Jesus is the Precious Cornerstone – 1 Peter 2:4, 6-8

Peter describes Jesus as a “living stone” that was rejected by men (2:4). What is a “living stone”? Some take this as an uncut rock. Altars in the Old Testament were to be built from unhewn rock, not dressed stone.  Water that is used in a Jewish mikveh was called “living water” since it had to come from a “living source” (rain or a spring).  On the other hand, the stone may have been cut, carved and prepared for use as the Temple cornerstone.

Jesus is the “rejected stone” that becomes the chief stone in a New Temple (2:6-8) Peter draws several verses from the Hebrew Bible together in this paragraph. He first quotes Isa 28:16, where the Lord says he is “laying a stone in Zion.” In the original context, this saying referred to the establishment of a stable dynasty in Jerusalem, despite threats against it from the Assyrians.

Herodian Stones, Temple Mount

The massive Herodian era foundation stone at the Temple Mount

The first line is fairly clear, but the expansion of stone into a “chosen cornerstone” needs to be unpacked.  The Greek word (ἀκρογωνιαιος) refers to a “capstone,” an ornate stone that would be the final stone added to a building. But a “cornerstone” refers to a stone laid as a foundation. Unlike modern “cornerstones” that are largely ceremonial, the cornerstone for a large building was critical for the building up of the rest of the building.

The second verse Peter quotes is from Psalm 118:22-23. The idea of a chief stone connects the Psalm to Isa 28:16. Jesus called himself the “stone that the builders rejected” after the Parable of the Vineyard in Mark 12:9-11. In Mark 12, Jesus calls the rejected stone the “head corner stone” (κεφαλή and γωνία, corner), although “head” can mean “chief” here. The context of the psalm is a restoration of Israel at the end of the exile, and it appears that the text was considered messianic based on the similarity of the word stone (eben) and son (ben) in Hebrew. David was the son who was rejected, yet he was the chose king who laid the foundation of the line of kings that would result in the coming of the Messiah.

In the Gospels, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 as a conclusion to the parable of the Vineyard, which concludes with the son of the vineyard’s owner being taken out of the vineyard and killed. This is a thinly veiled prediction of what will happen to Jesus in just a few days and is a clear statement from Jesus that his death will be in some ways a fulfillment of Psalm 118, the rejected son (ben) becomes the chief stone (eben) in the building.

The third text Peter quotes is Isa. 8:14. In response to the rejection of the stone, judgment will come. In the original context of Isaiah 8, God has given the sign of Immanuel (a son, ben) to king Ahaz, and now Isaiah is warned to honor only the Lord as holy and to only fear the Lord (rather than the king). The Lord will be a sanctuary (a holy place, the word mikdash is used for the tent of meeting and the Temple) for those who honor him, but for those who have rejected the Lord as their God, he will be a “stone of stumbling.”

Herodian Stones, Temple Mount

At the Southwest corner of the Temple Mount

It is easy enough to connect sanctuary with temple (although the LXX has ἁγίασμα), but the image of what kind of stone Jesus is changes here – he is no longer an honored stone at the highest point in the Temple; rather he is a stone on the ground that trips people up and causes them to stumble. Sometimes this “stumbling-block” is described as a mostly-buried rock that someone does not really see until they trip over it and are injured.

Those who honor Jesus will be honored, those who do not will be shamed. This refers to eschatological judgment. When Jesus returns, there will be a separation of those who honored the stone as precious, or tripped over him and stumbled. Paul used these same verses in a very similar way in Romans 9:33, 10:11. In the present age, Peter says, there are some will believe in the cornerstone, and be honored ‘in that day,” while those who reject the stone will be shamed.

In summary, Peter describes Jesus in this passage as the most important stone in a Temple. If Jesus is the cornerstone or capstone, then the people of God are stones building on that foundation. What is Peter’s main point in this metaphor? Is it just a scriptural argument for Jesus as Messiah, or there are pastoral emphasis as well? Within the metaphor of a Temple, what is the relationship between the living stones of the church and Jesus?

20 thoughts on “Jesus is the Precious Cornerstone – 1 Peter 2:4, 6-8

  1. As I think over what the main point in this metaphor is to state that Jesus truly is the foundation of faith for all those who believe. It brings attention to the fact Jesus truly is the cornerstone of the faith for all those who believe in Jesus. Jesus truly is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and what God has set out to the faith to believe in what has been set out by God. Peter uses this metaphor to truly establish what he thinks the church should be based on Jesus as the foundation of our beliefs. I also think there could be some underlying pastoral emphasis as well even with Jesus as Messiah. Also within the metaphor of the temple and the relationship between living stones of the church and Jesus equals the people as the body of Christ in my opinion. If Jesus is the foundation the living stones are those who follow him and should do his work. As all the stones are built on the foundation of Jesus and all connected to hold, in this case a temple together, we the body have the foundation of Jesus but we all are held together in Jesus for one purpose which is his. The metaphor of the temple fits very well with the body of Christ that Paul writes on in Corinthians.

  2. I think that Peter knows that Jesus is the Messiah, as he was the first disciple to acknowledge this in the gospels. Understanding this point, it seems clear that Peter would see Christ as the capstone to a building. You wouldn’t want to build your foundation on something that is not stable (other “leaders”) when you have Christ as the foundation. I feel that Peter’s main point in this metaphor is to show that if God is building up His church, that we need to be built up on something that is solid enough to hold the weight of the structure being built. Christ is the only one that could hold that weight on his shoulders because he is perfect, being fully human and fully God. Following the temple metaphor, if we are the structure being built up around Christ, then we need to be sure that the walls all fit together and line up just right as well. We cannot have any gaps for the wind and weather to get in through. We will not be blown over because of outside forces because we were built on such a firm foundation. This is what a solid foundation can uphold if we base ourselves on us.

  3. 1 Peter 2:7 calls Jesus the living Stone. Peter describes Jesus in this passage as the most important stone in a Temple. Within this metaphor, those of us who come to Christ are also living stones. We are joined with Christ and are being built into a spiritual house. We build on Him as our foundation, just as every stone that was part of an ancient building was added to the carefully chosen and perfectly placed cornerstone. Our faith, our lives, every part of us, can and must be placed on Jesus, our precious foundation, and we can declare His praises. Jesus is the cornerstone of a temple that “extends around the world and throughout time” as people of every nation and every generation find salvation in Him (Karen Jobes, 320).
    We, the living stones, are people of God who have received His mercy.

  4. It appears that Peter’s main point in calling Jesus the foundation or cornerstone is to remind man that our entire focus and all the good we do is from and for Christ. All too often people start out serving in the name of Christ and then end up serving for false idols like vanity and pride. Serving becomes being about the act instead of the heart. I also feel when it comes to concerns about the pastoral implication this passage has, that is is a reminder to not put our faith in our pastors, but in Christ. It’s easy for people to reach out to their pastors because they are tangible and view able in our humanity; while Christ and the spiritual world can appear to be an enigma, leaving us confused and with more question. But, it’s important that set our mind on things above, and not on earthly things(Col. 3:22). When it comes to the metaphor comparing the people in the church as the living stones, I would say that the metaphor is fitting. Christ is the foundation of the church, He is the one that we all rely on and build upon.

  5. I believe that what the main idea coming from the verses is that Jesus is the foundation for everything that the church is set upon and the relationship between the stones is quite clear if looked at in the right context. What the verses in Peter are implying is that following in the footsteps of Jesus will either make a person an honored servant at the end of their days or will be a continuous stumbling block if he is not the one that is first in the lives of those who believe. Therefore, the verse implied in Peter warn us against what happens in the future on both sides of the spectrum and that we should all be weary of the things that cause us to become distant from the source so that we are not condemned. I would say the use of the metaphor is quite fitting for everyone believer and unbeliever alike whether or not they attend church we should keep an open mind and level head to everything we see as a threat and realize that weakness is Satan’s biggest weapon but it is important we should not conform to his ways, but focus on things eternal, not earthly things as Colossians reminds us. Without the living stone at the bottom of the building instead of at the top of the Temple, the religion would crumble because people would not put the focus on Jesus but rather on themselves in this instance, so as I said earlier I think the metaphor is very fitting and a good reminder for us as we go about our days.

  6. While I’m sure the main point really is that Christ is the foundational stone as well as the capstone that would be very ornate. I had the thought of it being connected. If we are stones being built upon Jesus we are building up something. It sounds very similar to we are the body of Christ. There is a purpose for a body as well as a building. I think maybe the foundation of the building is a belief in Christ and the building, in turn, is the Church. Obviously, this was just a thought and a metaphor the church really isn’t just a building but I think it works we are the church and our foundation is Christ.

  7. I think that Peter’s use of the cornerstone metaphor is a very apropos description of the Christian faith. The cornerstone was the piece of the foundation upon which the rest of the foundation and then the rest of the building was squared. If the cornerstone was off even in the slightest, the rest of the building would be off and not match the plans. Jesus is the cornerstone upon which which the believer should square his faith, that way if he gets off, he can see it. The image of the Temple is also very appropriate, bringing to mind that Jesus said His body was the temple; Paul mentions that are bodies are temples, and I think that as believers we are built upon Christ, each of us adding to the temple whose foundation Christ set.

  8. Peter’s point in saying that Christ is the cornerstone of the church is that everything else is formed around him. We as Christians get to grow closer to God and do the things Christians do, but only because of Christ and what he did. This is definitely a proclamation of Jesus not only as Messiah, but also as the whole reason we are even here! Everything in the New Testament is only there because of God’s over-arching plan to send Jesus into the world to die for our sins and restore us back to Him. I would say Jesus is the cornerstone or capstone of our faith (perhaps the author and finisher would fit here, like Hebrews says). Also, it definitely has pastoral implications to it. It helps the believer (whether new or old) to know where they are now that they believe. Once they believe in him, they will never be put to shame, not stumble on the ‘rock’ and are a people, the people of God, and they have received mercy (v. 4-9). This is great encouragement for the believer who might have come from a pagan background who wouldn’t be familiar with the Law or the Psalms and Prophets.

  9. I find it fascinating that Peter talks about Jesus as the cornerstone, seeing as Jesus nicknamed him Peter, meaning rock, and saying: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matt 16:18) I love that, as it obviously isn’t something Peter would have forgotten, so now it’s almost as if he is saying that while Jesus said that, the true foundation is Jesus, and to make sure his readers knew that. As we know, there is a problem at that time of Christians following certain teachers; such as Paul, Apollos, and James. Peter might be trying to prevent that by saying that Jesus is the true cornerstone, the one we need to model ourselves after.

  10. Jesus as cornerstone is a definitive marker of the true Cristian faith. All that we endeavor to accomplish for the kingdom of God should be built upon the person, works, and teachings of Christ. Also, the metaphor of us as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) paints a great word picture. This furthers my belief that the institutional church is not “the church”, but that the church consists solely of the individuals who make up the body of Christ.
    I find it very interesting that Peter goes on with the stone metaphor and says, Jesus is “a stone that causes people to stumble” (1Peter 2:8). In one sense, Jesus is starting point for believers to build upon, but the other side of that coin is that He will be an obstacle over which some can not or will not traverse.
    This quote from is from Isaiah and the original goes on to say that he (Jesus) will be a Trap and a Snare to the people of Jerusalem. This quote would have brought the rest of that Isaiah passage to mind thus reassuring the readers that their faith in Christ was warranted and not to go back to the old ways of sacrifice and rituals. I believe 1 Peter 1:17-23 supports that notion quite well.

  11. I believe that the Jewish leaders had their rocks of salvation – their past prophets and leaders that they relied for their knowledge of God. They would of put Jesus in this camp of prophets, but not as messiah as He was not returning them to power as they wished and He was highly critical of their heirarchy of religious pious behavior and self-adulation. The point of His metaphor is showing that God planned to make Jesus only the way to Himself through His sacrafice on the cross, not just adding Him to great Jewish men of God, but THE man of God, to be accepted or to be rejected; only the two options being now available. He is either the first stone in our lives or a stumbling block. He is the stone to the Jewish people that all other stones before him would bow down; though the religious leaders at the time would not accept Him as God’s stone at all, He is the main stone, the cornerstone, the start of all things into the church age, age of grace, the opening of the doors to the gentiles and the saviour of those Jewish people that would accept Him. Not another man of history, but the maker of history.

  12. Looking at the references to Scripture and after reading Karen Jobes for 1 Peter there is a clear emphasis on the idea that Christ should be made the cornerstone in our lives. This not only has implications for followers but for Pastors as well. Christ being the cornerstone implies that He is laid first, and although you may not see Him physically we as Christians should live in a way that shows Christ throughout our daily lives and actions. Pastors are then also called to this way of living, and should preach and teach in ways that show Christ’s example as well. Peter makes the point that Christ is the the only teacher or example in which we should build our life upon.

  13. Metaphors are an important aspect of the Bible that help us understand what the author is saying at the time of the writings. During this time, Peter was using the aspect of a cornerstone, as a metaphor for the most important stone in the temple. If we compare this with other scriptures we can see that our bodies are often described as temples for God. Although Peter is not speaking about our humanly bodies, he is talking about the idea of Jesus Christ being the center of our worship, our praise and our everything. Jobes states that Roman architecture, the cornerstone was the piece that supported everything in the temple, or the building (Jobes,319). This correlates to the idea that currently, Jesus Christ was meant to be the very center of every persons life. The people that knew Jesus, believers, Jews, proselytes, anybody who knew him knew what it meant to believe in him. We were chosen, the world is saved because of him but we are supported by the strongest stone in the world, Jesus Christ. The living stones are us, the believers, just like during this time the living stones were the ones who knew Jesus during his teachings.

  14. Jobes describes Peter’s understanding of Jesus as Messiah was vastly deficient (Pg. 273) however it is clear from P. Long’s blog, even though that may have been true, that Peter still understood Jesus’ position as Messiah enough to make the metaphor of Jesus being the cornerstone. As P. Long states, this is seemingly obvious from Peter’s quotation of the Hebrew Bible in reference to Jesus being the cornerstone on which all else is built.

    I would answer P. Long’s question of what is Peter’s main point from this metaphor being that Peter meant to mean that Jesus is metaphorically the base for all else that is to come. That Jesus is the stone by which the church, God’s people, His plan for salvation, etc. The metaphor of Jesus as the cornerstone and the other “stones” of the temple, God’s people, signifies that through Jesus the “stones” now have life through Jesus alone. This His life, work, and sacrifice, Jesus allows people to join into the temple building in which they could not have joined previously.

  15. I think that Jobes did an amazing job of clarifying what 1 Peter was trying to symbolize by referring to Jesus as the living stone. In Chapter 10 Jobes explains all the different references to stone and corner stone and explains that in order to understand this, the reader needs to compare this to the building of Rome and not building being built today. She explains that in Rome, the corner stone was laid first and needed to be perfect for the rest of the structure to be plume and level, unlike today where the cornerstone is often laid last. Therefore, this stone being laid first and perfectly is a great symbol of how Jesus needed to be perfect in order to properly start the church. Because Jesus went first and because Jesus was perfect, the church would be started on a strong foundation that would be built properly and would hold strong. Jobes also discusses how Peter writes about the builders who reject the stone and turn away from the message of Jesus, that they will “Therefore trip and fall over the Living Stone”. Which explains how Jesus may have been referred to as a stumbling block. I believe the reason that the stone is referred to so much in the Bible is because it is a great symbol of who Jesus is to the church.

  16. According to Jobes, “this image of the living stones being built into a spiritual house whose cornerstone is Christ also speaks of the unity, significance, and purpose of all believers, which are concepts essential for Christian self-understanding” (p. 285). Because we are also “like living stones… being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), there is a unity between Christians and Christ. Even though there is a difference because Christ is the cornerstone, there is still this connection between us. We need Christ to be the foundation, and He uses us to build His house. This relates to the “significance” that Jobes speaks of. Without Christ, our spiritual house would fall. We need Him as a foundation in order for us to build His house. And in turn, this relates to our purpose. God uses us as building blocks to build His house and His Kingdom. These three things form the foundation of our Christian lives, because they explain what we are used for, why we need Christ, and it builds unity between us.

    This metaphor is also important because “the experience and destiny of those who come to Christ are bound up with the experience and destiny of Christ Himself” (Jobes, p. 285). Because Christ faced persecution and endured suffering, we should also expect to face those things, as Jobes says, because we were “chosen by God” (p. 285).

    The idea of the stones being “living” also leads to the idea that the house continues to grow (ESVSB, p. 2407). The individual stones grow as they grow in their faith, and they add more and more stones to the house as they help more people come to know Christ.

  17. The image of Christ as the living stone is a metaphor packed with different meanings. The stone is rejected, yet it is still the living stone. In the same way, Christ was killed yet rose again. The stone was also cast aside by the builders, and now causes them to stumble. In the same way, Christ is rejected by some and will subsequently be the one who casts judgement upon them. The living stone can be interpreted as the capstone, the precious stone which is placed on top of a structure. In the same way, Jesus is the precious capstone which is the head of all believers. The stone can also be interpreted as the cornerstone; the foundation for the rest of the stones. In the same way, Jesus is the foundation for the Church.

    Jobes notes that the foundation stone had to be perfectly level and placed perfectly so that the structure would be stable (319). Because Jesus lived a perfect life, he can be foundation of a building or its precious capstone which is affixed nearest to the heavens, yet he is perceived by some to be unworthy and imperfect. Those who reject the perfect stone think they have seen the last of it, yet it will turn up again to cause them to stumble.

    This picture of Jesus as the living stone reminds me of an illustration Dr. Loverin always uses in his theology classes, which he borrows from Karl Barth. Everyone has a relationship to Christ, but this does not mean that everyone will receive salvation. Some will be accepted with Christ (because he was the perfect and holy sacrifice), and the rest will be rejected with Christ (as he took on the punishment for our sins on the cross). In the same way, all the builders will have some relationship to the living stone, either accepting and using it as the cornerstone/capstone, or casting it aside and stumbling on it later.

  18. I think that the main point of Peter’s metaphor is simply that Jesus is the foundation of our faith. He is the cornerstone, the foundation of Christianity. We can have salvation because of Him and He is our example. This metaphor does point to Jesus as the Messiah because in order to be our savior, foundation and our perfect example He would have to be the Messiah. Peter’s metaphor also brings in eschatological themes. When Peter describes Jesus as the stumbling stone he is talking about the difference between those who realized who Jesus is and honor Him and those who trip over the stone. “When Jesus returns, there will be a separation of those who honored the stone as precious or tripped over Him and stumbled” (Long). Some interpret this passage to say that God does not predestine those who disobey and will be punished. Instead, God has predestined what the punishment will be for those who disobey (ESVSB, 2408). The church as living stones that “are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5) are being built on Jesus as the cornerstone. Those who are obedient and are one of the living stones honor Jesus and those who do not stumble over Jesus, the stone of stumbling.

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