The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone | Psalm 118

Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. Psalm 118:19-26

The question of who Jesus is has never ceased to be a source of controversy within the Jewish community. Negative attitudes towards Jesus are often assimilated from an early age, both as a result of negative encounters with Gentiles (whom they assume are Christians) and a well-intentioned effort to ensure the survival of Jewish communities by instilling an aversion to Christianity (which is regarded as a pagan, idolatrous religion). On one level this is accomplished by nurturing a sense of pride in being “chosen” by God and a desire to honour that calling by maintaining the separation prescribed by the Torah, but on a more subliminal level the perception is often fostered that Jesus is somehow the cause of all Jewish suffering throughout the ages.

In recent years attempts have been made to reclaim the historical Jesus as a great Jewish Rabbi of the first century, while attributing the Jesus of the Christian Church to a mythical redaction of the Church fathers, viewed through the eyes of faith, not of history (on the assumption that faith and fact are mutually exclusive). Nonetheless, whether feigning indifference or openly antagonistic, the Jewish people cannot ignore the issue of Jesus and they continue to be confronted and challenged by the meaning of Jesus the Nazarene to this day.

Messianic fervour at the time of Jesus

At the time of Jesus messianic fervour was at a peak, but the people of Israel were anticipating a messiah who would overthrow their heathen oppressors and vindicate them as God’s chosen people. Psalm 118 is one of the most well known psalms of praise. It was one of the psalms used in the liturgy for the pilgrim festivals, especially the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people came up to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. It is a triumphant psalm, celebrating the victory of Israel’s God over her enemies. Political/military victories were regarded as vindication of the true faith over the false gods of the heathens. After the Maccabees defeated their enemies they entered the city singing psalms of praise.

This was the psalm with which the crowds greeted Jesus as he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey (a sign of peace) in fulfilment of the messianic prophecy in Zechariah (9:9); “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The word of God to Zerubbabel, “Then he will bring out the Capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” ((Zech. 4:7), and the words of the psalmist, found perfect fulfilment when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the crowds greeted him with cries of, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” This was the triumphant entry of the royal Son of David, the one prophesied in Zechariah (10:4): “From Judah will come the cornerstone, from him the tent peg, from him the battle bow, from him every ruler.”

The following day, while Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, the chief Priests and elders came to him to question him and to challenge his authority. Jesus quoted verse 22 of this same psalm to them, “The Stone the builders rejected has become the chief Cornerstone.” His meaning was quite plain, but for those who reject the New Testament as the revelation of God’s word the question remains, “What is the meaning of this prophecy from psalm 118 – Who is the Cornerstone which the builders have rejected?”

Some Jewish commentators have suggested that Israel is the Cornerstone which has been rejected by the nations (Gentiles), but which fulfils the chief role in the building of the Kingdom of God. Israel has given the world the foundation of true religion and when the Messiah comes the nations which formerly persecuted and rejected her will recognise her role as the catalyst for a renewed humanity and will accord her the place of honour she deserves as chief among the nations.

In view of the Jewish expectation let us consider the context within which Jesus quoted this familiar verse. In order to grasp the full import of Jesus’ interaction with the Jewish authorities one must understand the continuity of events, from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, followed by the cleansing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree and the parables by which he was explaining and expounding his messianic mission.

Jesus first told them the parable of the two sons, which draws upon a well-known tradition that God first offered the Torah to all the other nations but they declined it, not wanting to accept the yoke of the Law. God then offered the Torah to Israel who willingly accepted the yoke of the Law. (R. Johanan says: …the Holy One, blessed be He, offered the Torah to every nation and every tongue, but none accepted it, until He came to Israel who received it.) In the parable of the two sons Jesus said, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered (Matt. 21:28-31).

The parable of the vineyard follows immediately after the parable of the two sons. Jesus’ reference to the Cornerstone was quoted within the wider context of the parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants, itself an illustration drawn from Isaiah chapter 5, with which his audience would have been well acquainted. The vineyard was a metaphor for the Kingdom of God, which under the old covenant was represented by the theocracy. In Isaiah, the LORD spoke of his disappointment with Israel’s unfaithfulness and fruitlessness: I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it. The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress (Isaiah 5:1-7).

God had warned Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, that He would remove the hedge of protection around his vineyard and allow it to be trampled and destroyed because, despite having been afforded every blessing to make it fruitful, it had yielded only bad fruit. Jesus framed his parable of the wicked tenants against this backdrop: “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

Like Isaiah, Jesus phrased the parable in the form of a question, thus compelling the religious leaders, who were looking for a way to have Jesus arrested, to make a judgement on themselves. This is how Nathan had confronted David with his guilt in regard to Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:1-10). In the vineyard passage in Isaiah the LORD said, “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.” Likewise, Jesus asked the leaders of Israel to judge the matter. The chief priests and elders replied, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:33-44).

The leaders of Israel had usurped the place of the true son and heir, the Messiah in whom Israel’s destiny and identity rested. They had become self-righteous and confident in their standing as children of Abraham, but in reality they were barren like the fig tree, which, though it had an impressive covering of leaves was devoid of fruit (Matt. 21:19). The religious leaders, too, put on an outward display of piety for men to see, but the fruit that God desired was absent. Faithfulness to the true God is what set Israel apart from the other nations, but they had perverted the true faith of Abraham into the observance of countless rules by which they thought they were made righteous.

Abraham was counted as righteous for his faithfulness. The faith of Israel was established upon the promise to Abraham of the Redeemer through whom all nations would be blessed. The hope in the coming Messiah was the foundation and pinnacle of everything that God ever spoke through Moses and the Prophets. “All the prophets prophesied not but of the days of the Messiah” (Sanhedrin 99a). “The world was created but only for the Messiah” (Sanhedrin 98b). The nation was established upon the foundation of the hope in the Messiah/Redeemer, and by his coming He would also bring to fulfilment the promise and thus be the Capstone. He is the true Son and heir, the royal descendant the line of David. True faithfulness and obedience to the Torah would have resulted in acceptance of and belief in the Messiah, but the rejection of the Messiah, the cornerstone of the faith of Israel, had been prophesied centuries before.

Daniel prophesied about a time when the power of the holy people would be finally broken (Daniel 12:7). Their confidence in their own righteousness and pride in the flesh would be broken and they would accept the righteousness that comes by putting their faith in the Messiah, their King and Redeemer. The LORD warned in the Torah that whoever rejects His word, spoken through the Messiah, will be called to give account (Deut. 18:19). When we are confronted with our sin, and the only way of redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, we either acknowledge our sin, allowing our human pride to be broken, or we refuse to believe and repent, which will culminate in our utter destruction.

Jesus used the same word used in Daniel 2 to describe the fate of those who refuse to bow to God’s Anointed King, – they would be completely crushed through their rebellion and unbelief: In the time of those kings (i.e. the time of the Gentiles), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the stone cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands – a stone that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces (Dan. 2:44-45, cf. Rev. 11:15). In ancient times young men would test their strength by attempting to lift a heavy stone above their heads. However, if they overestimated their own strength it could fall on them and crush them.

The outrage to the Jewish leadership was not the idea that the Messiah would crush all Gentile opposition to the Kingdom of God, but that Jesus was counting them as opponents of the Kingdom of God and warning them that they would be crushed if they refused to repent. Instead of satisfying their carnal expectations to be liberated from foreign oppression both John the Baptist and Jesus came preaching an urgent call to Israel to repent or face imminent judgement for judgement begins with the household of God (cf. 1 Peter 4:17)

Jesus’ quotation from psalm 118 about the stone the builders rejected was clearly understood as he intended – as the rejection of the Messiah, the very cornerstone of the hopes of Israel! Furthermore N.T. Wright points out, “The Aramaic word for stone as used in Daniel chapter 2 is eben (the word is the same in Hebrew) – and the word for son is ben – in other words the rejection of the stone (eben) is also a pun – as it quite clearly also implies the rejection of the Son (ben).”1

By deliberately setting the quotation of the Cornerstone within the parable about the Son coming to the vineyard the subtle pun on the words eben (stone) and ben (son) becomes evident. The builders (the chief priests and elders), in rejecting him as the Son of God were rejecting the very Cornerstone upon which Israel was established, in consequence of which they would be crushed!

In Psalm 2 the LORD addresses the Messiah, the King whom he installs on Mount Zion, in this way, “You are my Son, today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron sceptre; and dash them to pieces as pottery.” In other words, Israel would only be vindicated as a nation through trusting in God’s Son, the Messiah. All who reject him, including the natural descendants of Abraham, would be put to shame. It was in this regard that the following riddle was given to Israel, to which Jesus’ pun on the words eben and ben becomes even more pointed: KISS THE SON (allow him to break your stiff-necked pride in the flesh and humbly acknowledge that he alone is the Anointed King, the Cornerstone, loved and exalted by the Father – pay homage to him), lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Psalm 2:12).

The same word, eben, is found in Genesis 49 in the blessing Jacob gave to Joseph: Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of your father who will help you, and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. Joseph, despised and rejected by his brothers, but exalted in Egypt to the highest place of honour to provide salvation to all who came to him in the time of famine, typified the rejection of the Cornerstone, the Messiah. Although God forecast this tragic event – both in types and in prophecy – it was predestined that those who were confident in their own righteousness, but rejected the righteousness that comes by faith in the Messiah, would stumble over the stumbling stone. In God’s providence, their stumbling would lead to his salvation reaching the ends of the earth in fulfilment of the blessing promised to Abraham.

It was because the people of Israel misunderstood the nature of God’s Kingdom that their expectations of its manifestation were (and still are) entirely carnal and that is why they rejected the cornerstone, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that He would be a stone that causes men to stumble (note that in this prophecy the LORD himself is the stone that causes men to stumble: “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, …He will be a sanctuary (i.e. temple); but for both houses of Israel He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured” (Isaiah 8:13-15).

The attitude of modern Rabbinical Judaism remains exactly the same as the attitude of their forebears at the time of Christ and even the brothers of Joseph, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. They remain convinced that they will be vindicated and will yet be recognised as the chief cornerstone, while rejecting the true son and heir, the foundation upon whom the whole structure depends.

The Metaphor of the Stone in relation to the Temple

This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD (Isaiah 66:1).

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).

The Cornerstone can either be understood as the large foundation stone which binds two layers at right angles or the Capstone which completes and holds the structure together (see illustration pg. 19). Either of these is essential for the building to stand. The return of the scattered people of Israel after their exile in Babylon was, as was to be expected, followed by the rebuilding of the temple. The pivotal role of the Messiah in building the temple was well understood (2 Sam 7). The rebuilding was never regarded as having been perfectly completed and neither was the exile completely over while Israel was under foreign occupation. This gave further impetus to the messianic hopes and aspirations of the people to be liberated from their enemies. But the earthly temple was only a shadow of the spiritual reality, and the temple that the Messiah was to build was not going to be a temple made with human hands (the temple built by Zerubbabel was built by his hands and completed by his hands [Zech. 4:9] – in other words, this was not the building referred to which would be built by the Messiah). It is the worshippers themselves who really constitute the temple, not the physical building.

From the beginning God’s purpose was to make His dwelling among men. The Messiah was destined to be known as Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). His existence was from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2), and as John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling (i.e. temple) among us” (John 1:1;14). The earthly temple, representing the place where God’s presence dwelt, was always only a temporary shadow of the reality that would be revealed through the Messiah. He is the foundation Stone upon which God’s household is built and which is comprised of true worshipers, living stones: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22).

Whether we understand the cornerstone as the foundation or the capstone, both are apt metaphors to describe the place and function of the Messiah in the spiritual temple. The capstone is uniquely shaped to fit the top of the arch and give support to both sides. Anything that is not built on the proper foundation is destined to collapse, and likewise, if the capstone that supports the arch of the temple were not set in place, the building would collapse inwardly as soon as the temporary supports were removed. The external ordinances of the old covenant were described as types and shadows applying until the time of the new order – an earthly temple, animal sacrifices, various ceremonial washings and external regulations (Hebrews 9:9-10). But the external types and shadows were not the reality in themselves. They were only the temporary supports pointing ahead to the spiritual reality that was to be revealed through the Messiah.

The visible things are temporary and destined to pass away: The Law was added because of transgressions until the Seed (i.e. the Messiah) had come. Before this faith came (faith in God’s promises which are made good in the Messiah) …we were confined by the Torah (i.e. the external form). The external structure was put in place to undergird the structure until the Capstone was set in place (i.e. the Messiah was revealed). The destruction of the temple signified the end of the old order and the inauguration of the new covenant which was no longer dependant upon the external supports of the old covenant. The chief priests and elders of Israel who were plotting to kill Jesus, were about to fulfil prophesy by rejecting the very Capstone, in consequence of which the whole structure was about to collapse!

Jesus, in both word and deed, was warning the people that their expectations were erroneous and that if they trusted in the external, visible religious structures their hopes would be dashed to the ground. The cleansing of the temple, occurring within the same time frame, was both a prophetic enactment of imminent judgement and a sign of His anointing (messiahship). His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17). At the same time, even his own disciples exhibited the same carnal understanding of his messianic mission, expressing great admiration for the magnificence and splendour of the temple.

He did not nurture their false hopes but told them plainly that not one stone would be left upon another. Daniel 12:7 refers to a time… when the power of the holy people will have been finally broken,… this refers to the judgement upon Jerusalem in 70AD because the builders had rejected the Cornerstone. By rejecting the Cornerstone of the spiritual temple the whole structure collapsed when the temporary support was removed. At that time Old Covenant Judaism effectively ceased. The LORD removed the hedge around the vineyard as it applied to the Old Covenant.

In spite of the removal of the hedge of protection and the breaking down of the walls of separation the Rabbis set about trying to preserve the separation that existed under the Old Covenant (they whitewashed the wall that was destined to collapse – Ezek.13:14). The Judaism that the Rabbis attempted to resuscitate is not the Biblical faith of Israel, but is, in fact the Judaism of the Rabbis, predicated upon the denial of Jesus as the Messiah (i.e. rejecting the Cornerstone). One often sees images of religious Jews kissing the stones of the wailing wall (a retaining wall from the second century temple) while refusing to “kiss the Son.” Jewish expectations of the Messianic Kingdom remain, to a large extent, carnal. Maimonides said: “If there arises a ruler from the House of David, who is immersed in Torah and Mitvos like David his ancestor, following both the Written and Oral Law, who leads Israel back to the Torah, strengthening its law and fighting God’s battles, then we may assume that he is the Messiah. If he is further successful in rebuilding the Temple on its original site and gathering the dispersed of Israel, then his identity as the Messiah is a certainty” (Yad, Melachim 11:4).

When the reality of the spiritual temple, built upon the foundation of Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone, was revealed the temporary shadow passed away:

As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:4-10).

Paul wrote:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).

Many Gentiles were joined to the faithful remnant of Israel through their faith in Jesus the Messiah, while those who rebelled against the Son were cut off in their unbelief: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” As it is written (Isa. 28:16): “See, I lay in Zion a stone (a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;) that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall (Isaiah 8:14), and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (Rom. 9:30-33). The leaders of Israel, seeking to establish their own righteousness, rejected the Son because he threatened their privileged position. As R.C. Trench puts it; “They desired the inheritance, they desired that what God had intended should only be temporary, enduring until the times of reformation, should be made permanent, — and this because they had privileges under the imperfect system which would cease when the more perfect scheme was brought in, or rather which would be transformed into higher privileges for which they had no care.”2

We are cautioned that those who stumbled over the stumbling stone should serve as a constant reminder of the severity of God’s judgement (Romans 11:22). The Jewish leaders were castigated for their hypocrisy. Although they claimed to be faithful to the God of Israel, their unfaithfulness was exposed by their rejection of the very cornerstone of the faith of Israel. Jesus warned his followers against just hearing his teaching but not putting it into practice: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 cf. Ezekiel 13:10).

Jesus pronounced judgement upon that generation, prophesying the imminent destruction of the temple: “Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:35 quoting from Psalm 118). The nature of prophecy is however, more than simply a prediction of future events. Warnings of judgement are first and foremost intended to effect a change in those to whom it is directed. Likewise Jesus’ warning and the judgement upon Jerusalem was not a rejection of his people but an urgent call to true repentance and faithfulness. Many heeded his call and those that were tried and tested through this time of tribulation for Israel emerged as the faithful remnant from whom the message of salvation was taken to the ends of the earth. They truly became the light to the nations and through them, and out of Jerusalem, the Law has gone forth from Zion to every corner of the earth. Through them the Good News of salvation (Yeshua) has reached to the ends of the earth and the desired fruit of the vineyard has become a reality and blessing for all nations.

As the following prophecy indicates, the coming of the Messiah brought both blessing and judgement – blessing to those who found refuge in him, but judgement to those who rejected him:

In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit. Has the LORD struck her as he struck down those who struck her? Has she been killed as those were killed who killed her? By warfare and exile you contend with her– with his fierce blast he drives her out, as on a day the east wind blows. By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for (Jacob’s guilt is pride in the flesh – trusting in our own ingenuity rather than in God’s promise), and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin (cf. Dan. 9:24): When he makes all the altar stones to be like chalk stones crushed to pieces, no Asherah poles or incense altars will be left standing (Isaiah 27:6-9).

The rejection of the Son by the chief priests and elders, the builders of the faith, resulted in the wrath of God being poured out upon that generation, but not without first being given time to repent and believe the message. Forty years after he had made complete and final atonement for the sins of Israel and the whole world (forty years being a period of testing) the temple was destroyed. According to the Talmud the second temple was destroyed because of Sinat chinam (hatred without cause), yet without any acknowledgement that Jesus was the real object of the unfounded hatred (cf. Psalm 69:4, John 15:25). Jesus made it clear that the real reason for the destruction of the temple was because they hated and rejected the Messiah: They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you (Luke 19:44). Jesus warned his disciples that they would be subjected to the same unfounded hatred in perfect fulfilment of the words of Isaiah, (66:5): Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: Your brothers who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.

In the terrible judgement of 70AD many Jews sought refuge in the earthly temple, believing that God would intervene to prevent the temple from being destroyed for the second time. However, as God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah, He himself had come to dwell among them in the person of Jesus, the Messiah, and He became the sanctuary for his people, but for those who rejected him he became the “stone that caused men to stumble and a rock that made them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he became a trap. Many stumbled and fell and were broken, snared and taken captive” (Isaiah 8:13-15). Those who put their trust in Jesus were protected from the wrath of God that came upon Jerusalem. Jesus showed that he is the true Son of Israel and the sanctuary in whom we find refuge. Only those who put their trust in him will never be put to shame.

Those who tried to take the inheritance without acknowledging the Son and true heir, the Cornerstone of the faith of Israel and the builder of the real temple, stumbled and fell in their unbelief. Their house was truly left to them desolate, the temple still lying in ruins serving as a constant reminder of the rejection of the Capstone. God’s grace is given only through the Messiah – There is no other Name by which Israel may be saved and redeemed. As is written in Psalm 118, “You have become my salvation.”

The Israel of God

When Jesus pronounced judgement over the corrupt leadership of the Jewish nation, saying, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit,” he was not saying it would be taken from one racial group and given to another racially defined group. This is confirmed by Daniel, through whom it was revealed concerning the Kingdom of the Messiah, “In the time of those kings (the time of the Gentile rulers), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people (Daniel 2:44).

What Jesus evidently meant was that the kingdom would be taken from those who were considered to be the builders of Israel but, who, by rejecting the Cornerstone, showed that they were untrustworthy builders and blind leaders of the blind. As Jesus said, they did not enter the kingdom and they stopped others from entering. The Kingdom was taken from the Sanhedrin who rejected the Cornerstone and was given to the humble of Israel (the poor of the flock cf. Zech 11:11) who put their trust in him!

Israel as a covenant people belonging to God were never defined only by racial classification, but by faithfulness to God. Any foreigner could join the covenant people by accepting the yoke of the Torah. Israel, as a people, were once broadly defined by external, tangible things until true faithfulness was revealed through faith in the Messiah and Redeemer. The true Israel of God was always defined by faithfulness to the God of Israel – (cf. Ezekiel 36:26 and Romans 2:28-29). Faithful Israel was not replaced, but it was identified as those who worship in spirit and in truth, having been reconciled to God through the Messiah and Redeemer and born again of the Spirit of God. As the apostle Paul taught in his letter to the Galatians, Abraham is the father of the faithful. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed, meaning the Messiah. The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.

As Simeon prophesied (Luke 2:34), Jesus the Messiah, as the Cornerstone or Capstone, was destined to cause the falling and rising of Israel. Those who rely on their natural descent from Abraham, or who trust in the observance of eternal rules and regulations, are in reality cut off from the true Israel of God for they stumbled over the stumbling Stone.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:5-6).

The parables of the vineyard illustrate both the justice and mercy of God. The LORD is full of compassion and slow to anger, not wishing that anyone should be destroyed but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth. Prophecy was given, not to pronounce condemnation, but to warn us in order that we might turn from our wickedness and be saved, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Psalm 80 speaks of the vineyard that has been burnt down, yet there is still hope for those who turn to the Messiah:

Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts; Look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine and the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for Yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down; They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself. Then we will not turn back from You; Revive us, and we will call upon Your name. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved! (Psalm 80:14-19)


1. Jesus and the Victory of God p. 501
2. Parables of our Lord pg. 7