Friday (January 4) we visited Caesarea-Philippi. This was another amazing place that helped a Bible story come alive for me. I will do my best to help a short story come alive for you.
I am standing at the base of a huge rock on the outskirts of Caesarea-Philippi. Phillip was one of Herod's sons – so he renamed this city after Caesar and after himself. This is at the base of Mount Hermon, the tallest mounting in Israel. There presently is snow on the mountain and a ski resort that will open in the next week or two. This area where I am standing was used as a temple for the god, Pan. Keep this huge rock in mind…
If you see the small arch to the right of the cave – that is where I was standing in the previous photo. In that archway was the idol of Pan. Also notice the water. 25% of the Jordan river came from a spring. The water comes out from below the rock. Also, notice the cave. The belief in Jesus' day was that the place of judgment (Hades) was below the water. This cave was so deep that a 1st century historian, Josephus, said that they didn't have a rope long enough to get to the bottom of the cave. And therefore, some in Jesus' day called this the "gates of Hades."
With those photos in mind (the rock and the cave ["gates of Hades"]) – read this brief story.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it… 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
I hope you see the significance of the setting in which this event likely happened. Jesus calls Peter (the rock) – which I believe his statement is the rock on which the church is built. He said this as they likely were looking at this very rock. He also made a proclamation about the gates of Hades not overcoming the church. And they were in front of the cave that many called "The gates of Hades."
What an amazing site to consider this powerful moment in Peter's life. So often his mouth got him in trouble. Here – he is credited with a statement that could only have been given to him by God.
We ended the day on Friday by visiting the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the traditional location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. There is no real evidence for the exact location. The only evidence is circumstantial… that is, he lived in Capernaum and this is the closest mountain – within a short walking distance of Capernaum.
On this trip, I've been asked to speak seven different times, giving brief "devotions" from various locations. As we were at the traditional location of the Sermon on the Mount I talked about the end of Matthew 7 where Jesus defines the wise person NOT as the one who knows the most, but as the one who obeys what Jesus says (Matthew 7:24-29)
This is a view from the top of the mountain down to the Sea of Galilee.