Caesarea Philippi: Peter`s declaration of Jesus

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And 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. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19 (NKJV)

Caesarea Philippi was built by the successor of Herod the Great known as Philip the tetrarch who made it the capital of his territory. The city was located in the Upper Galilee, near Mount Hermon in a region known as the Bashan which is a high plateau area in the northeastern corner of modern day Israel. The Bashan measures thirty-seven miles east to west, and fifty-six miles north to south. It is bounded on the west by the Rift Valley with Mount Hermon to the north and Mount Bashan to the east. The Bashan stretches south until it merges with Gilead. The landscape of the Bashan is very fertile and rich, with a sporadic amount of extinct volcano`s running down its center which have enriched the soil. During the winter months it can receive a heavy amount of rain 44-52 inches which has been a direct aid in the flourishing of vineyards and fruit groves. In the Old Testament, Bashan is mentioned sixty times but later during the first century we find the region called Gaulantis as it is a province of Rome with the Decapolis to the south.

            During ancient times, and particularly the first century, places of nature attracted the pagans to set up places of worship. At Caesarea Philippi extensive excavations have been done which have revealed a heavy influence and worship of the goat god, Pan. This would also explain the alternate name of the location which is known as Panias. Here, springs and waterfalls can be found where pagans also erected altars to worship nymph spirits and river spirits they believed existed in the water. Dwarfed by the shadow of Mount Hermon, which rises 9232 feet to the north with its snow covered peaks for more than six months of the year, the cultic sites of the city were built against the grotto’s of the high cliffs as temples were erected to Zeus and Augustus. The heavy presence of the large amount of water has to do directly with its proximity to Mount Hermon which receives over sixty inches of rainfall annually. Due to this amount of rain, the moisture seeps into the hard limestone foundations of the mountain and reappear in places like Dan or Caesarea Philippi as powerful springs and falls.

The geographical location influenced the event in which Jesus led his disciples up near the cliffs and temples. Since the city was built and stationed along a major route, connected to Damascus in the east and Dan to the west, this would have made the journey accessible and easy. Thus, Jesus brings his followers there to ask them a question. The Gospel of Matthew accounts Jesus asking his followers who people say He is. Peter is the one who responds pointing out in a direct way the divinity of Jesus and his anointing as Messiah. What Jesus says next is very interesting in direct relation to where they are standing. In the midst of His response Jesus states, “And 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.” He does this, with no doubt, while He and his disciples face the largest of the grotto’s which are in the cliff side. Covering the grotto is a temple to Pan where it is also believed to be the gate to the literal Hades. The pagans believed this to be a portal to the underworld and would sacrifice animals in the water and if the blood resurfaced after the animals had been carried away it meant a good omen. Jesus is at that very location, announcing that Peter will build the church of Christ on that rock, being it will be a liberating truth and redemption that these cultic sites and practices could never prevail or rule against, and Jesus declares that the power and chains of Hades will be broken. The geography of the place was a direct part of the event because in the midst of a pagan center, Jesus proclaimed His sovereignty over the wickedness of the place, and stated clearly the foolishness of worshiping anything or anyone else but God.

A Look At Caesarea Maritima And The Apostle Paul


13 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. 14 When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, 15 about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. 16 To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’ 17 Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, 19 but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. 20 And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

23 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.

Acts 25:13-23 (NKJV)

            The city of Caesarea Maritima was located in the Roman province of Samaria, with Judea and Idumea to the south, and Galilee and Syro-Phoenicia to the north. It was developed along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Israel along the Sharon Plain, which runs thirty by ten miles and is a flat area that consists of soils washed down from the hills. To the north can be found the Shephlah Carmel, which is a range of mountains that runs inland to the east. This creates medium-sized ridges with broad lush and rich fertile plains and valleys between them. Since it is further north, Caesarea Maritima can receive between 28-32 inches of rain during the rainy season (December to March) and experience sea storms and high tides. However, during the heat of summer, the rich soils around the city and in the coastal plain are excellent for growing citrus crops which can still be seen today.

            Caesarea Maritima was built and dedicated by Herod the Great in the year 10 BC, after twelve years of construction, and established as the main port city of the land. He built it in a Hellenistic fashion as it possessed a theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, temples, and a man-made port of breakwaters, docks, and quays which could harbor over six hundred ships. Thus it became a city of trade and commerce. Dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, the city soon became the Roman administrative capital of the land and rivaled other port cities such as Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos in the north, or Joppa in the south. Due to the soils washed down from the mountains, swamps had been created which posed as an obstacle to Herod the Great through his construction. Therefore, his plan was to drain the swamps by cutting channels to the sea, and then bring in fresh water by tunnels and aqueducts from springs located at the foot of Mount Hermon twelve miles to the northeast.

Since Caesarea Maritima was the seat of Roman power in the land, once Paul had appealed to Caesar following his arrest, he was brought to the city to be placed in confinement until he could be transported to Rome. His place of confinement is believed to be the Sea Palace which juts out into the sea upon a created land bridge of stone. It was built according to all the wealth and pleasures of the day, including swimming pools and baths, and it was most likely here that Paul would have been placed under house arrest. The reasoning behind this was since he was a Roman citizen and had appealed to Caesar, he would have had to be treated with care and this would be a likely place to hold him. The account in the Book of Acts has Festus, Governor of the land, speaking about Paul with King Agrippa II and his sister who have arrived in Caesarea. Agrippa mentions to Festus that he would like to hear Paul speak in defense and Festus makes the arrangements for the next day for it to be held in the auditorium, or amphitheater.

The importance of the city and its location along major roadways made it a prime geographical place for Paul to be held. Since it was the administrative capital and the largest port, therefore once Festus had questioned him in Jerusalem and agreed to transport Paul to Rome, Caesarea would be the natural place to send him to first. The geography of the city and its layout played a direct part in Paul’s trial. Not only was he held there, but he was given a platform to speak and defend himself in the amphitheater. Acts 25:23 mentions that Festus, King Agrippa, his sister Bernice, commanders, and prominent men of the city entered the auditorium/amphitheater and that Paul was brought before them to defend his faith. The amphitheater still stands today and has had extensive excavations done to it which reveal its size, entrances, and architecture, but also show the places where dignitaries would have sat. Therefore, we know where Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice would have sat, and most likely, as trials were public events, the theater could have been full, that is with nearly five thousand people.

By, Peter J. Fast