The Land of Jesus

Caesarea Philippi

Jarrod Jacobs


Distant view of Mt. Hermon from the Sea of GalileeCaesarea Philippi was located in northern Palestine, on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon. This town was located near the most eastern source of the Jordan river. There has been a city in existence on this site since Old Testament days. In Joshua's day, it was not know by the name "Caesarea Philippi," but probably known as "BaalGad" (Josh. 11:16-19). In later years, the Greeks conquered this land, and the city became a center of worship to the Greek god Pan. Pan was the Greek god of forests, pastures, flocks, and shepherds; represented with the head, arms, and chest of a man, and the legs, ears and horns of a goat. In honor to their god, the Greeks named the city "Paneas." After the Romans conquered the Greeks, Augustus Caesar gave the town to Herod the Great. Herod then built a marble temple and dedicated it to the Roman emperor in 20 BC. Herod's son Philip enlarged the city, renaming it Caesarea, to honor Augustus. By the first century, this town was called Caesarea Philippi in order to distinguish it from the seaport and capital, Caesarea Martina. In medieval times (1120 AD) the Crusaders built a castle on a mountain spur about 1,150 feet above the Jordan's primary source and called it "The Castle of Subeibeh."

Caesarea Philippi is known today as Banias. In 1983, the Israeli Department of Antiquities began archaeological excavations. In their digs, they have found artifacts dating back to the early Roman period. Massive underground systems of vaulted Roman buildings have been discovered, as well as other amazing artifacts. The marble temple built by Herod has not yet been discovered, but three coins that picture the structure, along with numerous other coins depicting the worship of Pan, have been unearthed. Caesarea Philippi certainly played a part in the early history of the world.

Looking into the New Testament, there are only two texts that mention Caesarea Philippi: Matthew 16:13, and its parallel, Mark 8:27. Luke 9:18 is another parallel account, though it does not mention Caesarea Philippi by name. These three accounts are parallel in that they all mention Christ's feeding the four thousand men besides women and children just prior to His going to Caesarea Philippi. (Matt. 15:32-39; Mk. 8:1-9; Lk. 9:12-17). Matthew says after the miracle, Christ boarded a ship for Magdala, while Mark mentions "parts of Dalmanutha" (Matt. 15:39; Mk. 8:10). On a map, we find that these cities were within a mile or two of one another along the west coast of the sea of Galilee. Magdala was believed to be the home of Mary Magdalene, or more accurately, "Mary called Magdalene" (Lk. 8:2).

The Grotto of PanJesus then travels some 30 miles north from Magdala and Dalmanutha to Caesarea Philippi. It was when Jesus "came into the coasts" or "towns" (Mk. 8:27) of Caesarea Philippi that He asked that great question: "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matt. 16:13). Why was this such a great question? Because, as is seen in the remainder of the text, the answer to this question is the very basis of the Lord's church. The confession made by Peter was the foundation upon which Christ built His church (Matt. 16:18). When the apostles answered Him, they said, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets" (Matt. 16:14). Luke's account sheds further light on this answer. He records the apostles saying, "John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again" (Lk. 9:19). Why would the people at this time think Christ was a prophet risen from the dead? It was because of His message and His call for people to repent and turn to God! It was reminiscent of the prophets of old whose message was recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. Christ's message was distinctive from the things that the people were used to hearing (Matt. 7:28-29). In fact, this feeling that Jesus was one of the prophets risen from the dead was something that those in ruling positions felt. Something interesting to note is that the statements the apostles made at this time were almost a direct quotation from Mark 6:14-16, where Herod the Tetrarch thought Jesus was John the Immerser raised from the dead. Others close to him thought Jesus was one of the resurrected prophets. This obviously was the consensus among people in Christ's day.

Sign at Pan's GrottoThen, Christ asks the question to His apostles, "But whom say ye that I am?" (Matt. 16:14; Mk. 8:29; Lk. 9:20). Regardless of what has been said by men, the apostles must answer for themselves. Who do they think He is? Who do they think they are following? Did they believe He was a mere prophet, or did they believe He was more than a prophet? Did they believe John who saw Him and proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29)? This was the question they needed to answer. There, in Caesarea Philippi, Peter gave the answer to the question when He proclaimed, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16; Mk. 8:29; Lk. 9:20). When Peter made this statement, this confession, remember where he was. He was in a city that had been a center of Baal worship ("BaalGad"), was later named for a Greek god (Pan - "Paneas"), and was now dedicated to the Roman emperor, Augustus ("Caesarea"). That these people were given to the worship of pagan gods and worship of men was clear by simply observing the names that this city had worn through the centuries. For Peter to make this confession meant denying all other "gods" that would have been popular at this time. When Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" he was also showing that men could not choose the "god of their choice," for there is only one "living God," and Jesus is His Son. For Peter to say "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" meant he understood that Christ was equal to God (Jn. 10:33). It meant that Peter was confessing something many people at that time did not believe; and in fact Peter risked being "put out of the synagogue" and being accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy for confessing Christ to be God's son (Jn. 9:22, 10:33). Peter's confession meant he was braver than others, for "among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (Jn. 12:42). Their reason for not confessing Christ was "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (Jn. 12:43). Therefore, Peter's confession showed that he loved the praise of God more than the praise of men! In time, of course, all the apostles would be called upon to make that confession of Christ even as they stood before a Roman court, facing persecution, exile, and death. All of them did this.

Applications of Peter's confession abound. From his words in Matthew 16:14, we learn that to confess Christ means denying others. We cannot straddle the fence (Matt. 6:24)! To confess Christ denies the popular thinking that "one is as good as another" in religion. Was Jesus John? Was He Jeremiah or Elijah? Was He any of the other prophets? Of course, not! Therefore, one was not "as good as another" when it came to Christ, was it? Peter's confession, though seemingly obvious and without consequence to the modern-day thinker, was truly a bold statement, and one that not many were willing to make at that time. Unfortunately, not many are willing to live up to their confession, today (Tit. 1:16). So, which is worse, to blatantly deny Christ (Matt. 10:33), or to confess Him with your mouth, and then live like He is not our Lord and Master (Tit. 1:16; Lk. 6:46)? Yet, on this day, standing in the city dedicated to heathen gods, Peter boldly pronounces Christ as the Son of the living God!

Headwaters of Jordan RiverAfter confessing Jesus as "the Christ, the son of the living God," Jesus blesses him, saying, "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17). In other words, what Peter confessed at this time was not something that could be learned through the physical senses, nor was this something people simply "knew." Rather, what Peter had said came as a result of the revelation of God. He recognized Christ as the fulfillment of many prophecies, as the Messiah that had been promised, when so many in his day refused to see it. Our Lord's thought continues into verse 18, where Jesus makes the statement: "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." In this city that has been dedicated to many pagan deities, Jesus prophesies the establishment of His church. This church was not to be established upon a man, like Peter, James, or John; but would be established upon the confession made by Peter on this day. A confession that all men must make. We find the eunuch making this confession before his baptism into Christ in Acts 8:37. Paul taught, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:10). This confession had nothing to do with confessing sins, but a confession of one's faith in Christ as the Son of God. It was this confession to which the Jews were so opposed (Jn. 9:22, 12:42-43). It was also this confession to which the Roman emperors were opposed (Rev. 2:10, 13). This is why the Christians in the first century were encouraged and admonished to "hold fast" to their "profession" or confession of Christ (Heb. 4:14, 10:23). As was mentioned earlier, this is a confession that all must make. We have the opportunity to make that confession now, be baptized into the Lord's body for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and enjoy the blessings that belong to those "in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). If we wait, though, there will be a day when "every knee shall bow ... and every tongue shall confess" but then, it will be too late for any second chances (Rom. 14:11)! Our "second chance" is now!

Jesus ends this section stating that Peter was given the "keys (symbol of authority, JJ) of the kingdom of heaven" and that "whatever you bind on earth shall occur, having already been bound in Heaven. And whatever you may loose on earth shall be, having been already loosed in Heaven" (Matt. 16:19, Green, Jay P. Sr, The Interlinear Bible, p. 752). This statement was later made again, addressed to all the apostles (Matt. 18:18). Jesus then demands that they tell no man what they know (v. 20), and begins telling them of His coming crucifixion and death. To this, Peter objects, and Christ rebukes him for not setting his mind on God's interests, but man's (Matt. 16:23, NAS).

Christ then calls "the people" or "all" to Him (Mk. 8:24; Lk. 9:23) and teaches them the importance of denying themselves, taking up their cross and following Him. He also asked the question, "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mk. 8:36). Luke phrases it, "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?" (Lk. 9:25). Some suggest that it was here, near Caesarea Philippi, on Mount Hermon that Jesus was transfigured. This seems likely, for none of the writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke) suggest a change of venue. Rather, they report that about a week later, Jesus went up and was transfigured in the sight of Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:1-13; Mk. 9:1-13; Lk. 9:28-36).

The mount of transfiguration stands forth today as: A place of prayer (Lk. 9:28). This was Jesus' practice to pray often (Lk. 6:12; Mk. 6:46, 1:35), and He was doing so on this day as well. The mount of transfiguration stands forth today as: A place of transformation. It was here that Jesus was transfigured. Vine's Amplified Dictionary of New Testament Words defines this as, "to change to another form; meta, implying change; morphe, form" (p. 819). Mr. Thayer defines transfigured as, "to change into another form; to transfigure, transform; his appearance was changed, i.e. was resplendent with divine brightness" (Thayer's, p. 405). J.W. McGarvey says, "We may conceive of the body of Jesus becoming luminous and imparting its light to His garments. The Christian looks forward to beholding such a transfiguration and also to participating in it" (Four-Fold Gospel, p. 419). The mount of transfiguration stands forth today as: A place of teaching. It was here that the apostles learned that Jesus was greater than Moses or Elijah (Matt. 17:5). It was here that they heard once again of Christ's death, and what He would "accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk. 9:31). What was Christ to accomplish? We know He was to bring salvation to all men (Matt. 20:28; I Pet. 1:18-19), as well as bring the New Testament into effect (Hebrews 9:15-18), and fulfil or complete the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17; Col. 2:14). At Jerusalem, He would purchase the church as well (Jn. 19:34; Acts 20:28). There is more that could be said about the mount of transfiguration, but let us learn the vital lessons we have noted and realize the significance this place holds to all men today.

Conclusion

Yes, these great things took place at Caesarea Philippi some 2000 years ago. Though we are separated by time and miles, we need to realize that the place is not what holds meaning to us, but what occurred there at the rugged slopes of Hermon, and the source of Jordan so long ago. This is what truly matters. This is the reverse of what many think. You see, from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have shown that rather than the place giving significance to the event, the event gave significance to the place! What Christ taught, and what He did is what causes men to remember such places as Caesarea Philippi. What was confessed by Peter, the transfiguration of Christ, etc., makes this place great. May we learn that Christ's teachings are what makes us, and not the opposite! We are nothing without God, and we can do nothing without God. Let us decide today that we will no longer live to ourselves, but live for Christ, believing that He is the Son of God (Jn. 8:24), repenting of our sins (Lk. 13:3; Acts 17:30), confessing Him as the Son of God, as was done so long ago by Peter (Matt. 16:16) and countless millions since that time (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:10), and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16), so that we might put on Christ (Gal. 3:27), taking advantage of the blessings He offers (Eph. 1:3). This is why Christ said what He did in Caesarea Philippi, and this is why He died on the cross. Now that we know what happened in Palestine so long ago, what will you do, dear reader? Will you turn and live for Him? I hope so.

 


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