All throughout Judea, the foundations for buildings were constructed from stone. When builders began their work, the foundation was started with a single stone placed in the corner of the footings, thus called the cornerstone. This stone had been hewn by hand, with perfect sides so that every other foundational stone that was laid could be judged by its perfection. This ensured that the building would stand straight and solid, since it had been built on an evenly balanced foundation.
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-23)
In this verse, David was referring to himself as the stone that the builders rejected. God had placed David as king over Israel to help build them into a mighty nation and kingdom of priests. Although he was king, He was also a stone in the building of God's house of Israel, just as the rest of them were. But there were those who did not approve of David as king, and even sought to overthrow him. Yet it was God who had placed him there, and God was the one who delivered him from those who did not approve. This is what David meant when he referred to himself as the chief cornerstone.
David was not, however, speaking only of himself; he was speaking prophetically of Jesus who would also experience rejection. The chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees all hated Jesus. Since He began His ministry, He had been proclaiming the coming of the kingdom. But this kingdom required subjects who no longer simply obeyed the literal law. Jesus was raising the standard of spiritual living. He Himself was laid as the first stone in the foundation of the new kingdom that He was ushering in. This kingdom of heaven was going to require obedience that came from the heart, not just obedience that was seen on the outside.
Jesus' words infuriated the religious leaders of Jerusalem. They should have been the ones instructing the people this way, but instead Jesus pointed out that they had been the chief offenders. They rejected Jesus and sought to kill him for exposing their own imperfect lines by which they judged the whole of Israel. They were supposed to be helping build Israel spiritually, but instead they were tearing the nation down with their oppression and hypocrisy. It was of David's words that Jesus reminded the religious leaders in order to reveal who He was: Jesus asked if they had ever read 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.” (Matthew 21:42-43)
The true impact of David's prophetic words was further revealed by Jesus final instruction: “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) There were those who struggled with the new kingdom living that Jesus was teaching. They were shattered spiritually by their unbelief. But the more dangerous position was taken by the religious leaders, driven by pride and hatred of Jesus. They were attempting to pull down the Stone. And Jesus warned them that in so doing, they would be crushed beneath Him.
Jesus became the Chief Cornerstone by which all of mankind will be judged. Those who align themselves with Him, and allow His perfection to be their guide will enjoy the rewards of living in His kingdom.