“And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” Luke 20:17-18
Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem’s greatest landmark was its Holy Temple, containing the House of God. Situated on what was Mt. Moriah, it was enormous, covering some 35 acres. Twice a day, sacrifices were offered to the LORD by the priests and the Levites. The Holy of Holies was the center of all worship, a place the High priest could only enter once a year. Surrounding this Kodesh or House of God were four courtyards. The closest was the courtyard of the priests. This was enclosed by the court of the Israelites, which was open to Jewish men. Outside of this was a court for the women. Lastly was the courtyard of the Gentiles, a place open to all.
Josephus in his writings describes the Temple having four colonnades or porches on its sides. The eastern portico was called Solomon’s porch. It was over 40 feet high with its roof resting on an outside wall on one end and two rows of columns supporting it in the front, facing the Temple. This area served as a place of meeting and often teaching. Jesus and the apostles would have used this shaded area to teach. The adjoining southern cloister was even greater and towered some three stories above. It was called the Royal Stoa.
The Sanhedrin met on its eastern end, a place traditionally called “Solomon’s throne.” It was thought that this was where Solomon’s “porch of judgment” was once located. Here the king would sit in judgment (II Kgs 7:7). The remainder of this portico was given over to the money changers, merchants and vendors who sold birds, and animals to be sacrificed. It was here in the Royal Stoa that Jesus probably drove out the money changers when he cleansed the Temple. These merchants were shortchanging the people and intruding upon the Gentiles place of prayer (Mt. 21:12-13). They were forsaking what was to be a house of prayer and making it into a “den of thieves.”
Shortly after Jesus had cleansed the Temple for the second time, he was confronted again by the chief priests and scribes. They were actively plotting to destroy him. Ignoring their threats and demands, Jesus continued to teaching daily in these colonnades. His popularity and wisdom made the common people seek him. Luke records that they “were very attentive to hear him” (Lk. 19:48).
The Porch of Judgment
These “holy men of God” next sought to question Jesus’ authority, thus denying him the right to teach on the grounds of the Temple. A group of the religious leaders of Israel—the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes—challenged the Lord and demanded proof of his authority to teach. If Jesus could not manifest this “proof,” they would have him thrown off the Temple mount. Here, in “Solomon’s Court of Judgment,” Jesus is being “judged.” He responds by over-turning the arguments of his adversaries. The Pharisees in response cannot answer his questions. Perhaps, Jesus may have questioned the same men twenty years before, when Joseph and Mary found him teaching in the Temple as a young man (Lk. 2:46).
Luke records that in this instance, Jesus responded by asking these leaders a question they could not answer, followed by the telling of a thinly veiled parable. Then intently staring at them in silence, waiting for their response and knowing that they could not give one, he ends his argument by asking them what was the meaning of “The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner.”
The Stone the Builders Rejected
This scripture which the LORD cited is found in Psalms 118. This Psalm was part of group of psalms sung during Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). These were the Hallel hymns, or praise psalms (113-118). They were memorized by all observant Jews, and sung during the Passover meal. These Psalms were also chanted by the priests while the Passover lambs were slain. The Levites would stand at the altar, performing these sacrifices and the people would respond antiphonally. Every Jewish pilgrim who journeyed up to Jerusalem to attend these Feasts would have sung these psalms. Jesus and the apostles also would have sung Psalm 118 at the finish of their Passover meal (Mt. 26:30, Mk. 14:26).
The True Meaning of the Rosh Pinah
The chief priests, the Pharisees, and the scribes were the religious leaders of Israel. They were the builders. They were the ones to whom the people looked to lead them to God. Yet, Jesus was saying to them, “I am the capstone of the Temple and of your faith. I am the long awaited Messiah, and you have rejected me.”
This saying was also a popular proverb of the time, which the elders, and religious leaders knew. The Psalm was written a thousand years before Christ’s birth. Its source may come from an ancient legend, or a real incident that the psalmist was referring to. It seems that during the construction of Solomon’s Temple, the king instructed his quarry men to carve out the stones off site, so that no noise would be heard while the Temple was being built. During the course of the Construction the stone cutters sent over a strange shaped stone. The builders could not use it. They threw it to one side, where it lay until the Temple was almost finished. It was lacking one stone. They petitioned the quarry men to “send us the cornerstone.” “We have already,” they replied. “We sent it to you at the beginning.” A search was made, and the rejected stone was found, overgrown by the brush, and down the hillside of the Kidron Valley. Hence the builders retrieved what they had rejected and placed it with great honor on the Temple.
This capstone, this foundation stone, was the “rosh pinah” or the most important stone of the building. Jesus was saying that “by rejecting me, you are rejecting the cornerstone of your faith, your messiah.” The Hebrew defines “rejected” as ma’asu. It means: “condemned, despised, loathed, and or cast away.” The Lord was saying that “you have despised me, loathed me, cast me away, and condemned me. Therefore, in rejecting me, you and the Temple, with all of its rituals will soon fall into great ruin. Without me as your cornerstone: ‘they shall not leave one stone upon another'” (Lk. 19:44).
“Silver and Gold Have I None”
After Jesus’ ascension Peter and John, empowered afresh with the Holy Spirit, went up to the Temple to pray. Here at the Gate Beautiful, they had a certain encounter with a lame man. The story is familiar. He, asking for alms, found himself healed “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This miracle caused all the people to run after them while they were standing by “Solomon’s porch” (Acts 3:11).
Peter’s preaching on Jesus being resurrected from the dead brought the attention of the authorities. They threw them in jail for an evening, until the next day when Annas, the high priest, Caiaphas, and others demanded that Peter tell them “by what power or by what name have ye done this?” Peter in defending himself rebukes the “rulers of the people and elders of Israel” saying Jesus, who they crucified and whom God raised from the dead, healed this man. He was “the stone which was set at naught of you builders which is become the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11). Therefore, it was Jesus as the chief cornerstone who brings salvation. “There is no other name in heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Peter’s testimony, along with the lame man’s healing, convinced these Jewish leaders to release them. They knew they had already rejected the chief cornerstone, but yet were not prepared to embrace the Messiah or his message of salvation.
Falling upon the Rock
Luke adds a following verse to Christ’s word. “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder” (vs. 17). Christ is our rock. When we fall upon him, we may suffer brokenness, but he will heal and restore. He is our strength.
Saint Peter Gallicantu is a significant holy site in Jerusalem. It means in Latin: “Where the rooster crowed.” It is the site where Peter betrayed Christ, until the Lord “looked at him.” Peter was broken by that look and realized what a shameful thing he had done.
Visit that church, and in the second level beneath the upper church, you will see a series of paintings. The center one behind the altar portrays Peter repenting on a large rock. That rock is symbolic of Christ. The last panel then illustrates Peter restored. He is standing on the Galilean shore and is receiving the keys of the Kingdom by Christ. Fall upon the rock of Christ, repent for your sins, and you will be saved.
Ground into Powder
Millstones were and still are common sites in the Middle East. These large circular rocks were powered by animals who in pulling the stone would grind the wheat into powder. Christ used the image of a millstone in speaking to his listeners on what would happen to them if they offended “one of these little ones.” It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their next then cause offense to such innocence babes.
The judgment of God can be compared to a massive rock falling on you. As an earthen vessel, you will be shattered and destroyed. The leaders of Israel were under the judgment of God for rejecting the Messiah. They would have all the force of Rome’s armies fall on them in a few short years and perish. They had missed the time of their visitation (Lk. 19:44).
A Word from the LORD
I formed you with a skeleton of bones, a foundation for your body, so as to fasten its muscles and hold its organs together. Yet, without the skull, this foundation is useless. The skull houses your brain and is therefore the chief cornerstone of your body. I am also the cornerstone of your soul and your heart, if you choose to place me there. Without me as your support, your keystone in all that you do, you would quickly collapse.
Like my servant Peter told the Chief Priest, there is no other way to be saved but in the name of Jesus. As I am the chief cornerstone to you, you are as living stones to me. It is I who gives you life. Do not reject me, do not cast me away, and do not condemn me as others have. Rather, accept me, hold me close, and embrace me as your Savior.
My own people rejected me long ago. They cast away their chief cornerstone. Yet, they will find me and accept me, when they search for me with all their heart. They will see me and then will place me in their hearts as their chief cornerstone. They will come to me and recognize me as their promised Mashiach. They will rejoice and say, “This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Lord, while you were on earth, many rejected your words and walked away. The same is true today. The world has no place for you or your disciples. Jesus my life is founded in you. You are my Rock. I have made you the chief cornerstone of my heart. Please send me your love for lost souls that I may speak your word and declare your message to a world that has no desire for you.
Lord, you spoke about the foolish man who built a house on sand. He sought security and success but found loss when the rains descended, the floods came and the winds blew. How true are the words of the Psalmist: “Except the LORD built the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Jesus, I ask your help in building in me a firm foundation. You are “the author and finisher of my faith.” Therefore, set my feet upon your rock and establish my goings.
“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace” (Ps. 144:12).
“From that time on, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (Jn. 6:66).
“For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery. Lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25).
“Wherefore also it is contained in scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him, shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner” (I Pet. 2:6).
Jerusalem, Lest I Forget Thee by Gene Little
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