An Exposition of 1 Peter, part 10: The Peril of the Unbeliever
1 Peter 2:7-8
1 Peter 2:7-8
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.
We continue today in our study on 1 Peter. As a way of reminder, we remember that Peter addresses the topic of persecution of the believers. But to use the word “topic” we are greatly understating things. It is a topic when we examine what happens to someone else. But persecution is a personal matter. It ceases to be a mere topic. When we realize that Peter writes this to us also and not just to a group of churches in 5 Roman provinces a long time ago, we realize that suffering happens to us as well. We show sympathy for Christians all over the world who are imprisoned and martyred for their faith. But if that is all we show, then truly we are disconnected from the body. It is as though because we are a hand which is not currently injured that we don’t suffer with the rest of the body when we hit our foot with a sledgehammer by accident. Peter has told us that we must suffer, but that suffering is but for a little while in light of the eternity of Eternal Life in Jesus Christ when He comes in His Kingdom. We may have lost our old identity and family, but we are now part of a new and eternal family. We comfort one another and strengthen each other. Even though we suffer, we are still to be witnessed for Christ in the world.
In today’s text, we are introduced to the peril of unbelief. It serves as an example of what we are not to do. It serves to demonstrate the perils to those who have never been Christians. This is contrasted to the hope we have in Jesus.
Exposition of the Text
Therefore, to you who believe, (He is) precious — Peter sums up the previous verses by reminding the believers that they are precious to Him. The believers are rejected by the world. They are treated by the world as stones which have been rejected and are of no use. Broken rocks are common and have no value. Peter has already told the believers that they were chosen and precious to God. they are living stones built up into a spiritual house. The believers are a holy priesthood which offer up spiritual sacrifices which are well pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. This reminder is used to set up a sharp contrast to those who are not.
But to the unbelievers — The “unbelievers” are set up front in the Greek sentence for emphasis. this also stands in parallel to the “to you” in the previous phrase which is also emphatic. One is either one or the other. the implication, therefore, which will be brought out, is that the comfort and value which God has placed for the believer does not extend to the unbeliever — quite the opposite.
The stone which was rejected by the builders, This One is become the chief cornerstone — Peter had previously quoted Isaiah 28:16 to refer to the believer. Here, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 to refer to the unbeliever. There are two different words for “cornerstone” used here, but this is following the Greek translation of the two passages. Psalm 118 is a messianic psalm which is foundational to Christian doctrine. It is an interesting psalm in that it mixes joy and sadness. We sing a praise chorus “This is the Day that the LORD has Made” which comes from Psalm 118:24. We also will recognize Psalm 118:26 “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.” These words were quoted by the crowd on the first Palm Sunday and have been adapted into the Catholic and Greek Mass. But here, we have the sad note that the Jewish nation had rejected Him. they were proud of the Temple they had built in Jerusalem which was made with the most precious stone and gold. They did not realize that Jesus had come to erect a new Temple, made of living stones, made of those who believe on Him. this is the Temple the Father has for ever established, not a building in Jerusalem which was made a wonder of the world by Herod the Great. Ironically, shortly after the writing of this epistle, Herod’s Temple would be burnt by the Romans and all the stones taken down to where not one stone would be left upon another.
Even a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal —This phrase is a parallel construction. “stone of stumbling” and “rock of scandal” are put together. The repetition in other words is not merely for poetic purposes.In this type of parallel construction, we need to look at what the parallel construction adds to the text. When we look at “stone” we should thing of a small rock which we can put in our hand. This is paired with the Greek “petra” which is a very large rock or even a rock formation. In the first phrase, “stumbling” is like one who stubs his toe. In the second phrase, “scandalon” is used. Although it can be used to fall after stumbling on a rock, it is also used as a word for entrapment. We get the word “scandal” from this Greek word. So now we see that the second phrase amplifies the intensity of the first. This tells us that the offense that they took was great, and it became a snare to them. Paul states in 1 Corinthians that the Jews considered Jesus a scandal (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). The message which should have been the greatest joy to the nation of Israel had become the means of great sorrow, their rejection of Jesus would become the cause of their own rejection.
Their unbelief in the Word has caused them to stumble — Israel stumbled greatly. It was catastrophic. they had failed to believe in the “Word.” But what is meant by “Word” here. Did they fail to believe in the Scripture (Old Testament) which prophesied of the coming, the suffering and rejection of the Messiah, and His exaltation afterward. Jesus made a habit of relating the promises of the Old Testament to Himself (for example, John 5:39-40). Could the “Word” refer to their rejection of the word of the Gospel preached by the Apostles and disciples of Jesus? Or were they rejecting Jesus personally who is called “The Word of God” (see John 1:1-3). Or is it all three? Their unbelief has led to their disobedience.
For which they were appointed — Many of the Jews of Peter’s day rejected their Messiah. the Jews felt themselves to be privileged because they had a special relationship to God by covenant. They felt they had been “appointed” to receive God’s blessing. But instead of being appointed unto blessing, they were appointed to stumble and disobey Yahweh. if we were to look at the history of Israel, it was full of disappointment. Many of the wilderness generation under Moses perished because of their unbelief and disobedience. The period of the Judges was equally dismal. The monarchy in the long run proved to be disappointing. Both the Northern and Southern kingdoms were appointed unto exile. It was only by the grace of God that they did not perish utterly. But the remnant of the Jews who believe added to the Gentiles who came to believe remain as the People of God as the Royal Priesthood and Holy Nation God had envisioned.
Before we go further into how we are to understand Peter today, we must realize that we must not presume upon our affiliation with the church and more than Israel did. If God disappointed many of Israel because of unbelief and disobedience, how much less shall we be spared if we are disobedient to the Gospel which is the fuller revelation. Paul in the Book of Romans affirms that many in Israel were cut off because of their unbelief, and Gentiles were grafted in because of their obedience to the faith. But Paul admonishes the Gentiles that if they fail to believe, they will be cut off also. Furthermore, the Jew who repents and believes will be grafted in. Paul indicates that in the future this will indeed happen to them. (See Romans 11) The important element of being God’s people is that of faith, a faith which is demonstrated by obedience. One should note that the “obedience of faith” appears at the beginning and at the end of Romans. Obedience is the fruit of faith. Stumbling is the fruit of unbelief and disobedience. we should not presume that because we have “confessed our faith” in Jesus and submitted to the covenant sign of baptism that we are eternally saved. It is true that faith is a gift of God, and that those who have genuine faith shall persevere in the faith. But many come to Christ on their own terms rather than the terms that God has appointed. We need to stress the obedience of faith in our preaching and not some sort of easy believism. Peter reminds us that we should be diligent to “make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). If we are not, we might stumble.
But what if we find ourselves to have stumbled? Is all hope lost? We only need look at the life of Peter himself. Peter stumbled greatly at Caesarea Philippi right after he had confessed Jesus as the Christ. He tried to circumvent God’s plan that Jesus must be rejected and suffer. the implication is that if Jesus was to suffer, what would happen to them? Jesus replied with a strong rebuke: “Get behind me Satan! (Matthew 16:23) Was Peter disqualified by this? No, the rebuke was made that Peter might rethink what he said and to accept what God had ordained. Another way to describe this thinking it over is that Peter repented. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus told the disciples that they would be offended at His arrest. (Matthew 26:31). The word in the Greek is “scandalized”, the same word Peter uses in this passage. Jesus then quotes Zechariah 13:7 to say that this would be the fulfillment of prophecy. Peter has already taught us about the role of the Old Testament prophets in 1 Peter 1:10-11. Were the disciples disqualified? We know the answer to this — no! their unbelief and disobedience was very serious, but it was not terminal. the same God who had prophesied that the disciples would do this graciously restored them after He rose from the dead.. So if we find ourselves to have stumbled, even greatly, let us find room for repentance that we might be restored to the obedience of faith. In like matter, we must be diligent to restore our brethren who have stumbled in one way or another.
The other thing we must learn is that this ministry of reconciliation extends to those outside the church as well. Even though we have been rejected by many of our former friends, acquaintances, and family when we became Christians, we must not give up on them. We cannot give in to them however. We cannot compromise our faith in order to “win” them to the gospel. The unbeliever must be made aware of his peril. They might not have the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ, but this does not excuse them. Paul tells us in the first chapter of Romans that even the facts of creation and the gift of conscience are by themselves sufficient to alert the unbeliever of their predicament. they know they are sinners and out of sorts with God. We must be bold as well as loving and compassionate. A doctor shows compassion for his patients when he cuts out an infection of a cancer. This might hurt quite a bit, but this is their only hope. A doctor who simply puts salve on a wound or prescribes a painkiller or sedative to a cancer patient to relieve suffering is really not showing compassion at all. How much more should we cut out the spiritual infection and cancers people have in the hopes that they might be truly healed. the doctor can only prolong this life a little while at best. but the consequences of a sinner won to Christ is eternal.