Rev. Sudha Mehta©
At Caesarea Phillipi
Matthew 16: 13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea- Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? 14 And they said, Some’say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (ASV)
So, today lets talk about Caesarea-Phillipi. In the time of Jesus, Caesarea-Phillipi was a thriving town in the North of Israel at the base on the South-Western side of Mount Hermon. It was just a few miles from Tel-Dan, so called for the tribe of Dan had settled in that region. At this time the Romans were ruling the whole region.
Caesar Augustus had been to visit the region in 20 BC, and shortly after he set sail returning to Rome, it seemed fitting to Herod that he should build a temple to honor his patron. The historian Josephus writes:
“So when he had conducted Caesar to the sea, and was returned home, he built him a most beautiful temple, of the whitest stone in Zenodorus’s country, near the place called Panium (Panias, Caesarea Philippi). This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain; and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan. Herod adorned this place, which was already a very remarkable one, still further by the erection of this temple, which he dedicated to Caesar.” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15,10,3
It was not uncommon for Caesars to have towns named after them. They liked the honor and it was political more than anything. Local governors who themselves were appointed by Caesar would name a town or location after Caesar to gain favor from their patron. Herod the Great ruled this region as Tetrarch (governor) from 37-4 BC. He renamed this town which was previously called Panias after the the “Goat god” Pan and called it Caesarea. Pan already had a temple there and Herod built a temple to Caesar Augustus alongside this to deify him.
Augustus was the “adopted” son of Julius Caesar . . . remember the story of Cleopatra? Yes, that Julius Caesar who was the first Caesar of the Roman Empire. Julius was killed in the Roman Senate.
Augustus (AKA Octavion) loved the thought of being a “god,” it was not a novel concept in Rome where many gods were worshiped. So when Halley’s comet passed over the region about that time, Augustus declared that the comet was actually his daddy Julius entering heaven, and that he was divine. That made it easy to then declare himself divine like daddy! this made him “god’s son!” So, what is more fitting than a lovely temple dedicated to him. This claim to divinity was then followed by all Caesars, and they saw themselves as saviors as well. Animal sacrifices were also made to them along with incense offerings.
Now Herod the Great was really not a good guy, he was ruler at the time the Magi came looking for the “King of the Jews.” You probably remember he ordered all the Jewish babies under two years of age killed as a result of his conversation with them. He wanted all threats to his throne eliminated.
After Herod the great died in 4 BC, his territory was divided and given to his four sons to govern and Phillip was the one who was given this city and surrounding. Phillip made some renovations to the temples etc. and then when Caesar Augustus died in 14 AD, he changed the name slightly. From then on it was known as Caesarea-Phillipi and so it would have been called when Jesus took His disciples to this location.
Just an FYI: Please know that “Caesar” became a title much like King or Emperor. There were other Caesars over time. When Jesus was born, Augustus was on the throne of Rome as Caesar. Augustus died in 14 AD and Tiberias became the new Caesar. Jesus died during Tiberias’ reign.
Below is an artist’s rendering of the city at the time of Jesus.
Reconstruction Painting of the Sanctuary of Pan at the site of Ancient Paneas, Caesarea Philippi in Israel
From left to right: The Temple of Augustus, behind it is the Cave of the god Pan, Open Court of Pan and the Nymphs, The Temple of Zeus(middle), the Court of Nemesis (next to Zeus Temple), Tomb Temple of the Sacred Goats, and in front of it is the Temple of Pan and his Dancing Goats.
Quite a complex, don’t you think?!
Hundreds of years before the Greeks worshiped Pan here, and the Romans worshiped Caesar, the Canaanites worshiped Baal by offering their children, and then the Israelites also followed suit and did the same. The place has quite a dark history!
At various times all manner of sacrifices have taken place at this location, animals, children and even virgins.
The main attraction to the town was it’s pagan worship center. Today there is nothing but ruins and the opening to a cave to see. The evidence of Pagan worship remains in stone carvings, but the Temples and the hustle and bustle of crowds bringing their sacrifices to the gods they worshiped is missing. The archaeological dig will go on, and while in time it will reveal more, the “glamour” of the era is no longer.
The natural springs that provided enough water to the city also fed the Jordan. That reservoir is still there.
When Jesus took His disciples to this thriving city, it was known as the big center for idolatry. Jews were actually forbidden by their religious leaders to go to Caesarea.
The archaeological dig at Caesarea
The reservoir fed by springs that feed the Jordan River
The cave leading to what was considered a bottomless pit with water, was seen as an entrance to hell from which there was no return.
Jesus travels with disciples Photo free Bible images
Jesus’ trip came about towards the end of His time here on earth. Just months before His death and resurrection. Why would Jesus be so bold as to take his disciples to this city which was 30 miles by foot one way. He was certainly known as a radical by Jewish standards at this point, why would He risk more disapproval by going there and taking His disciples with Him?
Once again, Jesus did nothing without purpose. He needed His disciples to know WHO HE WAS beyond any shadow of a doubt. The disciples were going to go through the crucible of suffering/persecution for His name’s sake and their very lives would be required of them.
jesus disciples Free-Bible-Images.jpg
Think about it, if you were less than 100% sure of your cause, would you give your life for it? If your faith could be shaken, you would likely fall, especially if your life was at stake. Only and only, if you were absolutely, unshakably sure that your cause was worthy, would you be willing to give your life for it!
Here stood the One and Only begotten Son of God, referring to Himself as the “Son of Man” (Second Adam), asking His disciples the question: “Who do men say that the Son of man is? It was the perfect place to ask the question surrounded by other “gods!”
Peter declares the Christ photo from Freebibleimages
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Here it was . . . The Truth! Plain, simple and uncontested!! Jesus was the TRUE Son of the Living God! Not Augustus!!
He said to Peter: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven.
In other words, only by Divine revelation would Peter have known and declared this!
Then Jesus makes another declaration: And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades (Hell) shall not prevail against it.
The Truth that Peter declared was what Jesus would build His Church on and the gates of Hell and the goat-god Pan, or any other shall not prevail against it!
Now . . . Hell is a prison! Hell was created by God to hold fallen disobedient angels as prisoners. In fact the Bible tells us that there were some angels so wicked that God chained them up in the deepest depths of Hell.
Hell was not intended for humans. Humans get there by their own choice, choosing to reject the Salvation offered by God!
Hell does affects us while we live. Satan himself is yet free to roam the earth, and he makes life for humans very challenging.
The Bible tells us Satan is a thief:
John 10: 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.(BSB)
How many ways does Satan steal from you? How many ways has he tried to destroy your peace? Your security? Your family? Your Marriage? Your very life?
How has Satan tried to take you captive? Are you imprisoned in his prison by drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, prostitution? Has he trapped you in a cycle of abuse and shame?
Have you been taken captive by tormenting thoughts that deprive you of sleep? Has he robbed you by breaking up your family? Is your heart broken for your children? Are you dealing with a shattered heart due to infidelity?
Has he tried to kill your loved ones through gangs and violence? Has he stolen your riches and your job? Has he been tormenting you with thoughts of suicide?
You alone know how trapped you are in Satan’s traps and what you have lost.
Hell takes different forms, but the prison it makes, though invisible, is very real.
Here in Caesarea-Phillipi Jesus owned that He was the Christ (Anointed One, Savior) and declared the Church (made up of believers) would always be much stronger than all Hell!
He gave the church the power in Jesus’ name to bind up the Devil and to free those that are bound by Satan and his minions.
Jesus said: I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.(ASV)
This is a promise! We can bind Satan and his devils! We should by faith and prayer in the name of Jesus, call for the release of those imprisoned by heartache/drugs/ alcohol/ sexual trade/ gambling/ and abuse of any kind.
After all, Jesus also said “I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”(BSB)
I should tell you, I am used to praying this way and doing battle with the enemy. Join me!!
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