“Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”—Matthew 16:16 (ESV)
There is nothing quite like going away on a retreat with a group of friends. You turn off the phone, interrupt the routine, and prepare yourself to move into a deeper faith experience.
This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He took His closest disciples up to Caesarea Philippi, which was about twenty-five miles north of their Sea of Galilee ministry headquarters. But Jesus threw them a curve ball when He picked this place. This place was notorious for the worship of the pagan fertility god, Baal. It was given the name Caesarea Philippi by Rome as a political move to disconnect the region from indigenous pagan ritual. The Jewish people wanted nothing to do with the place so they went so far as to name the most popular shrine “The Gates of Hell.”
Even more unusual than the place Jesus took the disciples was the question He wanted them to answer: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
The disciples rattled off a bunch of answers. “John the Baptist!” someone blurted. “Elijah!” offered another. “Jeremiah or one of the other prophets!” another guy shouted. As usual, this question caused the disciples to argue.
Then, over all the noise, Peter shouts, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
This was not a safe statement. It was explosive, the opposite of “politically correct.” To the Jew, this answer was blasphemous, and to the Roman, treasonous. But here in Caesarea Philippi, it went unnoticed. Peter was safe here.
Jesus commended Peter for his answer:“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
Peter’s role as spokesman was firmly established. This event foreshadowed the leadership role he would assume in the future in more precarious times and locations.
On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter infamously failed as spokesman. He denied he knew the Son of God. But Jesus used this failure to further prepare Peter to stand boldly, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and preach Jesus as the Son of God. Peter’s explosive declaration at Caesarea Philippi set in motion a movement that continues to change the world today, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).