A Lesser-Known Messianic Psalm: The Rejected Messiah Exalted by God

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone. (Psalm 118:22, NASB)

If you ask most knowledgeable Christians about messianic texts in the Old Testament, they will likely note Isaiah 53 or Daniel 7:13–14. A less well-known messianic text, however, is Psalm 118.

In fact, this psalm gets used in two ways in the New Testament.

In the first use, Israel will recognize the king by saying “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Psalm 118:26). In Luke 13:34–35, this is a warning. Jesus declares a short-term judgment over Israel’s rejection of her Messiah. Jesus says their house will remain desolate untilIsrael says “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The “until” shows Jesus anticipates an eventual reversal of this rejection. Later the disciples offered this same phrase as a blessing when Jesus entered Jerusalem, but the religious leaders did not accept the claim and complained about this honoring of Jesus (Luke 19:37–40).

The second use is more fascinating: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118:22 used in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7). It is sometimes said that Isaiah 53 is the Old Testament text that declares Jesus’s rejection, but Psalm 118 is used more in the New Testament to make this specific point! The uses in the Gospels are tied to the parable of the wicked tenants, where Jesus explains that the Son will be rejected yet vindicated. The surprise is that this rejection comes from within. The uses in Acts 4 and Peter’s epistle explain the Jewish rejection of Jesus, with the text also affirming that God will vindicate Him.

Psalm 118 shows God’s program for the king. The psalm is a pattern prophecy and uses the rejecting experience of the king God still accepts as a picture of the ultimate King, Jesus. The birth of this little baby, which we celebrate at Christmas, sets the stage for all of this. Even though many in Israel had expected a strictly victorious Messiah who would not suffer, Psalm 118 reminds us that suffering comes before exaltation.