It was our first trip to Israel and the whole group was standing around posing for pictures at the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi. We were visiting The Temple of Pan, a Greek Goat god that in Jesus day was a pretty big stinking deal.
The temple and city was seen as a Sodom due to the type of pagan worship and rituals that occurred regularly. First century Jews avoided Caesarea Philippi specifically because of Pagan Pan.
So, Jesus took his disciples there to teach a lesson.
I bet they thought he had
Matthew 16 records this trip near the end of Jesus ministry. Jesus asked his disciples who he was, and Peter busted out with his famous answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.
Jesus blesses Peter with his response, and says, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. This is where, when you understand the context, it gets really, really cool.
Caesarea Philippi was built into the sides of a rocky mountain. The picture on the above right is where the Temple of Pan overlooked the city below. When Jesus referred to rocks, they disciples knew it was some serious foundation. They were surrounded by it.
But why would Jesus refer to the Gates of Hell?
The large cave shown here is a huge, deep cavern. It was a part of the Temple of Pan. The belief was, pagan gods would go to the underworld in the winter, and return to the earth’s surface every spring. The deep crevice in the rock was the entrance of the tunnel the pagan gods traveled. What was this cavern’s name?
The Gates of Hell.
When Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and The Gates of Hell will not overcome it”, the disciples knew exactly what Jesus was saying. It was an object lesson of huge proportions. The rock was real. The church was going to be real. And the Gates of Hell? They were about to be overcome.