If I were to blog about every site we visited today in even summary fashion this blog entry would be (1) probably longer than you want to read and (2) definitely longer than I want to write. We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Tel Hazor, Tel Dan, Caesarea Philippi, and the Valley of Tears Memorial. Each site was breathtaking in its own way and I learned more than I'll report fully here. For now I'll tell you about just one interesting tidbit that is illustrative of the day.
At Caesarea Philippi, we stood outside a large cave opening surrounded by carvings paying tribute to Greek gods on the cliff facing. Our leader, Dr. Tony Cartledge, told the group that the water supply for the area once flowed from the mouth of the cave until an earthquake changed the course of the river. He also explained that many believed the river flowing from that cave to lead to the River Styx at Hades in Greek mythology.
Dr. Cartledge then reminded us of the scene in Matthew 16 when Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. If you will recall, verse 13 tells us this happened at Caesarea Phillippi. Dr. Cartledge pointed out that it's possible that Jesus and the disciples were right there in view of icons to gods when he asked his closest followers who people said he was and then who the disciples said he was.
Finally, Dr. Cartledge underscored the Lord's response to Peter's confession of Jesus' Messiahship: "... I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it" (v. 18, NRSV). Could it be that Jesus was at that place where we stood--a place known as the Gates of Hades--when he uttered those words?
We can't be absolutely sure that this turning point in the earthly ministry of Christ took place at that spot. But the evidence from the text coupled with the evidence remaining at the site is pretty overpowering. It seems likely to me that Jesus used important visible symbols as illustrations of a very important teaching.