Many are the interpretations of Jesus words, “And on this rock, I will build my church” (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-29). In this post, I placed the words in their social historical and geographical context. It is fiction, but Biblical fiction—I tried to describe the scene as seen through the eyes of a contemporary. I pray it will enlighten you.
Have they seen me? Two men glanced my way. I ducked deeper into the bushes and held my breath. On the bank of the stream, about forty men and women prepared to sit down in small groups. I frowned. Such an odd place to linger.
I lifted my gaze to the rock defaced by temples and shrines. Behind the biggest temple, a cave gaped like a wolf’s maw, ready to devour its prey. “The gates of Hades,” the pagans called it. To placate their gods, they threw their babies into its depths and practiced other unspeakable rites in the temples.
Abba would raise his rod to my back if he knew I was here. Many people visited this “rock of the gods”—located near Caesarea Philippi on a crossroad of trade routes—some to sightsee, others to sacrifice. But a devout Jew would never set foot near this place. So why had the rabbi led his disciples here, all the way from Galilee? And was it really him? I counted the men that formed a close circle around the rabbi—twelve disciples. He must be Yeshua. Uncle Amir, who lived in Capernaum, had spoken passionately about him. “He truly is a man of God. He travels through all of Israel to teach about Yahweh’s Kingdom. And he heals the sick!”
The people rested in the cool of the shade near the water that flowed from the cave. I desired Yeshua to be my rabbi after I completed Beit-Talmud at fourteen. Abba scorned my wish. “He is nothing but a rebel and a raver. And far too young to be a serious rabbi.”
Bleats interrupted my reveries. I prayed that Abba’s flock, which I had left under the care of my little brother, would not stray.
The twelve fixed their eyes on Yeshua as he began to speak, and I strained to hear his words over the rushing water.
“Who do people say that I am?”
The men looked at each other. “Some say you’re John the Baptist,” one said.
“Others say you’re Eliah or Jeremiah,” said another.
“Or one of the other prophets of old, risen from the grave,” suggested a third.
By now, all twelve were talking at once, until Yeshua lifted up his hand. “But who do you say that I am?”
The huskiest disciple scrambled to his feet. “You are the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God.”
I gasped. Surely Yeshua would rebuke his disciple for this blasphemy.
“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
What? Is Yeshua admitting to be Yahweh’s anointed king who will deliver Israel? My heart hammered in my chest.
“And I tell you, you are a stone, and on this rock I will establish my ekklesia—my assembly of people who I will call out to govern—and the gates of Hades will not defeat them.”
The disciple looked as confused as I felt. On this rock—did Yeshua want his followers to conquer the rock of the gods and govern Israel from here?
For their rock is not like our Rock. Yahweh is my Rock and my fortress and my deliverer. Yahweh is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. Fragments of scripture raced through my mind as I struggled to comprehend Yeshua’s words. Could the rock be the kingdom of the Anointed One? And would Yeshua appoint people to rule under his kingship, just as Caesar had authorized Philip to reign over this area?
“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The semikhah Yeshua pronounced over his disciple confirmed my impressions. I couldn’t wait to tell Abba.
Restraining myself from leaping up and running, I cautiously crawled backwards. Then Yeshua sternly reminded his disciples, “Don’t tell anyone that I am the Anointed One.”
I froze. How could he ever usher in his kingdom if nobody knew who he was?
“Levi!” my brother called. Fearing his voice would give away my spying on Yeshua, I scurried out of my hiding place to join him.
As I walked into the meadow, questions tumbled around in my head, but they would have to wait. In a few months, shortly after Pesach, I would turn fourteen. I’d locate Yeshua again, and he would explain everything.
I first published this article on FaithWriters.com.
The “rock of the gods”—or the Grotto of Pan—is nowadays a major tourist attraction in the north of Israel at the archeological site of Banias, which in Biblical times was the city Caesarea Philippi.
Translation of Hebrew words:
- Beit-Talmud: House of Learning, religious education for Jewish boys from ten to fourteen years.
- Semikhah: transmission of rabbinic authority to make religious and legal decisions.
The Greek word ekklesia, translated to “church” in most Bibles, in the Greco-Roman society referred to a political assembly of citizens, called out of the local population by the ruling power, to govern in his name.
Bible references (ESV):
- Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-29
- Deuteronomy 32:31
- Psalm 18:2
- Jeremiah 10:10