Caesarea Philippi is the site of an ancient Roman city located in the north of Israel in the Golan Heights at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon. This is the famous place where Jesus is walking to with his disciples and where Jesus identity as the Messiah (Christ), the Son of the living God was revealed to the Apostle Peter. (Matthew 16:13, 16).
History and Archaeology:
The place is also referred to as Banias because there was a cult center that was dedicated to the deity Pan in the Greek Period, and later temples were also built to Roman gods and even Emperor’s. At the time of Alexander the Great men already began to be worshipped as gods. He himself was considered to be a Pharaoh and therefore a god. The place of worship was called Paneas, but the letter P changed its pronunciation into a B later in history, hence Banias. This name referred originally to a large cave, from which a major source of the Jordan River flows, but was extended to designate a larger district in which the Pan cult was situated. Pan’s cave and the remnants of the temple of Pan are visible at the site.
Under the Roman Empire the region in which Caesarea Philippi is located was allocated to Herod I’s rule and the territory remained under Herodian control during Jesus ministry. After Herod’s death his kingdom was divided into four administrative areas called tetrarchies (= four administrative regions in Greek) and inherited by four heirs of the king Herod. The heirs were called tetrarchs and Philip the tetrarch (one of Herod’s sons) inherited the region in which Caesarea Philippi is now located.
It was Philip who established Caesarea Philippi as the capital of his tetrarchy as the name Philippi indicates. He called his capital Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima on the coast of the Mediterranean (established earlier by King Herod as a port city).
Excavations have not unearthed any residential area in Caesarea Philippi, so it was mainly a seat of government. This corresponds well to the descriptions in the NT. Jesus visited “the villages of Caesarea Philippi” (Mark 8:27-30) or Jesus came “to the district of Caesarea Philippi” (Matthew 16:130. This indicates close knowledge of the actual historical and political environment on the part of the gospel authors.
Some scholars suggest that the rock under which the cave of the pagan deity Pan was located is a physical image of the spiritual “rock” on which the Lord promised to build his church and that Pan’s cave is the physical picture of the “gates of hell” which will not prevail against the church. The important writer and church father, Eusibius, writing in 325 AD actually calls this place “The Gates of Hell”. Many times, Jesus when explaining something spiritual will use a physical reality that the people could see, in order to make it clear for them.
It is also important to discuss hat different theological understandings of this verse have contributed to the rift between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics would understand the verse “and on this rock will build my church” to mean on the foundation of Peter I will build my church, making him the fist Pope, with all Popes being descended from him.
Consequently, I will give you the keys of heaven and hell, and all authority refers to the Papal seat of authority, later relating to the infallibility of the Pope and a specific anointing given to him. Protestants would greatly differ with this view point. This could lead to a time of prayer if desired.
Archaeological findings include the remnants of Pan’s temple (linked above), King Agrippa’s palace (second half of 1st century A.D.), the cardo, a bath-house and a Byzantine-period synagogue and church. Close to the site there are also Muslim shrines and a Maronite Church.
Revelation of Jesus as the Messiah as well as of his intent to build his church:
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever * you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever * you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
Parallel passage in Mark:
27 Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” 29 And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And He warned them to tell no one about Him.
Wilson, John Francis. “Paneas/Caesarea Philippi and the World of the Gospels.” Syria and Christian Origins 3,1 (2014):7-26, at p. 7.
New American Standard Bible: http://www.biblestudytools.com/nas/
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