Why Caesarea-Philippi? (Mt. 16.13-20)

19 Jul

Photo by diannehope on Morgue File.

I have a confession. I like maps! I am a cartograph lover . . . a carto-phile?!! There’s just something about them. Especially old, exotic maps . . . you know, the kind Indiana Jones would use to find some ancient, mythical treasure!

I cannot say when my fondness for maps began. But I do know I pay more attention now to geography and locations, when I am studying a subject.

Sadly, my fondness for maps has not helped my directional challenges as yet!

My appreciation for maps and places has especially shown up in my study of Scripture. I have even discussed, at certain points, the idea of, what I like to call, geography-theology! That is, are there some things we can learn or glean about God, or his ways, from geography.

After all, geography and place names are quite prominent in the Bible. They are often mentioned and repeated in several pericopes in both OT and NT. Arguably, in most cases, the geography is not theologically, or perhaps better, exegetically significant.

But, what about other times?

Let me give a for instance; one I have been considering for quite some time now. I personally believe it is something God has shown me.

The pericope, a well-known one, is Mt. 16.13-20. It is the passage containing the great confession of Peter. Peter’s confession that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Here is the pericope:

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. (Mt. 16.13-20)

But, have you ever paid any real attention to where this conversation takes place?

Remember the context. The last verse of the pericope, v.20, tells us that Christ instructed his disciples to keep such truth (i.e. that he was the long-awaited, long-promised Messiah) under wraps for the time being. He was not yet ready for that truth to be aired in public.

As to the where, v.13 tells us it was in the region of Caesarea-Philippi. Now CP, as we shall hereafter refer to it, does not sound very much like: Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Samaria or the like.

And, indeed, it shouldn’t!

CP was named, though it had been known by other names prior to this, by Philip the Tetrarch. He was a son of Herod the Great. He renamed the area in honor of two men. The first (i.e. Caesarea) was named to honor Caesar Augustus. The second part of the name (i.e. Philippi) was named to honor himself, Philip.

The importance for us is not so much its history or its etymology; but rather, its location. If you look at a map (like one in the back of your Bible, if you still have an actual print Bible!) you will see that CP was way up in the north. It was about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.

Below is a map for some perspective (and all of you who do not have a Bible in hand!!!):

Location of Caesarea-Philippi

What I pondered was this: why did Jesus take them so far north, almost it seems out of the way, to broach this subject?

While commentators list different opinions on this (most settling for contrasting him and/or the Father with the dead idols of that region), I wondered if there was not another answer (maybe, humbly I would say) a better answer?

My two cents is this: Jesus took them so far north strategically, in order to have this very intimate and purposeful conversation, far away from the Messianic hotbed of Israel proper.

I mean, why not have this conversation in Jerusalem? Why not Capernaum? Imagine if someone overheard it? Imagine if one (or more) of the disciples did not obey v.20 and went about blabbing it that day or the next? How quickly would that wildfire spread?

I think Jesus purposely took his disciples to CP, to create something of a buffer between them (and, more importantly, the nature and content of the conversation) and the Messianic fervor and expectations of their usual stomping grounds.

This is the first time in Matthew’s account, Jesus has asked the disciples directly about his true identity. I have no doubt it was a question they had long since been considering. It was now time to have this heart to heart, but in a controlled environment, as it were.

Like Gandalf to Frodo, Jesus instructed them, in regards to his Messianic identity, to keep it secret, keep it safe!

God is known to do such things after all. God is known to take a person (or people) a bit out of the way to reveal or illuminate something to them. Sometimes a good Sabbath, a removal from the normal hustle and bustle, is what is needed.

A secluded space.

A private place.

A remote refuge.

You never know, God may be leading you to your own CP as we speak!


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2 responses to “Why Caesarea-Philippi? (Mt. 16.13-20)

  1. David Bomboy

    July 19, 2016 at 10:03 am

    He certainly seems to be leading is to our own secluded place… Thanks, it helps me have a little more perspective.
    And, I always KNEW there was something different about you…. But cartophilia of all things!
    Loving the posts, thanks!

    • Timothy Murray

      July 19, 2016 at 10:37 am

      A little difference can go a loonnnnggg way!!!!
      I appreciate the read and comment. We are praying for you guys!


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