Leaders Serve

Please read: Matthew 20:20-34, Mark 10:35-52,
Luke 18:35 – 19:28 & John 11:55-57

Yeshua continued travelling towards Jerusalem where many were already waiting for Him as they prepared for Passover.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.  They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?”  
But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.
John 11:55-57 NIV

This journey took Him, and multitudes travelling from the northern regions, along the Jordan Valley and through Jericho before climbing up the mountain trail to Jerusalem. Yeshua had been telling them: we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. His disciples seemed incapable of hearing those words, seeking instead their own advancement in God’s kingdom.

 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came with her sons to Yeshua, and she was kneeling down and asking something from Him.
“What do you want?” He said to her.
She said to Him, “Declare that these two sons of mine might sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your kingdom.”
But Yeshua replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?”
“We are able,” they say to Him.
He said to them, “You shall indeed drink My cup. But to sit on My right and left, this isn’t Mine to grant. Rather, it’s for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
Now when the ten heard, they became indignant with the two brothers. But Yeshua called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones play the tyrant over them.  It shall not be this way among you. But whoever wants to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you shall be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:20-28 TLV

Then James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”
And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”
But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
And hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.
And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men
exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:35-45 LSB

The twelve were not the only ones who were travelling with Yeshua. Every so often, like in this instance, we find another of the entourage following Yeshua brought into focus. In this case it is a woman, the mother of James and John. If James and John were in their thirties when Yeshua called them it would seem strange for their mother to make such a request on their behalf. But there is evidence to suggests that Peter was the only one of the apostles who was more than 20yo (2-Yr1-17 12 Chosen – Renewal Blog), James and John just being teenagers at this time. Mark places the initiative on the two young men. It appears likely that they had been contemplating Yeshua’s words: when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel and developing a sense of self-importance. They still had little understanding of what Yeshua was saying, but their imaginations were captured by the image of sitting on thrones with Him, judging their fellow Israelites.

Yeshua responds by reminding them of something we all prefer to ignore, and hope will not be, that suffering precedes His glorification and ours. Oh how we want the glory, the blessings, the prosperity, all the promises, and to have them instead of the suffering that Yeshua declared would be the lot of all who chose to follow Him. They shall indeed suffer, but positions of authority are not for the asking.

The other apostles were indignant with James and John, angry that they had sort something which they considered to be so unjust and unfair. Yeshua used the opportunity to teach them what true leadership in His kingdom looks like and share, once again, about His impending death for them. The ways of the world are for everyone to serve the leader, the one considered great among them, but the ways of God’s kingdom are for the leader to serve everyone else. Yeshua was our example in this, washing His disciple’s feet and serving us to the extent of giving His life for us.

A rift valley is a lowland region that forms where Earth’s tectonic plates move apart, or rift.  The “Great Rift Valley System,” stretches from Israel in the north to Mozambique in the south. The area is geologically active, and features volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, and frequent earthquakes. The northern part of this system is the Jordan Rift Valley. The Jordan Rift Valley stretches from the Golan Heights, near Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon, to the Dead Sea, to the Gulf of Aqaba—an inlet of the Red Sea that separates the Sinai Peninsula from the Arabian Peninsula. Jericho lies deep in the northern section of this Jordan Rift Valley

The oasis of Jericho, some 25 km east of Jerusalem, lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, about 390m below sea level. It has natural fortifications, an abundant water supply and warm pleasant winters. Jericho was chosen as the site for the winter palaces of the kings of the Hasmonean dynasty (The Maccabean Revolt & Hasmonean Period (166 – 40 BC) – Renewal Blog), and of King Herod, under Roman rule. In this plain with fertile soil and an abundance of water from nearby springs, rare plants producing aromatic essences and spices, were grown. Most famous among these was the opobalsamum plant, whose oil was among the costliest substances in the ancient world, and very profitable to the growers.

An earthquake in 31BC destroyed the Hasmonean palaces so Herod had built two additional winter palaces for himself near the edge of the Wadi Qelt valley, overlooking the oasis of Jericho. The palaces were situated below the high cliffs of the Judean Desert at the entrance to Wadi Qelt – west of the Jericho oasis – about a day’s horseback riding from Jerusalem.

The palaces were planned for rest and recreation, a winter resort for Jerusalem’s aristocracy, but also as administrative centers; the proximity to Jerusalem made it possible for the king to efficiently deal with affairs of state during his winter sojourn there.

Shortly after ordering the slaughter of babies in Bethlehem, Herod died here.

Abundant water delivered via aqueduct from the springs in Wadi Qelt (wadi = dry riverbed) filled reservoirs, Mikvahs and large Roman baths, and was used to irrigate the palace gardens as well as tens of acres of agricultural land belonging to the king, where dates and costly aromatic plants and spices were grown. The palaces and the road from Jericho to Jerusalem were protected by the fortresses of Doq (Qarantal) and Cypros, built atop the cliffs at the entrance to Wadi Qelt. In the first century the Greek geographer Strabo described the city like this: Jericho is surrounded by mountainous country which slopes toward it like a theatre. It is mixed with all kinds of cultivated and fruitful trees, though it consists mostly of palm trees. It is everywhere watered with streams.

It was both on His way into this famed city of luxury, and on His way out, that Yeshua encountered men who were blind.

Now as Yeshua was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road, begging.   But when he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening.  
They told him that Yeshua ha-Natzrati was passing by. 
And he cried out, saying, “Yeshua, Ben-David, have mercy on me!”
And those leading the way were scolding him, so he would be quiet. But he kept shouting all the more, “Ben-David, have mercy on me!”
So Yeshua stopped and ordered the blind man to be brought to Him. And when he came near, Yeshua asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
And he said, “Master, I want to see again!”
Yeshua said to him, “Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.” 
Immediately the man received his sight and began following Yeshua, glorifying God. And when all the people saw it, they also gave praise to God.

Luke 18:35-43 TLV

Again, a crowd had formed around Yeshua. They answered the blind man by saying that Yeshua ha-Natzrati (Jesus of Nazareth) was passing by. He immediately knew who they were speaking of, the Messiah, the One who had healed so many others. Israel’s prophets had referred to their coming Messiah as “the Son of David“.

“In those days and at that time, I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; He will do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15).
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

So, this man who had become blind cried out in a way to let Yeshua know that he believed in Him, using the known Messianic term Ben-David (son if David): “Yeshua, Ben-David, have mercy on me!” Yeshua healed him with a word and declared: “Your faith has made you well.” This man of faith, now healed, kept glorifying God as he now followed Yeshua.

 Then they came to Jericho. Mark 10:46a

And He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. And Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on before and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.
And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly.
And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
But Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have extorted anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

Luke 19:1-10 LSB

Jericho was a good place to collect taxes, on a major trade route, close to the fords of the Jordan, on the frontier of Peraea, and on the richest plain of Israel, abounding in the choicest productions, especially balsam. Zaccheus had risen through the ranks to become a chief tax collector in this prosperous area and had accumulated a lot of wealth along the way. Yet, he recognized an emptiness in his life. Everyone else looked at Zaccheus’ lifestyle and assumed he had all he wanted and harbored no desire for godliness. Yeshua saw something different. The name Zacchæus appears in the Old Testament in the form Zaccai (Ezra 2:9; Nehemiah 7:14), and meant “pure” or “innocent”, the opposite of what his countrymen thought of this Jewish tax collector for their Roman oppressors.

The crowd following Yeshua were shocked to see Him give attention to such a man. But Yeshua did not go to Zaccheus’ house to condone his sin but to offer the type of acceptance that brings men to repentance. Zaccheus responded to this hand of fellowship from the holy One with an exuberant declaration: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have extorted anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” If those so eager to condemn Yeshua for fellowshipping with a tax collector were as whole-hearted in their repentance He would not have gone on to weep over Jerusalem.

As they were listening to this, Yeshua went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the kingdom of God was about to appear at once.  Therefore He said, “A certain nobleman went to a faraway land to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.  And calling ten of his own slaves, he gave them ten minas (1 mina = 100 denarii = about four months’ wages for an average worker) and said to them, ‘Do business until I come back.’  
But his citizens detested him and they sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We don’t want this fellow to reign over us!’ 
When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he called for those slaves to whom he had given the money. He wanted to know how much business they had done.  
Now the first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your one mina has made ten.’ 
The master said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you were faithful with so little, take charge over ten cities.’  
Also, the second slave came, saying, ‘Your mina, Master, made five.’ 
Then he also said to this one, ‘You are likewise over five cities.’ 
But another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina. I was keeping it safe in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you because you are a strict man. You take what you did not make and reap what you did not sow.’ 
He said to him, ‘By the words of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked slave! You knew that I am strict, taking what I did not make and reaping what I did not sow?  Then why didn’t you put my money in the bank, so that when I came back I could have collected it with interest?’  
Then to the bystanders he said, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 
But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas!’  
‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more shall be given. But from the one who doesn’t have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 
But those hostile to me, who didn’t want me to reign over them, bring them here and execute them before me.’”
Luke 19:11-27 TLV

Zaccheus had a large and opulent house, which had now been opened up to the people as they followed Yeshua there. In the midst of all this opulence Yeshua declared the salvation of this household. As the crowd were listening, He then went on to address the growing expectation among them. They were approaching Jerusalem and even this powerful and wealthy man was transformed and following Yeshua (maybe Zaccheus had already started handing over half his wealth to the poor among them, so their expectations rose as to what was possible). In all previous visits to Jerusalem, the city of David, our Lord had gone up either alone or accompanied only by His chosen disciples. Now the “son of David” was followed by a crowd, gathering strength as they journeyed on, and roused, by their very nearness to the Holy City, to an almost uncontrollable excitement. Surely, their Messiah would claim the throne of His father David and deliver them from the dominion of the Romans, set them at liberty and restore the greatness of the state of Israel – the kingdom of God would appear this Passover. Yeshua responded with a prophetic sketch in parabolic form of the real future before them, the fortunes of the King and the various attitudes of men towards Him. He tells them of a man who had a right to the kingdom, yet who, before taking possession of it, went into another kingdom to receive a confirmation of his title, thus intimating that He would also go away and have His authority affirmed before He would set up His rule over the earth and execute judgment on His enemies, those of His own citizens who rejected Him.

In this parable, each of His servants received the same to do business with, one mina. All who obeyed Him and did business with what they were given were declared faithful and rewarded for their faithfulness in accordance with their ability. The one who disobeyed and hid instead of investing his mina was judged by his own false ideas and had what he’d been given taken from him. For those who are hostile to the King and don’t want Him reigning over them there is no mercy.

After saying these things, Yeshua was going on ahead, up to Jerusalem.
Luke 19:28 TLV

Now as they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him.  And here two blind men sitting by the roadside, when they heard that Yeshua was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Master, Ben-David!” 
The crowd warned them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Master, Ben-David!”
Yeshua stopped and called out to them. “What do you want Me to do for you?”
They said to Him, “Master, let our eyes be opened!” 
Moved with compassion, Yeshua touched their eyes. Instantly they regained their sight and followed Him.
Matthew 20:29-33 TLV

As Jesus and His disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 
Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Mark 10:46b-52 NIV

Most of the dedicated Jews were already in Jerusalem preparing for pilgrimage festival of Pesach (Passover), having arrived at least a week before it started so they had time for all the ritual purification needed before partaking. Yet still, increasing numbers of people joined in the throng following Yeshua in eager expectation as He continued towards Jerusalem to fulfil His mission.

Matthew mentions two blind men sitting by the side of the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, while Mark focuses on one of these, Bartimaeus. His name means son of Timaeus, and Timaeus is a Greek name meaning valuable or honorable. Few of the people Yeshua healed are named in the gospels so it’s interesting that one of the blind men around Jericho that He healed has been named in Mark but only this once, and that name is Greek, not Hebrew. Although many Jews, even some of Yeshua’s 12 apostles, had Greek names it is possible that this healed man was a gentile. Like the man on the way to Jericho, these cried out “Ben-David“, acknowledging Yeshua as Messiah, were persistent in their cries even in the face of opposition, asked for their sight to be restored and Yeshua declared that their faith had healed them. They joined the crowd following Him to Jerusalem.

Reference List

1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Holy Bible. New International Version. s.l. : Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
4. —. New American Standard Bible. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2020.
5. Messianic Jewish and Christian scholars. Holy Scriptures Tree of Life Version (TLV). s.l. : Baker Books.
6. Translation Committee. The Legacy Standard Bible (LSB). LSB. [Online] https://read.lsbible.org/.
7. Bible Commentaries. Matthew 19:24. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: October 16th, 2023.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/19-24.htm.
8. Geva, Hillel. Archaeology in Israel: Jericho – The Winter Palace of King Herod. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: October 17th, 2023.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod.
9. Bible Walks staff. Jericho. Bible Walks. [Online] September 15th, 2015. https://www.biblewalks.com/Jericho.
10. (Editor), Jeannie Evers. Rift Valley. National Geographic. [Online] September 12th, 2023. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/rift-valley/.
11. Bonne, Kathelijne. The East African Rift System: a belt of natural wonders. Gondwana Talks. [Online] [Cited: October 17th, 2023.] https://www.gondwanatalks.com/l/east-african-rift-system/.
12. . Timaeus meaning. Abarim Publications. [Online] [Cited: October 19th, 2023.] https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Timaeus.html.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What are the differences between being a leader or “great man” in the Roman world and being a leader or “great man” in the kingdom of God?
* What are the similarities and differences between your culture’s ideas of greatness and those of the kingdom of God?
* How do you act as a servant and slave to the other members of the body of Christ in your area?
* What was the significance of calling Jesus the son of David?
* What is Jesus’ attitude towards those who don’t want Him to reign over them?
* How did the faith of the blind men heal them?

The Gates of Hell

Please read Matthew 16:1-20, Mark 8:11-30 & Luke 9:18-21

The weather was getting cooler and storms starting to brew as Israel’s rainy season began. Yeshua and His talmidim returned to Galilee from the Sukkot celebrations, and His increasing conflicts with the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

Then some P’rushim and Tz’dukim came to trap Yeshua by asking Him to show them a miraculous sign from Heaven.  
But His response was, “When it is evening, you say, ‘Fair weather ahead,’ because the sky is red;  and in the morning you say, ‘Storm today!’ because the sky is red and overcast. You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times! A wicked and adulterous generation is asking for a sign? It will certainly not be given a sign — except the sign of Yonah!”
With that He left them and went off. Matthew 16:1-4 CJB

The Pharisees came and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven to test Him.  And He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”   
And He left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Mark 8:11-13 ESVUK

These  P’rushim and Tz’dukim (Pharisees and Sadducees) had likely been in Jerusalem for the required pilgrimage festival of Sukkot and heard Yeshua teaching in the temple and the crowd whispering “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” (John 7:31-32). They had heard Yeshua shout on the last day of the festival: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38). They knew their colleagues’ concerns about the people believing Yeshua to be messiah. They were determined to turn the people against Him. But His time was not yet, so He continued to respond with such wisdom that every attempt to trick Him was doomed to failure. Yet even this sign they failed to notice and only got frustrated by it.

These religious leaders were supposed to be directing the people to God, but instead they were trying to divert them away from the Son of God. Yeshua warned His talmidim against these revered community leaders.

 The talmidim, in crossing to the other side of the lake, had forgotten to bring any bread.  So when Yeshua said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourselves against the hametz (leaven) of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim,”  they thought He said it because they hadn’t brought bread.  But Yeshua, aware of this, said, “Such little trust you have! Why are you talking with each other about not having bread?  Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you filled? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many baskets you filled?  How can you possibly think I was talking to you about bread? Guard yourselves from the hametz of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim! (leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees!)”  
Then they understood — they were to guard themselves not from yeast for bread but from the teaching of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim. Matthew 16:5-12 CJB

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.  And He cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 
And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.  
And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?  Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?   When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” 
They said to Him, “Twelve.”  
“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” 
And they said to him, “Seven.”  And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Mark 8:14-21 ESVUK

It can play on our minds when we have failed in some way. Yeshua’s talmidim had forgotten to bring the needed supplies. They were focusing on their lack. So, when Yeshua started instructing them to be careful of adopting the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or way of life of Herod, all they could hear was a rebuke for their failure and concern about their consequent lack. They missed the importance of this moment.

Yeshua’s second year of teaching His talmidim was coming to an end and soon He would be incarnate with them no more. They needed to know to guard themselves from the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees or they would never fulfil what He was calling them to as His ekklesia (assembly of called out ones).

 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to Him a blind man and begged Him to touch him.  And He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when He had spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” 
 And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”  
Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 
And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
Mark 8:22-26

Yeshua was not interested in performing for the pharisees, doing a sign to impress or try to prove something to them, but He had compassion on people in need and did many miraculous signs of healing to demonstrate the nature of His kingdom and meet those needs. The people of Bethsaida had seen Yeshua perform many miracles. They had been among the 5,000 fed with just five loaves and two fish. A group of them were eager to see another miracle – the healing of this blind man. Yeshua had compassion on the man and took him by the hand to lead him away from the crowd of spectators. Once he had allowed Yeshua to lead him to a safe place this man was ready to begin to receive his miracle. Interestingly, this healing was not instantaneous as so many others had been, but was performed in stages, with the blind man being asked what he could see as it progressed.

Yeshua and His talmidim continued north from Bethsaida, following the Jordan River to its source, the deep spring of Caesarea Philippi at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon.  In so doing, they left the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas for a region governed by Herod Philip.  Of greater significance was the history and current use of this location. Their next lesson was to take place in a region that most pious Jews at this time despised and avoided. It was an area associated with the most heinous of heathen practices and with the shame of Israel’s rebellion against God. A place notorious as “the Gates of Hell”.

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” 
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”  
And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
Mark 8:27-30 ESV

On the southern slope of Mount Hermon, about 1150 feet above sea level, is a cliff more than 100 feet high. The area had a beautiful setting, it produced a lush oasis of life and overlooked the very fertile northern portion of the Jordan River Valley. In ancient times there was a deep, water filled, cavern in the limestone rock at the base of this cliff. Ferocious waters gushed from the massive spring in this limestone cave, and these provided the main source for the Jordan River. 1st century Jewish historian Josephus described it: “a dark cave opens itself; within which there is a horrible precipice, that descends abruptly to a vast depth: it contains a mighty quantity of water, which is immovable; and when anybody lets down anything to measure the depth of the earth beneath the water, no length of cord is sufficient to reach it. Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan.” – Josephus, Wars of the Jews 1,21,3. It was this dangerous, seemingly bottomless dark water-filled cavern that the ancients called the “Gates of Hades” or “Gates of Hell”.

Before God gave this land to the Israelites it was part of the land of Canaan. The Canaanites were descended from Noah’s grandson Canaan (Genesis 9:18-19, Genesis 10:6, 15-20), Ham’s youngest son, who was cursed for his father’s disrespect of Noah when drunk (Genesis 9:20-27). The scriptures do not tell us why Canaan was cursed and not Ham or Ham’s other sons, so scholars have produced various theories to fill in the gaps. What we do know is that in describing how Israel came to be invading the Canaanites and taking over their land the curse on Canaan was considered significant and he is focused on before any of Noah’s older grandsons are mentioned in scripture.

Canaanite society was formed around city-states, each ruled by a warrior chieftain (malek), who held his position by virtue of being the fiercest warrior in the tribe. The Canaanite city-state in the area around the “Gates of Hell” was named Laish, Judges 18:7.

Many cultures adopt notable geographical features into the worship of their deities. Likewise, the Canaanites built a sanctuary to Baal around the entrance to the bottomless, water-filled cavern and it became central to their worship, which included child sacrifice (often of tiny babies).

According to Canaanite mythology, Baal was the son of El, the chief god, and Asherah, the goddess of the sea. Baal was considered the most powerful of all gods, eclipsing El, who was seen as rather weak and ineffective. In various battles Baal defeated Yamm, the god of the sea, and Mot, the god of death and the underworld.

Baal was portrayed as a man with the head and horns of a bull. Some idols had his right hand raised holding a lightning bolt, signifying both destruction and fertility, others had him seated on a throne. Baal worship included temple prostitution and human sacrifice, particularly the sacrifice of babies through fire. Some believe that babies were sacrificed to Baal by throwing them into the watery depths of this bottomless cavern.

When God led Israel into the Promised Land (Canaan) in c.1406 BC, the southern coastal plain, between Ephraim and Judah, was allocated to the tribe of Dan (see Joshua 19:40-46). However, due to the superior weaponry of the neighbouring Philistines, who used iron chariots to defend their cities, the Danites were insecure in this territory (see Judges 1:19) so they sent five valiant men to spy out a favourable land. Having the blessing of a Levite priest employed by Micah in the hill country of Ephraim, they continued north and found the unconquered Canaanite city of Laish with a fertile plain in the northern most reaches of Manasseh’s territory, under the shadow of Mount Hermon and including the main source of the Jordan River.

In response to the positive report that the five spies brought back, 600 Danites armed with weapons of war (Judges 18:11) set out to conquer the Canaanite city of Leshem (or Laish), stopping along the way to kidnap Micah’s Levite priest and take his graven images and idols from the hill country of Ephraim, threatening Micah’s life if he should attempt to stop them. Accompanied by their new priest, and the stolen idols from Micah, the Danites marched on the unsuspecting city of Laish. They struck down all of the people, and burnt the city to the ground, then rebuilt it and renamed it Dan (see Joshua 19:47 & Judges 18:1-31). While some Danites (such as Samson’s parents) remained in their allotted land in the south (see Judges 13:2), many of the tribe moved north to the new city of Dan and their territory included the notorious Gates of Hell.

As Dan was the most northerly city conquered by the Israelites,  Israel was said to stretch “from Dan to Beersheba” (see Judges 20:1 & 2 Samuel 24:2). 

And the sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.” Judges 18:30-31.

This laid the foundation for the two golden calves that King Jeroboam 1 would set up in Bethel and Dan after the kingdom was divided in 931BC (1 Kings 12:25-33). The city of Dan became a cultic centre of idol worship, in direct violation of God’s commands to Moses.

This ‘high place’ in Dan was renewed by King Ahab in 874BC as a centre of Baal worship (see 1 Kings 16:30-33). Ahab and his father Omri adopted a policy of combining Canaanite and Israelite religions, and Dan was the centre of this worship. It was not hard for the Israelites to slide from worshipping a calf to worshipping a creature which was a man with the head and horns of a bull, and then to the detestable sexual and sacrificial practices of the Canaanite religion.

They did not destroy the peoples as the LORD had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. they worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves. (Psalm 106:34-39 NIV)

This detestable ‘high place’ was eventually destroyed when King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria conquered Dan in 732BC (see 2 Kings 15:29).

When the ancient Greeks conquered this area in 333BC, they adopted the seemingly bottomless cavern into their mythology, casting it as the birthplace of their fertility god, Pan.

Pan’s hindquarters, legs, and horns are like that of a goat while his upper body was of a man.

This Greek god was associated with music and fertility so his worship included prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats to entice the return of Pan to bring them prosperity.

They renamed the cavern the “Grotto of Pan” or “cave of Pan”, and renamed the nearby city “Paneas” (Banias in Arabic).

Over the years idols and statues of many gods and goddesses were placed into small openings cut into the rock face of the cliff and at the base of this cliff, more than one hundred feet high, people built temples and shrines dedicated to various gods.

The deep cavern was thought to be the gate to the underworld, where fertility gods dwelt during the winter and then returned to the earth each spring. Inside the grotto (cave) and etched in the walls was a Greek sign that said, “gates of Hades.”

Among the temples to pagan gods was an arena where worshippers of Pan would dance, and engage in sexual practices, with goats .

Herod the Great was given the area of Paneas (later to be known as Caesarea Philippi) by Caesar Augustus in 20 BC. In honour of Augustus’ visit to the area, Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus, called an Augusteum, near Paneas. His son, Philip, renamed the city Caesarea Philippi in honour of Caesar and himself.

It was to this source of the Jordan River, this centre of pagan worship, this place of the beginning of the fall of Israel, this “gates of hell”, miles north of Galilee and without Jewish settlements in the region, that Yeshua took His talmidim to declare the ultimate victory of the ecclesia (church) that He would build.

((N.B.  Caesarea Philippi was at the foot of a cliff where spring water flowed directly from the cave’s mouth. This fast-moving stream, the beginning of the Jordan River, was created by seventy-two springs originating in the bowels of the mountain. The waters were so deep that ancients were unable to plumb the depths and therefore considered it bottomless. Over the centuries earthquakes have destroyed the cave, and modern engineering has diverted the waters, so we no longer see the bottomless cavern or furious torrents of water that Yeshua and His talmidim would have witnessed.))

When Yeshua came into the territory around Caesarea Philippi, He asked His talmidim, “Who are people saying the Son of Man is?” 
They said, “Well, some say Yochanan the Immerser
(John the Baptist), others Eliyahu (Elijah), still others Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) or one of the prophets.” 
 “But you,” He said to them, “who do you say I am?” 
Shim‘on Kefa
(Simon Peter) answered, “You are the Mashiach (Messiah), the Son of the living God.”
“Shim‘on Bar-Yochanan
(Simon son of Jonah),” Yeshua said to him, “how blessed you are! For no human being revealed this to you, no, it was my Father in heaven.  I also tell you this: you are Kefa (Peter),” [which means ‘Rock,’] “and on this rock I will build My Community (ekklesia – people called out from the world and into the Kingdom of Heaven), and the gates of Sh’ol will not overcome it. ” Matthew 16: 13-18 CJB  

Simon identified Yeshua as Messiah, Son of the living God. Yeshua responded by identifying Simon in the Aramaic form of his name, Shim‘on Bar-Yochanan, to speak something deep into his life. שִׁמְעוֹן Shim‘on comes from the Hebrew word Shema which means “to hear, listen, understand and respond appropriately”. “The Shema”, which begins with the words “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad”Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (Deut. 6:4), is considered the most important prayer in Judaism. 
Bar means “son of”.
Yochanan means “God is gracious”.  
Yeshua was in effect speaking into Peter’s life: “Hearing and responding son of God is gracious, how blessed you are for it was my Father in heaven who revealed this to you – by God’s grace you heard Him and responded to Him well.

Yeshua continued speaking into Simon’s life with a play on words that He intertwines with His reason for bringing them to this place of beginnings where they could see both the massive rockface and the hole in it that was infamous as the gates of hell, for His declaration about His community of called out ones (ekklesia). “I also say to you that you are Peter [Greek: Petros = masculine / bolder, single rock], and upon this rock [petra = feminine / foundational rock structure, cliff, mass of connected rock] I will build My church [Greek: ekklesia = assembly of called out ones]; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

There is a lot of controversy among scholars and theologians about the intended meaning of the Greek words “Petros” and “petra” in this passage. Some argue that Simon Peter was the rock that Yeshua was going to build His church on and others, that it was the confession that Peter made of Yeshua being the Messiah and Son of the living God that was the rock. Obviously “Petra” would be inappropriate as a name for Simon because is it feminine (a girl’s name), but “Petros” could have been used for the rock upon which Yeshua built His church to have the same word used in both places, and it was not. Likewise, Yeshua could have made things obvious for us by saying “and upon you (Peter) I will build My churchorand upon your declaration of Me I will build My church“, but instead He said “upon this rock I will build“, after giving Simon a name that means “rock“.

Yeshua chose a play on words for a reason, but we don’t know exactly what play on words He was using because we don’t know what Hebrew or Aramaic words He used for this statement. Although the oldest copies of Matthew that we have are in Greek – with it’s use of “Petros” and “petra” – there is evidence from early church writers that this Gospel was originally written in a Semitic language (Hebrew or Aramaic), and we know that Greek was not the language that Yeshua used when when teaching the masses, discussing Torah with the Pharisees, conversing with fellow Jews or training His talmidim – so His original words to Simon Peter were not in Greek but in Hebrew or Aramaic. We have evidence of which Aramaic word was used for Peter – Cephas (sometimes spelt Kephas or Kefa, which means “huge, immovable rock“), as seen in the following N.T. scriptures where the Aramaic “Cephas” is used directly instead of being translated into the Greek “Petros” or English “Peter“:

And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A rock. (John 1:42).

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Cor 1:12)

Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; (1 Cor 3:22).

Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? (1 Cor 9:5).

And that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve (1 Cor 15:5).

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18)

And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. (Galatians 2:9).

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. (Galatians 2:11)

What we don’t have is the Hebrew or Aramaic words that Yeshua used which led to the use of the Greek “petra” for the rock on which Yeshua’s assembly of called out ones was to be built.

The ambiguity in Yeshua’s statement gives room for layers of meaning. Firstly, He was speaking identity and calling to the apostle Simon Peter. This name that He had given Simon would become the one by which he was known throughout the time of the book of Acts, Cephas (Peter). It was a name that spoke of strength and stability, ability to stand through the storms of life. It was a name that Simon would need to grow into because his character was not there yet, as would be seen in His denial of Christ.

Ephesians 2:19-20 speaks of God’s household being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone“. Peter was to be part of this rock foundation but not the sole foundation. Yeshua was going to build His ekklesia on people, not on structures, principles, religious practices, ideas or doctrines, but on people, people like Simon Peter.

Secondly, Yeshua was speaking of His ekklesia being built on the massive foundational rock of Himself – on His nature as the Messiah and Son of God, and as such it will be unstoppably ever expanding until it fills the whole earth. In the very place of Israel’s shame and disgrace, the place of the beginning of their spiritual defeat which led to their decimation, in this stronghold of pagan worship and demonic activity, at the entrance to the gates of hell, Yeshua declared His ultimate victory. He was going to build His body of people called out from the world into the Kingdom of God, Daniel 2:34-35 & 44-45 was coming to pass and nothing could stop it.

While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth….”
44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. (Daniel 2:34-35 & 44-45 NIV)

There was a massive petra (foundational rock structure, cliff, mass of connected rock) that dominated the landscape in which Yeshua had declared “and on this rock (petra) I will build My church (ekklesia) and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” Within that very petra were the gates of hades. Was Yeshua showing His talmidim a picture not of the gates of hades as this separate, evil, pagan thing that the church would advance towards in order to destroy and rescue pagans from, but of the evil which would try to threaten the church from within but still fail to hinder Messiah’s work? Could Yeshua have been saying that He knew bad things were going to be done by His called-out ones, even after He sent the Holy Spirit? Was He declaring that even the faults and weaknesses of those joined in this mass of connected rock (petra), even our fallen human nature, even the tares sown among the wheat, even all the wrongs that would later be done in His name, would not be able to destroy what He was building?
It is interesting that over the course of time earthquakes have filled in much of the gates of hades, but the massive petra cliff face still stands strong.
Reference List

1. HELPS Ministries. The Discovery Bible. [Online] https://thediscoverybible.com/.
2. Stern, David H. Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). 1998.
3. Bible Hub. Mark 8:14 Commentaries. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: June 4th, 2022.] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/mark/8-14.htm.
4. Bible History Editors. Ancient Caesarea Philippi. Bible History – Maps, Images, Archaelogy. [Online] [Cited: June 5th, 2022.] https://bible-history.com/biblestudy/ancient-caesarea-philippi.
5. Eddie. Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. Things Paul and Luke. [Online] Oct 02, 2019. https://thingspaulandluke.wordpress.com/2019/10/02/jesus-at-caesarea-philippi/.
6. Gawell, Donna. Caesarea Philippi: The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail. Donnagawell. [Online] January 31st, 2020. https://donnagawell.com/2020/01/31/caesarea-philippi-the-gates-of-hell-will-not-prevail/.
7. Stein, Dr. Robert. Lecture 26: Life of Jesus: Caesarea Philippi & Transfiguration. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: June 5th, 2022.] https://www.biblicaltraining.org/transcriptions/lecture-26-life-jesus-caesarea-philippi-transfiguration.
8. Associates for Biblical Reearch. The Temple of Caesar Augustus at Caesarea Philippi. Bible Archaeology. [Online] [Cited: June 18th, 2022.] https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/3473-the-temple-of-caesar-augustus-at-caesarea-philippi.
9. Verwysings. Mount Hermon: Gate of the Fallen Angels. Leef Jou Geloof. [Online] 11 12, 2014. https://leefjougeloof.co.za/mount-hermon-gate-of-the-fallen-angels/.
10. Commelin, Grietje. Why Did Noah Cures His Son Ham? Biblword. [Online] June 1st, 2022. https://www.biblword.net/why-did-noah-curse-his-son-ham/.
11. Frankel, Prof. Rabbi David. Noah, Ham and the Curse of Canaan: Who Did What to Whom in the Tent? The Torah.com. [Online] [Cited: June 25th, 2022.] https://www.thetorah.com/article/noah-ham-and-the-curse-of-canaan-who-did-what-to-whom-in-the-tent.
12. Farber, Dr. Rabbi Zev. Noah’s Nakedness: How the Canaan-Ham Curse Conundrum Came to Be. The Torah – com. [Online] [Cited: June 25th, 2022.] https://www.thetorah.com/article/noahs-nakedness-how-the-canaan-ham-curse-conundrum-came-to-be.
13. Stewart, Don. Why Was Canaan Cursed Instead of Ham? Blue Letter Bible. [Online] [Cited: 07 02, 2022.] https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_747.cfm.
14. Terry, Tom. The Surprising Sin of Ham and Curse of Canaan. Preach It Teach It. [Online] [Cited: 07 02, 2022.] https://preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/the-surprising-sin-of-ham-and-curse-of-canaan/.
15. Richoka. 9-7: Why was Canaan cursed instead of Ham? Messianic Revolution. [Online] [Cited: July 5th, 2022.] https://messianic-revolution.com/9-7-canaan-cursed-instead-ham/.
16. Short, Larry. What is the relationship between Mount Hermon and the Nephilim in ancient times? Quora. [Online] [Cited: July 16th, 2022.] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-relationship-between-Mount-Hermon-and-the-Nephilim-in-ancient-times.
17. Farra-Hadad, Nour. Mount Hermon (Jabal El Sheikh) in Lebanon, A Sacred Biblical Mountain: Pilgrimages, traditions and rituals. International Journal of Religioous Tourism and Pilgrimage. [Online] Volume 9 Issue 2, 2021. https://arrow.tudublin.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1622&context=ijrtp.
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21. Bonocore, Mark. Peter is not the Rock according to the Orthodox Study Bible. Catholic Bridge. [Online] [Cited: July 17th, 2022.] https://www.catholicbridge.com/orthodox/pope-is-peter-the-rock.php.
22. Staples, Tim. Seven Reasons Why Peter is the Rock. Catholic Answers. [Online] June 5th, 2020. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/peter-the-rock.
23. Stern, David H. Mattityahu Jewish New Testament Chapter 16. Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern. [Online] [Cited: July 17th, 2022.] https://kifakz.github.io/eng/bible/stern/stern_matfey_16.html.
24. Joosten, Strasbourg Jan. Aramaic or Hebrew behind the Greek Gospels? [Online] 06 2015. https://drmsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Joosten-Aramaic-or-Hebrew-behind_the_Gospels.pdf.
25. Fontecchio), Mark. Can You Clarify the Meaning of Matthew 16:19? Ask a Bible Teacher. [Online] [Cited: July 18th, 2022.] https://www.returntotheword.com/Can-You-Clarify-The-Meaning-Of-Matthew-1619-RttW.
26. Davis, Rabbi. Binding and Loosing. Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2022.] https://www.rabdavis.org/binding-and-loosing/.
27. Huckey, Darren. Binding and Loosing Properly Understood. Emet HaTorah. [Online] [Cited: July 19th, 2022.] https://www.emethatorah.com/binding-and-loosing-properly-understood.
28. https://biblehub.com/greek/4073.htm
29. https://www.biblehub.com/greek/4074.htm

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* List some of the signs that the religious leaders had already seen which should have convinced them that Jesus was the messiah and Son of God.
* Is there a time in your life when you were so focused on what you had failed to do that you misunderstood what God was saying to you?
* What are your thoughts on this time when the miracle of total healing was not instant?
* Jesus redeemed this most notorious place in ancient Israel, even the darkest places can be transformed by the Son of God. Do you have places with a dark history in your country and what impact has the gospel had in those places?
* What does it mean to have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven?
* Wat does it mean to bind and loose?