2021 - 2022
Banias (Paneas), or Caesarea-Philippi (Caesarea is the city of Caesar; Philippi – named after Herod’s son who made the city his capital), was an impressive Greco-Roman city located near a flowing spring – one of the sources of the Jordan river, on the foothills of the Hermon mountain. A Roman sanctuary, which included temples and ritual courtyards, was built near the sacred grotto of the Greco-Roman God Pan. The ancient city, named after Pan, was located to the south of the springs. Jesus visited the city around 29AD. To the pagan mind, the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the winter. They committed detestable acts to worship these false gods.
Caesarea Philippi's location was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set at the bottom of the cliff. The pagans of Jesus' day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves. To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of hell. When Jesus brought his disciples to the area, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district in their world and devout Jews would have avoided any contact with the despicable acts committed there. It was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell.
Standing near the pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" Peter boldly replied, "You are the Son of the living God." The disciples were probably stirred by the contrast between Jesus, the true and living God, and the false hopes of the pagans who trusted in "dead" gods. Jesus continued, "You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (see Matt. 16:13-20).
Gates were defensive structures in the ancient world. By saying that the gates of hell would not overcome, Jesus suggested that those gates were going to be attacked. Standing as they were at a literal "Gate of Hades", the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus' challenge. They had studied under their rabbi for several years, and now he was commissioning them to a huge task: to attack evil, and to build the church on the very places that were most filled with moral corruption. Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: He didn't want his followers hiding from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.