the sky, magically transforming the attitudes of the nations toward each other; there is increase, development and growth. Where Messiah governs there is peace.

Isaiah also reveals the reason for the absence of peace: "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked" (48:22; 57:21). Human wickedness must be removed before peace can prevail. The prophet further reveals that peace is the fruit, or work, of righteousness (32:17). Implicit in much Jewish thinking is the idea that when we have peace we can concentrate on being righteous. The Lord Jesus Christ himself addressed that misunderstanding when he taught us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else — peace included — will be added to us.

In Isaiah 53:11 righteousness results from knowing God's "righteous servant", the Messiah, who took on himself the chastisement that brings peace (53:5). The fifty-third chapter of his prophecy introduces a dimension to peace that is alien to much Jewish thinking: the need for peace with God which comes through the sufferings and resurrection of the righteous servant of God, a theme that Paul takes up in Romans 5:1 when he states that we are declared righteous through faith in Messiah Jesus.

So do we need to wait until the second coming of Christ before there is peace in the world? Yes and no. Shalom in its fullest manifestation will not be achieved until the second advent of Christ but for the last two millennia Messiah's government has been increasing throughout the world and, with it, his peace. In Acts 13, the church at Antioch consisted of, among others, a Cypriot, a negro, a man from North Africa (possibly an Arab), someone who had been brought up in the royal household, and a sometime Pharisee of the Pharisees. In a world that suffered as much from ethnic and cultural conflict as today, the church in Antioch stood as a testimony to the power of Messiah Jesus to break down middle walls of partition. Today, as Israel struggles to keep alive a desperately flagging peace process, Jews and Arabs are learning to live in harmony under the rule of King Messiah.

Therefore, we can proclaim Shalom to Jewish people. Not a vague "pie-in-the-sky" peace but a substantial here-and-now healing of the effects of the Fall through Jesus the Prince of Peace.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 1998 Herald.

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