The Early Church - Chapter 4 - A Temple But No Walls

Chapter 4 - A Temple But No Walls

There was much rejoicing among the Jews in 536 B.C. Cyrus, King of Persia, had signed a decree permitting and encouraging the Jews to return from Babylon to Palestine (Ezra 1:1-4). This was all in wonderful fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophesy that after seventy years God would restore His people to their land (Jer. 25:11, 12). The first Jews had been carried away captive in 606 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar.

A minority of the Jews in Babylon left the comforts and security of that land to return to the devastated land of their forefathers. They came back to crumbling walls, to ghost towns wrapped in the quietness of death, to fields grown with weeds and prowled by wild beasts. They came with a pioneer spirit and with a fierce determination to build for God. Jehovah would yet have a place for His Name.

They first built an altar and worshipped Jehovah the God of Israel on their native soil (Ezra 3:1-3). What a glorious day that was! They then began to build the temple, each giving what he could. The foundation was laid with much shouting and, yes, some weeping (Ezra 3:11-13). Restoration always brings tears to the eyes of those who remember former glory.

There was opposition and the work ceased (Ezra 4:24). For sixteen long years the work lay deserted, a monument to Satan's activity and success. Then two fiery prophets arose, Haggai and Zechariah, and these stirred up the people (Ezra 5:1-2). The Jews set their teeth and built. Four years later in 516 B.C. the temple was finished (Ezra 6:15). There was a glorious consecration and the restoration of the temple service. God's work can be done when His people are determined to do His will.

Years later (about 445 B.C.) Nehemiah heard in Persia that Jerusalem's wall "is broken down and the gates thereof are burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3). God's people had a temple but the walls of the city were broken down. Nehemiah was completely upset. He wrote, "I sat down and wept and mourned certain days; and I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven" (Neh. 1:4). Why all this distress of soul? The temple was there; Jehovah was being worshipped.

Nehemiah wisely realized that a city with no walls would mean in time there would be no temple. With no protecting walls the enemy could soon batter down the temple. Nehemiah did not rest until, under his leadership, Jerusalem's walls and gates reached toward the sky once again, guarding God's people and the sanctuary of God (Neh. 6:15).

There is a lesson to be learned here for believers today. It is not enough for a local church to have the Lord's supper, the breaking of bread. If there are no walls to guard the sanctuary, in time there will be no worship.

These walls were not to keep out godly Jews, but to protect from the enemy. Jerusalem was to be a haven for believers.
What are some of the "walls" a local church must retain to keep out the attacks of the enemy?

One of these walls might be called "Teaching." Without a sturdy wall of teaching to guard the assembly Satan will soon introduce false doctrine and false professors. The Word of God must be opened and taught; the truths of the Bible explained and made simple. The Lord Jesus said, "Sanctify (set apart) them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Good Bible teaching is a bulwark of separation from the world and Satan's attacks (Acts 2:42).

Another wall might be called "Prayer." Surely an assembly without fervent prayer is in terrible danger. It is like a city with one wall razed to the ground. It lies defenseless before the enemy's onslaughts. Believers are exhorted, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18). The early church "continued steadfastly... in prayers (Acts 2:42). Is your assembly prayer meeting fervent, earnest, genuine, whole-hearted?

One wall might be called "Purity." This wall joins to the wall of "Teaching." Good teaching produces godly, pure Christians (I Tim. 4:16). There is no substitute for purity of life in the testimony of a group of believers. This wall must be maintained regardless of cost. Sometimes church discipline can be heart-rending, but God's honor is at stake (I Cor. 5). Any breakdown of this wall invites Satan's slandering attacks. "Keep thyself pure" (I Tim. 5:22).

Another wall might be called "Love." It too is an outcome of teaching and Christian growth. Without this wall an assembly is not only vulnerable to attacks from without but it is likely to know dissension within. In fact, it will even lack the distinctive characteristic of God's people.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).

This is a wall that often falls into disrepair. It requires constant maintenance and care (Eph. 4:2, 3), perhaps even more so than the other walls. A little unkindness, a little grudge, a little bitterness, can cause it to begin crumbling.

Keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).

Should we make one more application? Without gates a city will soon cease to exist. Without the "Gate of Evangelism" no group of believers will long flourish. Without a love for souls, without earnest witnessing, tract work, street work, or other evangelistic effort, an assembly will slowly and surely die out.

Go... and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee (Mark 5:19).

How are the walls and gates of your assembly?