A pivotal moment in the Bible is Peter’s affirmation of Jesus’ spiritual identity as the Christ, followed by Jesus’ reply that his church would be built on the rock, described by Mary Baker Eddy as “the God-power which lay behind Peter’s confession of the true Messiah” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 138).
A recent trip to Israel opened my eyes to consider the significance of the particular setting in which this affirmation of the Christ took place. In Jesus’ time, the territory east and north of Galilee was primarily inhabited by a pagan, Gentile, or non-Jewish population, though Jews also lived in the area. Jesus took his disciples to the small “towns of Cæsarea Philippi” (Mark 8:27), near modern-day Syria. Nearby, next to the actual Roman regional capital city Caesarea Philippi, was a place where a spring flowed out of the mouth of a large cave. Various pagan shrines were dedicated there, and some people have speculated that there is a connection between this foreboding cave of pagan worship and “the gates of hell” mentioned by Christ Jesus to Peter.
It is interesting that it was in a region that contained this significant place of pagan worship, which could be seen as symbolizing the very opposite of what Christ represented, that Jesus asked his disciples the question about who he was (see Matthew 16:13–20).