The title living stone occurs in only this one place in Scripture. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, the apostle Peter writes, “To whom coming, a living stone…you yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” (literal translation).
As is well known, our Lord bestowed on Simon the son of Jonah a new name, that of Cephas, which was interpreted as “the rock” (Jn. 1:42). But while freely using the name given to him by Jesus (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1), the apostle is careful to point his readers not to himself, but to the Lord Jesus as both the rock and the stone (1 Pet. 2:4-8).
It is hardly surprising that Peter speaks first of our Lord as the living stone, before ever he does of Him as (i) the rejected stone, (ii) as the divinely chosen and precious stone, (iii) as the chief cornerstone, or (iv) as the stone of stumbling (1 Pet. 2:4-8). The apostle clearly enjoyed using the word living. His divinely revealed confession concerning our Lord at Caesarea Philippi had been, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Indeed, his description there of our Lord as the Son of the living God has no parallel in the New Testament.1 Other witnesses in the Gospels, whether human beings, angels, or demons, confessed Him simply as the Son of God.2
Now, in his epistle, the apostle speaks of the Lord Jesus not only as the living stone (1 Pet. 2:4), but also of the hope of the Christian as a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3), and of the Word of God as that which lives and abides forever (1 Pet. 1:23). We could perhaps summarize Peter’s teaching by saying that the living stone is none other than the Son of the living God, who has given us a living hope through the living Word of God.
It is important to observe the context in which the title living stone is found. Looking backwards first, we find that the apostle employed this title immediately after he had urged his readers to crave pure spiritual milk on the ground that they had already “tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:3).3 These words were a direct quotation from Psalm 34:8, where David exhorted others to “taste and see that Jehovah is good.” We note from the way in which Peter added the words to whom coming with reference to the Lord Jesus that, along with other writers in the New Testament, he had no hesitation in identifying the Lord Jesus with Jehovah.4
But the title living stone also points forward, anticipating three Old Testament texts which Peter straightaway quotes, each of which speaks of the Savior as a stone.5 Interestingly, this is the only place in the New Testament where all three stone references are pulled together. Although Peter was doubtless aware that his Jewish brethren would have readily understood the stone as a messianic title,6 he almost certainly had something else in mind. How could he ever forget that occasion when, only a few days before His death, the Lord Jesus had applied that very metaphor to Himself (see Mk. 12:10)?
When Peter describes the Lord Jesus as a living stone, the combination of words immediately alert the reader to the fact that the apostle was speaking figuratively; for nothing is more devoid of life than a natural, physical stone.7 I suspect that, at some time or other, most of us have referred to something or someone as being “stone dead.” Indeed, Scripture itself contrasts lifeless stones both with God (Acts 17:29) and with men (Lk. 3:8; 19:40). But, paradoxically, the stone of which Peter writes is living! Our Lord Jesus can be termed a living stone for at least three reasons:
1. He has life in Himself: “for as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (Jn. 5:26). Unlike every created being, whose life is derived from God, our Savior’s life resides within Himself.
2. He has been raised from the dead, now to live forevermore (Rom. 6:9; Heb. 7:16, 25; Rev. 1:18). “Living from eternity, alive from the dead.”8 When mocking the building efforts of the returning exiles, Sanballat asked derisively, “Will they revive the stones?” (Neh. 4:2) Well, we know of a stone who revived (Rom. 14:9)!
3. He is the source and communicator of all life, whether natural life to all His creatures, or spiritual and eternal life to all His people (Jn. 1:4; 5:21; 6:51; 1 Cor. 15:45). But I cannot help observing that, before He ever gave my life to me (in either sense), He first gave His life for me! Praise Him!
Then we read, “you yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” (literal translation). There can be no doubt that when we first came to Christ we were, as living stones, built into that spiritual house which is the church as a whole. That is, when we came to the living stone, we became living stones.
But the tense which Peter uses points to something different.9 The apostle has in mind, not our coming in an initial act of faith, but our continual and repeated coming—our constant, personal, and intimate communion with the Lord. It is not that we are built into that spiritual house, but, as living stones already forming part of that spiritual house, we are built up. Because the Lord Jesus is the source and spring of the church’s life and growth, fellowship with Him is essential if the people of God are to develop spiritually.
So, in coming to Him, we not only find rest (Mt. 11:28), refreshment (Jn. 7:37), sustenance (Jn. 21:12), and company (Jn. 1:39), but also receive edification.
It is this direct approach to the living Lord which, in part, distinguishes Christianity from all other so-called faiths; for no other so-called faith can boast a founder who, having died, has risen triumphantly and who is ever available for fellowship with each one of His followers.
In speaking of our Lord as a living stone, it is possible that Peter intends to strike a contrast, not only between Christ and the Gentile gods of stone (Acts 17:29), but also between Him and the imposing (yet inanimate) stones of the temple at Jerusalem. For it was concerning the forthcoming destruction of that temple that Peter had once heard the Lord Jesus say, “Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Mk. 13:2). But now the apostle can speak of one stone which shall never be thrown down!
Concerning the massive and magnificent stones of Herod’s temple to which many Jews came on their regular pilgrimages, their days were numbered. But concerning the living stone to whom we come repeatedly, His years will have no end (see Ps. 102:27).
1 This is one of the fourteen occurrences of the title “living God” in the New Testament, a statistic which, rather surprisingly, comes close to matching the fifteen occurrences of the same title in the Old Testament. (The weight of manuscript evidence for Jn. 6:69 is heavily in favor of the rendering “the holy one of God.”)
2 See (i) The demons (Mt. 8:29; Mk. 3:11; 5:7; Lk. 4:41); (ii) the disciples collectively (Mt. 14:33); (iii) the centurion at the cross (Mt. 27:54; Mk. 15:39); (iv) the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1:35); (v) the Gadarene demoniac (Lk. 8:28); (vi) John the Baptist (Jn. 1:34); (vii) Nathanael (Jn. 1:49); (viii) the man born blind (Jn. 9:35-38); and (ix) Martha of Bethany (Jn. 11:27).
3 As noted by J. A. Bengel in his Gnomon of the New Testament, “A taste excites the appetite,” Vol. V, p 53.
4 Compare 1 Pet. 2:8 and 1 Pet. 3:15 with Isa. 8:12-14.
5 Isa. 28:16; Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14.
6 J. Jeremias, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), Vol. IV, pp 272-273.
7 “In nature no object lies more obviously void of life than a stone,” William Kelly, First Epistle of Peter, commenting on 1 Pet. 2:4.
8 John Wesley, Notes on the Bible, commenting on 1 Pet. 2:4.
9 The participle “coming” is in the present tense.