The comedian, Bill Hicks, used to joke:
“A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he’s gonna want to see a cross?”
It’s not an original point. The incongruity is obvious: a method of extreme torture and humiliating execution has become the most prominent religious symbol in the world. This is even more astonishing when you understand who is hanging on the cross. How can the murder of the Lord of Glory be a universal symbol of hope? It’s an incredible redemption of an unspeakable horror.
And that’s what “swords into ploughshares” is all about. It refers to the Bible’s Messianic hope, when weapons of war will become tools of fruitfulness and life.
“2And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. 3And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” (Isaiah 2:2-5)
Everything will be turned upside-down when this Messianic future “comes to pass.” The house of the LORD will be lifted up, the nations will flow uphill and war-mongering will turn to peace-making.
We have witnessed the lifting up of the house of the LORD. Christ – the true Temple – was destroyed and raised again on the third day (John 2:19-22). He is the true Meeting Place with the living God. In risen power His word goes out to the nations and the world flocks to find peace in Him.
Yet, for the full benefits of Christ’s peace-making we will have to await His second coming. He told us in Mark 13 that until His return there would be “wars and rumours of wars” (v7). But in the meantime we see the principle of His redemption working its way out.
There are countless modern examples of swords into ploughshares: technology designed for destruction, redeemed for productive purposes. But the power, the pattern and the prototype for all such redemption is the cross of Jesus. There, deicide is turned to the world’s salvation. The sword of judgement fell upon Jesus and yet, as He went into the ground, it was only to become more fruitful! (John 12:24).
Christians know this redemptive power in themselves. And we await its application to the whole creation. With eyes fixed on the cross we have hope that the deepest darkness will be turned to light and peace:
Crown him the Lord of peace; his kingdom is at hand.
From pole to pole let warfare cease and Christ rule every land!
All hail, Redeemer, hail, for you have died for me.
Your praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.