In Mark 12:10 Jesus is talking to the Jewish religious leaders and denounces them with a parable that they know is directed at them. He tells them, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The reason He does so is because He knows they are going to reject and kill Him. But even though they will do that, He is the “chief cornerstone.”
My guess is that there are many people like me when they read this. When we read that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, our minds immediately conclude that He is talking about the Church. Paul says that Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church (Eph 2:20). In 1 Peter 2:6-7, Peter does the same thing and even quotes from the same OT verse that Jesus does in Mark 12:10 (Psa 118:22).
It is certainly true that Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church. When it comes to the Church, Jesus is at the very center of all that God does with and in it. He is the head of the Church.
But I really wonder if that is what Jesus meant in Mark 12:10. Jesus is talking about the nation of Israel, particularly as it relates to the religious leaders. He tells them that God is about to bring judgment upon them (Mark 12:9). This will happen because they have rejected Him. But even though they have rejected Him He will become the center of what God will do with the nation.
As I understand the quote in Psalm 118, it involves a righteous man who is persecuted by his enemies. These foes have decided that he is worthless. They are like builders who look at a stone and decide there is no use for it. However, because of God’s intervention this righteous man has become the chief cornerstone – the center of what the builders are building.
In that context, the idea that this man is the cornerstone means that God has exalted him before his enemies. God has done great things for him. This can be done in a variety of different circumstances. The original Psalmist was certainly not the cornerstone of the Church!
It seems to me that Jesus is not talking about His role in the Church when He addresses the Jewish religious leaders. They certainly had no concept of the Church. At that time, neither did the disciples. Even though the religious leaders have cast Him aside, He will still be exalted. Their rejection does not change the fact that Jesus is the Christ who will rule over the nations when the Kingdom comes to Israel with a future generation.
I think Acts 4:11 supports this idea. Peter is talking to the religious leaders (Acts 4:8). He also quotes this verse from Psalm 118. But Peter does not have a clear understanding of the Church at this time. His message is directed to the nation of Israel.
When I study a verse like Mark 12:10, I often come away amazed. Is Jesus the cornerstone of the Church? Yes. Is He the cornerstone for God’s plans with Israel? Yes. In all that God does, He is the centerpiece. For example, through Christ, the world will be judged. God has exalted Him in every way possible. For the unbeliever, He is the cornerstone where one finds eternal life. For the believer, He is where we go for what it means to please God and to find the strength to do so. For the nation of Israel, He is their hope. The fact that Jesus is the cornerstone is multi-faceted.
The bottom line is that as Free Grace believers we highly exalt Jesus Christ. But no matter how highly we think of Him, He is greater than we can even imagine.