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The Rock of Ages was Cleft in Jerusalem

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Abstract: The symbolism of the rock that was cleft in the wilderness was fulfilled during the crucifixion of Jesus outside Jerusalem. The rock-faced buildings in Jerusalem allude to the Messiah.

The Old City of Jerusalem (Mount Zion and the Temple Mount) as well as its immediate surroundings, are closely related to the world-reforming teachings and redemptive work of Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of David. The Mount of Olives is the scene of His soon expected second coming (Zech. 14:4-5), while the throne of David will be restored on Mount Zion (Amos 9:11-12; Acts 15:16-17) and a new temple built on the sacred site dedicated for this purpose (Ezek. 40-44).

On closer examination it soon becomes evident that there is a much more intimate relationship between Yeshua and Jerusalem than is commonly realised – even insofar as every building in the city bears witness to Him as the Rock that was cleft for us. The age-old tradition to build with hewn stones in Jerusalem renders a unique appearance and character to the city, and directly links it to its real owner, King and Saviour. He is not only known as Lamb of God and King of kings, but also as Rock, Foundation and Cornerstone. The last mentioned three titles are closely related as they all reflect Yeshua as the Cornerstone of Israel and its capital city, and as the basis or Foundation of every person on earth who truly believes in Him as the Rock upon which his life is built.

Let us consider the spiritual implications of these three titles:

1. The Rock

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Mt. 7:24-27).

Yeshua is Himself the Rock on which He is building His church (Mt. 16:16-18). It is obvious that only the life of a born-again person is built upon Yeshua the Rock. This association offers him stability and crisis resistance to prevail against the storms of life. A person not anchored to this Rock does not have the strength or ability to withstand these onslaughts.

2. The Foundation

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

There is no spiritual foundation other than Yeshua the Rock that was cleft for us. To build on any other foundation is to build on sand and to be heading for failure and disaster when the storms enfold you. Even if you live a successful life (humanly speaking) on the foundation of your own achievements, you will not survive the dark storms of God’s final judgement. All those who have not built their lives on Yeshua the Rock, will be uprooted and cast away from the presence of God forever!

3. The Cornerstone

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whoever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Lk. 20:17-18).

According to Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:4-7 Yeshua is the Cornerstone of the building of God upon which we are built as living stones to be a spiritual house to His glory. This is the fulfilment of promises made in Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. To those who do not trust in Him He will be a Stone of stumbling who will condemn them to perdition. There is no middle way between these two attributes of Messiah. He is either the Cornerstone upon whom your life is built and who supports and sustains you, or He is the Stone of stumbling who bring eternal ruin to you.

The same principle applies to governments. The builders of a nation can found their constitution, educational system, moral norms, etc., on the Cornerstone of Yeshua and His teachings, or they can reject this Cornerstone and turn to humanism or other ideologies. The end result will be equally disastrous.

The cleft Rock

We need to more closely examine the typology of Yeshua as the Rock that was cleft for us. Paul says that the Israelites in the wilderness “all drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ [Messiah]” (1 Cor. 10:4). In the wilderness the people yearned for water, and the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink” (Ex. 17:6).

The striking of the rock points prophetically to the crucifixion of Messiah by the leaders of the nation. He was nailed to a cross and His body pierced, [sacrificed] for our sins. The result of the striking of the Rock was that a fountain of living water was opened to quench the spiritual thirst of the entire world. Yeshua said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (Jn. 7:37-39).

Why was it such a great sin in the eyes of the Lord when Moses during a later occasion again struck the rock? As the rock is a type of Messiah, it was only to be struck once for the spiritual thirst of the nation. In the same way a Passover lamb was only to be slaughtered on one occasion during the exodus; the rock likewise was to be struck once only. Yeshua our High Priest “does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27; emphasis mine).

When the people of Israel camped at Horeb for the second time, Moses was only asked to speak to the rock and not to strike it again: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water… Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod” (Num. 20:7-8, 11; emphasis mine).

This disobedience of Moses and Aaron was a very serious offence in the eyes of the Lord – so much so that he and Aaron were not permitted to lead the nation into the Promised Land: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (Num. 20:12).

Under the New Covenant it is likewise a very serious sin to crucify Yeshua twice (Heb. 6:6). He was struck once, and now we can only ask for the living water that He freely gives (Jn. 4:13-14; Lk. 11:13).

The crucifixion of Yeshua

With the crucifixion of Yeshua, the Rock of Ages was cleft for you and me. It is highly significant that He was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem in the quarry of Solomon where the stones for the building of the temple were hewn. A large part of the mountain was excavated for building material, until an area was reached where the rock became crumbly and not suited to hew building blocks. From a distance the holes in the side of the excavated mountain resemble the eyes, nose and mouth opening of a skull. The name Golgotha (Place of a Skull) was probably derived from the skull-like appearance of the mountain side.

Another possible explanation for this name is that it originated from the skulls that were lying there during the time of the Roman occupation. The Roman authorities annually executed about 200 criminals on this site north of the city by crucifying them. The bodies were not buried but left to decompose in the quarry.

Stones for the temple

It is no coincidence that Yeshua was crucified in this particular place. The stones for the temple of Solomon that were hewn there, point prophetically to the Rock of Ages who was cleft in the same quarry so that each of us may be built up as temples of the living God.

“And the king commanded them to quarry large stones, costly stones, and hewn stones, to lay the foundation of the temple. So Solomon’s builders… quarried them; and they prepared timber and stones to build the temple… And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built” (1 Kings 5:17-18, 6:7).

When the Lord Yeshua gave Himself over to be cleft in the quarry of Solomon, He did a perfect work for us – nothing needs to be added or taken away from it. On the building site of the temple it was prohibited to continue shaping the cornerstone or any other stones. They had to be delivered exactly in the right size from the quarry.

We must go to Yeshua where He was cleft for us on the cross, so that we may be made into living stones that are suitable to be built into the house of the Lord. A stone that was not formed and prepared in the quarry was not suitable to be built into the temple. Likewise, every person who has not been to the cross is unsuitable for the kingdom of God – he is cast away. The invitation to the quarry of God at Golgotha, outside the gates of Jerusalem, still stands:

“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, o holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ [Yeshua the Messiah]. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame” (1 Pet. 2:4-6).

Rejected by His people

Yeshua as Cornerstone was rejected by the spiritual leaders of the nation: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:22-23).

Because Israel refused to build their national house upon the Rock of Messiah by preferring to continue the religious sacrifices of the Old Covenant, they disregarded the messianic promises and the solid foundation of Messiah Himself, and in effect built on sand. That is why they could not stand against the continued oppression of the Roman Empire and eventually crumbled as a nation and became dispersed.

Messiah who was rejected by them became the Cornerstone of the Church among all nations, as promised by God: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles [Goyee], that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is. 49:6).

Many Jews have accepted Yeshua as Messiah in His capacity as Saviour and Cornerstone, and built their lives upon Him. However, the large majority of orthodox, reformed and non-practising Jews still deny and reject Him to their own detriment. For this reason they find the going tough and their lives unstable. Since the Six Day War of 1967, an orthodox religious group called Temple Mount Faithful, tried in vain several times to lay a cornerstone of 4½ tons on the temple Mount where the temple is to be rebuilt. This site is controlled by an Islamic group, the Wakf. Even if efforts to rebuild the temple eventually succeed, it will be under the leadership of a false messiah who will desecrate the third temple by declaring himself to be God in the Holy of holies (Dan. 11:31, 36-37; 2 Thes. 2:3-4).

Why do the people of Israel not go to the quarry of Solomon where the cornerstone for the first temple was hewn? Here they will get a clear indication of the true Cornerstone that God provided to the nation. Thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world visit the site every year. The special interest shown by them in the place of crucifixion is a sign to Israel to draw their attention to the Cornerstone who was rejected by their fathers, and is still rejected by the majority of the present generation. Close to this place they will also find the empty tomb, hewn out of solid rock. That is the sign of the risen Messiah. He is the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world, but He rose from the dead and lives for evermore!

There is no substitute for the only true Cornerstone provided by God for the lives of individuals and nations. His kingdom on earth is built upon this Rock. For all those who reject Him, He is a Stone of stumbling who will destroy them in the coming judgement of God.

Jerusalem, the rock city

The instruction for the building of the temple with hewn stones has given rise to a similar practice among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. After the nation’s return from the Babylonian captivity, their intentions with regard to the rebuilding of the temple were expressed as follows: “Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being built with heavy stones” (Ezra 5:8). The same building material was also used nation-wide to construct houses: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones” (Is. 9:10; also see Amos 5:11).

Jerusalem is a city unique in the whole world as all the buildings have been constructed with hewn stones. In 1996 the city celebrated the 3000th anniversary since it was captured by David from the Jebusites in 1004 BC. After all these years the tradition to build with hewn stones is still followed. A municipal regulation to this effect is enforced on all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. No bricks may be used. Concrete constructions are allowed on condition that they are covered with stone tiles. The appearance of such buildings is the same as that of stone buildings. In most cases thick hewn tiles with a rough stone surface are used. Only in a few cases are stone tiles with a smooth surface used. Even the embankments of the streets and the terraced slopes in the city are paved with hewn stones.

My Rock and my Salvation

Many people immediately notice the uniqueness of Jerusalem as the rock city, since all the buildings have the same rock-faced appearance. However, its symbolism as the city of Messiah, the Rock that was cleft in the quarry of Jerusalem for all mankind, is seldom recognised. This ignorance is strange, since God revealed Himself to Israel from the earliest days as their Rock and their Salvation (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 62:2).

Moses reprimanded Israel for their spiritual ignorance: “Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who fathered you” (Deut. 32:18). The God of Israel is a Rock, and there is no rock like Him (1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 23:3). He gives to Israel a strength that is far above that of their enemies (Deut. 32:31). For this reason king David could sing, “I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer… my strength in whom I will trust… my stronghold” (Ps. 18:1-2). “Be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defence to save me” (Ps. 31:2).

However, David realised that before God can be his strength and refuge, He must first be his Saviour who alone can save him from spiritual darkness: “He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps” (Ps. 40:2). “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our Salvation” (Ps. 95:1).

Every resident of Jerusalem who enters his rock habitation should be reminded of the merciful God of Israel who earnestly desires to shelter His children spiritually. On entering the home built of hewn stones, they should pray: “In You, O Lord, I put my trust… Be my strong habitation to which I may resort continually… For You are my Rock and my Fortress. Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 71:3-4). “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Capital of a rock kingdom

During the coming reign of Messiah on earth the rock city, Jerusalem, will be the capital of a Rock Kingdom. This symbolism is derived from Daniel 2 where Messiah’s coming is likened to a rock that will utterly crush and replace the kingdoms of this world:

“You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:34-35).

The explanation of this dream without any doubt refers to the coming of Messiah and His reign on earth:

“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold” (Dan. 2:44-45).

This event is also described in Revelation:

“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).

The Rock Kingdom will be the greatest of all kingdoms and fill the entire earth. The throne of Messiah will be in Jerusalem – the very city where His body was once struck that He might become a Cornerstone upon which all people who trust in Him can build their lives. At present He is in heaven, but soon He will return to Jerusalem in Person to literally establish His kingdom on earth:

“After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, say the Lord who does all these things” (Acts 15:16-17).

Yeshua will be great and be called the Son of the Highest, “and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” which is in Jerusalem (Lk. 1:32). He will then not only be the Cornerstone of the saved people of Israel but also of a global, Christian new world order:

“At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17). “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Is. 2:3-4). “Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord“ (Zech. 8:22).

Safe for all eternity

If we have taken refuge with the Holy One of Israel and built our lives upon the Rock, we will be safe for all eternity. We will not come into judgement as we have passed from death into life (Jn. 5:24). Then we can also sing: “Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee…”

Not all people have this blessed assurance, and they have every reason to fear the future. Dark clouds of the impending judgements of God are gathering around the world, and soon millions of people will be flung into an eternity without the Messiah because they have not built their lives upon the Rock of our Salvation.