4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 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. 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” [Isaiah 28:16]. 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” [Psalm 118:22], 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” [Isaiah 8:14]. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet. 2:4-10)
As the Old Testament unfolds, we learn that God’s plan to redeem the world centers on a special people. At the center of their national life was to be a house where God himself could dwell. God’s first house was the tabernacle built by Moses; his second house was the temple built by Solomon. Solomon finished building the temple of the Lord and “the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chr. 5:13-14).
God’s plan is still to redeem the world through a special people: the church. But where is God’s house? Consider Acts 2:1-4:
1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
The language of fire and wind is borrowed from Ezekiel 1, where Ezekiel witnesses God’s glory. At Pentecost, God’s glory did not fill the tabernacle or the temple; it filled the believers and the place where they gathered. God’s New Testament people are the new temple.
First Peter 2:5 is temple language. The house of God, the temple of God, is New Testament believers.
Peter says in verse 5, we are “a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” That’s temple language. The house of God, the temple of God, is New Testament believers. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “You are…God’s building.” Ephesians 2:21-22 says that in Christ, “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
The Priesthood of All Believers
It’s important that we understand the corporate nature of God’s house. A beautiful house is made of many stones; we are just one of many stones, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Paul says writes, “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
As individual Christians, we must view ourselves as part of a whole. The individualism of our culture has no place in the church. A brick plucked out of Monticello is just a dumb old brick. The glory of the church is its shared life in Christ. We hear about personal convictions, personal relationship with God, personal Bible study, and personal prayer. And those are not bad things. But without corporate convictions, corporate worship, corporate Bible study, and corporate prayer, we are not the people of God.
To give a good example of this, let’s consider one phrase from verse 5: “an holy priesthood.” It’s echoed in verse 9, where we are called “a royal priesthood.” These are key verses for a Christian doctrine called “the priesthood of all believers.” The doctrine was central to the teaching of Martin Luther and the Reformers. When the priesthood of the Catholic Church wielded all the power, Luther reclaimed the teaching of 1 Peter concerning the priesthood of all believers.
Now, here’s where the individual emphasis of our culture can color our glasses. You’ve probably heard, “Every believer is a priest. You can talk to God directly.” You may have heard of “the priesthood of the believer.” But do you see how this differs from what Peter says? Believers, considered together, are called a priesthood.
The correct interpretation is not, “I don’t need a Catholic priest to interpret the Bible or pray for me because I’m my own priest!” The correct interpretation is, “I don’t need a Catholic priest to do these things because I’m part of a community of priests where we interpret the Bible together and pray for one another.” The prayers of this body of priests are mediated by Christ, the great high priest.
We are part of a community of priests where we interpret the Bible together and pray for one another.
Paul Althaus explains,
Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian’s freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather, he constantly emphasizes the Christian’s evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.
Peter’s emphasis is corporate. God’s house is a people. In verse 9, we are called “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” Verse 10 adds that “in time past [we] were not a people, but are now the people of God.”
The Cornerstone of God’s House
Now, the right question to ask is, “How can I be part of this people?” In the Old Testament, the question was, “How can I be part of national Israel?” In these last days, the question is, “How can I be part of the spiritual Israel—the church?” Salvation is not separate from the church.
The answer to the question, “How can I be part of the church?” is, “come to Jesus.” Peter says, “As you come to [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (v.4-5).
Before we know Jesus, verses 9-10 say that we are in darkness and not a people. Our lives are dark, purposeless, and ordinary. But through Jesus, we find our way into God’s house. Through union with Christ, we come to life and become part of the living house that God is building to reveal his glory. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. There’s nothing bigger than God’s building project.
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)
The key phrase is “in whom.” When we are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts uniting us to Jesus. Rocks, dead in trespasses and sin, come to life through the resurrection life of Jesus, and immediately take a place in God’s house through Christ the cornerstone. Through Jesus, we are alive. We fit. We belong. We have a place.
Rocks, dead in trespasses and sin, come to life through the resurrection life of Jesus, and immediately take a place in God’s house through Christ the cornerstone.
Jesus is the cornerstone and the builder of God’s house. Hebrews 3:3-6 says:
3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
Christ is called “a living stone” (v.4), “a chief corner stone” (v.6), “the head of the corner” (v.7), “chosen of God” (v.4), “elect’ (v.6), and “precious” (v.4, 6).
But you may have noticed that what Peter emphasizes about Jesus, the cornerstone, is not only his key role in supporting the foundation of the house, but the fact that he was rejected by the builders. This brings us to the purpose of God’s house.
The Purpose of God’s House
Jesus was “disallowed indeed of men” (v.4); “the stone which the builders disallowed” (v.7). John writes, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (Jn. 1:11). Jesus came to his people, the Jews, prepared to build them into a spiritual house whose glory would far surpass the one built by Moses. But Jesus himself, the Messiah and Redeemer, was to be the cornerstone of this house.
Jesus told Peter that on the rock of his own Lordship he would build his church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18). But when the Jews heard this message, they looked Jesus over, and decided that he was unfit. They rejected him. They threw him into a pile of scrap stones. Isaiah 53 foretold, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
But 1 Peter 2 tells us that Jesus is a living stone. Jesus proved that he is truly the Messiah by rising from the dead. Now, he has become “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (v.8) to those who do not believe. The same stone that is the foundation of salvation for the church is like a big rock on a hiking trail that causes people to stumble, fall, crush their heads, and die. The destruction of unbelievers will come through the rejected cornerstone. Isaiah 8, from which Peter quotes, says that it is “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling…a trap and a snare…many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken, they shall be snared and taken.”
Now, here’s the glory of God’s plan. From the beginning, God’s plan was to take what the builders rejected and use it to build the most glorious house that has ever been built. God took a stone that the builders said was unfit to hold up a two-bedroom Ranch house and used it to build something bigger and more glorious than the Taj Mahal, the Buckingham Palace, or St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1,
We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles… God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.
God confounds the wisdom of the world by taking his crucified Son and placing him in the preeminent position of his glorious house. Psalm 118, from which Peter quotes, says that “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
God confounds the wise builders by taking the stone they rejected and using it to build the most glorious house that has ever been built.
Verse 9 clearly expresses that the purpose for God’s house is that we should “[declare] the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” God’s people, in the world but not of the world, exiles and strangers, declare to the world the glory of God in Christ. And when God’s house is fully revealed in all its glorious splendor on the judgment day, the bride of Christ without spot or wrinkle, the builders will realize the terrible mistake they made in rejecting Christ the cornerstone.
But this is not the fate of God’s people. Verse 6 says that we will never be disappointed. God’s people are secure in Jesus our rock.
There are far-reaching implications of this truth. The passage is sandwiched by two moral imperatives: “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” and “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” God’s eternal glory is at stake in our holiness. We are God’s house; let’s live like it. Let’s live in such a way as to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).