Jesus Christ the Cornerstone

In both the Old and New Testaments, God figuratively refers to Jesus Christ as a “stone.” However, before we delve into some of what God has pictured for us, it helps if we think of stones the way the ancients did. Modern society does not have the awe and respect for large stones that the ancients did. Nowadays, if a boulder is in an inconvenient place, we just get a bulldozer and move it, or we blow it apart with dynamite, which was simply not available to do in the ancient world. Usually an “inconvenient” boulder in the road would be inconvenient for generations, and the large stones in the foundation and walls of buildings could only be set in place by armies of men working under the orders of the king.

When God refers to His Son with various stone analogies, it is important that we take the time to reflect upon what God is saying and what that means to our lives, because just as a real stone can be viewed from different angles, so can the “Rock,” Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:4).

The Cornerstone in the Old Testament
Hundreds of years before the Messiah was born, the Psalms contained an accurate prophecy that although he would be rejected by the builders, he would become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22 (KJV)
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

In the ancient world, the cornerstone was the most important stone in the building. It set the level, angle, and outer dimensions of the building. It had to be level and squared true (vertical) so that all the other stones could be set from it. If it were not level, then as the walls of the building were erected, they will lean and fall.

We are used to thinking of Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Church. However, Psalm 118:22 referred to the Messiah as the cornerstone, but of what? Israel was never referred to as a Temple or other building, and there were no prophecies of the Christian Church being a Temple. The ancients understood that calling the Messiah a “cornerstone” was metaphorical, and that by the decree of God Almighty, the Messiah was to be the very foundation and cornerstone of God’s new creation. The Creation we live in now is ruined by sin, in bondage to decay, and in great pain, like the pain of childbirth (Rom. 8:21 and 22). Thankfully, God will rebuild “a new heaven and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17), using Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of His new creation. Furthermore, Jesus is the cornerstone and foundation of the New Testament Church. But the cornerstone could not be a freshly cut, untested stone that might fracture under the weight of what it supports. The stone God laid as the foundation, His only Son, was precious to Him, and tested over and over in the crucible of life.

Isaiah 28:16
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. [1]

God’s “cornerstone” was the Messiah, and although God had stated in many prophecies that the Messiah would come out of Judah, even from the line of David, He restated that again in Zechariah, making it crystal clear that the “cornerstone” was not an institution, or just some great ruler, but the chosen Messiah himself.

Zechariah 10:4
From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler. [2]

The Cornerstone in the Four Gospels
Jesus Christ knew he was the promised Messiah, and he demonstrated that in many ways. Once, when he was in the Temple teaching and being confronted by the religious leaders, he quoted Psalm 118 about the stone that the builders rejected becoming the “head of the corner.” However, he added something that should catch our attention:

Luke 20:18
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.

It is clear that people can trip and fall on a cornerstone, but how does the cornerstone fall upon someone? While it is true that every analogy has weaknesses and none are a “perfect fit,” there is a truth here that is buried in the biblical text. The same word that was used for “cornerstone” was also sometimes used for the “capstone,” the final stone, often very decorative, that was placed at the top of the building and completed it. In fact, although most translations read “cornerstone,” the NIV says “capstone” (Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17).

Scholars have debated for years as to whether “cornerstone” or “capstone” is the “right” translation. There are some very good reasons why “cornerstone” should be the preferred translation in our English versions, which by nature are forced to make a choice between the two words. However, it is wise to see the possibilities in both meanings (and perhaps make a marginal note in your Bible). After all, Jesus is called “the Alpha and Omega,” “the Beginning and the End,” and “the First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17; 21:6). If Jesus is the first and beginning stone, he is the cornerstone, and if he is the last and end stone, he is the capstone. In truth, Jesus is both the very foundation of God’s work, and also the highly visible and beautiful capstone that will finish His creation.

The Cornerstone in the Epistles
Both the Church Epistles and the General Epistles added much clarity and light to the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as the cornerstone, and also added other analogies that gave even more depth and richness to the “stone” analogy in the Old Testament. As we noted above, Romans 8 (and other New Testament verses as well), clarified that it was indeed the entire creation that would be founded upon Christ. Also, the Christian Church started on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and God made it clear that just as the Messiah is the cornerstone, the Christian Church is the Temple itself (1 Cor. 3:16), and each Christian is a living stone (1 Pet. 2:5). The Church is being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20, ESV [3]). [4]

As we read about the Cornerstone in the New Testament, it is important to notice that Psalm 118:22 is quoted five times (the three in the Gospels are referenced above). It is clear that as well as placing an emphasis on Jesus as the cornerstone of God’s foundation, God emphasizes the fact that people will reject him.

Acts 4:11 (ESV)
This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

1 Peter 2:7 (ESV)
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

The universe is not a democracy, but a kingdom. God is the King, and in His love and grace He has made His Son His vice-regent and the cornerstone and foundation of His creation. But what has happened here on earth? The majority of mankind does not recognize the solid foundation God provided for them. Instead, for many different reasons, people have built their lives on things other than Jesus Christ. These people are unsaved, and without someone’s intervening in their lives and bringing them to Christ, they will “perish” (John 3:16). The fact that the unsaved are facing certain destruction should stir up compassion in each Christian, and we should aggressively share our faith with those who are unsaved, doing our best to ensure that they too will live forever.

Although many people reject Christ outright, there is another, more subtle, way that people reject him. That more subtle way is when a person takes Jesus Christ as the foundation of his life, but then in practice rejects him. We do this when we build upon Christ according to our will and pleasure, rather than building according to God’s plans and in obedience to the Word of God. If our works are not built according to God’s directions, they will be burned up on the fiery Day of Judgment (1 Cor. 3:12-15). Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and foundation of our lives and the Bible is our book of building codes. Christians are to faithfully pray, meet together, share our resources with others, tell the Good News to the unsaved, live godly lives, and much more. It is not enough to just have a foundation; each Christian needs to build upon it in a way that is pleasing to God.

It is also important that we recognize that for countless generations the stone that God lovingly laid to be the foundation of His new creation has been a stone of stumbling to those who reject him. This truth is so profound that God stated it in Isaiah 8:14, and then quoted and clarified it in both Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:8. Despite God’s clear warning that Jesus will be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to people, many Christians water down the stark life-and-death reality of salvation through Jesus Christ by being apologetic about it. Although God is both loving and honest in His Word about the fiery death that awaits those who reject His Messiah, many Christians do not like presenting that truth to those who do not believe, and some even try to explain it away, which is neither helpful nor loving. Of course, to be so bold as to say that those who reject God’s Messiah will not live forever offends many non-Christians, and then they lash out at the one who brought them the message of Christ. But that is to be expected, right? People’s offence at the “rock of offence” is not just going to be focused toward God on Judgment Day, is it? Jesus warned us that we would be rejected by the world.

John 15:18-20 (abridged)
(18) If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
(19) …I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…
(20) …‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…

Christians are to boldly present Jesus Christ to people. Some will accept him and to them he will be precious and a sure foundation, while to those who reject him and go their own way he will be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. Those offended people will persecute Christians and then, as Paul wrote, “the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives” (2 Cor. 1:5). That suffering will cause some Christians to shrink back from the spiritual battle and cease to love others enough to keep spreading the Good News about Christ, while other Christians will press forward, proving their faith genuine in the fire of the persecution, and will treasure up for themselves rewards that will be given out in their future life.

Nothing is truer than God’s statement that, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus Christ is God’s foundation stone, and capstone, for mankind and the universe. Let us build our lives upon him, and help others to do the same.

Endnotes

[1] Many versions close this verse with “…not be in haste” or something similar. This is the figure of speech Metonymy, where the effect, making haste, which is referring to fleeing away in haste, is stated instead of the reason for doing so, which is shame or dismay for not trusting in God’s “precious stone,” His Messiah.
[2] Although the word “Judah” in the NIV is not the Hebrew text of Zechariah 10:4, verse 3 makes it clear that it is the tribe of Judah from which the cornerstone will come.
[3] Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
[4] In Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6 God uses akrog?niaios, which is a compound word using akros, extreme, and g?nia, corner, literally means “extreme corner.” In contrast, the Gospels, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7 use the phrase kephal? g?nia, literally, the “head” of the “corner.” Scholars debate the meaning of akrog?niaios also, as some say it means “cornerstone” and others say “capstone.” Interestingly, while the NIV used “capstone” for kephal? g?nia, “the head of the corner,” they use “cornerstone” for akrog?niaios, while other translations that used “cornerstone” for kephal? g?nia, use “capstone” for akrog?niaios.

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