I was standing in a familiar place. At least two times a year, I address believers at the Banias, or what the Bible calls, Caesarea Philippi. It was here where Yeshua spoke of the rock on which he would build His congregation. And it was here where I suddenly realized what he was referring to with the word rock.
For years, scholars have argued about the rock that Yeshua refers to in Matthew 16. After Simon Peter, by supernatural revelation, declared that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Yeshua shares something else.
And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:18)
Catholics say He was speaking about Peter. His nickname, Kefa (or Petros), means rock. And they say he became the first pope. Of course, there would never be a Jewish pope! As well, Jesus never taught that His Body would be centralized under the authority of one man (other than Himself!). In the New Testament, we see teams of leaders working together (Acts 13:1, 15:40, 8:14).
Some say as Peter was the first evangelist/apostle to proclaim Yeshua in Jerusalem on Shavuot—the day the congregation of believers was birthed—that he, Peter, is that apostolic foundation upon which the church was built. Possibly. Certainly, more biblical than #1.
Still, others say that it was on the rock of revelation that Yeshua is the Messiah, the Son of God, that it was built. Maybe…
Caesarea Philippi was Demonic!
The passage begins with Yeshua taking his guys on a field trip to Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles from Capernaum. This region was off-limits to Jews. The rabbis forbade it. It was utterly demonic. People worshiped Pan, the half-man, half-goat, sex-crazed god. They committed unspeakable sexual acts there as part of their pagan worship.
On the mountain, there is a cave called, The Gates of Hell. It was through these gates, they thought, that one could enter hell itself. The cave was called the Cave of the gods.
Yeshua took His disciples there to make a few points.
Yeshua was not afraid of the enemy. He walked around knowing that demons were afraid of Him! Often believers are afraid of demons. I have news for you—if Yeshua lives in you, then demons are scared in your presence. The presence of God in you and the word of God in your mouth is torture to demons. Whenever demons saw Yeshua, they were terrified.
Gates are not offensive in nature, but defensive. They protect, not attack. But Yeshua, standing near the “Gates of Hell,” was saying, “All the power in hell cannot stop what I am building. Not Greek gods nor Roman ones; not some pervert goat—no, I am coming to take over!”
And then, there is the issue of the rock. If you go to the region of this cave, it is one beautiful mountain made of rock. Yeshua was not like the rabbis. He clearly said that he had not come for the healthy but for the sick. He was often seen with drunkards and sinners, sharing His message. He was referring to the rock upon which this cave to hell existed. Again, he was coming to take over. He preached with authority, not like the rabbis. He would build a congregation, not in the Temple, but in the uttermost parts of the world. He was not playing it safe; he was seeking to rescue the utterly lost.
Not only would the gates of hell not overcome Jesus’ ecclesia, but he would build it on the ruins of the gates of hell.
As I checked, I found others who had this view.
Though Christian traditions debate the theological meaning of those words, it seems clear that Jesus’ words also had symbolic meaning. His church would be built on the “rock” of Caesarea Philippi, a rock literally filled with niches for pagan idols, where ungodly values dominated. Standing as they were at a literal “Gate of Hades,” the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ challenge. They had studied under their rabbi for several years, and now he was commissioning them to a huge task: to attack evil, and to build the church on the very places that were most filled with moral corruption. Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: He didn’t want his followers hiding from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell. —Ray Vander Laan
What do you think? Comment below!
(First published June 17, 2019)