When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? (Matthew 16:13 NASB)
It is no coincidence that Jesus asked the question, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” at the specific location of Caesarea Philippi. This strategic location was a worship center in the land of Israel during the days of Jesus.
It was here that there was pagan worship of the Greek god of the wild, Pan. This was also the location of worship of Baal, as well as, the place where Herod built a temple to worship Caesar August (emperor worship).
It was in this location of diverse worship that Jesus asked His disciples who “people” or society said He was among the many gods of that day. Their reply was noble but not accurate. Some said He was John the Baptist, which was a man revered as a prophet. Others said He was Jeremiah, Elijah or one of the other prophets, again a noble gesture, yet inaccurate. In other words, He was just another prophet, man or rabbi.
In turn, Jesus responds with a probing question to His disciples, “But who do YOU say that I am?” (Emphasis Mine). In this text, the “YOU” is plural, indicating He is asking the entire group, who they testify that He is. Peter, as the spokesperson, then replies that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
This admission of Jesus’ identity becomes a monumental event in the Christian faith because Jesus then reveals the reality of the ecclesia, the Church! This is the first time the concept of the church had even been mentioned. The disciples knew and understood the idea of the Congregation of Israel, but this concept of the “called out” church was unheard of.
This new word, ecclesia, (church) would be used 112 more times throughout the pages of the New Testament. Yet, here is where it was initiated and in turn, Jesus proclaimed that He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against.
It is yet again not a coincidence that Jesus made this statement in this location. It was in this same location that pagans had built temples at the entrance of a cave that was said to be “The Gates of Hell”.
There is a lesson to be learned from this event in biblical history. Jesus had made a proclamation that He would build His church and that nothing would prevent it from accomplishing His perfect purpose. Now, nearly two millenniums later, the church is still moving forward. We have a mission and we must not lose hope, so, LET US PRESS ON!