by Bethany Iversen, FHU senior
The ancient town of Caesarea Philippi (also known as Banias) is situated in northern Israel, near the Syrian and Lebanese borders, at the foot of Mount Hermon. There is not much of the original city left, but the main area of the people’s congregation in the 1st century was a huge rock face, like standing at the bottom of a tall and rocky cliff. In the rock face were seven different pagan temples, including the Temple of Augustus, the Grotto of the God Pan, the Court of Pan and the Nymphs, the Temple of Zeus, the Court of Nemesis, the Tomb Temple of the Sacred Goats, and the Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats. This is what the site may have looked like in the 1st century, at the time of Christ on earth:
This was obviously a very religious group of people, in one way or another! The largest and most important temple of this city (on the left-hand side of the picture) was the Court of Pan. Pan was the god of shepherds, pastoral livestock, mountain hunting, and played a role in fertility. He was raised by nymphs in the forest according to Greek legend. Some say that Pan, as his name suggests, was actually the god over all other gods, god of the universe (the Greek word root “pan” = all or everything). In that case, the image of Pan would encompass the whole life of pagan worship, including every other pagan god that people chose to acknowledge.
At the bottom of the cave in which the Court of Pan sits, there is a deep chasm with a spring. As part of pagan worship to Pan, people came from all over to make sacrifices to Pan, which were then thrown down into this chasm. This cave was known all over the region as the Gates of Hades.
It was here that Jesus asked his apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-18) This is where Peter confessed that He was Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is where Christ told his apostles he would build His church on the rock of that confession and that the Gates of Hades would not prevail against it! How powerful that must have been while standing amidst this towering rock face in front of what they knew as the Gates of Hades! Jesus very easily could have looked up and pointed at this evil chasm only to declare that His kingdom was above and beyond this shrine. Jesus assured his followers here that their exceedingly pagan culture, which seemed so powerful, would have no stock in real triumph. No forces in their idolatrous world would be able to overcome the Lord, so there was, and is, no reason to be afraid. God is almighty, and He is in control!