“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone ...’” (Matthew 21:42)

“Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’” (Matthew 21:42)

Where did Jesus' capstone quote come from?

This statement by Jesus has been largely misinterpreted by some sectarian teachers who claim the purpose of Jesus' statement was to say that Jesus was the capstone or cornerstone and Jesus' coming was predicted by David.

Such an interpretation would make Jesus' statement look as if he is trying to prove his own worthiness. Jesus was not an egomaniac.

This misinterpretation grossly neglects the lesson Jesus was imparting to his students.

The quote Jesus refers to comes from David’s Psalm 118:22-23. To better understand the context of this quote we can read a section of this Psalm:
The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks, for You answered me; You have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.
(Psalm 118:18-25)
This is a discourse on David’s relationship with God. David pledges that God is his refuge and his savior. He pledges his thanks for God’s mercy and strength. He praises God. The Psalm is a reflection of the loving relationship existing between David and God.

What is the 'capstone'?

These verses by David are not about the end of the world or building some kind of big church or predicting Jesus' coming. They are describing having a deeply personal relationship with God. This relationship is the capstone or cornerstone of any religious activity. Without the purpose of achieving a loving relationship with God, there is no purpose for religious endeavor.

This is the stone that was rejected. The metaphorical stone that is being rejected by builders - that forms the capstone (cornerstone) of religious practice - is one's dependence upon God and ones loving relationship with God.

This is what was being rejected by others. It is David's love and dependence upon God that is the cornerstone of David's life, as it was for Jesus. David is saying that what others have rejected gives him salvation: Depending upon God and having a relationship with God.

David, Jesus and so many other of God's representatives have faced societies where practically everyone rejected their teachings - focused upon love for God and doing God's will. Some, like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, were so rejected by society that their bodies were put to death. In other words, while this teaching of developing our loving relationship with God is the cornerstone, it is typically rejected in lieu of the pomp and circumstance of rituals.

Indeed, it is also occurring today in many organized sectarian institutions, where the focus is on performing rituals to obtain salvation while ignoring the development of our loving relationship with God - Jesus' primary instruction.

Isaiah confirms this definition of the capstone and gives us more context:
So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who trusts will never be dismayed." (Isaiah 28:15-17)
The stone being referred to here and in David's and Jesus' discussion is trusting God. To trust God means to rely upon Him, and give our love and our life to Him. This is our rock. When a person builds their house upon this rock - this stone - that house will be solid. In other words, when we direct our goals and intentions towards serving God and developing our loving relationship with God; and relying upon God's mercy, we are building our lives upon a solid foundation.

The rest of David's Psalm says:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.
The LORD is God, and He has made His light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will give You thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.
(Psalm 118:26-29)

Is David speaking exclusively about Jesus?

Some have said that the first sentence indicates David is speaking about Jesus. But does this make sense as we read the rest of the Psalm? And just what does it mean to "come in the name of the LORD?"

This phrase has been used in many other verses in the Bible to refer to God's messenger. Consider this statement by Moses as he taught the Israelites what God told him:
If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living and comes in all earnestness to the place the LORD will choose, he may minister in the name of the LORD his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the LORD. (Deut. 18:6-7)
The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. (Deut. 21:5)
Also consider this discussion about Elijah:
With the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. (1 Kings 18:32)
So we can see that this phrase is not exclusive to Jesus. It is, in fact, referring to something done in the service of God. When it refers to a teacher "coming" in the name of the Lord, as referred to in Deut. 18:6-7 above, we can know that this refers to a teacher approaching a new group or town to teach in God's service, and praise God - as David is doing.

In other words, to "come in the Name of the Lord" means to praise God and preach the glory of God's Holy Names. Glorifying God's Name - repeating it in prayer, in song and in our daily lives - is the method by which we can remember and connect with God.

This is why David also said:
I will praise God's Name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:30)
God's Holy Names - which include Eloi (which Jesus often used - often translated to "Father"), Jehovah, Yahweh, Yah - allow one to make contact with the Supreme Being. As evidenced throughout the Bible, this is our facility to reconnect with God.

God also has innumerable Names. Why do some people try to restrict God to one Name? Just as each of us might have three or even four names, and many names that our family members or friends call us, God also has many Names that refer to His different characteristics, or activities.

For this reason, insulting God's Name as utilized in another language, culture or tradition is offensive to God. We should respect all other theological traditions that worship the Supreme Being in one Name or another.

The bottom line is that regardless of the time, place, culture and society, our rock is our relationship with the Supreme Being. This is why the primary instruction of Jesus, Moses, David, and all of God's representatives, has been:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matthew 22:37-38)