The Gospel of Peace of the First Century

Introduction: Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: Rom 10:14-15 – How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

Have you heard the gospel? Have you heard the gospel of the first century? By that I mean, can we hear it as those of the original audience would have heard it? Many times we may find that we have come to an improper understanding of the scriptures because we are treating ourselves as the original audience rather than those alive when the scripture was spoken.

What would the “gospel of peace” that Paul spoke about here mean to the Roman audience of the first century?

I. “The Gospel” – What does this terminology mean to you? The word itself means “good news” or “glad tidings”. In most cases we see it as a reference to the scriptures, the N.T., or the story of the coming of Christ.However, to the first century Roman, the word gospel had its own connotation arising from its common use in the empire.

A. The word gospel euaggelion (yoo-ang-ghel’-ee-on) means good news, or glad tidings. It was intrinsically tied in the Roman mind to the Emperor. The Romans often used the word “gospel” to refer to the good news of the emperor’s accomplishments. The proclamation of a gospel was a message intended to exalt the Roman emperor.

1. New Testament theologian N.T. Wright of The Center for Theological Inquiry states that the word “gospel” was “the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor.” The Center further states, “In Paul’s world the main ‘gospel’ was the news of or celebration of Caesar.”

2. Notice how the word is used in connection with Augustus on a calendar inscription from Priene (c. 9 BC; line 40): “but the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of tidings of joy on account of him.” The birthday of Augustus was considered the beginning of the gospel in the Roman world.

3. Notice how the word was used in connection to Gaius Julius Caesar concerning the day he became a man according to Roman custom: “that on the day when the city received the good news and when the decree was adopted, on that day, too, wreaths (must) be worn and sumptuous sacrifices offered to the gods.” In this context we see the city received the gospel when a decree was given concerning the day Gaius became a man.

B. “Gospel” impact – How would these connotations impact the apostolic message in the first century?

1. The common Roman would have thought the apostles were bringing a message about the emperor’s accomplishments. It would have been anticipated as a message of celebration. This helps us understand why the Romans wanted to hear the message that the apostles were bringing into their cities. Acts 17:18-20 – 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (NIV)

2. But we can also readily see the conflict that would begin to arise. A “gospel” message that was from Christ and promoted Christ’s accomplishments would place Jesus in competition with the Emperor for the allegiance of the people. Look again in Acts 17 and notice the charge brought against Paul for preaching the gospel in Thessalonica. Acts 17:6-7 –When they [the Jews] did not find them [Paul and Silas], they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus.” It seems that the Jews used this gospel decree to their advantage to persecute the Christians. The Jews told the Roman city officials that these Christians are preaching “the gospel”, indicating to the Romans that the apostles were claiming there is another king or another emperor worthy of celebration. To preach the gospel was to preach something contrary to imperial Rome.

II. Peace – In our initial passage (Rom. 10:15) Paul called the gospel the “gospel of peace”. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “peace”? We noticed this morning that the word peace usually brings up images of the cessation of war or conflict. We often view peace in the context of negotiation, diplomacy or compromise. We think of peace as a concentrated effort to save lives and produce equality.

A. But the Roman concept of peace was the peace which resulted from war and conquest. Peace was the result of military action, not diplomacy. Peace was not achieved by negotiation or cooperation. Peace was imposed on the subjugated by means of force. Peace was not negotiable nor was peace voluntary. Peace was brought about by taking lives and creating inequality.

1. Tacitus records the words of Calgacus, chieftan of the Britons, in a speech before battle against Agricola, in Agricola 30: “To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; and where they made destitution, they call it peace.” The Romans called peace conquering other nations.

2. Mark Antony praised Julius Caesar in his funeral oration as a “peace-maker” because he had so successfully subjugated his enemies.

3. The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, was also called Pax Augustus, not because there was peace in the world, but there was an end to the civil wars in Rome. Augustus brought an end to civil war and went conquering the nations, subjugating them to Rome, bringing about this peace.

4. Even more interesting is that the Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis) stood on the Hill of Mars, the god of war. Peace was brought about by war to the Romans.

B. Those who brought peace were considered to be divine. David McClister says, “The achievement of peace in the empire was such a monumental accomplishment that it was thought that the one who did this must be operating with divine power; it was seen as evidence of the emperor’s divinity. It was almost universal among the ancients that military victory (and thus the peace that ensued) was by divine power.”

III. The Peace of the Gospel Today. So what does the “gospel of peace” mean to us as we read the scriptures today? Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Now when we read some of the New Testament scriptures about peace, we can see a different concept through the eyes of the original audience.

A. The spiritual peace that Jesus accomplished was not a negotiated peace, but a conquering peace. Colossians 1:19-20 –For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself by making peace through the blood of His cross—whether things on earth or things in heaven

1. Read Paul’s companion statement in Eph 2:13-17 – 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. Peace came through death because it was through His death that He conquered His enemies.

2. Earlier in the passage Paul described this conquest that came through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the exceeding greatness of His power – Eph 1:19-23 – 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

3. Paul also tied war and peace together in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

4. The peace we have through the gospel has come through the work of Christ, and the gospel that proclaims this peace (revealed in scripture) heralds his divine accomplishment.

B. This peace has not brought equality, but submission to the decrees of the Savior. It is a peace entirely on His conditions. We are not given the right to dictate the terms of this peace. Jesus has brought a conquering peace, demanding the submission our lives to His cause and will. Paul says, “For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

1. To experience the peace that God offers we must be obedient to Him. We are called to submit.

2. Although Christ has won the victory through the blood of His cross and His resurrection from the dead, we are called to battle the forces of Satan in our own lives. As Paul urges Christians to engage Satan in Eph. 6, he tells them to put on the whole armor of God that they might be able to stand against the deception of the devil.

a. Ephesians 6:11-18 – 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the Wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery Darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”.

Conclusion: The gospel of peace is the good news of a conquering Savior who cannot lose. If you are in His Kingdom you have nothing to fear. He is in complete control. As a Christian we are allowed to share in His victory, and the peace He has attained. 2 Cor. 2:14 – But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. (NASU)

The triumph mentioned is the celebration procession given by the Emperor to a victorious commander or general in the Roman Army.

  • The highest honor which could be given to a victorious Roman general was a Triumph. To attain it he must satisfy certain conditions.
  • He must have been the actual commander-in-chief on the field.
  • The campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified and the victorious troops brought home.
  • Five thousand of the enemy at least must have fallen in one engagement.
  • A positive extension of territory must have been gained, and not merely a disaster retrieved or an attack repelled.
  • And the victory must have been won over a foreign foe and not in a civil war.

In a Triumph the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol. In this parade were both the comrades and conquered enemies (now slaves) of the victorious General. Many of those slaves were executed at the conclusion of the procession. Was Paul a comrade or a conquered slave?

  • Paul considered himself as a slave of Jesus, one who Jesus had conquered through the gospel message. But Paul was also one whom Jesus had put into service in the battle against the enemy.

Which ever it is, Paul was sharing in the peace of the Kingdom, spreading that peace to others through the knowledge of Christ. Are you being led in triumph with Christ?

But to be in His Kingdom you must submit to His authority. Have you obeyed His commands?We submit our lives to God by dying to sin and being immersed in water (Romans 6:1-4). Paul says if we die with Christ we are made alive with him.

Note: material taken from lecture “Gospel In The Roman World” by David McClister, and adapted from lesson by Brent Kercheville.