What does it mean that Jesus is the cornerstone?
In biblical times, a cornerstone was used as the foundation and standard upon which a building was constructed. Once in place, the rest of the building would conform to the angles and size of the cornerstone. In addition, if removed, the entire structure could collapse.
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In the Bible, messianic prophecies spoke of the Messiah as the Cornerstone. Isaiah 28:16 says, "Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation." Psalm 118:22 speaks of the Messiah, stating, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus referring to this passage as finding its fulfillment in Him (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). Each Gospel indicates this teaching of Jesus occurred between Monday and Wednesday of the Passover week, while Jesus was in Jerusalem during the time between His triumphal entry (called Palm Sunday) and His crucifixion. Matthew's account reveals that this specific teaching likely took place on the Monday before Christ's crucifixion (Matthew 21:17-18). Peter later used this passage to condemn the Jewish religious leaders, stating, "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone" (Acts 4:11).
The apostle Peter also spoke of Jesus as Cornerstone on two other occasions. In 1 Peter 2:6, he notes, "For it stands in Scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'" The following verse, 1 Peter 2:7, adds, "So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.'"
In one additional place, the apostle Paul references the idea of Jesus as Cornerstone, teaching, "You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:19-20). This was likely both a reference to the Old Testament prediction by Psalm 118:22 as well as an illustration of Jesus as the Cornerstone upon which the "household of God" was being built.
For those living in societies where people often built their own homes, using construction terminology to explain the priority of Jesus the Messiah as the Cornerstone of the household of God provided a clear connecting point that would have been well understood by the original audience. Today, we read these words and clearly see the Bible's indication that Jesus serves as the foundation of the Church as well as for each Christian's individual life.
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