Some have said that when Messiah comes, we will recognize him by the peace which he will establish. Yes, Scripture refers to Messiah as the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. Above all else, it is for his coming that we pray, when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem [Psalm 122].
But should we look for "peace" as the sign of his arrival? If so, how will we discern him from those who promise peace, but cannot deliver? Those who know Israel's history, know this is not a frivolous question. False prophets, priests, and politicians have long been with us. Jeremiah spoke of these: "They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying 'Peace, Peace,' when there is no peace.... We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!" [Jeremiah 8:11,15]
Today, as then, false peace is not an uncommon phenomenon. The peace that rests on rhetoric, may be embraced with all sincerity, but its embrace is not secure. With the hard won wisdom of hindsight, King David observed (concerning an unfaithful 'friend'): "He hath put forth his hands against such as be at peace with him: He hath broken his covenant. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." [Psalm 55:20,21]
Solomon's wisdom includes a similar lesson: "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: for as he thinks in his heart, so is he: 'Eat and Drink,' saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words." [Proverbs 23:6-8]
After all is said and done, only the Lord knows what is hidden in the heart behind a handshake.
No wonder David counsels us to "cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee." [Psalm 55:22]
"Perfect peace" must be established, not on political promise and prowess, but rather on the Lord Himself, whose word is sure. [Isaiah 26:3]
Yet too often, Israel has leaned itself on broken reeds -- allied nations which in the time of crisis proved unfaithful -- or even native sons elevated to the status of 'messiah' by those whose hopes would soon be dashed.
Unfortunately, the list of such false messiahs is not yet complete. For the Scriptures foretell that, in the latter time, Israel will receive a falsely charming prince to her own hurt. His reign will be ushered in with peace. He will make a "firm covenant" with Israel which will guaranty her security, and restore her religious rituals. The war weary world will begin to breathe easily. Confident in this leader, they will welcome prosperity, peace and safety. But deception and unrighteousness are in his heart. He will break his covenant in the middle of its term, and turn his fury against "the mighty and the holy people" (Israel). We are warned that "by peace, he will destroy many." [Daniel 7:24,25; 8:23-25; 9:24-27; 11:36-37]
Apparently, "peace" is not a fail-safe test of Messiah's identity. Messiah's reign will indeed bring in everlasting peace. But at its start, who can say how long any peace will endure? There must be other credentials which mark the true Messiah.
In fact, there are many. For example, the following is a partial list of Messiah's identifying features, as given in Isaiah 11. This chapter is best known for its description of the intensity of the peace under the true Messiah's reign: "...the wolf shall dwell with the lamb..."
But the characteristics of the Ruler are also intense:
It is evident that much more than peace must characterize the true Messiah. Many Scripture passages speak of him. Taken together, they paint a vivid, unmistakable portrait of the one we look for. Yet, the colors sometimes clash. The pieces of the puzzle are in frequent conflict (as illustrated by the questions interspersed in the brief list above). But when the person depicted is finally unveiled, the picture will be seen complete in every detail.
America's "most wanted" are displayed in photographs and composite sketches on our post office walls. But how often does "public enemy #1" stand in line for stamps, unnoticed? Few of us take time to study the posted pages. But then... would we want to know?
But more importantly, do we desire "the desire of all nations"? [Haggai 2:7] If he stood before us, would we recognize him? Or might we fall for a con-man's line and follow an impostor? Do we want to know?