Please take a moment and prayerfully fill in the blank at the end of this sentence. “The things Jesus expects me to do are _____________________.” It’s a valid question. After all, the Bible is full of commands which tell us how we should be living as disciples of Jesus. Yet, this question isn’t always easy to answer.
One passage of Scripture that can help us find the answer is Matthew 16:13-20. It says, “13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”
According to Bible-history.com, “The city of Caesarea Philippi…was situated way in the north about 30 miles past the Sea of Galilee on a terrace at the foot of Mount Hermon on its southern slope, about 1150 feet above sea level. The area had an unusually beautiful setting, it was very lush and full of life and it has always been one of the main sources of the Jordan River.” The Greeks and Romans believed their gods often dwelt in spectacular natural features. They thought the god Pan lived in a cave at Caesarea Philippi so they build a temple to him there, along with temples to Augustus and the god Zeus.
Pan was a Greek God who ruled over nature, wooded areas and pasturelands. He had the upper body of a human but the legs of a goat. He also played the flute, which is where the pan flute originated. Pan is mentioned in classical writings as a “seer” or fortune teller and a giver of revelations.
The cave of Pan wasn’t only special to the Greeks and Romans because it had a seemingly bottomless pit with an unlimited quantity of water. It was also thought to be the location of the Gate of Hades, which they viewed as an entrance to the underworld. Hades was the place of the dead. Luke 16:19-31 says it’s also a place of torment for those who don’t know God. The word “Hades” can also be translated “hell.”
Jesus brings his disciples here to have a conversation. He asks them, “Who do you think I am?” Peter responds in verse 16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Our understanding of the Messiah today isn’t the same view they had of him. We see the Messiah as God himself who came down from heaven, died on the cross for our sins and then came back to life. Since Genesis tells us death is the penalty for sin, the fact Jesus came back to life means he overcame the curse of sin. We have salvation from our sins when we trust him as our Lord and Savior.
Jews in the 1st Century thought the Messiah would be a man whom God would send to help them keep the teachings found in the Old Testament law and prophets. He would also help them throw the Romans out of Israel so they could gain independence.
During his conversation with Jesus, Peter seems to understand Jesus is more than just a normal man. He’s also the Son of God. And he is the long-awaited Messiah.
Jesus then said, “18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” The name Peter means “rock.” Jesus says that upon this rock he will build the church.
What’s the rock upon which Jesus will do this? It’s the faith just confessed by Peter, namely, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. This understanding of who Jesus is and what he did is the very foundation on which the church is built.
Look at what Jesus says next. “The gates of Hades will not overcome” the church. Think of the imagery Jesus is using here. He’s referring to the huge gates hung on city walls. These gates would be closed when enemies attacked the city. Once the gates were destroyed and the city was breached, everything inside the walls was either destroyed or plundered. Jesus says that when the church attacks the gates of Hades – the place of death and suffering – its gates won’t be able to withstand the attacks.
Then Jesus tells the disciples he will give them the keys to the kingdom. His death and resurrection will open the door for the church to take the gospel message out to a world that’s dead because of its sin. This message will plunder hell and free people from an eternity of death and suffering to an eternity of life and blessings.
It’s at Caesarea Philippi, the site of temples to pagan gods and the entrance to the place of death, suffering and evil that Jesus reveals this to his disciples.
Even though there is victory in Jesus, many people are still living in bondage to their sin and headed for hell when they die. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The devil doesn’t want people to be free from Hades so he blinds their minds to the truth. As we’ve seen the past two weeks, he also attacks Christians hoping to make us either quit, slow down or just be ineffective in sharing the love of Jesus with others.
Although this is happening, Jesus still wants us to be faithful and do what he says. But how do we do it? Often when we think of spiritual warfare, we think of a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms between the armies of God and the armies of Satan. We know this happens because books like Daniel and Revelation describe battles between angels and demons.
This type of warfare isn’t what Jesus is talking about in this passage. First of all, we aren’t angels. We’re human. Second, Jesus didn’t say angels would overcome the gates of hell. He said the church would do it. The church is you, and me, and every other Christian walking the earth.
So, again, how do we do it? If we sum up the teachings found in the Bible, we realize the answer is quite simple.
In our brokenness, we band together around the light of Jesus Christ, accepting the salvation he offers us from our sins. Then we each take that light out into the darkness. With Christ’s love in us. With Christ’s compassion leading us. Sharing the Gospel and helping one person at a time.
When we band together as an army for God with Jesus as our leader, people are freed from the consequences of their sins and restored into a glorious relationship with God. The forces of evil can’t stop it.
That’s all Jesus expects from us.