In the first part of this post , the discussion focused on the importance of pillars and memorial stones in the historical prophets and in history, and the passages in Psalm 118:22-24 and Isaiah 8 concerning Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone who is simultaneously the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense. Having said that, I would like to examine the citations of these two passages in the New Testament, and then, after citing these half a dozen passages, comment at some length about the context these passages occur in, and what it means to believers that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. It is one thing, after all, to recognize that Jesus Christ is both the chief cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, but it is another to know what that means for us, or why it was necessary for the passage to be cited so often. That which is repeated over and over again by an author has a lot of relevance, even if it is not often understood or recognized.
Before a commentary is given concerning the context and importance of these passages, it would be good to provide a short compendium of the passages that reference either Psalm 118 or Isaiah 8 concerning Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone rejected by the builders or His identity as the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense. These passages, some of which refer to both passages, are as follows:
““Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.”
“Then He began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a place for the wine vat and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that he might receive some of the fruit of the vineyard from the vinedressers. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant, and at him they threw stones, wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully treated. And again he sent another, and him they killed; and many others, beating some and killing some. Therefore still having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those vinedressers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him and cast him out of the vineyard. “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vinedressers, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” And they sought to lay hands on Him, but feared the multitude, for they knew He had spoken the parable against them. So they left Him and went away.”
“Then He began to tell the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out. “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him.’ But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!” Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people—for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.”
“And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.””
“What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.””
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
1 Peter 2:1-10:
“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
Having placed these passages before you all, let us note the context of these references to determine what sort of issues were being dealt with that the various authors of these passages were dealing with, and why they cited those two passages so often. Three of the references are to the same parable, the parable of the wicked vinedressers, which tells the story of how the Jewish leadership had, throughout biblical history, shown hostility to the prophets sent by God, killing some of them, driving others into exile, ridiculing others, and so on. Jesus Christ drew from the corrupt rulers of the Jews a sentence upon themselves, which enraged them when they realized that He was speaking about them and their refusal to accept His authority as the Son of God. And indeed, the judgment they called upon themselves was in fact brought upon them, as is discussed by Paul, who notes that the Jews did not seek righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, but sought, as they still seek to do, to earn salvation through their own merits, and so God has called as His people those from all backgrounds, including Gentile backgrounds, those who will obey God according to His ways, and not according to their own ways.
Many of these passages are strongly political in several ways. On the one hand, the citations in the Gospels and in Acts are directed against the corrupt Jewish leadership, which is named in Acts 4, who had rejected Jesus Christ and therefore brought judgment upon themselves. This sort of reference could easily be taken by insecure political elites as being revolutionary and hostile to the established order. On the other hand, there is a different but equally pointed political meaning expressed in Acts 4, Romans 9, Ephesians 2, and 1 Peter 2, and that is that God has brought mercy and deliverance and salvation to the sick, to outsiders, to those who are despised and looked down upon and rejected as Jesus Christ was. Not only have they been adopted into the Family of God, but they have been made into a holy nation and a royal priesthood , no longer outcasts or strangers, and not only have their sins been forgiven and promised healing from their diseases, but they have also been given the political offices that were taken from those who rejected Jesus Christ in the first place. As was said of the treacherous disciple Judas, “Let another take his office .
Let us therefore note that Jesus Christ’s role as the chief cornerstone and the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense has two simultaneous purposes. These meanings, it should be noted, are the same meanings as the stone that is spoken of in Daniel 2:44-45: “And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure.”” First, Jesus Christ will come to destroy the corrupt human systems of government and authority, religious and political, that have oppressed mankind and rejected His laws and ways. Then, He will establish a kingdom which will not end and which will be ruled over by resurrected saints in the Family of God which will rule according to God’s ways. Let us live so that we grow, become fitting stones to build on top of the chief cornerstone and foundation of Jesus Christ, and are fit to receive those offices that God has prepared for us.
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