And He shall judge among many people and rebuke strong nations afar off - Hitherto, they had walked each in their own ways Isaiah 53:6; now, they sought to be taught in the ways of God. Before, they had been lords of the world; now they should own a Judge higher than themselves. They were no common, but mighty nations, such as had heretofore been the oppressors of Israel. They were to be many, and those mighty, nations. He should, “not only command, but “rebuke,” not weak or petty nations only, but mighty, and those not only near but afar.” Mohammed had moral strength through what he stole from the law and the Gospel, and by his owning Christ as the Word of God. He was a heretic, rather than a pagan. Fearful scourge as he was, and as his successors have been, all is now decayed, and no mighty nation is left upon earth, which does not profess the Name of Christ.
He shall rebuke them - For it was an office of the Holy Ghost “to reprove the world as to its sin, the righteousness of Christ, the judgment of the prince of this world” John 16:8-11. The Gospel conquered the world, not by compromises or concordants, but by convicting it. It alone could “rebuke” with power; for it was, like its Author, all-holy. It could rebuke with efficacy; for it was the word of Him who knew what is in man. It could rebuke with awe; for it knew the secrets of eternal Judgment. It could rebuke winningly; for it knew “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” Ephesians 3:19. Its martyrs suffered and rebuked their judges; and the world was amazed at the impotence of power and the might of suffering. It rebuked the enthroned idolatry of centuries; it set in rebellion by its rebukes every sinful passion of man, and it subdued them. Tyrants, whom no human power could reach, trembled before its censures. Then only is it powerless, if its corrupted or timid or paralyzed ministers forfeit in themselves the power of rebuke.
And they shall beat their spears into plowshares - “All things are made new in Christ.” As the inward disquiet of evil men makes them restless, and vents itself toward others in envy, hatred, maliciousness, wrong, so the inward peace whereof He saith, My peace I give unto you, shall, wherever it reacheth, spread out abroad and, by the power of grace, bring to “all nations unity, peace, and concord.” All, being brought under the one empire of Christ, shall be in harmony, one with the other. As far as in it lies, the Gospel is a Gospel of peace, and makes peace. Christians, as far as they obey Christ, are at peace, both in themselves and with one another. And this is what is here prophesied. The peace follows from His rule. Where He judges and rebukes, there even the mighty “beat their swords into plowshares.” The universal peace, amid which our Lord was born in the flesh, the first which there had been since the foundation of the Roman empire, was, in God‘s Providence, a fruit of His kingdom.
It was no chance coincidence, since nothing is by chance. God willed that they should be contemporaneous. It was fitting that the world should be still, when its Lord, the Prince of peace, was born in it. That outward cessation of public strife, though but for a brief time, was an image how His peace spread backward as well as forward, and of the peace which through Him, our Peace, was dawning on the world.: “First, according to the letter, before That Child was born to us, “on whose shoulder the government is” Psalm 126:6. Now no one fighteth; for we read “Blessed are the peacemakers” Matthew 5:9; no one learneth to “strive, to the subverting of the hearers” 2 Timothy 2:14. And every one shall rest under his vine, so as to press out that “Wine which gladdeneth the heart of man” Psalm 104:15, under that “Vine,” whereof the “Father is the Husbandman” John 15:1; and under his fig tree, gathering the sweet “fruits of the Holy Spirit love, joy, peace, and the rest” Galatians 5:22.
The fathers had indeed a joy, which we have not, that wars were not between Christians; for although “just wars are lawful,” war cannot be on both sides just; very few wars have not, on both sides, what is against the spirit of the Gospel. For, except where there is exceeding wickedness on one side, or peril of further evil, the words of our Lord would hold good, in public as in private, “I say unto you, that ye resist not evil” Matthew 5:39.
This prophecy then is fulfilled:
(1) in the character of the Gospel. Ribera: “The law of the Gospel worketh and preserveth peace. For it plucketh up altogether the roots of all war, avarice, ambition, injustice, wrath. Then, it teacheth to bear injuries, and, so far from requiting them, willeth that we be prepared to receive fresh wrongs. He saith, “If anyone smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also ” Matthew 5:39-42. “I say unto you, Love your enemies ” Matthew 5:44-48. For neither did the old law give these counsels, nor did it explain so clearly the precept implied in them, nor had it that wonderful and most efficacious example of the and love of Christ, nor did it supply whereby peace could be preserved; whereas now the first fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness.”
(2) The prophecy has been fulfilled within and without, among individuals or bodies of men, in body or mind, in temper or in deed, as far as the Gospel has prevailed. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one mind” Acts 4:32; one, through One indwelling Spirit; one, though a great multitude, through one bond of love.: “See how these Christians love one another;” “see how ready they are to die for one another,” was, in the third century, a pagan proverb as to Christian love.: “They love one another, almost before they know one another.”: “Their first lawgiver has persuaded them that they are all brethren.” “We (which grieves you,)” the Christian answered, “so love one another, because we know not how to hate. We call ourselves ‹brethren‘ which you take ill, as men who have one Father, God, and are sharers in one faith, in one hope, coheirs.”
For centuries too, there was, for the most part, public peace of Christians among themselves. Christian soldiers fought only, as constrained by the civil law, or against Barbarian invaders, to defend life, wife, children, not for ambition, anger, or pride. Christians could then appeal, in fulfillment of the prophecy, to this outward, the fruit of the inward, peace. “We,” says an early martyr,, “who formerly stained ourselves with mutual slaughter, not only do not wage war with foes, but even, in order not to lie and deceive those who consume us, willingly professing Christ, meet death.” “From the coming of the Lord,” says another martyr,. “the New Testament, reconciling unto peace, and a life-giving law, went forth into all lands. If then another law and word, going forth from Jerusalem, produced such peace among the nations which received it, and thereby reproved much people of want of wisdom, then it would follow that the prophets spake of some other. But if the law of liberty, that is, the law of God preached by the Apostles, which went forth out of Jerusalem to all the world, worked such a transformation, that swords and spears of war He wrought into plow-shares and pruning-hooks, instruments of peace, and now men know not how to fight, but, when smitten, yield the other cheek, then the prophets spake of no other, but of Him who brought it to pass.” “Even from this,” says Tertullian, “you may know that Christ was promised, not as one mighty in war, but as a peace-bringer. Either deny that these things were prophesied, since they are plain to see; or, since they are written, deny that they are fulfilled. But if thou mayest deny neither, thou must own that they are fulfilled in Him, of whom they are prophesied.” “Of old”, says Athanasius, “Greeks and Barbarians, being idolaters, warred with one another, and were fierce toward those akin. For through their implacable warfare no one might pass land or sea, unarmed. Their whole life was passed in arms; the sword was to them for staff and stay. They worshiped idols, sacrificed to demons, and yet from their reverence for idols they could gain no help to correct their minds. But when they passed into the school of Christ, then, of a truth, pricked in mind, they wondrously laid aside their savage slaughters, and now think no more of things of war; for now all peace and friendship are alone their mind‘s delight. who then did this, who blended in peace those who hated one another, save the Beloved Son of the Father, the common Saviour of all, Christ Jesus, who, through His love, endured all things for our salvation?
For of old too, the peace which should hold sway from Him was prophesied, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares.” Nor is this incredible, since now too, the Barbarians with innate savageness, while they yet sacrifice to their idols, are mad with one another, and cannot for one hour part with their swords. But when they have received the teaching of Christ, immediately forever they turn to husbandry; and, in lieu of arming their hands with swords, stretch them out to prayer. And altogether, instead of warring with one another, they arm themselves against the devil and demons, warring against them with modesty and virtue of soul. This is a token of the Godhead of the Saviour. For what men could not learn among idols, this they have learned from Him. Christ‘s disciples, having no war with one another, array themselves against demons by their life and deeds of virtue, chase them and mock their captain the devil, chaste in youth, enduring in temptation, strong in toils, tranquil when insulted, unconcerned when despoiled.”
And yet later, Chrysostom says, “Before the Coming of Christ, all men armed themselves and no one was exempt from this service, and cities fought with cities, and everywhere were men trained to war. But now most of the world is in peace; all engage in mechanical art or agriculture or commerce, and few are employed in military service for all. And of this too the occasion would cease, if we acted as we ought and did not need to be reminded by afflictions.”: “After the Sun of righteousness dawned, so far are all cities and nations from living in such perils, that they know not even how to take in hand any affairs of war. - Or if there be still any war, it is far off at the extremity of the Roman Empire, not in each city and country, as heretofore. For then, in any one nation, there were countless seditions and multiform wars. But now the whole earth which the sun surveys from the Tigris to the British isles, and therewith Lybia too and Egypt and Palestine, yea, all beneath the Roman rule, - ye know how all enjoy complete security, and learn of war only by hearsay.”
Cyril (on Isaiah 59:1-2. The Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but our iniquities have separated between us, and our God, and our sins have hid His Face from us, that He will not hear. Those first Christians could urge against the Jews the fulfillment of their prophecies herein, where the Jews can now urge upon us their seeming non-fulfillment;: “In the time of King Messiah, after the wars of Gog and Magog, there shall be peace and tranquillity in all the world, and the sons of men shall have no need of weapons, but these promises were not fulfilled.”
The prophecy is fulfilled, in that the Gospel is a Gospel of peace and makes peace. Christians, as far as they obey Christ, are at peace both in themselves and with one another. The promises of God are perfect on His part: He is faithful to them. But He so wills to be freely loved by His intelligent creatures whom He formed for His love, that He does not force our free-agency. We can fall short of His promises, if we will. To those only who will it, the Gospel brings peace, stilling the passions, quelling disputes, banishing contentions, removing errors, calming concupiscence, soothing and repressing anger, in individuals, nations, the Church; giving oneness of belief, harmony of soul, contentment with our own, love of others as ourselves; so that whatever is contrary to this has its origin in something which is not of Christ nor of His Gospel.