Jesus comes head to head with his opponents in their final clash before his crucifixion in Luke 20-24. Tension has been building up to this point, and reaches the maximum in these final days. Jesus has been hinting throughout his ministry that he is the Messiah, the Davidic King who was to come.
In these last few chapters of Luke, references to passages about the coming of the Messiah are very important. Jesus says some of the most powerful things about his mission using many allusions from the Old Testament. His audience understood and reacted accordingly: either in adoration or in hatred. We can get some powerful insights by looking at the messianic passages Jesus referred to, and see what they said about him.
When Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, Jesus was making
his most obvious claim to being this Messianic King, fulfilling the prophecy in Zechariah 9 that says:
Rejoice, daughter of Zion, shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9)
Another key place we see a king riding into Jerusalem is in Psalm 118, which describes a Messianic King who conquers all his enemies and then enters the gates of Jerusalem. The people wave boughs in a procession up to the temple and exclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
This is exactly what happens in the Triumphal Entry in Luke 19. The people see Jesus as the King who has come to defeat his enemies and they honor him as the one proclaimed in Psalm 118.
In this last week, Jesus has now “thrown down the gauntlet,” boldly declaring himself as the Messiah, denouncing the temple’s corruption and predicting that it would be destroyed. The Sadducean chief priests in Jesus’ day were deeply corrupt, stealing from priests and killing those who opposed them.
Jesus is directly standing up against them, and they want to kill him, too. They also want to kill him because they saw him as a threat to their relationship with the Romans. They worry Jesus will start an uprising against the Roman government or against them, since he has declared he is King.
Jesus’ Brilliant Use of Scripture
In a fascinating use of scripture, Jesus makes use of several prophecies to tell the temple authorities exactly who he is and what would happen because of him. He quotes Psalm 118, which he recently had fulfilled in the Triumphal Entry, when it says,
The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone …(Psalm 118:22)
There is a wordplay involved in saying that the stone has become the cornerstone. The word pinah, cornerstone, (or corner) in Hebrew is also used to describe one who is a leader. Several places in the Old Testament, “cornerstone” is used poetically to describe leaders (Judges 20:2, Isaiah 19:13).
In Psalm 118, the “stone the builders rejected that has become the chief cornerstone” is a description of the triumphant King who God has given the victory against his enemies. Not only is he a cornerstone, a King, he is the chief cornerstone, the King of kings!
Jesus makes a very bold claim when he expands upon his claim of being the cornerstone. He says,
Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken, and he on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)
At face value this says that no one wins who comes up against the stone. More importantly, however, Jesus was combining two powerful statements from the Hebrew scriptures to say a greater thing. In Isaiah 8 it says,
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy… for both houses of Israel, He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. (Isaiah 8:13-14)
This passage appears to be the background of the first part of Jesus’ statement — “Everyone who stumbles on the stone will be broken.” It speaks about judgment on Israel where the Lord is either their sanctuary or the stone that makes them stumble. It depends on whether they chose to believe in Him or not.
The Stone that Grows into a Mountain
The second half of Luke 20:18 comes from Daniel 2. King Nebuchadnezzar had a vision of a statue of a gold head, silver chest, bronze legs and iron and clay feet. He saw a rock cut out, not by human hands, that struck the statue on its feet and crushed them. The statue fell to pieces but the rock became a huge mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explains to the king that the parts of the statue represent kingdoms, beginning with his own. The feet of iron and clay represent the Roman empire of Jesus’ time. Daniel 2:44 says,
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 a reference to the coming Messianic kingdom. The rock cut not by human hands is reminiscent of the covenant tablets God cut for Moses, or the uncut stone they used to construct altars to God. The rock is a king sent by God, unlike all of the other kings. This appears to be the reference of the second half of Jesus’ saying: “he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
If Jesus is tying these two sayings together by the fact that they talk about a stone, he is pointing out that he is the Stone of Isaiah 8: either a savior or a stumbling block to Israel, the people to whom he came. It depends on whether they choose to believe in him.
Then he says, by alluding to Daniel 2, that ultimately, whatever their reaction, his kingdom will be established over all the earth. Not only will he triumph over the chief priests who will kill him, his kingdom will even triumph over the Romans, and be a kingdom without end.