For awhile Jesus had been planting seed about himself (compare the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13). He cast the seed all over Galilee, the Decapolis, Samaria, and parts of Phoenicia and Syria. Many just didn’t get it. Their hearts were hard. Others received it with joy, but fell away when things got too rough (John 6:66). Still some received his word like Judas, who was probably a Zealot like Simon his father. Judas received Jesus as a useful figure for his own political ends, which also is most likely the reason he stole from Jesus (John 12:4-6). Nevertheless, the other disciples held on to Jesus just as Jacob did with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:24-30). They endured the violence the word of God did to their traditional beliefs and the violence of shame for being associated with Jesus, when all others forsook him (John 6:66; cf. John 17:14 and Luke 22:28). The seed was planted in the good ground of their hearts and began to bear fruit at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus posed the question, “Who do you say I am?” The evidence of one’s feeding on Jesus as our Bread of Life is made manifest in the revelation of an inner fellowship with our Father (cf. Luke 9:20; Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; John 6:69 with Matthew 16:17).
Peter’s confession marks a turning point in the Twelve’s discipleship. It was as though Christ waited to see the first evidence of their listening to that “still small voice” within. Once this became clear, Jesus entrusted his teaching to the power of that inner life to maintain and nurture the word of God in their hearts. From this time forward, Jesus began to teach the apostles that he would be taken away from them, leaving only that little sprout of inner leadership to help them. Jesus told them he would be crucified at Jerusalem (Luke 9:22; cf. Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31), but this news went against what they had traditionally understood about the Messiah. Peter spoke out again and began to tell Jesus that this could never happen to him (Matthew 16:22; Mark 8:32). Immediately, Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33), telling him that his words were those of an enemy and not his Father’s.
We must not miss the point here. Jesus was not calling Peter “Satan.” Jesus never resorts to such tactics. He was sternly directing Peter back to his inner fellowship with our Father. Jesus was making it clear, that what Peter was saying at this time, was only traditional thought, i.e. thoughts or doctrines born in the hearts of men. This teaching came from the outer defiled life and is the enemy of our inner fellowship in the spirit (cf. Matthew 16:6, 12; Mark 8:15). This same outer life with all its morality and wisdom would seek to destroy the Savior of the world in about two years hence.
Jesus redirected Peter and the other apostles with him to their fellowship with our heavenly Father. We are unable to understand the word of God through doctrines and teachings of men. The word of God is “revealed” truth and is taught by the Spirit of God from within. Men may preach and teach the word of God, but it is our responsibility to be careful of both how we listen and what we listen to (Matthew 10:27; Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18). May the God of all wisdom help us to see our need to be attentive to his Spirit within each of us.
Caesarea Philippi is an interesting site for Jesus to choose to ask the question: “Who do you think that I am?” Herod Philip built Caesarea Philippi to honor Tiberius Caesar. Philip’s father, Herod the Great, had built a city on the Mediterranean, which he called Caesarea to honor Caesar Augustus. Therefore, Philip named his city Caesarea Philippi or Caesarea of Philip. The city was built over the ancient city Paneas and incorporated pagan religious sites to the god, Pan, for whom the ancient city was named. The mountains there have natural springs, which are the source of the Jordan River.
Pan was a fertility god, who in the dry season was believed to have entered a large cave in the mountain referred to as the gate of the underworld. Caesar, himself, was also looked upon as a god, the god of the Roman Empire. Therefore, when Jesus told His apostles that he would build His church upon the ROCK of Peter’s confession and said that the gates of hell would not prevail against that assembly (Matthew 16:18), he was referring to all the evil that was apparent around them. The Roman Empire, over which Caesar ruled was real, but it wouldn’t prevail. The religious institutions of this world, in all their fanatical power would not prevail. Jesus made it very plain that Peter, and anyone else who is able to make such a confession, was able to fellowship with the God who created all there is, including the powers that be. We are in intimate fellowship with One who is more powerful than anything that anyone could ever imagine. While it may not outwardly appear so in our present circumstance, history attests to the validity of this statement.
Teaching demands time. Jesus didn’t merely declare to His apostles that he would die and rise again. He began to teach the disciples these things from the time of Peter’s confession, which was the indicator that they had an inner fellowship with God.