Corporate Unity, Part 2: The Stone’s Necessity – 1 Peter 2:6-8

For it is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold! I lay in Zion a chosen cornerstone of value, and the one trusting upon it shall never be shamed. Therefore, the honor is for you who are believing, but to the unbelieving: ‘A stone which the builders rejected, this became the very chief cornerstone’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of snaring.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, for which they were also appointed.


It is important that we remember that these verses are tightly connected to vv. 4-5. The whole of 1 Peter 2:4-10 explains the many commands given in 1:13-2:3 by unveiling the corporate unity of Christ’s church. Yet vv. 4-8 stand as a unit which first explains the church’s firm foundation before Peter continues to explain the church’s primary function (vv. 9-10). Peter’s primary argument in vv. 4-5 was to show how the church is built of Christ’s people who serve the living God as His priests, but do so as they are placed upon the living foundation stone of God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. Peter continues that discussion in vv. 6-8.


While it is not incorrect to say that vv. 6-8 affirm and support Peter’s claims in vv. 4-5, that understanding is not wholly accurate. Peter’s use of three Old Testament passages serve a more specific function than mere biblical support. These verses advance his argument and hone his message to a finer point.


We should notice that Peter uses three separate Old Testament passages which thus requires us to investigate these passages in their original context before we claim to understand what Peter is saying here. A biblical hermeneutic requires a single meaning for every passage of Scripture. If Peter uses previous revelation, then he is also using the original meaning without modification. Therefore, it is necessary for us to investigate the original passages. Bible study is hard work. Get used to it. Yet the fruit of this glorious labor is sweet!


Peter has already made clear that Jesus of Nazareth is both Yhwh incarnate (vv. 3-4a) and God’s Messianic Stone upon which the church is built (vv. 4-5). These three Old Testament passages advance this thought by bringing three implications regarding the necessity of Jesus Christ as the church’s living foundation stone.


Affirmation: The Exclusivity of Christ (vv. 6-7a)

There are several things worth noting here before jumping into the text. As we read the words “corner stone” (λίθος ἀκρογωνιαῖον), “chosen” (ἐκλεκτὸν), and “of value” (ἔντιμον), we should see the connection back to v. 4 where Peter has already used these terms. It is as if he prepared the reader for this portion of Isaiah 28 even as he made his initial argument.


The original context of Isaiah 28 is that of condemnation and judgement against the rebellious northern kingdom of Israel. The northern ten tribes had rebelled against Yhwh’s Davidic king and thus cut themselves off from Yhwh’s holy assembly and ultimate means of salvation. By the time the prophet writes v. 16, he makes it clear that Yhwh’s intention and plan has not changed. The rebels must repent and return to Zion, Jerusalem, and the Davidic King who is the Messianic Stone of Israel.


The Father’s Action (v. 6a)

For it is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold! I lay in Zion a chosen cornerstone of value


While it is true that Isaiah 28:16 affirms what Peter has already stated about the Messianic Stone being the foundation of the church, he uses this text to first emphasize God’s action in the stone’s placement. There are three things we must see in this affirmation.


First, notice who lays this cornerstone. The quotation is from Isaiah, but the speaker is none other than God the Father. This cornerstone was not simply discovered, found to be suitable, and then built upon. Nor did the cornerstone place itself. This stone was put into place by God’s own hand for God’s own purpose.


Second, note the location where this stone is placed. The reference to “Zion” indicates the city of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom and the rightful place from where the Davidic king shall rule. But this is also the location of Israel’s temple, the place where Yhwh promised to show the nation where He intended for His name to dwell (Deut. 12:5, 11, 18, 21, 26; 14:23, 24, 25; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 26:2; 31:11). Because Yhwh is both the sovereign head of Israel as well as their object of worship, the physical location of Jerusalem involves both the place of worship and the place of rule. Both aspects of Messiah as priest and king are involved here.


Third, we must not read too quickly over God’s own description of this stone (λίθος – cut, shaped, and quarried stone). Three adjectives are used to describe this stone and we will follow this description according to the original word order in the Greek. This stone (λίθος) is first called a cornerstone (ἀκρογωνιαῖον). This term indicates the key stone to the building whose placement must be perfect. Every corner and angle of the building is predetermined based upon this cornerstone. If it is not level, then the building will not be level. If its placement is not square, then the rest of the building will follow suit. This is not just any stone; this stone sets the course for the whole building. The second adjective is one that has already been used to describe Peter’s readers in 1:1. This stone is chosen (ἐκλεκτὸν) or selected. God did not pick this stone out at random, as was already mentioned in 2:4. He sought the perfect stone for the perfect job. Finally, God states that this stone is precious or is of value (ἔντιμον). The root of this adjective comes from τιμὴ (also the root for the name “Timothy”) which indicates that something is honorable or of great worth. This stone is of great worth and great honor is placed upon it due to God’s purpose, selection, and placement of it. This stone, of course, is not a thing but a person; the person of God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Father’s Promise (v. 6b)

and the one trusting upon it shall never be shamed.


There is a promise here for those who trust this stone. The imagery is so vivid. How would one trust a cornerstone? By building upon it and trusting that its placement is right, plumb, and correct. But this stone is a person, the person of Jesus Christ. How would we trust this stone? By coming to Him, the living stone, and being built upon Him alone to form His church (vv. 4-5). The promise for those who build upon this Stone is that they will never be put to shame. How would a builder be put to shame? If his cornerstone was misplaced and the building turns out looking as if it were designed by Pablo Picasso. Over time, the faulty starting point would be the undoing of the whole structure. But no such fate awaits those who trust in Christ! There will be no need for shame because His church will never fail! This promise is intrinsically accompanied by blessing.


The Readers’ Blessing (v. 7a)

Therefore, the honor is for you who are believing


Most of our modern Bibles translate this line differently and read something like: “This precious value, then, is for you who believe.” Peter’s point is more than attributing value to the benefit of his readers (τοῖς πιστεύουσιν – those who believe/trust/have faith in). This line is the antithesis of the shame that will never be experienced by those who trust (ὁ πιστεύων) in this living cornerstone. To them is the same honor (τιμὴ) given to the cornerstone Himself, for they are forever connected to Him. This honor belongs to all who trust in Christ, the living Stone.


Warning: The Price of Rejection (vv. 7b-8a)

Immediately following this affirmation of Christ as the living cornerstone of His church comes a warning. What would happen if we built on a foundation other than Christ? If God has already placed Christ as the cornerstone of the church, what lies in store for those who choose to use a different plumbline? Peter returns to the Old Testament to articulate the necessity of Christ as the exclusive cornerstone.


Beware the Building (v. 7b)

but to the unbelieving: ‘A stone which the builders rejected, this became the very chief cornerstone’


This quotation comes from Ps. 118:22, a familiar verse even to New Testament only Christians, as it is quoted by Jesus (Matt. 21:42), and Peter (Acts 4:11). The original context of Psalm 118 describes the return of the Davidic king to the temple after a great victory. This great king has defeated domestic enemies (vv. 5-9), foreign enemies (vv. 10-15), and the final enemy of death (vv. 15-18) before returning to his capital to worship (vv. 19-27). This king is referred to as a stone in v. 22, a term that has clear and overt Messianic implications. This king’s enemies had rejected him as their ruler and in so doing rejected the most important stone in God’s building.


Jesus used this same verse to rebuke the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 21:42), stating that they were building something other than God’s house. By rejecting God’s choice of the Messianic cornerstone, they began work on a building that was wholly of their own design. There is nothing in this building that is according to God’s plan. Peter used this verse in an almost identical fashion when he explains to the Sanhedrin that Jesus was rejected and yet God placed Him as the chief cornerstone (Acts. 4:11). It is because of this fact that there is no other name under heaven by which man might be saved (Acts. 4:12).


The point Peter is making is the exclusivity of Jesus Christ. Any work that rejects Jesus as the foundational stone of the church is the work of unbelievers. The antithesis between believers (τοῖς πιστεύουσιν) and unbelievers (ἀπιστοῦσιν) is just as strong in the Greek as it is in English. This is a warning to check the building’s foundation. Does the building rest upon and is it guided by the person and work of Jesus Christ? It matters not how similar other beliefs are to our own. It matters not how ethical and moral other systems seem to be. If we encounter other builders who dress their buildings off any other cornerstone than Christ alone, know for certain that it is to their own destruction.


Beware the Stone (v. 8a)

and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of snaring.’


Peter moves from Ps. 118 to Is. 8 and specifically v. 14. This portion of Isaiah’s prophecy calls both the northern rebels as well as the southern kingdom to trust in Yhwh exclusively. They must not be seduced by or fear foreign powers. Rather, they must trust and fear Yhwh their God or be crushed by Him.


This stone of stumbling uses the same term for the dressed and cut construction stone (λίθος) used to describe God’s chosen and precious cornerstone. If they fail to build upon this stone, unbelievers will stumble over Him. The picture Peter draws is much more violent than a simple trip. Richard Lenski describes this stumbling as follows: “This stone is not one against which the disbelievers strike merely a foot and are thrown down and rise up more or less hurt, but one against which they strike with the entire body in a dreadful crash which knocks out their brains.[1]


The image intensifies as Peter, following Isaiah, changes terms from stone (λίθος) to rock (πέτρα). No longer are we speaking of a cut and fashioned stone, but of a massive rock formation. This rock is called a snare or “rock of offense” as many translations put it. This snare reflects the Greek term σκάνδαλον (from where we get our English term “scandal”), which describes the trigger stick used in a snare or trap. The rock is said to be a snare to the unbeliever because they are drawn in to be destroyed by it. Jesus Christ is not a passive Savior, King, or Judge. He actively pursues those who belong to Him for salvation and actively destroys those who oppose Him. To quote Lenski a second time, “Men cannot let this rock alone by simply walking past it, by wholly ignoring it; unbelievers are drawn to it as to a deadly trap, they are lured to run against this towering rock and kill themselves.[2]


The implications of Isaiah’s words used by Peter should be sobering. The gospel is no casual message, but an encounter with it is always a matter of life or death.[3] Those who repent and trust in Christ alone will be saved, never to be disappointed by this firm foundation (Rom. 10:9-11). But those who reject will in turn be destroyed by the very stone they discarded. While this fact is sobering to use who believe, it is also a matter that should bring great comfort.


Comfort: God’s Sovereignty (v. 8b)

They stumble because they disobey the word, for which they were also appointed.


Peter explains to his readers the reason that so many people stumble headlong over Christ to their own destruction. They do not obey the word (τῷ λόγῳ), the gospel. They disobey the same living word (1:23) that gives life and sustenance (2:2). They reject the Scripture’s call to repent and believe. This phrase does not describe those who have never heard the gospel call so much as those who hear the preaching, read the Scripture, then harden their hearts and frantically run to their deaths. How is this of any comfort? The comfort comes in the final line.


Peter ends with a somewhat provocative statement: for which they were also appointed. Peter uses a verb (ἐτέθησαν) from the same root as Isaiah’s prophecy in v. 6 (τίθημι – to place/to appoint/ to assign). The relative pronoun “which” (ὅ) is the object of this verb and points to the whole clause. That is to say, both their stumbling and their disobedience were appointed beforehand. God is not surprised by their rejection. God remains in sovereign control of His plan of redemption.


These words are designed to bring comfort to Peter’s readers. They live in a dark and dangerous world that seems to be violently out of control. Yet everything lies perfectly within the Father’s hands and nothing will come to pass that our good and gracious Father has not predetermined. The only question that remains is, do we trust Him?


Conclusion

Peter reveals himself to be an excellent shepherd. His choice of these Old Testament passages do so much more than “prove his point” for him; they speak directly to the context of his audience. As Isaiah rebukes the rebels in the north and beckons them to trust in the true Davidic King, Peter reminds his readers that they have and do trust Christ, our sure foundation. As the psalmist anticipates the coming and victorious Messiah, Peter warns his readers of trusting any stone other than Christ. As Isaiah calls Israel to fear Yhwh alone, Peter encourages his readers that the pagan persecution that awaits them is nothing to fear compared to their God. Stand firm upon the Stone!


By way of application, we should note well how much our “Christian” culture follows the example of Messiah’s enemies by rejecting the exclusive and divinely placed cornerstone to build their own house devoid of God’s abiding presence. Many “churches” call for inclusivity and thus reject Christ’s righteousness and the call to be holy as only He is holy. Modern evangelicalism demands diversity and intersectionality by adopting a gospel of works and thus rejects the gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. They crush themselves as they stumble over the very Stone they should have built upon. But be of good cheer! Though they work to their own destruction, God remains in sovereign control. Christ will return. He will reign upon David’s throne. And the gates of hell will never prevail against His church!


Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 96. [2] Ibid, p. 97. [3] D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 139.

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