Among yesterday’s highlights of our second full day of touring the Bible lands was visiting sites on the North side of the Sea of Galilee.
We began at Hazor which Joshua conquered during the conquest of Canaan and burned the city (Josh 11:13). It is mentioned several other times in the Old Testament.
Dan was a fascinating stop where Jeroboam, the first King of the Northern Tribes of Israel, set up an altar and built a calf for the people to worship (1 Kings 12:29-30).
But my favorite of the day was seeing Caesarea of Philippi, where Peter answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter boldly affirmed.
In response, Jesus blessed the apostles and said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
We correctly observe that the Rock was not Peter, but his confession. And we like to point out the wordplay on Peter’s name which means “a little stone” while the word “rock” means a large boulder.
Caesarea of Philippi was the site of the temple of the Greek god Pan, who is said to be the god of the wild, of shepherds and flocks. The temple was built into the side of Mt. Herman. The rock is enormous.
Peter confession underscored three important facts about Jesus.
(1) Jesus was the Messiah.
The Jewish people lived in expectation of the coming Messiah. Imagine if you were a first century Jew looking for the Messiah, who would you be looking for? What ancestry? Where would he be born? How would he live and die?
According to the Old Testament the Messiah (Christ) would come from the seed of David (Amos 9:11-12). He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Would escape to Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Preceded by a forerunner announcing his ministry (Malachi 3:1). Hailed as King upon entering Jerusalem upon a donkey (Zech. 9). Betrayed for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:1). And be deserted by His scattered disciples (Zech 13:7).
Jesus was that man!
(2) Furthermore, Peter affirmed Jesus was the Son of God.
46 times the New Testament writers speak of Jesus as the Son of God. The angel who appeared to Mary, said she would give birth to the “Holy One who …will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
John, the prophesied forerunner, testified, pointing to Jesus, saying, “this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:49). So also said Nathaniel, Peter and the other apostles. They saw the miracles. The healing of the lame. The blind. The deaf. And His suspension of gravity as he walked on the Sea of Galilee that I’m now overlooking as I write this post.
(3) Jesus is the Son of the living God.
Our God is alive. And Jesus was the living, breathing embodiment of Deity. Unlike the mythical god Pan. Those who worshiped this mixture of a man and a goat came to a temple whose god was not alive. Those inanimate blocks of stone neither possessed life nor could give life.
The Temple of Pan is impressive, but it is overshadowed by the real Rock–Jesus Christ (1 Cor 10:4). Jesus’ assertion that Peter had confessed His Divinity was in daring defiance to the impotent gods of the Greeks and the Romans.
Our faith is founded upon that Rock. Our fellowship is formed and forged because of that Rock. Our hope is anchored to that Rock. And the assurance of our eternal destiny is guaranteed because Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God.
Never again will I look at Matthew 16:18 in the same way. In the words of the Hymnist Priscilla J. Owens
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman