Matthew 21:33-46 Part 4

The prophet Elijah was sent by God to the widow of Zarephath, a village in the vicinity of Sidon, which is in Lebanon, which was a pagan, Gentile nation.  The widow fed Elijah and, later on, he raised her son from death!

Our Lord Jesus, upon being challenged to show the Pharisees a sign of His Messiahship that they could judge and verify, told them that He would show them no sign except the sign of Jonah.  That prophet had been sent to preach to a pagan, Mesopotamian city; and much to his distress and dissatisfaction that city repented and believed!

Ruth was from Moab, a hated, pagan nation across the Jordan.  When the men were killed she followed her mother-in-law (who was Hebrew) back to Israel and became a part of the covenant community.  She was then found gleaning in the fields by Boaz, who married her.  And they gave birth to Obed who fathered Jesse the father of King David.  A Moabitess was the great, great grandmother of King David.

These are just three example (embarrassing to the Jews) of a number of great prophetic events foreshadowing the incorporation and inclusion of the Gentiles into a Covenant of God.  Now, there was nothing more distasteful and discomfiting to the elders and priests of Israel than being reminded of these – except to be reminded of them in the light of soon-to-be-fulfilled-prophecy!  Jesus has now alluded to these (and other) examples a number of times upon being confronted by Pharisees; and on this occasion he tells them straight out what’s about to happen with regard to the Gentiles (verse forty-three).  We’ll get to these last four verses in a few minutes.

But for now we need to go back once more to verse forty-two and the “Stone”.  The priests and elders have passed judgment on the evil husbandmen in the allegory for killing the servants and the son of the housemaster.  And they answered truly that the vineyard should be let out to other growers.

Now Jesus quotes from Psalm one hundred eighteen, verse twenty-two, the implication of that verse being that these men are the subjects of that prophecy; and that they are the atrocious husbandmen; and that they have judged and condemned themselves; and that the Kingdom would be taken away from them and given to another people (i.e. the Gentiles!).

Here’s the verse:


“…did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘A stone the builders did reject, this was made the head of the corner; this is from Kuriou, and it is glorious in our eyes?’”


Commonly taken as prophetic of the death and resurrection of Christ and the establishment of the universal Church, the verse refers to the “builders” who are the leaders of Israel and who shunned the word of the prophets and killed them; and who rejected Messiah and killed Him!

The faithful of the Old Testament Church had anticipated the coming of Messiah; it was from God (Jahveh, Kuriou), and it was glorious to behold – as a future hope!

But the leaders of Israel had abandoned obedience and led the nation away from its hope; and having, themselves, inspected the prime stone, they dismissed it as unfit – all prophesied here in Psalm one hundred eighteen!

And now exhibiting great anger and violence at being confronted with this Truth, they and the nation they led, for whom they were representatives, were about to be judged!  They were going to receive the promised Covenantal sanctions.  Those sanctions had been specifically prescribed by God through Moses, and they would be carried out fully – without mercy – and there were no special “conditions” in which the Pharisees would be the objects of compassion.  (In today’s terminology, they were not to be seen as environmentally affected – therefore not at fault; they were not going to be judged as genetically predisposed – therefore not at fault; they were not to be examined and declared psychologically abused and traumatized – to be treated and rehabilitated.)

There were no pros and cons to be weighed here and considered; there was no circumstantial evidence to the contrary; and there was no one else upon whom they could lay blame.  They had broken the covenant of God as stated by Moses in Deuteronomy twenty-eight, and they had killed the prophets sent by God to correct them and require their repentance; and they were going to kill the Messiah/Son.  They were the covenant representatives, and they were responsible, and they would suffer all the consequences!

And with straightforward language, and without any attempt (due to feelings or sensitivities) to lessen the impact of the words, Jesus lays out the facts of the case against them.

Under no circumstances would they sorrow and turn and believe but, instead, remained adamantly belligerent against God and arrogantly self-willed and self-serving!

And in that condition they have come up against (what Jesus refers to in Psalm one hundred eighteen as) the Stone!  As I read last Lord’s Day the apostle Peter wrote to the Jewish Christians about the Stone, that to those who are faithing He is “precious” – the most precious of all stones, upon Whom the new Temple is built.

(Jesus will use the allusion to the temple again a little later on in answering an apostle’s question.  He will say that not one stone would remain on another in the existing temple, but that He would build another in three days!  In other words the New Temple was to be His resurrected body!  He was the Stone.  He is the Stone!)

But then Peter goes on to say that the nature of the Stone to those who are “disobedient” is best described as “crushing”!  This is not a “stumbling stone” upon Whom one stubs his toe and falls!  That’s how some Evangelicals attempt to lessen the impact of the “harsh” language here.  But the text is very clear that Christ is a Rock which is a trap and a snare (skandala) upon whom men are caught and trapped and crushed!

Peter quotes from Isaiah chapters eight and twenty-eight and from Psalm one hundred eighteen.

Isaiah chapter eight involves the nation of Israel “dreading” pagan leaders and making alliances with them because they are dreadful.  Rather then giving all glory to the (truly) dreadful God (the Rock), their fear was toward powerful men!  Therefore the “Rock”, or “Stone”, would be for a snare and a trap upon which all of Israel would dash themselves to pieces!  God, therefore, is the One upon Whom all of our fear should be centered!  Men or nations must not inspire dread and fear in the hearts and minds of God’s people!  Fear God – not men.  The Lord’s people must not live in dread of men.

And in Isaiah twenty-eight we find a similar passage.  Jahveh has determined (therefore it is as good as accomplished) a Stone in Zion.  And this Stone provides the strongest foundation, and an inviolable security (immovable), to those who believe.  And whatever has escaped wrath, (in both Old and New Testaments and in the present Kingdom), stands on this Rock.

Faith in Him is life itself; but arrogant rebellion brings strict retribution.  Israel and its leaders have taken refuge in lies, rendering the covenant illegible (that text says).  They have fancied themselves as having been fortified against death and hades.  But Yahveh unleashes the swelling flood of scourging – the strokes coming upon them incessantly.

The Hebrew verbal description of the waves of the scourge is frightening, because its waves move like the waves of a flood; and like the waves of the Word of Yahveh – precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; a little here, a little there that they might fall backwards that they may be dashed to pieces and be snared and taken.  That’s the way this warning reads in the text!  The Stone upon which was rest and security became to them a Stone of crushing.

So Peter, in his first letter to the Hebrew Christians (as well as Paul in the ninth chapter of Romans) uses these three passages from the prophets to describe what has happened to Israel, in order to bring understanding and faith to the new believers – to shore them up and give them confidence and hope!  It was a tumultuous and frightening time for them – as if the cosmos itself was falling apart.  Everything which had been was disintegrating!

But the precious Stone was in Zion.  Always had been.  Always would be.  In resting upon Him there is a firm foundation for everything.  Men aren’t to be feared; governments aren’t to be feared; societal trends and conspiracies aren’t to be feared!  The cosmos isn’t falling apart; the nations and governments and societies are not disintegrating.  Security rests in the Rock which is Christ.  The early Church was fortified and made secure in the words of the apostles as they referred time and again to the prophets of old.  In fact, as we have seen from Peter’s first letter, the new believers themselves were called precious stones in the structure of the New Temple – the body of Christ!  That is where there is absolute security!

Now.  Should men arrogantly reject this Stone, such as these builders of Israel did; should they make the covenant illegible; should they form alliances with pagans; should they look upon the evil with dread; should they be fearful of societal disintegration; should they build up fortresses against death and hades – then they will have been snared and trapped upon the Eternal Stone and dashed to pieces in the waves of Almighty retribution!  That has not changed!

Now.  There is one additional piece to the understanding of Christ as the “Stone” which hasn’t yet been included.  And that comes in these last four verses.  Because of all this (we just said), Jesus says,


“… I say to you the Kingdom of God shall be taken away from you and given to a people who produces its fruits… and the one fallen upon this stone shall be crushed; however the one on whom it should fall, it shall scatter him.”


Heretofore we have seen, from Isaiah and from the Psalmist, the ones who come up against the Stone and dash themselves to pieces against Him.

But now we are to see something a little different.  And it’s in the second half of that verse forty-four.  Listen again:  “… however, the one on whom it should fall, it shall scatter him.”  The difference here is between being ensnared and trapped and crushed upon Him, and the Stone scattering the one upon whom it should fall!  So Jesus is alluding to something which we have not yet found in the Psalmist or in the two chapters of Isaiah!

And the reason that He’s bringing it in here is because of what He said in verse forty-three.  The Kingdom of God is to be taken away from these who represent all the nation of Israel; and it is going to be given to another people!

Now, what Jesus says in verse forty-four about crushing and scattering is connected to the taking away of the Kingdom and giving it to another people, isn’t it?  Those from whom the Kingdom is removed are to be crushed on the Stone.

So now, in addition to those prophetic passages of the Older Testament having to do with men and governments and nations dashing themselves upon the Rock which is Christ, we now have to see if Jesus is alluding to other portions of the prophetic Scriptures having to do with the Stone falling upon men and governments and nations and cultures, to crush and “scatterthem!

And, of course, having already done that, I present you with the only place in Scripture where the same language is used that we see here in verse forty-four.  It is in the prophecy of Daniel.  You certainly ought to read this for yourselves, but let me tell you the story.

After Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had defeated Israel (586 BC) and led the Jews into captivity in what is now known as Iraq (maybe inclusive of Saudi Arabia), there were four very young men of Israel whose looks and knowledge and wisdom caught the attention of governmental authorities – and even King Nebuchadnezzar himself.

The young men were renamed with Mesopotamian names, replacing their Jewish ones (Belteshazzar [Daniel’s new name], Shaddrach, Meshech and Abednego); and they were fattened up for the king’s service – that is, to serve the king in his palace. Well, it wasn’t long before these four young men were acknowledged to be wiser than all the Chaldean astrologers, magicians and seers!

The text of Daniel’s prophecy makes it very clear that Daniel, especially, gave all the glory to God as he served and gave honor to the king of Babylon; for it is God, he says, who removes kings and sets up kings and gives wisdom to the wise….

But Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which gave him great anxiety.  And he demanded from all the seers and astrologers and sorcerers and wise men of Babylon that they tell him what his dream was and then interpret it.  He refused to tell them what the dream was, because, he said, they would then fabricate the interpretation.  But if they told him what the dream was first, then he would know that they weren’t making up an interpretation.  And what’s more, he told them that they would all die (and that order, by the way, included Daniel and his three friends, since they were considered wise men in the service of the king), but they would all die if there was not even one in all the kingdom who could do what the king required!

Well, when Daniel heard what the king required, and that none of the seers and sorcerers could accomplish it, and that the decree had gone out for them all to be slain; he then rushed to ask the king to wait for him.  Because he would declare the king’s dream and its interpretation!  So he won a stay of execution for himself and his friends and all the Chaldean sorcerers.

Then, having gone to his bed for praise and prayer, Daniel asked God for mercy.  And God revealed to him King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its interpretation.

So Daniel went to the king and said that God has made known to Nebuchadnezzar what is to happen in the “latter days”.  And he described for the king exactly what he dreamed!  That a magnificent image of great brightness and excellence was revealed to him.  And that image’s head was gold, its breast and arms were silver, its belly and loins were brass, and its legs and feet were iron – except the feet were mixed with common clay.

But then a Stone, cut without hands, fell upon the feet and crushed them, and then crushed the iron and brass and silver and gold all together, and the pieces of the great image were scattered like chaff into the wind and became as nothing!  Then the Stone that smote the image became a great mountain that filled the earth!

Daniel then told the interpretation of the dream to Nebuchadnezzar.  The majestic image in his dream was the image of four successive, world-wide, culture-changing kingdoms – the first of which was the head of gold:  Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire.

When Daniel concludes the description of the great image, he then says this to Nebuchadnezzar, chapter two, verse forty-four:


“And in the days of these kings (these are the multiple kings of the fourth great kingdom) shall the God of heaven set up a Kingdom, which shall never be destroyed:  and the kingdom shall not have a successor!  It shall crush in pieces and make an end to all these kingdoms; and it shall stand forever.  Forasmuch as you saw that out of the mountain the Stone was cut without hands; and that it brake into pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter.  And the dream is certain, and the meaning thereof sure.”


The Stone made without hands scatters the great kingdoms of earth.

So Jesus has alluded to this portion of prophecy in connection with the Kingdom being taken away from the Jews and being given to another people!  The Stone which is Christ is rejected by the Jews who are snared and crushed upon Him.  Jesus is saying to them, “I Am that Stone!”  That same Stone falls upon the culture-producing kingdoms of the earth and crushes and scatters them into the wind!  And the Stone becomes a great mountain (remember the mountain imagery) which fills the whole earth – producing a new people!  A great Kingdom without a successor!  And as the prophet Hosea wrote:


“… and it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, ‘you are not My people, there it shall be said unto thee, You are the sons of the Living God.’”


This is from Yahveh/Kuriou, and it is glorious in our eyes!  The inheritance is ours in the resurrected Lord!

The elders and priests recognized the prophecies to which Jesus alluded, and they ascertained that He was speaking of them.  And they became even angrier and wanted to take Him right then and do what they had planned to do.  But the crowds held Jesus to be a prophet, and they were scared to do it.

The next time we meet we find that Jesus is still not through bringing the word of prophecy against these men!  He continues His assault on them from Isaiah and Daniel and Ezekiel and Obadiah – exposing their hypocrisy and vilifying them and judging them; increasing their shame and, in turn, their covetous jealousy, their rage and their savagery.

It has now even been proven to them from Scripture that their rejection and murder of Him is the means by which they are to be crushed, and the Kingdom taken and given to another people – the Gentiles!  But the more they are trapped in the absolute Word of God, the more vicious and out of control they become.

In the light of this passage of Scripture, coming to the Lord is a humiliating experience.  For we are the recipients of God’s covenant mercy as a result of the Jewish nation being crushed on the Rock which is Christ.

And we now stand in covenant with Him because Jesus Christ is now our representative rather than our father Adam.  He represented us on the cross and in the grave and in His resurrection!  And we affirm, in our worship, that His great Kingdom now covers the earth.  He has scattered (the Stone has scattered) all one-world, one-culture, governments – in favor of His Own government!  There is no successor!

And in that great Covenant, fathers are representatives of their families; and leaders are representatives of their nations.  This is Covenant theology, the signs of which are the covenant meal and baptism.  The “sign” of God is placed on the children of believers and on adult converts, marking them as members of a great covenantal body with Christ as Head and King.  We no longer have Adam as our representative head, but Jesus Christ is now the new Head of redeemed, covenanted humanity!  And, all of us now eat together in union with Him!

The Spirit of Christ is poured out upon His elect people; sin is remitted; God is satisfied; and we are made new in the body of Christ.  It is all an act of salvation from God of incalculable worth, and we respond with worship, obedience, baptism and the Lord’s Table (communion) – and in discipleship of the world.

So come to Him humiliated and sorrowful for sin and rebellion; but turn and believe that He is the One sent from God to ransom His people.  His blood was shed that our sin might be covered; and His body was given that we might be resurrected to new life.