We had been told that we should visit the Banias waterfalls in Northern Israel, and decided to go just for the sake of it. We were unaware of any biblical significance to the site, but we were in for a surprise as we found out that this was the Biblical Site of Caesaria Phillippi.
I had imagined that this site was closer to Galilee – but it was at least 40 minutes drive over at times quite hilly terrain – it would have been quite a hike for Jesus and the disciples!
The Banias waterfalls is part of the spring from which the Jordan river flows. The spring begins in a nearby cave, and became a site of established idol worship from the 4th Century BC onwards. Pagan temples dominated the area from the times of the Greeks onwards.
It was here, at this very site that Jesus asked Peter 'Who do you say that I Am?' And it was here, in this place of religious confusion and the worship of other gods, that Peter had his famous revelation of the identity and nature of the Messiah saying 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God' (Matt. 16:16)
It was interesting in that context that we came into conversation with a worker at this tourist site who also was confused about God. He asserted that God was not here, but thought God might have moved to Australia! After all, the Middle East seemed ‘God forsaken’ while Australia is such a blessed country! We had the chance to point him to the Lord as His only Shepherd and we pray that he too will have a revelation in this very place of the true identity of the Messiah and the fact that God has not abandoned the country of Israel despite its current troubles.
Returning to Peter's famous conversation with Jesus at this site, it is interesting to consider Jesus' reply to Peter. Jesus pointed out that the revelation Peter had received was from none other than God, and went on to talk about the building of His Church saying that ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against my church’. With the rise of Christianity, this old site of idol worship became a stronghold of Christianity and the idols were forsaken - just as Jesus had foretold the gates of hell could not withstand the revelation of the gospel in Caesaria Phillippi. Our God is greater! All that is left of the heathen temples in this area today is crumbled and forsaken ruins.
Today God is still revealing Himself to people - and often in the most unlikely of places. And as people have a revelation of who Jesus truly is, the false idols and temples in their lives crumble as He is enthroned on their hearts. We look forward to the day when every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Rom. 14:11).