Strangers And Aliens (8): A Rock Of Offense And A Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:7–8)

sumblingblock2What Martin Luther (1483–1546) expressed as a distinction between the distinction between a theology of glory (theologia gloriae) and the theology of the cross) the Reformed tended to express as a distinction between the Creator and the creature but same set ideas is present in both traditions. The theology of glory seeks to know what cannot be known by creatures, which the Reformed called “archetypal theology” (theologia archetypa). It also drives one to present one’s self to God on the basis of one’s sanctity and/or performance of the law. In short, the theology of glory is a way of talking about rationalism and moralism. The theology of the cross, which the Reformed called “ectypal theology” (theologia ectypa) restricts one to what is revealed in and necessarily implied by Scripture. It drives us to present ourselves to God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through faith alone (sola fide). Peter is working with similar categories here in our passage.

1 Peter 2:7–8

7ὑμῖν οὖν ἡ τιμὴ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν, ἀπιστοῦσιν δὲ λίθος ὃν ἀπεδοκίμασαν οἱ οἰκοδομοῦντες, οὗτος ἐγενήθη εἰς κεφαλὴν γωνίας 8καὶ λίθος προσκόμματος καὶ πέτρα σκανδάλου οἳ προσκόπτουσιν τῷ λόγῳ ἀπειθοῦντες εἰς ὃ καὶ ἐτέθησαν. 7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (ESV).

v. 7: Through Faith Alone
Our natural inclination is to think and to do what seems right to us. Christianity, however, is nothing if not counter-intuitive. Jesus did not chase the Romans out of Jerusalem with a weapons. He came to suffer and to conquer hell and death through suffering, death, and resurrection. Further, after the fall our intuitions and inclinations were corrupted, bent, and misdirected. We are not and cannot be the measure of all truth.

What divides humanity, ultimately, is not cleverness. The dividing line is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24) Jesus Christ, “the stone that the builders rejected.” The way we relate to him is faith. Those whom God honors (τιμὴ) are not those the world regards as strong, brave, or bright but those who believe (πιστεύουσιν). What makes faith powerful is not the virtue (strength) inherent in faith but its object: Christ.

The world, those who do not believe, reject the stone that God has appointed. That stone, of course, is Christ. He presented himself to the world but the world would not have him. To explain, Peter quotes Psalm 118, which is a celebration of God’s covenant goodness (ט֑וֹב) and faithfulness (חַסְדֹּֽ; Ps 118:1). Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness endures forever (לְעוֹלָ֣ם). The Psalmist calls upon Yahweh in his distress (Ps 118:5). Yahweh is on the Psalmist’s side, he delivers the him and therefore the Psalmist takes courage in the face of those who hate him (Ps 118:6–7). The Psalmist trusts in Yahweh rather than in princes (Ps 118:9). The nations (גּוֹיִ֥ם) surround him but the Psalmist cuts them off (v. 10) in the name of Yahweh. Yahweh’s right hand exalts and does valiantly (v/ 16). The Psalmist is eligible to enter through the gates of righteousness (שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק; vv. 19–20). Yahweh is his deliverance and it is he, the righteous one who is the stone (אֶבֶן) that the builders rejected, who has (contrary to the expectations of the enemies) become the cornerstone (v. 22 רֹ֣אשׁ פִּנָּֽה). This is a supernatural truth, it “is the Lord’s doing and marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23). According to the Apostle Peter, Jesus is the righteous one whom the Psalmist prefigured. He is the stone appointed by God, rejected by men, but contrary to their expectations, made the the “head of the corner” (κεφαλὴν γωνίας). The Jewish and pagan authorities regarded Jesus as disposable. The crowds abandoned him, especially after he disappointed them, after he failed to live up to their expectations. Even though he did not fit into human plans, he was, as it turns out, fundamental to God’s plan for history and for the salvation of his people.

v. 8: In The Stumbling Stone
To those who believe Jesus is the truly both the foundational stone of the house that God is building, to whom we are united sola gratia, sola fide but he is the head stone. We do not have to choose between these images. To those who do not believe, however, Jesus is a “stumbling stone” (λίθος προσκόμματος) and a “rock of scandal” (πέτρα σκανδάλου). Peter quotes Isaiah 8:14 where Yahweh says to Isaiah not to fear what Israel fears (e.g., Assyria) but rather to fear Yahweh of hosts (Isa 8:13; יְהוָ֥ה צְבָא֖וֹת). We are to consecrate (תַקְדִּ֑ישׁוּ) Yahweh and to fear him. It is Yahweh who will become a “sanctuary” (), and a “stone of offense” (or plague; לְאֶ֣בֶן נֶ֠גֶף) and a “rock of stumbling” (לְצ֨וּר מִכְשׁ֜וֹל) to both houses of Israel (Isa 8:14). The nations are not the danger to Israel, Yahweh is. He is a snare (פַ֣ח) and a trap (לְמוֹקֵ֔שׁ) to those who dwell in Jerusalem and vs. 15 adds this is no mere theory. “And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

Peter interprets Isaiah 8:14 to be fulfilled in Christ. He is the stone of offense and the rock of stumbling to those who do not believe. Remember, in Isaiah 8:13, Yahweh of Hosts is the subject of the verb. He is also the subject of the verb in v. 14 when he says “he will be….” Yahweh will be the rock and the stone. Here Peter identifies Jesus as rock and the stone. Therefore, Jesus is Yahweh. God the Son was revealed as the Savior and the Judge to Israel and God the Son incarnate, Jesus the Messiah is that Savior, Judge, Rock, and Stone. It is with him that everyone must reckon and it is by him that everyone shall be saved or judged. Either one is clothed with Christ’s perfect (condign) merit and righteousness or, in the case that one is offended by the scandal of the the crucified Son, one shall stand before Christ naked and condemned.

At the end a terrible reality will be manifest. Those who rejected Christ are those who “stumble at the Word” (προσκόπτουσιν τῷ λόγῳ), i.e., they stumble upon the message that Christ is God the Son incarnate, that he obeyed, suffered, was crucified, buried in the place of God’s people and that he was raised for their justification, that he ascended and that he reigns and rules now. Peter characterized their stumbling at the word as “disobeying” (ἀπειθοῦντες). Rather than submitting their vision for the future to Jesus, they want Jesus to submit to them. Judas is the perfect type of the reprobate. Judas supported Jesus when Jesus met his expectations. He was content with miracles and parables so long as Jesus was headed toward power in Jerusalem. The moment it became apparent that Jesus was not kidding, that he was headed to Jerusalem indeed but to die, Judas turned on Jesus and literally sold him out. Judas rejected Jesus because Judas was an idolater.

Behind that reality lies another. At that day it shall appear that those who impenitently rejected Christ did so because they were already appointed (ἐτέθησαν) by God to this unbelief. This is a somber reminder that we only come to faith because we were appointed. New life and true faith is a divine gift. Reprobation is also a divine appointment. To be sure, we are not God and Peter is not instructing us to play “guess the reprobate.” No, this is call to persevere in confidence, in the knowledge that it is God who has given us faith in Christ the stumbling stone and rock of offense so that, for us, he is the cornerstone of the holy temple of which he has graciously made us a part. We should be encouraged to know that we are part of a cosmic, spiritual drama that is playing out. We understand that this drama is no game. The Word of the cross is going out and doing its work by the power of the Spirit. The same Spirit who brought us to life shall bring all of Christ’s people to life and true faith and so we shall be built up together into the holy house of God. Those who stumble, do so not because of any fault in Christ or in the gospel but because of the spiritual darkness in which, by nature, after the fall, we all live. As we contemplate Judas and others we should be moved to give thanks to God in Christ for his mercy and grace to us.

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