“And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near….” (Ephesians 2:17, NASB95)
In our world right now both Israel as a nation and Christians as a people are under attack. There is a great threat from evil pressing in on both, and we could easily become overwhelmed by how ominous things look. But our God is in control. He has set the limit to evil. He calls people to Himself and makes them to be at peace with Him so that we can live at peace in our world. This does not mean that things will be peaceful, but that we can have the peace of God even in turmoil. We also can look to how the world is tightening around the neck of Israel and trying to strangle it. Similarly we know from God’s word that He will not abandon His people. They will have to endure a great amount of suffering, but we also know that in God’s perfect timing His Son will return and His people who were near will be restored.
Looking back to the introduction of Isaiah in the ESV Bible we read, “Isaiah lived during the decline of Israel in the shadow of Assyria. He spoke the word of God to a people who were “deaf and blind” (see 6:10), who refused to listen to his warnings of looming disaster. He warned that the sin of the people of Judah would bring God’s judgment, yet he also declared that God is sovereign and would use Cyrus the Persian to return them from exile. The book speaks of a “servant,” a “man of sorrows,” who would be “pierced for our transgressions,” accomplishing God’s purposes of salvation (52:13–53:12). The final chapters give a beautiful description of a new creation in which God will rule as King, judging the wicked and establishing eternal peace. Isaiah prophesied about 740–700 B.C. (possibly till the 680s).
It is from one of these later chapters that Paul quotes in Ephesians 2:17, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near….”
“And it will be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people.” For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,” Says the Lord, “and I will heal him.”” (Isaiah 57:14–19, NASB95)
In the midst of prevailing evil and people at the highest levels in Israel turning their backs on God and following after their own desires, God spoke through Isaiah of a time when God would bring their rebellion to an end. God, who dwells in His high and holy place, also dwells with those who hearts are directed toward Him. He said that He was going to move to revive their spirits and their hearts and even renew the breath of those who He made. Through man’s sin man became spiritually dead, but God determined that He was not going to leave man that way. He was going to restore Him to life. Though the nation was in rebellion God continued to work in the hearts of His people, and through men like Isaiah He spoke of a time when this greater restoration and drawing back would come for all. For Israel as a nation this will fully and finally happen at the end of the Great Tribulation and His millennial rule, but even before then there would be people whose hearts and spirits were softened toward God who would believe and be saved.
Of course the Jews were not the only people inhabiting earth and who lived in rebellion against God. There were many who did not know God and who were not taught His statues and ordinances. And while they were also of the seed of Adam and Eve, they were not of people of the promise given to Abraham. They were not descendants of Isaac and Jacob. They were not of the people who God freed from slavery in Egypt, given the law through Moses, and brought into the promised land. These people did not know God. They followed after other gods and they did what was pleasing to them. They were far away.
But Isaiah recorded the words of God, saying that He was going to bring peace to both groups. Both groups were dead in their sins and enemies of God. Both groups were in need of God drawing them back to Him and settling the issue of their sin. God’s wrath had to be satisfied for both groups. Whether they were raised knowing of God or not didn’t change the fact that every man needed to be restored. And God was going to accomplish this for them. As such, neither had any room for boasting because neither did anything to deserve and cause God’s mercy or His forgiveness.
Paul wrote, “And He came and preached peace…” Jesus, on the night He was betrayed spoke to His disciples about His leaving and what would happen when they were left behind. In John 14:26 He said that after He left that the Father would send the Spirit. Then He went on to say, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27, NASB95) Then in chapter 16 we read, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95) Not only was their sin account going to be settled at the cross by the blood of Jesus, but Jesus was also going to give them a peace that they could live with in His absence and in the face of all of the trials that they would encounter. God’s Spirit would seal and protect them, working to comfort and encourage, assuring them of His continued presence. As they faced persecution and even death they could do so because Jesus had really given them His peace. And this same peace is given to us, whether we came to His as a Jew or a Gentile (non-Jew); whether we knew of Him before or not. And through the gift of salvation all of us who were once far from Him in our sins have been brought near to Him in peace.