Building Towns Without Walls

blog Oct 26, 2023

By Martijn van Tilborgh

In the second chapter of Zechariah, we encounter a man with a measuring line. This man is on his way to the city of Jerusalem, the city of God. He is passionate, full of zeal to help build this incredible city. He wanted to do the right thing and contribute to the strength and effectiveness of what will become a place of refuge for so many people:

Then I looked up, and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand. I asked, “Where are you going?” He answered me, “To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is.” While the angel who was speaking to me was leaving, another angel came to meet him 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. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within’” (Zechariah 2:1-5).      

One thing I know for sure is that this man’s heart was in the right place. He loved the Lord, he was excited about the city of God, Jerusalem, and he was committed to giving his contribution to the building of that city so it could serve the community within.

There seems to be nothing wrong with this picture, right?

Just another day at the office for this man, happy to be about the work of the Lord, building the city of God.                                            

Many of us are like this man. We’re excited about and committed to the work of the ministry (or at least, what we have defined as our ministry). We want to build “the city of God,” His church, His Kingdom.

Our hearts are in the right place, and we can’t wait to see this “city” completed, so it can become a blessing to the countless people who will inhabit it.

However, could it be that there was more going on beneath the surface? Could there be a cause for concern? The answer seems to be affirmative when an angel appeared on the scene and abruptly stopped the man from what he was doing.

As this man stopped in his tracks, the angel said in effect: “What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you know that Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls?”

The angel made the man aware of something very important. Something he hadn’t considered before. Something that would be so disruptive that it would change everything in relation to the activity the man was planning to be involved in.

The man was given a piece of information, an epiphany that would change the trajectory of his “ministry” once and for all.

The angel pointed out to the man that Jerusalem, the city he was measuring and helping to build, wasn’t going to have any walls.


That was a game-changing revelation!

Everything the man had done in his life, and everything he was planning to do, had been based on the assumption that surely the city he was helping to build was going to have walls. His whole ministry had been founded on that particular assumption.

In fact, he had given his life for this thing!

What would a city without walls even look like? The mere idea of a city without walls seemed to be ridiculous. The walls he intended to build were supposed to be a foundational and defining aspect of that city he sought to develop.

Yet, meanwhile, God had never intended for Jerusalem to have walls.

A sudden awareness came to the man by supernatural intervention that changed his perspective forever.

Remember, the primary tool this man had brought to help him do his work was a measuring line. In fact, he had specialized in using it. For years he had been an apprentice in learning how to use this tool. Through trial and error he had become an expert at using it. Not only had he become an authority in the field of measuring stuff, he had become an experienced architect who designed blueprints for building walled cities, only to find out that the city he was trying to build was not going to have any walls whatsoever.

The very thing he had become excellent in had become irrelevant in context of this new information. He somehow had to unlearn the very thing he had studied for all his life!

How do you measure a city without walls?

What would it even look like?

How do you even plan to build a city without that structure?                       

Basically, you don’t.                                                              

Yet, God wants a wall-less city. God was making this man aware that what He is envisioning for the city is immeasurable!

God said to him: “Hey! Don’t you know? I cannot be measured, and neither can the city that I’m building.” He continued to explain to the man that this city would have a multitude of people in it and that He Himself would be a wall of fire around them.

In other words, wherever the people are, that’s where the wall will be. Not because we build it, but because God Himself will be it.                                       

Amazing right?

Think about this for a moment: What is a “measuring line”?

Well, a measuring line is a tool that references a standard that once was created by man.

Not by God, note, but by man.

Somebody at some point in history decided that a foot was a foot. Where I’m from, the Netherlands, we use the metric system. We have meters. The thing about meters is that, at some point, someone (probably Mr. Meter?) decided that a meter was a meter. He set the standard right then and there.

From that point onward, anything that ever had to be measured was measured by that standard. Every measuring line created since has referenced that man’s standard.

Could it be that God’s standards don’t equal our standards?                                      

Could it be that we have measuring lines in our minds that reference a standard that was not meant to be a standard to begin with?

Could it be that we are working on assumptions that need to be challenged?

Could it be that God is trying to remove the measuring lines by which we measure our work?

So many times we have “strategic ministry” meetings to plan how we will grow what we are doing, and we set parameters for what it is going to look like. Yet God says, “I cannot be measured.” You cannot design a wall-less city. In God’s city, each person is supposed to give birth to a uniquely unexpected expression of who God is. It cannot be measured. It cannot be planned.                                         

Like the man with the measuring line, we need to be made aware of this, so we will cease putting effort into strengthening something that was never supposed to be built.

The bottom line: God’s kingdom is fluid. It doesn’t have walls. It flows with its people. Wherever they are is where His city is.

An interesting concept, right?

But it’s the very opposite of how we traditionally do church. We build walls and point at what’s inside of them, we give it a name, stick a logo on the building and call it church.                                

God’s city, His kingdom, doesn’t have walls. It’s connected by blood. It’s a family of people who collectively, through their efforts, administrate and establish God’s kingdom on earth.      

Are we willing to look in the mirror and confront some of the same things the man from this story was confronted with?            

Could it be that we have it all wrong?

Is it possible that what we’ve been building is in fact foreign to God’s divine design?

Should we consider the possibility that what we’ve been training for isn’t conducive to the big picture?

Are we willing to consider that maybe God is sending His angels to disrupt our ministries?

Asking for a friend.

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