The ancient first-century Jews were looking for a Messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression. For hundreds of years they had been ruled over by pagan, enemy nations. First, the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Syrians, then finally the Romans. And the Romans, in particular, had a tendency to be rather violent and oppressive.
And the Jewish people were sick and tired of it, to put it mildly. Over the course of several centuries, the prophets had promised them that God was going to raise up a Messiah, a coming King who would deliver them and establish his kingdom, reigning forever. And they were desperately longing for this Messiah.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
As modern Western Christians when we read the word “peace” in the Bible we build a fence around it. We shrink it down to size. We define it as “inner peace.” “Emotional peace.” “Spiritual peace.” “Peace of mind.” “Peace in my heart.”
Undoubtedly, Jesus gives us all of those things. But if that’s all we think of, we are limiting the biblical concept of peace in a way that is not warranted in Scripture and is not endorsed by Jesus.
In a world that is drunk on hatred and hostility, it is the kingdom of Jesus Christ that brings peace. Shalom. The prophets talked about it incessantly as a recurrent theme. Here’s just one familiar example.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Peace among hostile groups. Peace among the nations. World peace.
It’s the wish of dippy beauty queens. But it’s also the dream of the prophets.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness [dikaiosuné], for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)
Only one Greek word per blog post. That’s a strict law that cannot be violated. And the one Greek word for the day is dikaiosuné.
It is the word in the Greek language translated as both “righteousness” and “justice.” The English language is sort of an anomaly where we take “righteousness” and “justice” and we turn them into two different concepts. Two separate words. In most languages, they’re the same word.
Now, there is a problem with the word “righteousness.” It’s a great word. But the word “righteousness” can collapse into the world of personal, private spirituality. If you say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” here’s how we hear that: “Blessed are those who really, really want to be spiritual, …for they shall be really, really spiritual.”
That’s not at all what it’s saying. And the way we recover what is being said here is to use the word “justice” or, better yet, “right-ness.” “Justice” or “right-ness” sounds different in your ears than “righteousness.”