While visiting Galilee, my family travelled north to the Golan Heights to experience the setting of one of Jesus’ important teachings.
In Matthew 16:13-20, we read that Jesus went with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. He asked them to describe others’ perceptions of him. Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptizer, but others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked the disciples about their understanding of him. Simon Peter replied that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus called Simon blessed and said that he would build his church upon Simon Peter’s confession. Jesus finally promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church.
The setting for this teaching was a cave and spring where the Greek god Pan was worshipped and where Herod the Great’s son, Herod Philip, made his capital. Waters flowed from the spring, spilling through the cave, and it was known as the gates of hell. Jesus used the physical location of the cave to teach his disciples that their confession of faith in him would last longer even than the rocks where they gathered.
Today, the location is in the Banias National Park. It takes a bit more than an hour to drive north from Tiberias, but the drive is worth it. The setting is peaceful and beautiful. The waters coming from the spring and Mount Hermon, just to the north, eventually flow into the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee.
And, more than the physical beauty and tranquility, the experience provides an opportunity to see how the land and setting informed Jesus’ teachings.