by Gordon Franz
People the world over yearn for peace, especially in war-torn areas where there is bloody strife. The weak tend to look to a stronger entity to bring about that peace. In today’s world, that stronger entity is the United Nations.
On June 26, 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco. Its preamble states that the peoples of the United Nations are determined to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” To that end, they are to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.” In article one of the charter, the first of four stated purposes of the United Nations is to “maintain international peace and security, and to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”
The former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, was famous for this rhetorical question that he would ask of his constituents: “How am I doing?” If the UN asked the same question, the answer might be: “Not to good!” It would be a fair question to ask, why haven’t they brought about world peace?
Across the street from the UN headquarters in New York City is the Isaiah “Peace Plaza” which may give us a hint as to why the United Nations has failed in their quest to bring peace to the world. Engraved on the wall of the plaza is a partial quotation of a prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah. It says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4). Unfortunately they left out the key Person of this prophecy … the LORD!
On the grounds to the north of the United Nations building, there is a bronze statue on a pedestal of a very muscular naked man with a raised hammer in the right hand beating a sword into a plowshare. The irony of this statue is that it was donated to the United Nations by the atheistic communist state of the Soviet Union! The Isaiah “Peace Plaza” and statue of a man beating his sword into a plowshare would be examples of places that display a form of godliness, but deny its power that comes from the Lord (cf. 2 Tim. 3:5).
The context of the verse on the “Peace Plaza” wall is this: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and they spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isa. 2:1-5; non-italic words are on the “Isaiah Wall”).
Isaiah did have a vision of universal peace in the “latter days” where nations will beat their swords into plowshares and they shall not learn war any more. But the context of that verse has nothing to do with the United Nations. In Isaiah’s vision the LORD; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, is mentioned four times, yet His name does not appear on the wall. In the prophecy Isaiah foresaw the nations of the world flowing to the LORD’s House in Jerusalem, not to the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The nations will one day walk in the ways of the LORD as He teaches them from His Law, the Torah, not by walking in the ways of the United Nation Charter or the unbiblical decisions passed by the Security Council. In the latter days the LORD will judge the nations, not the Security Council or the General Assembly!
The United Nations is a humanly contrived organization that is seeking peace apart from the true source of peace, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace! Isaiah would write: “For unto us a Child is born [His humanity], unto us a Son is given [His divinity]; and the government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
Yet people yearn for the day when the words of the angelic host at the birth of the Lord Jesus will be fulfilled: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14).
People the world over would like to see a cessation of wars, as well as peace among their fellow human beings. But more than that, in the quietness of their hearts, they want to have peace with God.
In the 1st century AD there was Pax Romana, the peace of Rome on land and sea. Yet this peace was brought about in honor of the god Janus, and by the spear and sword of the mighty Roman army. Fighting for “peace” is an oxymoron! The Apostle Paul, however, wrote a letter to the church in the capital of the Roman Empire and gave them the secret of how to have peace with God.
The Temple of Janus in Rome
Let’s take a look at peace, as signified by the temple doors of Janus. In the mid 1st century AD, the Temple of Janus, the two-faced god, also known as Ianus Geminus, stood between the Forum Romanum and Forum Iulium (Ovid, Fasti 1:257-258; LCL 5:21). The temple was built by Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), the second king of Rome who reigned from 717-673 BC. One of his first acts as king was to build this temple to the god of the gates and doorways, as an indicator of war and peace and placed a bronze statue of Janus in it. The doors were open when the army was out to war and shut when they returned from war and there was peace. For most of King Numa’s reign, the doors were shut (Richardson 1992:207-208).
A year or so before Caesar Augustus died in AD 14, he wrote out a will and deposited it with the Vestal Virgins in the Forum. He also wrote three other documents that were to be read by the Senate upon his death. One of documents was an account of what he had accomplished during his 41 year reign which “he desired to have cut upon bronze tablets and set up at the entrance to the Mausoleum” (Suetonius, Deified Augustus 101.4; LCL 1:287). This was called the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (“The deeds of the Divine Augustus”).
The original bronze plaques which were at the Mausoleum have long since disappeared. However, there is one copy and several fragments of this text that still exist. The best preserved copy, in both Latin and Greek, is on the Temple of Roma and Augustus in Ankara, Turkey and is known today as the Monumentum Ancyranum. A German scholar, Theodor Mommsen, called it the “Queen of Inscriptions.” Fragments of the Res Gestae have also been found in the excavations at Apollonia, Pergamon, and Psidian Antioch in Asia Minor.
In the Res Gestae, Augustus wrote: “Janus Quirinus, which our ancestors ordered to be closed whenever there was peace, secured by victory, throughout the whole domain of the Roman people on land and sea, and which, before my birth is recorded to have been closed but twice in all since the foundation of the city, the senate ordered to be closed thrice while I was princeps” (2.13; LCL 365).
Plutarch (AD 45-120), a Greek writer in the Roman government of Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, gave an account of the life of King Numa in his Parallel Lives. He states: “[Janus] also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus Caesar it was closed, after he had overthrown Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time; then war broke out again at once, and it was opened” (King Numa 20.1-2; LCL 1:373).
During the reign of Nero, peace was finally established between the Roman Empire and Armenia. To commemorate this peace, the Armenian king Tiradates visited Rome and the Roman Senate issued a series of coins with the closed doors of the Temple of Janus on the reverse side and a Latin inscription surrounding the temple that stated: “Peace to the People of Rome both on land and sea having come, the doors of Janus he closed.” These coins were minted in AD 66. Ironically, the coins had not lost their luster when the First Jewish Revolt broke out in the same year and the doors were re-opened! The temple doors were again closed during the reign of Vespasian after the First Revolt was squashed.
The city of Rome, later the Republic, and finally the Empire were constantly at war with its neighbors and also expanding its territory by military force. It was very rare that there was peace and the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed. The historical sources record only five periods up until the end of the 1st century AD when there was peace. The first was a lengthy period during the reign of King Numa. The second was a short period when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls in 235 BC. The third period was thrice during the reign of Caesar Augustus. The first time was after the battle of Actium in 31 BC. The second time the doors were closed was at the end of Cantabrian War in 25 BC. The third time the doors were closed during the reign of Augustus was not recorded so it is unknown. The final two periods are during the reign of Nero when peace was established with Armenia. The doors, however, were closed only briefly because of the First Jewish Revolt soon broke out. They were closed again during the reign of Vespasian after the Revolt was over.
The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus
Epictetus was a Phrygian Stoic philosopher who was born in Hierapolis in the Lycus Valley (cf. Col. 4:13), sometime in the mid-1st century AD. He died sometime during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138). He was a crippled Greek slave and a student of Stoic philosophy. Ironically the healing waters of his hometown, Hierapolis, could not cure him.
He moved to Rome and was a slave of Epaphroditus who was a freedman of Nero and his personal secretary. Epictetus’ master eventually freed him as well which allowed him to study Stoic philosophy with Musonius Rufus until he was expelled from Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian when all the philosophers were banished from the city in AD 89. Epictetus established a Stoic school of philosophy in Nicopolis of Epirus (cf. Tit. 3:12) and called it a “healing place for sick souls.” Interestingly, Epictetus had the opportunity to be exposed to Christianity in Hierapolis, Rome and Nicopolis. One wonders what kind of impact this might have had on his thinking.
Epictetus’ lectures were written down by Lucius Arrian (AD 86-160). On one occasion Epictetus said: “Behold now, Caesar seems to provide us with profound peace, there are no wars any longer, nor battles, no brigandage [bandits] on a large scale, nor piracy, but at any hour we may travel by land, or sail from the rising of the sun to its setting. Can he, then, at all provide us with peace from fever too, and from shipwreck too, and from fire, or earthquake, or lightening? Come, can he give us peace from love? He cannot. From sorrow? From envy? He cannot – from absolutely none of these things” (Discourses 3:13.9-10; LCL 2:91).
Epictetus does not state which Caesar he had in mind when he made this statement. He could have had his contemporaries in mind: Nerva, Trajan or Hadrian, but I suspect, but can not prove, that he had Octavian, known in the New Testament as Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1), in mind.
When the life of Octavian is examined closely, it can be seen that he is Satan’s counterfeit messiah. Satan knew the prophecy of Daniel 9 and the time of Messiah’s coming. Octavian was Satan’s man waiting in the wing to deceive the world and distract them from the coming of the Lord Jesus. Octavian was a mock and mimic of the Lord Jesus. Octavian had a “miraculous” conception. According to Roman legend, His mother was impregnated by a snake in the Temple of Apollo in Rome. The Lord Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:35). Octavian was born under the natal sign of Capricorn which the astrologers interpreted to mean that he was destined to rule the world. This was in contrast to the miraculous star that led the wise men to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-12). Octavian was considered the “son of a god” because he was the adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar. The Lord Jesus is the Son of God and God manifest in human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14; 20:31). Finally, Octavian brought “world peace” (Pax Romana), and the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed on three separate occasions. The Lord Jesus will one day bring world peace (Isa. 9:6-7). What more could Satan ask for? But there was one thing Octavian could not do. To paraphrase Epictetus: “The emperor can bring peace on land and sea, but he cannot bring peace to the hearts of men and women!”
If not the emperor, then who could?
The Apostle Paul and “Peace with God”
The Apostle Paul provided the answer to the church in Rome: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
The only One who can give peace to the hearts of men and women is the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh. Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans during the winter of AD 57-58 when he was in Corinth, a Roman colony. This was during the 4th year of Nero’s reign when he was 20 years old. It was known as the “Golden Years” of the reign of Nero.
The epistle to the Romans is Paul’s theological masterpiece. When he gets to chapter five, he writes “Therefore …” What has preceded this verse is Romans 1-3. In that section Paul writes that the world is guilty of sin before a Holy God. He writes: “For all [Jews and Gentiles] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In Romans 4-5 he writes about justification by faith alone. He gives two examples of people in the Hebrew Scriptures who were justified by faith alone. The first was Abraham who was justified by faith alone before the Law was given. Paul demonstrates this by quoting Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” His second example is the blessedness of David who was under the Law, but God imputed righteousness to him apart from his works. Paul demonstrates this by quoting the psalm David composed after he acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba to God (cf. 2 Sam. 12:13-14; Ps. 51). “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Ps. 32:1-2). Paul clearly states that justification is apart from works when he writes: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
Paul writes that we are “justified by faith.” Some have given the simplistic, and inaccurate, definition of justification as “Just-as-if-I-never-sinned.” Actually, justification is a judicial act whereby God declares a sinner righteous (cf. Phil. 3:9).
When a person is declared righteous by God, they have “peace with God.” This is the result of the Lord Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross, on behalf of the believers and is also the fulfillment of Bible prophecy: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
After a person has been justified by faith and has peace with God, Paul writes in another epistle that believers can have the “peace of God”: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Col. 3:15). This is accomplished by letting the Word of Christ dwell in the believer richly (Col. 3:16) and being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).
Perhaps these verses were flowing through the heart of Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), the “prince of Scottish hymn writers,” when he penned the words to the hymn, “I Hear the Words of Love.”
I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God.
‘Tis everlasting peace!
Sure as Jehovah’s Name,
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.
The clouds may go and come,
And storms may sweep the sky;
This blood-sealed friendship changes not,
The Cross is ever night.
My love is ofttimes low,
My joy still ebbs and flows,
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change my Savior knows.
And yonder is my peace,
The grace of all my woes!
I know the Son of God has come,
I know he died and rose.
I know He liveth now
At God’s right hand above;
I know the throne on which He sits,
I know His truth and love!
There are at least three things that we can learn about “peace with God” and the “peace of God” from the Temple of Janus, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and the Apostle Paul. The first is that we must recognize, like Epictetus, that no human being can give us “peace with God.” Second, “peace with God” can only be attained by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh. And finally the “peace of God” is letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Have you trusted the God of Peace to forgive all your sins? Have you trusted Him to give you the righteousness of God and a home in Heaven because you have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for your salvation? For the believer in the Lord Jesus, do you know the peace of God which passes all understanding?
1998 Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Trans. by F. Shipley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 152.
1985 Discourses. Vol. 2. Trans. by W. A. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 218.
1996 Epictetus. P. 532 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed. Edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth. Oxford and New York: Oxford University.
2003 Fasti. Vol. 5. Trans. by J. Frazer, revised by G. Goold. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 253.
1993 King Numa. Pp. 307-383 in Plutarch, Parallel Lives. Vol. 1. Trans. by B. Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 46.
Richardson, Lawrence, Jr.
1992 Ianus Geminus. Pp. 207-208 in A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore. MD and London: Johns Hopkins University.
1989 Lives of the Caesars. The Deified Augustus. Vol. 1. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 31.