Inside the Gates of Hell
Location – Golan Heights
Map Coordinates - 33.247081, 35.693879
Merged Gospels story - 114
Caesarea Philippi is located about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, beautifully situated on the southwest slope of Mount Hermon. The area is one of striking scenery, lush groves of trees, grassy fields and an abundance of water that gushes from the ground.
One of the main attractions of the site is the Banias Cave, from which the source of the Jordan River once emerged. The mouth of the cave measures about 49 feet high and 65 feet wide. Before an 1837 earthquake the river emerged from the cave floor. Now it emerges from a crack below the cave.
I am inside the Gates of Hell (Pan’s Grotto)
In 3 BC, Philip II (also known as Philip the Tetrarch, one of Herod the Great’s sons) founded this city at Paneas (the region of the Greek god Pan), which then became the administrative capital of Philip's large tetrarchy. The city is often referred to by its ancient name, Banias, which is the Arabic pronunciation of Panias (since there is no “p” in Arabic).
In this Temple area we find Caesar worship, the court of Pan and Nymphs, a temple to Zeus, and various false gods.
A Cult Center.
An artist's depiction of the Temple area.
This area has always been known for cultic activity, both before and after Jesus. In ancient times, the combination of natural features of a cavern and spring gave rise to a fertility cult worshipping the Canaanite gods Baal-Gad, "lord of good fortune" (see Joshua 11:17) and Baal-Hermon, "lord of destruction" (see Judges 3:3).
In Jesus’ day Caesarea Philippi was the local center of the cult of Pan. People called the Banias Cave the gateway to the underworld, the abode of Hades (or Pluto), the god of the lower regions, and home to the disembodied spirits of the dead.
Pan, the main god who was worshiped here, was the half-man, half-goat Greek god of herds, shepherds, nature, trees and water, often depicted playing a flute.
The Temple area today.
The City Across the Road.
Across the road from the Temple area, we discover the remains of Philip's 1st century AD Roman city, where excavations have uncovered a marketplace and a luxurious palace. Other notable remains include a large building used for court hearings, huge round towers that protected the palace and a colonnaded street that bisected the city from north to south.
The city of Caesarea-Philippi.
The Biblical Story.
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist. Others say Elijah. And still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But what about you?' He asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ In reply, Christ declared, ‘And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:13-20)
Let’s repeat the most significant principle here - “The gates of hell will not prevail against My Church”
Why did Jesus choose this place to teach this principle?
Jesus came here to make a point. Idolatry was the most condemned sin in the Bible. And yet nowhere was idolatry more prevalent than in Caesarea Philippi, a city of Greek-Roman culture known for its worship of foreign gods.
Against this backdrop Jesus announced that He would establish a Church, and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This prophecy came true in a huge way. Not only is Christianity the most popular faith in the world, but the cult of pan is extinct, and Caesarea Philippi is an uninhabited archeological ruin, visited daily by site-seers who come to marvel and mock the foolishness of Caesarea-Philippi’s social architects.
No, the gates of hell did not prevail against the Church. Quite the opposite.