Jesus at Caesarea Philippi

28 Feb

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It may be significant that, after he had defused the immediate Messianic hopes of the people at Capernaum, Jesus again left the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas for a region governed by Herod Philip, Caesarea Philippi (Luke 9:18; cf. Mark 8:27). Why Jesus chose Caesarea Philippi as a place to take the Apostles at this point is a matter of interpretation. Personally, I believe Jesus had a purpose and that purpose seems to concern the fact that he was about to begin telling his disciples about his coming sufferings and eventual crucifixion (cf. Luke 9:22).

Caesarea Philippi was a city Herod Philip had built to honor Tiberius Caesar. Herod the Great, Philip’s father, had built Caesarea along the coast of the Mediterranean to honor Caesar Augustus, so Philip behaved similarly to honor the next Caesar, Tiberius. Caesarea Philippi was located near the spring of the Jordan River, and near that spring were several shrines built to honor the god, Pan. This place was a site of pagan worship, perhaps the only such site of its kind that Jesus visited with his disciples. Many Bible students have assumed that the cave located at the former site of a temple dedicated to Pan was thought to be the gates of hell. Whether or not this was so during the times of Jesus, it certainly had a very shameful and wicked past by that time.

Human sacrifice, including child sacrifice was performed in the cave out of which the spring for the Jordan River flowed. Certainly, the cave had to have represented death to some Jews who knew its history. Certainly, we could assume Jesus knew its history, when he spoke of the gates of hell (or Hades). In fact, the Septuagint uses this same phrase in both Job 38:17 and Isaiah 38:10 to express the abode of the dead or Hades.

Knowing this, Jesus brought the disciples to a city, whose name commemorated Caesar, the ruler of the world, and at this site Peter claimed Jesus was the Messiah, the ruler of the kings and princes of this world (cf. Psalm 2). Moreover, Jesus took the disciples to a place (perhaps representing the gates of Hades to the Jews) where pagan worship had abounded, and in that same place where pagan worship so evidently flourished, Jesus declared to his disciples that he would build his Church, and the gates of Hades (death) would not prevail against it. That is, the Church would never be completely snuffed out of existence, though at times in our history it may have seemed that way. Nevertheless, Jesus promise has held true.

Here, Jesus asked the Apostles first what the rumors were concerning him (Luke 9:18). They told him that some of the people thought he was one of the prophets who had risen from the dead, while others believed he was Elijah or even John the Baptist risen from the dead (Luke 9:7-8, 19).

Next, Jesus asked whom they, the Apostles, thought he was, and Peter spoke for the group, saying Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Luke 9:20; cf. Matthew 16:16 and Psalm 2:6-7). Jesus commanded the Apostles that they should not repeat what they told him (Luke 9:21), because the whole idea of his being the Messiah was a politically explosive matter (cf. Luke 9:9). Moreover, Jesus began at this time to tell the disciples of his coming suffering and eventual crucifixion (Luke 9:22), and he didn’t want to force the current volatile atmosphere into a political quagmire that would result in a wrong defining point concerning his public ministry.

How long Jesus remained in Herod Philip’s jurisdiction is a matter of conjecture. It may have been a few days, a few weeks or even up to about two months.[1] The Gospel narratives are silent about Jesus activities after his visit to Caesarea Philippi, but the fourth Gospel does say he spent time in Galilee as opposed to Judea (John 7:1). Jesus visit to Caesarea Philippi is the only specific event they record between the feeding of the 5000 in Bethsaida near the time of the Passover, 29 AD (John 6:4), and his visit to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles during the same year (cf. John 7:2-5, 10), and Luke’s language in Luke 9:23 points to his being in Jerusalem rather than near Mount Hermon at the time of his Transfiguration.[2]


[1] Probably Jesus stay in Gaulanitis was more like a week, perhaps two. Herod had already come close to creating a revolt among the people by killing John the Baptist. If Jesus didn’t seem to be seeking to create a revolt, it was in Herod’s best interest to let him alone. If the people were upset over John’s death, there was reason to believe they would carry through with their rebellious notions, if another religious figure were killed needlessly.

[2] I’ll elaborate on this when we come to the third year of Jesus’ public ministry.

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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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