Question:

In Matthew 21:44, I know that Jesus is talking to the chief priests and the Pharisees, but I am having trouble understanding this verse. "And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken, but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."

Is Jesus saying that whoever goes against him, since he is the stone will lose?  Also, in verse 43, he is saying that "the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." The kingdom of God was never given to the Pharisees. Can you explain these two verses?


Answer:

"Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder." Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them" (Matthew 21:41-44).

These comments come right after Jesus gives the parable of the vine-growers (Matthew 21:33-40). In that parable, the landowner is God, the Father. He prepares a vineyard, which is a nation of His people -- a symbol used in the past (Isaiah 5:1-7). The vineyard is rented out to some vine-growers, who represent the leaders of Israel. When the time came to collect rent, the landowner sent slaves, who represent the prophets. These prophets the leaders beat, torture and kill (II Chronicles 36:16; Jeremiah 44:4-6; Acts 7:52-53; I Thessalonians 2:15; Hebrews 11:36-37). Eventually the landowner sends his son, who is Jesus, and they kill him thinking that somehow they will still his inheritance by doing so.

The Jewish leaders, the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, thought that the kingdom of God belonged to them. Israel was God's special people. "'Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel" (Exodus 19:5-6). The focus wasn't on the people or the territory, though many confused it as such, but it was supposed to be a nation from which the righteous teachings of God would spill forth to the other nations. "Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in" (Isaiah 26:2). Instead, Israel horded the teachings of God to itself. Even then it did follow God's laws and so killed God's prophets and eventually the Son of God in the delusion that they could retain power (John 11:47-48).

Thus Jesus is saying that the kingdom, God's people, nominally the nation of Israel, would be removed from the control of these people and given to another who would be productive. Such happened. The kingdom is no longer Israel but the church. "Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). And, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (II Peter 2:9-10). The church would do what Israel failed to do.

In Matthew 21:42, Jesus tells them that the stone which the Israelite leaders have rejected has become the chief cornerstone of this new nation. It is a reference to himself. "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11). Continuing with the theme of being a rock, Jesus alludes to Isaiah: "He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken, Be snared and taken" (Isaiah 8:14-15).

In opposing Jesus, the leading Jews have run against an unmovable stone. They might strike it with their feet, but it is they who end up sustaining an injury, not the stone. Jesus is giving warning. As the stone, right now he is not doing anything and their opposition to him is injuring themselves, but there is coming a time when the stone will move and if they insist in continued opposition, they will be ground up like wheat under a millstone. This is an allusion to Daniel's prophecy: "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:34-35). Isaiah had also warned of this: "For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, And those nations shall be utterly ruined" (Isaiah 60:12).

All this came about. Israel crucified the Son of God and one of the consequences was the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel. Rome also opposed the church and it too fell. And so it will continue till the end of time.