Not peace but division?

Posted by Victoria Mason on June 25, 2024


This is the first in a series exploring challenging Bible passages for peacemakers. In it Victoria Mason explores how we might respond to Jesus’ words that he came to bring not peace but division.

Peace is popular

Peace is popular. In 2023, the online Bible platform YouVersion revealed the year’s most popular verse (Isaiah 41:10) with the headline ‘2023 Verse of the Year spotlights a widespread search for peace’. Should you want them, there are keyrings, posters, mugs and Christmas tree decorations available bearing the words ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matthew 5:9).

But you’d be hard pressed to find as much commercial success with the words of Matthew 10:34-36 just a few chapters later:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Luke’s account of this is hardly more comforting: ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’ (Luke 12:51)

What are we to make of these words, spoken Jesus who is described as the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6)? As YouVersion highlighted, we (rightly) look to God in search of peace, so this passage can be unsettling. It doesn’t seem to fit with the idea of Jesus as peacemaker.

Naming the reality – peacemaking is risky and contested

Yet in reality these verses highlight the tension that runs throughout all four gospels: Jesus does come as the ultimate peacemaker – but this is risky and will be challenged. We see this clearly in the Beatitudes, Jesus’ series of statements of blessing. Immediately after saying ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9), Jesus says ‘‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:10). The Message puts this verse like this: ‘“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom’.

Dr Tim Mackie from the Bible Project suggests that ‘Entering into conflicts and advocating for peace—that’s not a comfortable way to live. And so Jesus calls people to this peacemaking revolution, and he names the high cost’.

To my mind, that is also exactly what Jesus is doing in Matthew 10:34-36 and Luke 12:51. He is naming the uncomfortable truth that following God’s way of radical love will bring Jesus – and we who follow him – into conflict. This may be conflict with others or conflict with the systems and structures within which we live – or both.

I think about the times I find myself in the middle of a conflict, convinced that I am right. It is a lot easier for me to stay stuck in the conflict, slightly enjoying my anger. Radical love for my ‘enemy’ – seeking peace – is not the message I usually want to hear.  On a larger and more serious scale, to take a stand for peace in the middle of conflict can alienate a peacemaker from their own community. To pursue reconciliation with God’s creation involves entering into conflict with the market forces invested in fossil fuels and plastic production.


As with any Bible verse, it’s essential that we see these words of Jesus in context. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has just called the twelve disciples and given them authority to ‘drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness’. It’s a mission to bring healing and wholeness to the suffering, inviting them to discover that ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near’. Jesus’ ministry is clearly all about peace, in its fullest Biblical sense.

The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ used in the Old Testament is ‘shalom’ (including in the verse from Isaiah foreseeing Jesus as ‘Prince of Peace’). The most literal translation of ‘shalom’ is ‘complete’ or ‘whole’. Peace here is not just about the absence of conflict but restoration to wholeness.  And yet, Jesus recognises that this will meet resistance: ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves’, he says to his friends.

So in this passage I find myself challenged not to ask how committed Jesus is to peace – but rather how far my peacemaking follows in Jesus’ radical footsteps. I suspect that there are times when I confuse peacemaking with avoiding conflict. Sometimes I’m more interested in others thinking well of me than in insisting on the change needed so that all can flourish. I find that, by naming the reality of resistance, Jesus’ word make me better prepared. I know I need to look out for – and check – my tendency to want a quiet life. I can hear afresh the call to join the ‘peacemaking revolution’.


  • Where do you see or experience resistance to peace, unity or understanding?
  • Are there ways in which you feel challenged by Jesus’ words?


  • Share with God a situation where you are unsure how to respond.

Victoria Mason is Editorial Lead and Theological Manager for the Difference team.

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