Gates of Hell
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say 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 replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered 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 tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
My husband, Joel, and myself consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have been able to travel to Israel in 2010. We saw so many places related to Jesus and His time spent here on earth. Of course, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem were beyond fascinating and did so much to make the Bible stories ‘come alive’ each time we read or hear them, but something about Caesarea Philippi really hit home with me. This is where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. What I really love is where Jesus chose to have this conversation. Caesarea Philippi was a known place of worship to the pagan god, Pan. It features a rocky cliff with a cave at the bottom where spring waters flow. Etched in the sides of the cliff are niches where statues of pagan gods were once placed. Pagans believed the gods of fertility resided in the underworld beneath the cave and the waters represented fertility. Many unspeakable acts of ‘worship’ were performed the worst of which was the sacrifice of babies by throwing them over the cliff. Weirdly, they believed that if blood ran in the stream flowing from the cave, the gods were displeased and rejecting their sacrifice, so…they continued to sacrifice babies until the water ran clear. You can imagine how many babies were basically murdered in their pursuit of pleasing a make-believe god! And no wonder, the Jewish people at the time considered this the worst place on earth – literally the gates of hell!
So as Peter confesses Jesus in the Christ, Jesus is using the literal and figurative imagery of the gates of hell as they are standing right in front of the place the disciples surely would have known as ‘the gates of hell’. He reassures the disciples (and us!) that our confession that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, is the rock on which the church is built and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Now the disciples lived in a world with a lot of problems…corruption in the government, sexual immorality, poverty, and on and on. Wait a minute! That sounds much like the world we live in! But just as Jesus reassured them, He reassures us. Our faith and trust in Him are what will give us peace in this world. Not that we stick our heads in the sand, but rather we know Who’s in charge, we know He has a plan, and we know He’s gone to great lengths to call us His own. And knowing that whatever ‘the gates of hell’ look like in my world, they will not prevail. I find a lot of comfort in that…and I hope you do, too.