Who is the Stone the Builders Rejected? Matthew 21:40-45

As a conclusion to the parable of the wicked tenants, Jesus declares he is the son who is about to be taken outside the vineyard and killed. In fact, he quotes Psalm 118 and claims to be the “stone the builders rejected” which becomes the cornerstone. Jesus is obviously referring to himself as the cornerstone. The chief priest and Pharisees even understand the parable is about them (21:45-46). The problem for understanding this parable is the identity of the replacement tenants.


 “Have you never read the Scriptures?” (21:42-44). Jesus concludes by quoting Psalm 118:22-23.  Many scholars have suggested this conclusion is secondary to the parable itself, added at a time after the crucifixion by the early church to put a prediction of the resurrection into the mouth of Jesus. But the quotation goes back to Jesus is clear from the intentional wordplay between “son” and “stone”, ben and aben in Aramaic (Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 228). Similar wordplay is found in Exodus 28:9-10.

The most remarkable parallel comes from the Aramaic Targum on Psalm 118:22, which reads “The boy who the builders abandoned was among the sons of Jesse, and he is worthy to be appointed king and ruler.” The Jewish interpreters took the “stone that was rejected” as a son of Jesses, specifically, David.  “It is more plausible to view this as fragments of an agenda generated by Jesus, inspired by certain Scriptures, frequently interpreted in light of their understanding in the Aramaic-speaking synagogue, and passed on by his disciples” (Evans, Mark 8:27–16:20, 229).

This is less a prediction of the resurrection than a claim to be the heir of David. Just as David was initially rejected as king and later restored, so too Jesus will be rejected by his own people. But unlike David, Jesus will be killed by the leaders. Although there may be a hint of resurrection, it is muted at best. The point for now is Jesus is the anointed son of David who has arrived in Jerusalem, and he s about to be rejected.

The rejection of the stone refers to the Jewish leaders already in a state of rejection. Jesus has offered the kingdom of God throughout his ministry. The restoration of the stone is still future, when the kingdom is given to the ones who are producing fruit.

The kingdom “will be taken away and given” and given to a people who are producing fruit. The first verb is a future event, but the people are presently producing fruit. Who are the replacement tenants?

In the context of the previous parable, this must refer to those that are following in the way of righteousness witnessed to by John the Baptist, the ones who are following Jesus. Remember the sign of the fig tree: the Temple aristocracy is not bearing fruit and they have fallen under judgment. Jesus’s followers are “producing fruit” will continue to do so as the enter the kingdom of God.

This parable does not teach that the kingdom is take from the Jews and given to the Gentiles (i.e.., the Christian Church). This is not replacement theology, the idea that Christians replace Jews as God’s people. On the contrary, Jesus says those who are already following him will be the first to enter the kingdom. The people who are currently in leadership, the Temple aristocracy and various teachers of the law, have already rejected Jesus and will not participate in the kingdom. The next parable describes the kingdom of God alike a wedding banquet where the ones who expect be in the banquet are not (their city is destroyed). But the ones who did not expect to be invited to the wedding are at the banquet.

2 thoughts on “Who is the Stone the Builders Rejected? Matthew 21:40-45

  1. I agree to most of this post, with a slight addition. First, I think the owner of the vineyard in this parable, is referring to God Himself. The builders, are the Scribes and the Pharisees, who are doing a lousy job in the way they are enforcing their misguided judgements on those they deem as unfit, merely because they have visible signs of being unclean. They have already openly rejected Jesus, for his meddling. He, therefore, is the stone which the builders have rejected and will become the cornerstone for the new builders, (his Apostles) of the new kingdom, which is the very same Jesus has been delivering to those who are the ones needing redemption. As long as the religeous rulers of the day have no intentions of granting pardon to those who need it, they only see dark days ahead, not to mention, eternal damnation. (I can only imagine their horror, while approaching their final days). With both John the Baptist and Jesus’ offerings of Forgiveness, along with Jesus’ teachings of Devine Wisdom, (far beyond anything heard by anyone), these poor souls have already experienced a sense of rising from the dead, whether they were healed or not. For even if they are still crippled, that forgiveness allows them passage to Heaven, which is a Blessing of Grace, they never expected to see before.

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