There is an eerie feeling walking up the steps to the temple of Pan at Caesarea Philippi. This was the very center of pagan worship in first century Israel.
This is the place where Jewish mothers would adamantly tell their children “DO NOT GO THERE!” Yet this is the very place where Jesus takes his disciples when he is about 8 months out from going to the cross.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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. 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. 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.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. – Matthew 16:13-20, ESV
Because this particular location was believed to be the birthplace of the half man, half goat god, Pan, this location was known as “the Gates of Hell”.
Here, at the very “gates of hell”, Peter is called to be the one to build the church after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
What was Jesus up to here? Why did he have to bring his disciples here? Was he trying to show that he had power over demons and the very gates of hell? Maybe.
Another interpretation is that he brought the disciples here to give them an idea of who the church was going to be build for and by. Namely, that it would be built with and for pagans and gentiles.
That is an interesting interpretation. Whether it is truly what Jesus meant to communicate, I do not know.
What I do know for sure is that I am so thankful that I, a pagan and gentile, had the opportunity to hear the gospel, respond to the invitation, and receive Christ!! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for making sure that your Jewish followers would take the message to the outsiders, as well!