Some very powerful words were uttered here by the Apostle Peter. In response to the question of who Jesus was, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And it was upon this massive boulder of a statement that Jesus would build His church.
Matthew 16:13–16 “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.'”
How many times have we heard the previous words? Yet, when we fail to realize where Jesus was when he said this, we lose a great deal in how the disciples understood what Jesus said.
So, let me share some very powerful things about Caesarea Phillipi.
First, it is where the Jordan River flows from Mount Hermon (where snow melts and begins the long trek to the Dead Sea). In this video, you see it coming from underground.
Second, you need to know that the picture I posted at the top of this blog was probably where Jesus and Peter had their conversation.
If you look at that first picture, you’ll see a massive cave opening. That cave is incredibly important to understand the power of what Jesus said. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Where I took that first picture at the top of this post was near a lot of ruins. Behind me was a lot of ruins that shows where the city of Caesarea Philippi was located. There is still a massive amount of excavation that needs to take place but the rock outline of houses and other buildings are clearly visible.
On the elevated large rock ledge in front of the cave, and above the town, stood a large temple. It was for the worship of the god Pan. (I’ll let you do your own research on who he was.)
The worship of the god Pan required a regular sacrifice to appease him. Sometimes the sacrifice was a goat. Sometimes, a man was sacrificed.
Look at what appeared on a sign next to the ruins of the temple.
So, you understand from this sign that the sacrifice wasn’t by fire. The sacrifices were thrown ‘into the abyss.’
Up until a few years ago, water flowed in the cave (abyss). If the sacrifices were thrown in and then pulled under by the powerful current and never reappeared and if blood did not flow out of the spot where the Jordan begins (where the water in the cave went), then it was assumed the god was appeased. The sacrifice was said to have been received into the depths of the earth. If the goat or man came back up to the top of the water’s surface alive, the sacrifice had failed.
So, guess what the cave with it’s ritualistic sacrifices came to be called. The gates of Hades (death)!
Now, let me show you a video before my final words. My video begins with some ruins of the temple against the rock. Then, I pan the camera to the cave, then to the area where the rest of the temple once stood (in the video, there are multiple people standing on the spot). Then I end with zooming in on the place where the cave’s water would come out to form the Jordan after traveling underground for about 300 yards.
So, when Peter made his profound statement about the Deity of Christ, Jesus may have picked up a small pebble (petros) and said that it represented Peter. Then, He may have pointed to the massive rock (petra) cliff surrounding the cave and said that it represented Peter’s profound statement that the church would be built on. And then He may have pointed to the cave and said that not even death (human sacrifice, persecution, etc.) would be able to bring the church to a halt.
Jesus’ word-picture would have been etched in Peter’s mind and heart so powerfully that he never forgot it.