The Bible refers to Jesus as a rock in relation to both believers and unbelievers. To those who put their faith in Him, He is the rock upon which they build their lives (Matthew 7:24–29; 16:13–20). As the solid foundation of the Christian life, Jesus is our rock of salvation (2 Samuel 22:47). But Jesus is a rock of offense to unbelievers. He is a stone that causes non-believers to trip and fall to their own ruin. A person can either put his faith in Jesus Christ and receive life eternal or stumble over Him and face eternal judgment.
The term rock of offense is found in 1 Peter 2:7–8:
“Therefore, to you who believe, He [Jesus] is precious; but to those who are disobedient,
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone,’
‘A stone of stumbling
And a rock of offense.’
They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed” (NKJV).
Peter’s illustration of Jesus as a rock of offense to unbelievers is drawn from Isaiah 8:14. The apostle Paul also quoted this Old Testament passage to show that Israel’s unbelief in the past had continued into the present (Romans 9:32–33, ESV). Israel had rejected the Lord in the days of Isaiah just as the Jewish people of the first century rejected Jesus Christ.
Rock of offense literally means “stumbling block.” Anyone who rejects Jesus Christ stumbles and falls over who He is by refusing to see or acknowledge that He is the foundation of spiritual life and relationship with God. The Jews stumbled over their Messiah, so much so that they crucified Him. Paul said he would “preach Christ crucified” even though his message was “a stumbling block to Jews” (1 Corinthians 1:23, ESV). The Jews were expecting a mighty king figure who would overthrow Rome and establish His kingdom on earth. Instead, they encountered in Jesus a lowly servant who would suffer and die.
“They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them” (1 Peter 2:8, NLT). Here Peter explains why unbelievers stumble over the cornerstone—because they disobey the Word of God. They refuse to believe the gospel message. They aren’t accidentally stumbling over the rock of offense as people sometimes trip and fall while walking. Peter speaks of willful rebellion. They do not want to submit to God as the Lord over their lives. Thus, if someone rejects Christ, that person’s refusal becomes his own undoing.
Peter comforted his readers by showing that this rejection of Jesus was predicted long ago in the Old Testament and was part of God’s sovereign plan. Those who crucified Jesus had served God’s purpose: “For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will” (Acts 4:27–28, NLT). Despite their rejection and stumbling over the rock of offense, their actions worked to put God’s chief cornerstone in place.
In a parable, Jesus revealed that He was God’s chosen cornerstone (Luke 20:17) and warned that God’s judgment would fall on all unbelievers who reject Him: “Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Luke 20:18). Those who deny Christ will come under God’s judgment since the Lord has determined that people will either stand or fall based on whether or not they believe in Jesus. Christ is the only way of salvation; to stumble and reject Him is to send oneself to destruction:
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected
has now become the cornerstone.’
There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11–12, NLT, see also John 3:16; 14:6; Romans 5:1–2).
To God the Father, Jesus Christ is the living stone, chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4). To believers, He is our dependable rock of salvation (Psalm 18:2). To the unbelieving world, Jesus is the rejected rock of offense that causes them to stumble. Sadly, far too many people, both the religious and the worldly, continue to trip over Him today.