“‘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 misinterpreted by some who claim the purpose of Jesus' statement was to say that Jesus was the capstone (or cornerstone) and Jesus' coming was thus predicted by David.

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

Such a misinterpretation also misses 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 clearly indicates that David was discussing his own 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, building some kind of big church, or predicting Jesus' coming. They describe a deeply personal relationship with God. Such a 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 one's 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 messengers have faced societies where practically everyone rejected their teachings - which focused upon love for God and doing God's will. Some, like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, were so rejected by society that they were persecuted and murdered. 

In other words, while this teaching of developing our loving relationship with God is the cornerstone, it is typically rejected by those who favored 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. 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)

Could David be speaking about Jesus?

As mentioned above, some have claimed 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)
These verses indicate that this phrase is not referring to Jesus. It is referring to the service of God. When it refers to someone doing something in the name of the Lord, we can understand this refers to glorifying God.

An activity done "in the Name of the Lord" will praise God and glorify His Name. This can be done in our personal lives as well as within an assembly. This activity allows us to remember and connect with God. 

Examples include prayer, hymns to God, making offerings to God, and praising God as we conduct our daily lives. 

This is why David also said:
I will praise God's Name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:30)

What about praising God's Name?

David also writes specifically, "I will praise God's Name." How does this work?

We can also recant God's Holy Names. These include Eloi (which Jesus often used - often translated to "Father"), Jehovah, Yahweh, Yah. These allow us to make contact with the Supreme Being. As evidenced throughout the Bible, this is our facility to reconnect with God.

God has innumerable Names from different cultures and languages. For example, North American Indians called upon God as Great Spirit (in their respective tongues). Such a tribute to God is as powerful as any other.

Why have some claimed God has only 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 can refer to His different characteristics.

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)