Jesus had organised a highly confidential, exclusive conference with His apostles in a unique venue on the Golan Heights known as Caesarea Philippi, (today called Banias). Caesarea Philippi was a magnificent city, built by Herod the Great’s son, Philip. It immortalised his grandeur, as well as exalting the ‘divine’ Caesar, whose image was featured on the massive cliff face at the foot of majestic Mount Hermon. The grotto, commonly known as ‘the gates of hell’, is the source of a prolific spring, feeding Lake Galilee, which had become the centre of pagan worship, featuring several temples, including one to Pan (the legendary man-goat worshipped as a god) and another to the goats attending Pan.
In this environment Jesus asked a vital searching question, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’Their reply included some of the legendary prophetic giants: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and other prophets.
Jesus followed up with the confrontational question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Astonishingly, Peter responded, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. This question recalls the occasion in the wilderness when Satan required Jesus to prove His identity as the Son of God by commanding stones to become bread.
On that occasion Jesus explained that man’s life isn’t dependent exclusively upon bread, but ‘on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4): that is, by revelation. While He has His apostles’ attention Jesus reinforces that truth, ‘this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven’ (Matthew 16:17).
Jesus continues with a play on words that’s completely absent in the English translation: ‘you are Peter (petros, Greek) and on this rock (petra, Greek) I will build my church’. We could translate, ‘Peter, you’re a small pebble (Peter’s identity), and on this massive rock (Jesus Himself, imaged by the enormous rock face in front of them) ‘I will build my church’. Jesus is making abundantly clear, that Peter (and you and I), need this precious powerful revelation, which only the Father can give us, that Jesus is the unique and exclusive source of this power, without which we’re powerless.
Jesus then explains the effect of that power: it’s the believer’s total protection which ‘the gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome’. Perhaps Jesus even pointed His hand in the direction of the grotto, or He may even have walked them to that very place known as ‘the gates of hell.’
Jesus goes even further explaining a future gift to Peter, and all those who receive this revelation, ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’. In doing so Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah: ‘I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; and what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no man can open’ (Isaiah 22:22), a word that John later attributes to Jesus regarding the Church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7).
Do we know when that gift was bestowed upon them? I believe we do. Do you remember Jesus’ last words to the apostles before His ascension to heaven? It was to wait in Jerusalem until empowered from on high by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8).
Jesus is asking us some questions today: Have you received the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Son of God, and committed your life to Him? Are you walking in the faith of the power of God through this encounter? Are you aware of the protection that this faith offers? Are you baptised in the Holy Spirit and exercising the gifts of the Spirit? Are the fruits of the Spirit evident in your life?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the lessons of this passage of Your word. Please embolden me by Your Spirit to walk confidently in my identity as a son/daughter purchased by the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please speak into my heart fresh revelation as I meditate on this passage of truth and hope today. Amen.
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