What did Jesus mean by “the stone the builders rejected”?

Question: What is Jesus talking about in Luke 20:18? It seems to me that when he talks about the one who falls on the “stone that the builders rejected” he is talking about judgment on those who reject Jesus. What does he mean when he says the one on whom the stone falls will be crushed to pieces?

Answer: Jesus begins this teaching by telling a parable about wicked tenants who were given the responsibility of tending a vineyard and then sought to take it over for themselves by beating or killing the landowner’s representatives, including his son. He finished the parable with a promise that the landowner would come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. The people listening seemed to understand that he was talking about the Israelites in general and the religious leaders of Israel in particular. The teachers of the law and the chief priests knew Jesus was talking about them (v.19). Jesus probably draws upon the imagery of several Old Testament passages (like Isaiah 8 and Daniel 2) suggested by the quote from Psalm 118:22.

The stone represents Christ himself and his claim to be the Messiah, a claim the religious leaders were supposed to evaluate fairly, but which they saw as a threat to their authority instead (like the tenant farmers in the man’s vineyard). I believe that when Jesus speaks of those who fall on that stone and then of those on whom the stone falls, he is speaking of the same people. He is speaking specifically of the religious leaders who failed in their job of recognizing the Messiah when he came. One of the commentaries I read notes that there is a similar proverb found in Jewish writings around this time: “If the stone falls on the pot, alas for the pot; if the pot falls on the stone, alas for the pot.” In either case, it is being said, the results are disastrous. It was disastrous for the religious leaders to stumble against Christ and his claims because it affects their eternal salvation and their accountability for recognizing Messiah. It will be disastrous for them in the final judgment when the stone, Jesus the Messiah King come back to rule, completes their condemnation by casting them into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20).

No one was more clearly able to see the validity of Jesus’ claims than the religious leaders of Israel, but they refused to see the truth of them, even with miracles being performed right before their eyes. We are given warnings in the Scriptures not to turn away after seeing clearly the truth of Christianity and who Christ is. The book of Hebrews is an extended warning of this kind.

Randall Johnson

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