The real concern for us in the coming year should be the state and condition of the Church. Much time will be taken up with the debate over Scottish Independence but whatever the outcome, will it leave the country any better off spiritually, morally or socially? The future state of the Church affects us as individuals, as families and as congregations.
Luther spoke about the Babylonish captivity of the Church before the Reformation. We have been through a Babylonish captivity during these last hundred years with the destructive liberalism that has blighted the Church. The children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon for seventy years but the time for their deliverance came and the exiles began to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the temple. The community of the restoration were few in number and got discouraged easily. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were sent to encourage them to action.
Zechariah was granted eight visions concerning the future prospects of Jerusalem. In the third of these night visions he saw a man with a measuring line in his hand. (Zechariah 2). This man is going to measure Jerusalem. The Angel of the Lord speaks to him and gives a new perspective on the Jerusalem of the future.
1. Man’s perspective
This man, as representative of the covenant community, by thinking he can measure the city with a line, is considering it in terms of what has been. He does not see beyond a restored, walled city like the previous one. He is conditioned by the past and by human limitations. Perhaps we are like that in our particular denomination or tradition. We have a narrow focus on ourselves and do not expect great things to happen. There is a tendency today for branches of the Church to be obsessed with numbers. They boast on the social media of so many present at services, members added to congregations and office-bearers elected. They seem concerned with their image in society.
2. God’s perspective
When the Angel of the Covenant speaks the young man is given a different perspective on the future of Jerusalem. Yes, there is an immediate future for a restored Jerusalem but the future opens up to the larger prospect of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God (Heb. 12.22; Rev. 21.3). The promise is for the coming of the Messiah, the man whose name is the Branch. (Zech. 6.12) “It is he who will build the temple of the Lord.” What is promised?
1) Prosperity. “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls.” (2:4) There is going to be such a massive increase in numbers so that it could not be enclosed within walls. Jerusalem is the Old Testament embodiment of the people of God. Here is a promise to counteract their fears over the present fewness of their numbers. The future will bring great enlargement. The Church will no longer be confined to one nation. It will fill the whole earth. Pentecost was followed by great numbers being added to the Church throughout the known world. The Reformation saw multitudes coming to faith. Nationwide revivals have swept many into the Church. Persecution has done the same. What wonders God has wrought in China in the last fifty years! The promise will finally be realised in “a multitude which no man can number” (Rev. 7.9).
2) Protection. “I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire around about.” (2:5) Being without walls does not leave this city defenceless. The Lord will be all the protection the city needs. There is no doubt here an allusion to the pillar of fire that protected the children of Israel as they came out of the land of Egypt. The pillar of fire protected them as the Lord led them by mysterious ways, like bringing them back towards the Red Sea. But it was only for the achievement of complete victory over the enemy (Exod. 14:29-31). At times one would think the wall of fire had been removed when multitudes were martyred for their faith. It only proved that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. The purposes of God cannot fail. The Church of Jesus Christ will prevail against all the slings of atheists and agnostics and the betrayal of false teachers. “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)
3) Presence. “I will be the glory in the midst of her.” (2:5) Glory signifies the presence of the Lord. He dwelt in the tabernacle. “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-38). We see it again at the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 8.10-11: “…the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.” The word of the Lord to Haggai was: “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come and I will fill this house with glory” (Hag 2.7) and “the glory of the latter house shall be greater than of the former” (Hag. 2:9). The Second Temple did not have the glory cloud but the Lord of the Temple came and, as John says, “we beheld his glory” (John 1:14). The temple was superseded. Christ is the glory in the midst of his Church. We await the consummation when “the new Jerusalem” will come down from God out of heaven and “the tabernacle of God” will be with men. “And I saw no temple therein for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” (Rev. 21:2,3,22)
Let us not judge the health of any church by mere numbers. It is still true of some that “thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead.” (Rev. 3:1) The Lord can save by few or by many. Carved on the Reformation Monument in Geneva, next to the figure of John Knox, are the words, “One man with God is always in the majority.” It was said by C H Spurgeon that “when John Knox went upstairs to plead for Scotland it was the greatest event in Scottish history.” In the year that marks the 500th centenary of his birth what the Church in Scotland needs above everything else is the glory presence to be restored in our midst.