Peter’s Declaration is a great teaching to all the believers and non-believers, on who Christ is. The declaration takes place at Caesarea Philippi, a region of the gentiles as it continued to focus on the worship of Greek gods. In Caesarea Philippi, you find the temple dedicated to the Greek god Pan. Caesarea was called Paneas later Caesarea Paneas. When Romans conquered the territory, Herod Philip rebuilt the city and named it after himself. Caesarea Philippi was a city located in the foothills of Mount Hermon, about fifteen miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The natural spring near Caesarea Philippi is the largest source of the Jordan River. The city has its antiquities connected to many empires, including the Greeks and the Romans, Alexander the Great, Jewish Kings etc. The city was known for all the despicable acts committed there.
It is to this place that Jesus brings his disciples and asks them the question, “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The reply revealed the ignorance of the people regarding the identity of Jesus. They thought that Jesus was John the Baptist, some said Elijah, others said he is Jeremiah or one of the prophets. They could not understand the uniqueness of Jesus or his mission that they compared Jesus with the early prophets. At this point, Jesus asks his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter’s answer was much more than the claims of the people. He said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. This answer revealed two things: (i) Jesus is the Messiah: The Jews had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. They had put out from the Synagogue many who accepted Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Jn 9:22). The Messianic understanding of the Jews was that he would be a political ruler who would liberate them from the hands of the Romans. Jesus’ claims of miracles and authoritative teaching on forgiveness, compassion and love was not digested by the Jews who waited for a powerful Davidic Messiah, who would defeat the Romans. Jesus was in no way a match to David’s power. During David’s time, there was total peace with the neighboring countries. There was no more war. He had ruled for 40 years. (ii) Jesus is the son of the Living God: This is the most important of all the confessions of faith. In the region of the gentiles, they proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, means that the gentiles will begin to believe in Jesus as God’s son.
Jesus applauds Peter for his declaration and tells him that “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” It shows that every revelation of Jesus as the son of the living God cannot come from anyone else but God himself. Human beings cannot know the divine nature of Jesus unless it is revealed by God the Father himself. However, once the revelation is received, everyone is called to confess their faith in Jesus as the son of the living God.
What is the significance of the confession? Jesus tells Simon, “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church”. Peter means ‘rock’. Everyone who proclaims Jesus’ divinity will be rock solid. They will not be prevailed over by the powers of hell. The cave at Caesarea Philippi was believed to be the gates of hell. The declaration at Caesarea Philippi signifies that Jesus’ followers should not hide from evil, but rather, storm the gates of hell. He meant that the gates of hell were going to be attacked. The pagans believed that fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods travelled to and from that world through caves. To prevail over the gates of hell, believe in Jesus, the way to the Father who only can reveal Jesus’ true identity. The keys of the Kingdom will be given to everyone who confesses that Jesus is God. Jesus gives authority to the apostles to bind and lose everything on earth to build his Church on earth.
The people in Caesarea Philippi had placed false hopes on false god Pan and had built a temple for him. Thus, standing as they were at a literal “Gates of Hades”, the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ challenge. Jesus is asking his disciples to attack the evil, and to build the Church on Rock solid faith in Jesus, who is the way to heaven. Jesus promises salvation to everyone who courageously proclaims him. The non-believing world will resist, but Jesus challenges us to go to build his Church in those very places that are most morally decayed.