Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as Christ and Messiah is a pivotal moment in the Gospel. It is on this confession of faith that Jesus will build His Church. The fundamental mission of the Church will always be to proclaim that the Christ has come, that a Savior has been given to us, that sin and death no longer have final sway over us, that we have a reason for hope. This confession of faith then, is vital. The one who makes the confession, Peter, is now charged in a special way, with proclaiming this truth not only in the privacy of conversation with Jesus, but now to the whole world.
The location of this confession is interesting. Jesus and the Apostles have come to Caesarea Philippi, a place in the north of Israel heavily influenced by Greek culture. It was the site of ancient Greek temples, especially to the god Pan. Later, King Herod had built additional monuments honoring Caesar (hence the name of the place). The pagan worship in those temples involved animal sacrifice and some fairly wild practices, such that the city had a reputation not unlike that of Las Vegas. Located near some of the temples was a cave, believed by many to where Pan lived. From that cave came a spring of water that is possibly the source of the Jordan River. Water symbolized, for the people worshipping in these pagan temples, the abyss and death. When Jesus brings the Apostles to this place known for sin, death, and idolatry, He does so to be identified as the true God, as life itself, as the antidote for the poison of sin. When Peter makes his confession and Jesus tells him the gates of hell will not prevail, it is within sight of the cave that represented the abyss and eternal death of hell.
Some writers describe this as Jesus throwing down the gauntlet. Challenge! On earth many have come to believe in Jesus, but many still doubt or reject Him. The Apostles are among those who have made their confession of faith. We have already seen in the Gospel how demons, unseen except by their effect in people’s lives, shriek at the approach of the Lord. Here at Caesarea Philippi, Peter’s confession reveals that Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the terror of demons, and it happens right near the cave that symbolizes hell itself. Jesus has taken his Apostles, the Church, right to the very gates of hell to inform the occupants there that they will have no victory.
As we face challenges, struggles, pain, disappointment, and the consequences of our own sin, remember the promise Jesus makes. The gates of hell will not prevail. They will not prevail if we remain firm in our conviction and our confession of faith – you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. They will not prevail if we persevere in our mission, to proclaim the truth of this confession everywhere, even when it seems that worldly powers are arrayed against us. Today, be strengthened in your own confession of faith.