Summary; Written and Published May 2023; Jesus is the chief cornerstone the builders rejected. Matthew twenty-one is a remarkable chapter. Not only does it touch on all three dispensations, but it speaks of all four themes that form the character and emphasis of Matthew’s gospel.
In Matthew twenty-one we find the chief priests and elders of the people confronting Jesus while He taught in the temple in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who gave Him the authority to do the things He was doing. He responded by first asking them about John’s baptism – was it from God or from men? When they said they didn’t know, He tells them a few parables. The first was the man who had two sons – this spoke of their hypocrisy (Matt. 21:23-32). The second parable was the landowner and his vineyard – this covered the complete failure of the Jews during the time of the Jewish dispensation (Matt. 21:33-41). They gathered enough to understand the parables were spoken against them and to be offended. So, Jesus responds by saying this:
Matthew 21:42-44 (NKJV)
“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’?
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
Here the stone is the Lord Himself. The builders are the religious leaders of Israel. They helped the nation reject this one who became the chief cornerstone. Israel would be set aside by God; He would no longer acknowledge their calling. God would suspend the Jewish dispensation. The kingdom of God at this time would not be Jewish. The promises God had made for blessing Israel would now all be on hold. God would turn from them and work through a different people.
Now we’ll focus on understanding the last verse in the passage above (v. 44). We should find it’s meaning to be very specific. The Lord’s first coming is known as His humiliation – He is a stone in the ground, and “whoever falls on this stone will be broken.” This is what would happen to these religious leaders as well as all unbelievers in the current Christian dispensation. Next in the verse we have, “but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Instead of the individual falling on the stone, the stone is actively falling and grinding its targets. He was exalted to heaven and will return in power and great glory. When He does it will be destructive judgment on those who oppose Him. This last is confirmed in Daniel two:
Daniel 2:34-35 (NKJV)
34 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. 35 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.
This will take place when Jesus returns and before the millennium, the last dispensation (Rev. 19:11-21, 20: 1-10). It will be after the Christian dispensation has ended and after the last seven years (the tribulation) of the suspended Jewish dispensation are completed. Now we’ve touched on all three dispensations from these few verses in Matthew twenty-one.
Everything I’m about to tell you about Matthew’s gospel has already been discussed at length in other articles and books on this website. I quickly repeat it here so to remind you of the character of his gospel, which should be well established in our thinking. Matthew is transitionally dispensational – his gospel serves very well in bridging the transition from the Jewish dispensation being suspended to the Christian dispensation replacing it. It begins with the presentation to the Jewish mind that Jesus is Israel’s promised Messiah. That is the reason why there are so many Old Testament prophecies quoted in Matthew as now fulfilled. But Israel, in general, would reject this testimony. They would not accept Him as their Messiah King. This is well documented in many places and in many different chapters of this gospel. Then Matthew records how God rejects Israel. Obviously, this leads to the beginning of a new work by God – “Behold, a Sower went out to sow.” (Matt. 13:3) This is the mysterious beginnings of Matthew’s “the kingdom of heaven” – the beginnings of individual Christians, Christianity, the church, Christendom, and the Christian dispensation (Matt. 13:11). (for more detailed discussion. please read https://www.reintgenchristianbooks.com/chapter/dispensational-importance-matthews/
Matthew’s gospel goes back and forth between these three mentioned themes — the presentation to Israel of Jehovah/Messiah; the rejection of God by Israel and Israel by God; the teachings and things of the new Christian dispensation. The first theme doesn’t disappear just because the other two begin to make appearances. I can say this: the gospel does begin with a heavy dose of presenting Jesus as Messiah, King of Israel – His genealogy features both David and Abraham, the two most notable figures of Israel. But the gospel eventually ends with a decidedly Christian commission (Matt. 28:18-20). The character of his gospel is marked well by these bookends.
Matthew twenty-one is remarkable because it shows all three themes of this gospel. The chapter begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey – the presentation of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah King (Matt. 21:1-11). Soon after this the conflict begins. The leaders reject Him and He, in turn, rejects Israel. The Jewish dispensation is pronounced by God as failed (Matt. 21:33-41). Israel is set aside – the kingdom of God is taken from them (Matt. 21:43). Not only do we get the hint of God willing to move on from Israel and do something different with the Gentiles, but the parable at the beginning of the next chapter confirms this thought (Matt. 22:1-14) — “Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite…”