The Great Divide: The awful reality for those who do not believe
1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV
6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
In a previous post I mentioned that the first thing to notice is that verse 7 begins with the word “So”.
He’s showing what is true for all who believe in Jesus Christ. He’s concluding that there is honour for them because they believe in Him.
The second thing we noticed is that word “but” was at the heart of the verse. That immediately tells us that a contrast is being drawn or a distinction is being made. The distinction that’s being highlighted is between those who believe in Christ and those who do not believe in Christ.
Then, having mentioned “those who do not believe” he continued on to give two more Old Testament quotations to demonstrate what is shown to be true for believers in Christ. He’s now showing what is true for those who do not believe in Christ.
So, with that structure in mind, we’ll consider point 2 for this post:
- The wonderful reality for you who believe
- The awful reality for those who do not believe
- The inescapable reality of the great divide
The awful reality for those who do not believe
Having said “So the honor is for you who believe” Peter then says “but for those who do not believe” and he goes on to give the two quotations.
Firstly, he quotes from Psalm 118:22 by saying: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. That’s backing up the assertion that there is honour for those who believe. Back in in Acts 4 Peter had used the same quotation from Psalm 118:22. We read in Acts 4:11-12: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. Peter was very clear in saying that “The stone that the builders rejected” and that had “become the cornerstone” was none other than Jesus and that salvation is to be found in Him and Him alone.
So, those who reject Jesus, those who don’t believe, have made a serious mistake because He is the most important person there is. In God’s scheme of things, He’s the foundation. Everything rests on Him and centres on Him. Salvation is only to be received in and through Him. That’s why there’s honour and blessing for those who believe in Him. Now, for those who “do not believe”, it’s not just that they miss out on that honour and blessing because we see that Peter then goes on to quote the following words from Isaiah 8:14: “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense”. The NIV gives that second quotation as: “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall”.
You see, the stone can either be a cornerstone that leads to blessing and honour or a stumbling stone. Of course, Peter has only quoted a short clause from Isaiah 8. To understand his point aright we need to consider that clause in its original context so let us read Isaiah 8v11-15: “For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 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. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken””.
In the original context, Isaiah was speaking of the Lord, Jehovah, as the one who is to be honoured as holy and feared rather than fearing the might of the surrounding nations. Then, Isaiah went on to say: “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel”. He was still speaking of the Lord and he was saying two very different things about Him. He was saying that for some, that is for those who honour and fear the Lord, He is “a sanctuary”. That is a place of protection and safety and well-being. For those who don’t honour and fear the Lord, He is “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling”. Isaiah then went on to say that “many shall stumble on it” and that those who do so “shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken”.
What a contrast we have here.
The Lord God is either “a sanctuary” or “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling” that leads to destruction and captivity. He would be either one or the other depending on whether they honoured and feared Him or not.
Now, Peter has been saying of Jesus that He is “The stone that the builders rejected” but He “has become the cornerstone”. He is the foundation stone of God’s new temple or sanctuary and that those who come to Him as living stones are built together into that temple. But, what about those who don’t come to Him? Well, for them, He is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense”.
Peter is focusing on the negative aspect of Isaiah 8v14 specifically to now show the fate of those who don’t come to Jesus. Notice that this indicates the deity of Christ. Isaiah made it very clear that the “stone of stumbling, and rock of offense” was the Lord, Jehovah, and Peter is now saying that Jesus is that “stone of stumbling, and rock of offense” for those who don’t come to Him. Jesus is God. To reject Him is to reject God. You see, for those who don’t believe in Jesus, far from being a foundation stone upon whom to be built and honoured, He is a stumbling stone. Rather than lifting them up He trips them up and brings them down. As we saw in Isaiah 8, that results in destruction.
So, Jesus is the rock over whom many stumble and fall but what is it that causes them to stumble? If you’re out walking in the countryside and you trip over a stone it isn’t the stone’s fault. The stone didn’t make you trip. You tripped because you weren’t looking where you were going. You tripped because you were careless and not heeding what was before you. The stone was there and you failed to respond to its presence in the right way. Well, Peter goes on to say: “They stumble because they disobey the word” or, as the NIV puts it “because they disobey the message”.
I don’t think either version expresses the sense here too clearly. What the Greek text says is: “They, being disobedient, stumble at the word”. Clearly, the implication is that there’s a connection between being disobedient and stumbling but the word “because” does not appear in the text.
So, firstly, what does Peter mean by “being disobedient”?
I think he means “being unbelieving”. After all, he’s talking about “those who do not believe”? Stumbling at the word is what results from “being unbelieving”. That is, not believing in Jesus Christ as the chosen and precious cornerstone laid by God as the foundation of His new temple. Such disobedience or unbelief is to not respond to the presence of the stone in the appropriate way. It’s to ignore the stone. It’s to reject the gospel message. It’s to not trust in Christ for salvation.
The simple fact is that if you don’t come to faith in Christ, you’re lost. If you don’t come to Christ for salvation you face the certainty of judgement, condemnation and eternal punishment. That is the awful reality for those who do not believe.
What does Peter mean by “the word” or “the message”? Well, remember what he said back in chapter 1v22-25. We read there: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you”.
You see, Peter’s readers had been born again through the living and abiding word of God that remains forever and that was the word that had been preached to them. By “the word”, Peter means the gospel message – the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. It’s the good news of “The stone that the builders rejected” having “become the cornerstone”. Jesus is the word. Jesus is the message. So, saying that they “stumble at the word” is another way of saying that they stumble over the rock that is Jesus. They fall into judgment and eternal punishment.
Peter then adds the words “as they were destined to do”.
Now, as presented in the ESV or NIV those words sound truly shocking. It says: “They stumble because they disobey the word as they were destined to do”. The ESV and NIV both give the distinct impression that Peter is speaking of people being destined to “disobey the word” or to “disobey the message”. It gives the impression that people are destined to rebel against God and that is why they then go on to stumble. Does it really mean that God has destined people to disobey? Does God destine people to sin? Well no, He doesn’t. He can never be accused of being the author of human sin or responsible for human rebellion.
The first thing to say about the English translations that we have before us is that “appointed” is really a better word than “destined”. Also, as we’ve seen, the text really begins by saying: “They, being disobedient, stumble at the word”. So, the complete sentence is best rendered as: “They, being disobedient, stumble at the word as appointed”.
So, Peter isn’t saying here that anyone is appointed or destined to disobedience.
Rather, he is saying that those who are disobedient are appointed to stumble. Why is there a connection between being disobedient and stumbling? Why does disobedience or unbelief lead to stumbling or punishment? Quite simply, it is because God has appointed it! God in His holiness and justice has said that that is the way that it must be. John Brown quite helpfully makes the following comment: “Stumbling is at once the consequence and punishment of unbelief and disobedience. Sin is never represented as appointed by God; punishment is. God permits men to be sinners – that is, He does not hinder them from sinning; He appoints them, if they sin, to be punished”.
That is the awful reality for those who do not believe. God doesn’t appoint anyone to not believe. Unbelievers make that choice for themselves. But God has appointed the consequence of such unbelief: judgment, condemnation and eternal punishment.
Next post: Point 3. The inescapable reality of the great divide
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!