After Jesus came back to life and returned to His home with God, Peter and John began to teach that Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s history and prophecy, the Messiah. They preached that Jesus’ sacrificial death is enough to forgive sin. Since this was counter- Judaism, they were brought in for questioning by the Sanhedrin, the religious rulers (think Taliban).
“Who said it was okay for you to be teaching the people?” the rulers asked them.
They answered, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead…He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.‘”
Why are they talking about rocks?
Because that’s what Jesus did when He was challenged with the same question a few months earlier. In Luke 20, Jesus adds something to His reply.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone…Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Now to us, this sounds crazy. Answering with nonsense about heavy rocks? But to the university-educated, “lawyers and doctors” of the Sanhedrin, it spoke volumes. It was a scholarly reference that revealed a level of education not often found in “GED”-level educated men like Peter and John. It revealed they had a fine teacher, who took their education farther. Hence the comment by the rulers, “…[when] they realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
What does this rocky reference mean?
It is a reference to Jewish prophecy. Even though a short statement, it conjured up the whole context it was birthed from. It became a metaphor for an idea more complex. For example, try explaining to a foreigner, who knows nothing about the USA, the following statement and the understanding it immediately brings to our minds. “Four score and seven years ago.” Or “I have a dream.” To understand it fully, we have to dig into the history of the metaphor.
God is a Rock with a relationship.
To the ancient Jewish mind, Rock refered to God. Not only did this metaphor conjure up the idea of large pieces of granite, it went further. The word for rock was used in poetry to compare God to a mountain where his people can run for protection from their enemies. In Genesis49:24, God is called Israel’s Rock. God is a rock with a relationship. He protected those He knew and who knew Him back.
A “rocky” break-up.
God warns the Israelites throughout the Old Writings that their relationship with Him as a nation would break. In Isaiah, He says this, “but for both houses of Israel he [the Lord] will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.”
A reading through the words of the ancient prophets, reveals that Israel did not want a relationship with God. Oh, they said they did! But, when it came down to actually working at being friends with God, they wouldn’t do it. God, the rock, became their enemy.
The enormous and everlasting rock to come!
In Daniel 2, the rock metaphor expands. Daniel is interpreting the king’s dream as a prediction about the future kingdoms of the world, represented by a statue made from different materials. The dream uses the metaphor the Hebrews understand, mountains and rocks.
“While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them…But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth…Now we will interpret it to the king….The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.”
What a hopeful, uplifting passage! To the Israelites at the time, enslaved and in exile in other lands, it spoke of the Rock Protector destroying their oppressors and establishing a just and enduring kingdom.
God didn’t waffle with his prophecy. He goes on record with the timeline. Three world kingdoms after Bablyon would see the rise of this “rock not cut by human hands.” It is during the reign of that third kingdom, Rome, that Jesus speaks His astonishing and unbelievable words.Why astonishing? Why unbelievable? Because the rock kingdom is not a kingdom for Israel after all.
Israel rejects the Rock.
A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The tripping rock is Jesus.
Peter and John name that stone… Jesus. An ancient Jew equates a stone with God. So rightly, they understood that Jesus was claiming authority straight from God. Not only does that anger the powers-that-be, it insults them. Because they understood the metaphor from Isaiah… Israel rejects the rock that is God.Which means the rock that becomes a huge mountain (a place of Godly refuge) and fills the whole earth from Daniel’s prophecy, is not for them. It is given to others. The kingdom of the rock is for those who embrace the stone. The stone becomes the capstone for another people, another kingdom, not Israel.
Who is crushed?
Israel trips over the stone, but who is underneath the force of this Rock? He on whom it falls will be crushed. Who is destroyed by its weight? Again, you must understand a metaphor. A metaphor more ancient than any other.
So the LORD God said to the serpent, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15
Jesus, the rock not made with human hands, is the destroyer of the first rebel, Satan.
Ancient rock talk is deep. Maybe you’ll even go a little deeper?