A City without Walls

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. 2 I asked, “Where are you going?” He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.” 3 While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 4 and said to him: “Run, tell that young man, ‘Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it. 5 And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’ (Zech. 2:1-5 NIV)

‘Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the LORD.  ‘And many nations will be joined to the LORD in that day and will become my people.  Then I will live among you, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you’ (Zech. 2:10-11 NIV).

Today I want to unpack this passage a little.  It is particularly interesting that Jerusalem will be a city without walls.  Jerusalem had (and still has) stone walls surrounding it in order to protect the city against attack by enemies.  Apparently, in the ancient world walled cities had villages around them.  The villages could hide inside the wall if they were attacked by outsiders.  It was probably impractical to build a wall big enough to surround all the villages.  The walls are intended to keep out the people who are not welcome inside, the ones who are not the right kind of people.  In the case of Jerusalem it is the people of the nations who are not welcome inside the city.  They were considered to be heathens who do not worship the true God.  They are the enemies of Israel because they are worshippers of false gods.  And indeed in many cases those enemies did physically attack the city.  Without the walls they inhabitants would be very vulnerable and would be unable to keep the enemy outside.  That is why Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, to rebuild the walls and make the city strong against its enemy again.

In fact there is a great promise in Isaiah 52:1.  “Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.”  The promise is that the enemies who had devastated the city will be unable to enter it again.  The rest of the chapter explains that it is God himself who will redeem Jerusalem.  “The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (v 10).  His holy arm will do battle for his people.  The promise that the holy city will be protected from the godless by the LORD himself demonstrates that it is not the physical walls which were the real protection for the city.  If the protection of God was removed then the enemy was able to destroy the walls.  This was the case with the Babylonians (Jer 37:6-10).  We must therefore remember what is protecting the city.  It is the LORD, the redeemer who protects the city.

This is precisely what the passage in Zechariah tells us.  In verse 5, God says to Israel, “And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will be its glory within.’”  The city will be without walls, but they will not be without protection.  Who could circumvent the fire of the LORD?  The fire of the LORD is first of all his holy presence.  After the nation of Israel left Egypt, “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night” (Exod. 13:21 NIV).  Second of all, is his affirming presence for those who do what is right and pleasing before him.  When the first priests began offering sacrifices on the altar of the newly built tabernacle, the glory of the LORD was present and “Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Lev. 9:24 NIV).  But the fire of the LORD consumes the wicked, those who do not do what pleases him.  When the sons of Aaron offered unauthorised fire on the altar, “fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev. 10:2 NIV).  Again, in the wilderness “the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp” (Num. 11:1 NIV).  When the LORD fights for Israel he will burn up his enemies.  “When you appear for battle, you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and his fire will consume them” (Ps. 21:9 NIV).  “Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side” (Ps. 97:3 NIV).

The point of all this is that when the LORD himself is a wall of fire around Jerusalem, it is first of all an indication of his presence with his people.  It is a constant reminder that he is with them and he is pleased with them.  But it is also a guarantee that he will consume with fire those who are wicked, who are disobedient and who are his enemies.  The city of Jerusalem will have no need to defend itself against the godless and against the heathen.  Her defence will be the presence of the LORD.  His presence will be glorious for those within the city and terrifying for those who are outside it.

“Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of people and animals in it.”  The promise is that a very large number of people will be inside the holy city.  There will be so many that it will be impossible to surround those people with a physical wall.  But who will be inside and who will be outside?  Will it be Jews only in the city or will the nations enter in?

Many Jews thought that Israel alone was the nation blessed by God.  All the others nations would be destroyed.  There are certainly passages in the Bible which speak about God being against the nations, for example Isaiah 34.  However, the long stated intention of God is to draw all the peoples of the earth to himself and to bless them.  When God called Abraham, he promised him, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3).  Many passages in the Bible speak of the nations turning away from their idols and coming to the LORD.  For example:

At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the LORD.  No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts (Jer. 3:17 NIV).

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.  Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (Mic. 4:1-2 NIV).

The passage in Zechariah tells us just that.

‘Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares the LORD.  ‘And many nations will be joined to the LORD in that day and will become my people.  Then I will live among you, and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you’ (Zech. 2:10-11 NIV).

It is not only Jews who will live in the holy city, but the nations also.  The people who we might not expect to be citizens of Jerusalem will become citizens there.  The people who were once excluded will become the people of God.  And even more wonderful, all the people who live in Jerusalem will experience the presence of the LORD, since he will live among them.

This passage in Zechariah is a prediction of the day when the nations will be joined with Israel and righteous Jews will live together in the holy city with righteous people from the nations of the world.  This is not so much a prediction of the future for the Church, because in the Church Jew and Gentile have been joined together.  This joining is because Jesus has knocked down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and made us one.

“For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” (Eph. 2:14-15 NIV).

Once the nations were the enemies of the Jews and had to be excluded from the holy city of Jerusalem.  But because of Jesus, it is possible for Gentiles to be part of the people of God.  Jew and Gentile have been reconciled in Christ.

Since most of us in the Church are actually Gentiles, people from the nations rather than Jews, our first response to the passage in Zechariah must be gratitude.  If it were not for Jesus destroying the wall between Jew and Gentile and allowing us into the holy city of Jerusalem, which according to Revelation 21 is the Church, then most of us here would have no hope of salvation.  For his work of including us we must therefore be extremely grateful.  The truth is that we all need to be very grateful that God desires all kinds of people within the Church, since if he did not open the doors to difference, then most of us would not be here.  God opened the doors for us.  We were once enemies of the people of God and cast aside, but now our difference does not make us enemies any more.

But we might consider another application of this passage.  In Christ, Jerusalem (or the Church) has become a city without walls.  There is nothing to keep out those who are different any more.  The Jews did not want the nations to come in.  The people of the nations were different and not considered appropriate to enter the holy city.  Yet God changes hearts and transforms the nations so that they will desire to worship him and he can bring them in.  If we understand that God transforms people and wants them to come into the Church, then those who are different from us no longer need to be considered as the enemy.  The church is a city without walls.  There is not meant to be anything which excludes people.  Difference is not bad in itself.  So difference should not keep people out of the Church.

The Jews exhibited trust in the physical walls of the city to keep out the enemy.  But in reality it was only helpful when they were obedient and God kept the city safe.  The physical walls were not really an unbreakable safety barrier.  We can learn from this.  It is possible to put up some kind of emotional and social barrier against those who are different to us.  We feel safer when there is a barrier to keep away the scary different people.  But in fact, our trust should be in the God who promised to be a wall of fire around his people.  His presence will keep the people of God safe.  If we look in the book of Revelation we see that it is not difference which keeps people out of the New Jerusalem, the Church, but rather unholiness.  John writes:

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it.  On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:22-27 NIV).

In the New Jerusalem the nations will enter the holy city and experience the glory of God and there they will worship the true God.  But some people will be excluded from the city.  The impure, that is, those who are not holy, not set apart for God, will not enter.  Those who do what is shameful and deceitful will not enter in.  Difference is not unholiness.  Difference is not unrighteousness.  Difference is not the thing which excludes people from the holy city and it should not be the thing which excludes people from the Church either.

So what kind of difference makes us scared to include people?  As a rule, we like people who are like us.  Since I am an educated and conservative person, I like to be with other educated and conservative people.  I feel scared around people who have unusual appearance, like people with tattoos.  If you are of Asian descent, perhaps you like to be with other people of Asian descent and feel uncomfortable around people of different races.  Older people are often suspicious of young people, since young people dress in funny ways and they are always talking about twitter and the internet.  Whatever is different can be scary.  But the fact is that Jesus has reconciled all kinds of different people into his body.  The Church can be a city without walls, because Jesus has broken down the walls of difference.  What unites us together is not that we are all the same.  We are united by the one Spirit and by the fact that in Christ we worship the one God.  Since God desires all different kinds of people to come into the Church and to experience his life, we must embrace difference freely.  Let’s embrace people of different races, different education levels, different ages, different cultures, different denominational backgrounds, people with disabilities, people who are rich and people who are poor, the employed and the unemployed, singles and married, old and young.

So let us open the doors to the church to let in those who are different.  This needs to be something deliberate, since the default is also going to be that we gravitate towards the same.  When I say opening up the doors of the church, I am not speaking of literal doors.  People can tell when they are not welcome.  It is the looks of disapproval and the stiff greetings which they get when they are not wanted which allow outsiders to know that they are outside.  But when the church is open to those who are different, then it is obvious.  People feel welcome, not excluded.  They feel loved, not judged.  They feel wanted, not tolerated.

I know that it is difficult to be people who love people different to ourselves.  I know that I find this difficult.  And yet I also know that if God had not made Jerusalem a city without walls because of Jesus, then I would not be included or loved or wanted as part of God’s people.  As with every other thing which God calls us to do and which is difficult, we must pray.

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