In 1 Peter 2:4-8, Peter continues to emphasize that the hope of the gospel is not a qualitatively new message solely from the apostles, but this hope is founded based upon the authority of OT scriptures. Moreover, the hope of the gospel and the foundation of the NT church are built on the foundation of fulfilled OT scriptures. The Church is being built by God as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ Jesus. To establish this point, Peter uses imagery from the OT temple to give the Christians in Asia Minor a secure foundation for their identity.
Christ – The Precious and Chosen Cornerstone Stone
First, Peter describes Christ in 1 Peter 2:4:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
Here, Peter describes Christ as the living stone, which is a title that Jesus refers to Himself in confronting the unbelieving Pharisees (cf. Mark 12:1-12). Peter used this metaphor to show that he is not the rock, but Christ is the rock on which the Church of Christ is built. Christ is the cornerstone on which every believer is laid. In this metaphor, Peter conveys the strength and duration of Christ for the believer. Since Christ is the sure stone, the believer can trust that the foundation of His life and salvation is secure. Furthermore, in describing Christ as the living stone, Peter conveys that the Son of God has life in Himself (cf. John 1:4; 5:26) and give His life to whom He desires. For this reason, it is a great privilege to come to Him regularly. Peter exhorts believers to not come to Him only for conversion, but come to Him regularly so that they may be built up and grow into salvation (cf. 1 Peter 2:2).
Peter then describes Christ as the living stone who is rejected by men, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. In this description, Peter recalls the parable of the tenants told by Jesus in Mark 12. In this parable, a man planted a vineyard with a pit dug for a winepress, leased it to wicked tenants, and went to another country. When the season of harvest came, the landlord (representing the Father) sent multiple servants (representing the OT prophets) to the tenants (representing the unbelieving Jewish leaders) to get from them some of the fruit of the harvest. However, in an attempting to seize the land, the tenants mistreated and killed his servants. Furthermore, in a display of great disrespect to the landlord, they kill the landlord’s son. Finally, the landlord punishes the evil tenants and seeks new tenants. Jesus tells the parable to demonstrate that that Jewish leadership has disrespected God’s possessions (His people) and thus will incur the judgment of God by being replaced by more faithful leadership. In this context, Jesus quotes Psalm 118 (which was a well-known messianic psalm) stating
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23
The Jewish leadership understood what was being stated here: they were the builders that rejected the Messiah. Moreover, the faithful Israel will accept the Son as the rightful messenger, heir, and cornerstone of the messianic kingdom. The rejected stone is vindicated by God (indicating that the stone was indeed chosen by God) and is established as the cornerstone of a new building, which is the Church. Because of the superior excellency of Christ and His role in the foundation of the Church, Jesus is the precious stone, chosen by God.
The Church – Living Stones
After describing Christ as the unique, chosen, and precious cornerstone, Peter addresses the Church stating
… you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5
As mentioned earlier in the chapter, Christians are called to long for the Word so that they can continue to grow into salvation. As believers continue in fellowship with Christ, they are built up as a spiritual house as living stones. Before conversion, believers are the same by nature as the rest of mankind, until they are separated unto God by the grace of God. We derive our life from Christ as we are conformed more into His image (cf. Romans 8:29). By the working of God’s grace, we are made to fit for His purposes. Because we are regenerated by the Word of God, we become partakers of His divine nature and thus, we have lasting and durable value for God. More specifically, each believer, as living stones, is laid and cemented together to form the Church. This emphasizes that the Church is not the creation of man, but it is the creation of God by which He forges believers together.
The imagery here comes directly from the OT tabernacle where God dwelled with His people. The OT tabernacle pointed to a greater reality where the Church would be the dwelling place of God. As such, God builds us up as spiritual men who have the Holy Spirit in full measure. In the Church, we worship God in Spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24) and perform spiritual sacrifices of worship (such as prayer, praise, preaching, and administering the sacraments). Furthermore, Christians are both the spiritual temple of God and the priests of the temple. All believers alike (and not merely ordained ministers) are priests unto God (cf. Revelation 1:6). All of these privileges are granted to us through Christ Jesus as our mediating High Priest before God. Christ is both precious Himself and make us accepted before the Father. Because of our indwelling sin, we know that our sacrifices are imperfect in themselves and not worthy before God. Yet we do not doubt that God accepts our sacrifices because it is done through the perfect mediation of Christ Jesus.
To further support the idea that Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s new temple (the Church), Peter cites Isaiah 28:16
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.
Jesus is the chosen Messiah whom God has vindicated and confirmed by raising Him from the dead. Therefore, those who put their trust in Him will enjoy vindication on the last day. This is an important point of emphasis because Christians do not live in a world that rejoices in the truth of the gospel. Rather, Christians live in a world that is largely hostile to Christ since men love their darkness (cf. John 3:19). Just as Jesus was rejected by men, His followers have and will continue to suffer persecution in this world. However, after His humiliation on earth, He is exalted at the right hand of the Father, proving that He is the chosen One of God. This gives courage and comfort to those who are undergoing persecution due to the union with Christ because it proves that God will vindicate them, just as He vindicated Christ. Believers are confident that they will not be covered with the shame of confounded hopes, but they are confident in the hope of the gospel. For this reason, believers should not lose heart in trials, but they should lean and rest on the promise of the gospel.
Honor of the Believers
Peter describes the position of the believer as a high honor and believers should treat it as such. God is building His earthly temple on the earth through the Church and by His grace, He has made us partakers of it. Perhaps we do not treat this as a high honor because we do not know how utterly astounding it is for sinful creatures to come before a holy God. Because we don’t have a personal connection with many of the events of the OT, we tend not to appreciate the privileges that we have under the NT. We don’t understand the fear that gripped Israel in approaching God’s holy mountain (cf. Exodus 19:20-25). We don’t understand the feeling of woe and ruin that overcame Isaiah when he saw the Lord in the temple (cf. Isaiah 6). We don’t understand the meticulousness that was required in OT worship or the responsibility that was given to the priesthood. Furthermore, we don’t understand what it’s like to be outside of the priesthood (and thus, not involved in temple worship). We don’t understand the cry of the heart that says: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in tents of wickedness.” (cf. Psalm 84:10) We have never experienced having to travel hundreds of miles simply to fellowship with the presence of God. For this reason, we do not appreciate the grace that has been granted to us in Christ Jesus. We have been given the privilege of worshiping the one true God by the blood of Christ and we should treat this spiritual service with high esteem and honor.
Peter then contrasts the honor that we receive with the dishonor associated with those who have rejected Christ by quoting Isaiah 8:14:
And He will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
Peter states that unbelievers fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 8:14, where the stone God has established becomes the means of their stumbling. However, unbelievers are responsible for stumbling because of their refusal to obey the word of the gospel. Here, Peter states that God’s foreordained purpose works concurrently with their personal rebellion against the Messiah – a point that is repeated by Peter in Acts 2:23 (“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men”). Ultimately, unbelievers will be covered with the shame of confounded hopes at the end, when they realize that they have rejected the only means of salvation.
New Living Way
Because we are being made into a spiritual house for the dwelling of God and a holy priesthood to offer sacrifices, let us confidently come to Him so that we may be further conformed into His image. As the author of Hebrews states in Hebrews 10:19-22:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through the flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.