Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi occurred near the ancient City of Dan in northern Israel. Today, this is a large archaeological site containing elaborate building projects erected by Herod Philip and Herod the Great’s great grandson, Agrippa II. In addition to magnificent Roman structures, Caesarea Philippi is also known for Banias, a collection of springs and pagan worship sites linked to the cult of Pan. Pan was the Greco-Roman god of nature, livestock, hunting, etc. – all things related to wild times, party music, and, of course, fertility. Pan was that crazy looking guy with the hindquarters, legs and horns of a goat. The centerpiece of this ancient worship site is a huge cliff and grotto, which contains the remains of numerous altars, caves, temples, and courtyards. The entire area teemed with Roman mythology and idolatry.
Jesus’ big question
It was right here where Jesus, nearing the end of his ministry, asked his disciples one profound question… “Who do you say that I am?”
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 Hades will not overcome it.
This dramatic scene in the Gospels is referred to as Peter’s Confession. The disciples had walked with Jesus for about three years, listening to his teachings and witnessing his miracles. They came to know Jesus as a man. However, Simon had come to understand that Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Jesus responded by blessing Simon. He changed Simon’s name to Peter – the “rock” – and declared that he would build a church on this rock – a church so solid that not even Hades itself would overcome it.
A majority of Christians believe that the “rock” that Jesus was referring to was not Peter himself, but Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus had never explicitly taught Peter and the other disciples the fullness of his identity, and Jesus stated that God had opened Peter’s eyes and revealed to him who Jesus really was. So, under this interpretation, Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah was informed and inspired by God – which brought forward the heartfelt declaration of Peter’s personal faith in Jesus. Many Christians believe that it is this “personal faith” in Jesus that is the hallmark of a true Christian, and that those who place their faith in Jesus, as Peter did, are the true “church.”