Caesarea Philippi is on the northern edge of Israel in a beautiful region known as Dan. But the things that took place there weren’t always so beautiful. To find out more, watch the short video below, then read on to find out how God can do beautiful things for you even if you’re in a very dark place.
So what happened at Caesarea Philippi? This is where God revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Caesarea Philippi was also home to a cultic temple carved into the side of a massive rock that was called at that time “the gates of hell.” It was so named because of the infant sacrifices that took place there in the years leading up to the time of Christ.
With this background in mind, the words that Jesus spoke on this spot are even more meaningful. Here’s what happened, as recorded in the book of Matthew:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:13-19).
I never realized until I went to Israel what a dark place Caesarea Philippi must have been in the days when Jesus was speaking.
The Temple of Pan had been built there a few hundred years earlier, and when people came to worship Pan, they would bring with them an infant child to be offered as a sacrifice. The child was thrown into the water that flowed from the rock on the side of the cliff. If the child went under the water and disappeared, that meant Pan had accepted their sacrifice. If instead, the child’s was dashed apart under water and its blood flowed into the river below, Pan had rejected their sacrifice. Either way, the child’s life was over.
Not only was this area known for this pagan temple, but the Israelites had also rejected God in this region hundreds of years before that. Way back in the days of King Jeroboam, Jeroboam ruled Israel from this area. But for fear that the people would want to leave his kingdom and side with the breakaway kingdom of Judah, he erected two altars in this area instead. He made two golden calves and said to the people:
“It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there (1 Kings 12:28b-29).
So this region of Dan, at the northernmost border of Israel, which is so beautiful and hilly and rich on the outside, had been a place of great darkness spiritually. In Jesus’ day, with the Temple of Pan located there, it was an even darker place. Yet this is where God chose to reveal to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. The darkness wasn’t a problem for Him, for He was, as He called Himself, “the light of the world.” Jesus said:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Perhaps you’re in a dark time or a dark place in your life today. Or perhaps you have family or friends who are surrounded by darkness. If so, I want to encourage you to take heart: Jesus can reveal Himself even in the darkest of times and places. In fact, based on the time and place where He made this revelation to Peter, Jesus seems to delight in doing just that.
I also want to encourage you to make sure your faith in Christ is profoundly personal. By that I mean, don’t just take someone else’s word for it that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Make sure that this is something that you believe deeply yourself. If you look at Jesus’ questions in the passage above, you’ll see that He started by asking His disciples what others said about Him. “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples replied:
“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
It’s sometimes safe and easy to talk about Jesus in terms of what others believe about Him. If asked who He is, some people might say, “Well, my grandmother thinks He’s God, “ or “My parents believe He’s the Messiah,” or “My friends say that He’s their Savior.” But after Jesus asked the disciples what others said about Him, He turned to them directly and asked who they thought He was.
“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?”
There comes a point in life when you can no longer rely solely on the faith of others to get you through the trials you’re facing. You can no longer waver between what others say about Christ. My prayer is that you’ll be able to say, like Peter said:
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
“The Christ” (Greek) and “the Messiah” (Hebrew) both mean the same thing: “the Anointed One.”
If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, trusting and believing that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One who came to die for your sins and bring light into your world, I encourage you to do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, know that He is a Savior who delights in revealing Himself even in the darkest of places. Keep on praying that He will reveal Himself again and again to you, to your family and friends, and to the rest of the world.
Father, thank You for revealing that Jesus is indeed the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of all who put their faith in Him. Help us to see that revelation for ourselves in a fresh way today, and help others see Him that way as well, no matter how dark it may seem all around them right now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.