Our first impression of this vigorous land was its vast miles of desert in the southern Judaean mountains. The tiny dots on the hillsides pictured below are sheep and goats herded by their Bedouin shepherds.
Ezekiel 34:12 “‘As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.'”
Our guide Sam explained that, indeed, at the end of each day when their shepherds call, each animal recognizes the voice of his own shepherd and follows him home.
CAESAREA PHILIPPI — northern Israel, on the border of Syria and Lebanon
Caesarea Philippi, so named by Herod the Great after his son Philip, was first named Panias after the Greek god Pan. The city became the center of pagan culture in Galilee when King Herod the Great built a temple for Zeus here and named the city after his son. Perhaps it is this strong pagan culture that drew Christ, compelling him to use this venue to confront his disciples with the question:
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The Biblical Caesarea Philippi is located about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee at today’s Baniass Springs, one of the three sources for the River Jordan.
From the large grotto in the face of this rock flow the headwaters of the Jordan River.
The Greek god Pan was believed to have been birthed in the large grotto.
Because pagan worship was often conducted near running water, this was an ideal place to venerate Pan. This half-man half-goat god of nature, fields, forests, mountains, flocks and shepherds was also known as the god of fright (hence the word “panic” He was known to frisk about during the night, taking the lives of man or beast at his will).
Herod the Great built a temple in front of the grotto honoring Pan’s mythical father, the Greek god Zeus. Pictured below is a massive 2,000-year-old column from the temple honoring Zeus.
The Romans intended to unite the Empire by enforcing the worship of Zeus throughout the empire. About a century before Christ’s birth, they seized the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, destroyed the altar and replaced it with an altar to Zeus. Here they worshiped Zeus, adding insult to injury by burning pigs on the altar as sacrifices.
It was in front of this temple to Zeus and the grotto of Pan the god of fear that Christ asked his question to his disciples in Matthew 16 . . .
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Simon Peter answered, “‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'”
And standing in the face of the temple to Zeus, Christ denounces the gods of the Romans as the “gates of Hades” and proclaims his stock in Peter, the Rock:
“And I also say to you that you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build My church;
and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.”
The Mount of Transfiguration
Just a scant week after Christ proclaimed Peter as his rock against the gates of Hades that Christ is indeed identified, his mission affirmed:
Matt. 17: “After six days later Jesus took with Him Peter, and James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them; and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to Him!'”
The account of the supernatural transformation of Christ recorded in the synoptic gospels (Mark 9:2-8; Matt. 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36) is not mentioned in the gospel of John, but there is a reference at 2 Pet. 1:18.
The mention of Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) standing with Jesus at his transfiguration and the cloud visible to the disciples as a symbol for the divine presence (Exod. 33:7-11) signify the relationship of this New Testament account to the ancient Jewish Old Testament account as told in Exodus 24:16.
To strengthen the connection of this New Testament event with the Old Testament, the three dwellings (or tents, booths) proposed by Peter to shade Jesus, Moses, and Elijah reference the Feast of Tabernacles, celebrated annually by the Jews. During this week-long event, in order to remember the wilderness experience of their ancestors, the Jews lived in booths or tents like their ancestors were believed to have done in the wilderness (Lev. 23:42) and would do so again in the Messianic age.
Moses’s face once shone with the reflected glory of God (Exod. 34:29); on the mount, Jesus’s figure shone with its own glory, and his clothes were ‘dazzling white’. The human life of Jesus was not merely a revelation to the disciples but also a promise of what all believers are destined to enjoy–the ultimate religious union of the human person with God, meaning not that a human being might become a god, or part of a god, but that the divine image might be finally and fully manifested in a created being whose life had been lived with the righteousness of Christ.¹
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. II Corinthians 3:18
¹”transfiguration.” In A Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. W. R. F. Browning. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. 02Mar2019<http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t94/e1945>.
THE DEAD SEA