For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Revelation of Caesarea Philippi
The Lord carefully chose the time and the place in which His disciples were to receive the biggest revelation.
Reading: Matthew 16:13,16-18, 21, 24, 28.
Of the 28 chapters of Matthew, the sixteenth chapter is one of the most important, because from it we can receive the complete revelation of Christ. Here we find four of the biggest truths in the whole Bible.
But before the Lord wanted to reveal His truth to His disciples, the Lord guided them to a certain place: Caesarea Philippi. However, that place not only had to be the appropriate one, the time also had be precise.
The precise time
Until this moment the disciples had been with the Lord for about three years. Six months later our Lord would be on the cross. They learned many things at Christ's feet. However, in the depths of his heart, our Lord had a secret that He wanted to reveal to them. He was hoping that they would mature; that they would grow and be under the right conditions to receive this revelation. He knew very well that when they were very young they were very self-centered.
The same thing happens with us. When we are children in Christ, then we discover that the Lord pours out blessing after blessing. Truly this is wonderful. It is a stage which we should all pass through. It is the beginning of our walk with the Lord.
However, in the deepest part of His own heart, the Lord hoped to open his disciples' hearts so that they might know the eternal purpose of God. For many years, He had this secret hidden in His heart. On many occasions, when he was about to reveal it, He discovered that they were not ready. But at this time, there were only six months left of the Lord's time on earth. He was ready to take the way of the cross, where He would die for us.
But before that happened, he wanted to open their hearts and reveal the secret that He had kept from the foundation of the world to them. In the beginning, He called them so that they would follow Him. But in fact, the main purpose of His call was that one day His disciples would be capacitated to share His secret. For that moment, the Lord prepared a very important place: Caesarea Philippi.
The precise place
And where is Caesarea Philippi? If you know biblical geography, you will know that in the northern part of Israel there is a very high mountain called Hermon. From this mountain you can see all the land of Canaan. When the Bible refers to this, it always refers to an upward life, to the life on a superior plane. And it is always associated with the heavenly realms. The district of Caesarea Philippi is at the feet of the mountain. It is a beautiful area. There were once many deer there. Psalm 42 was written in this place: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God?". Those deer desired living waters, where could they find them?
This area is very near the Sea of Galilee, toward the north. In Isaiah 9:1 we read: "But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but in the latter time hath he made it glorious, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations."
This is a wonderful prophecy. One day, the Messiah would come, and he would make this place - the sea of Galilee-the center of his work. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Why does it say "land of shadow?" Because it was an area of volcanoes. The whole land in that place is dark in color, and for that reason it absorbs solar light very easily. For that reason the wheat also grows very quickly, because it receives a lot of energy from the sun. For that reason when the priests offered the first fruits in the temple, they undoubtedly came from the land of Galilee. If you look from a distance, you will see that all the houses are built with dark rock. When the Lord was entering Capernaum, or in the sea of Galilee, when looking from a distance, He saw a dark land. It is "the land of shadow."
Now we understand why "the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light", and "they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." This prophecy in particular was completed when the Lord was in the world. The Word became flesh. For a year and half he walked in that place of the earth. This is the background behind the passage of Caesarea Philippi.
When you go to that region, you go to an area of volcanoes, which speaks to us of a tragedy that happened many, many years ago. Many lives were destroyed. However, what remained from that was good earth. And it is for that reason that they could have the first fruits there. That place has the best land.
But more than that: in Caesarea Philippi we find the source of the river Jordan. We all know that that river flows from north to south. On the east side, it flows from the mountain toward the Sea of Galilee, and continues advancing until the Dead Sea.
When it arrives at the sea, near Jericho, the river is at its lowest point. Since the river Jordan is curved, it builds up a lot of silt. When you are near the Dead Sea, it is no longer crystalline; it becomes darkened because it takes on a lot of mud.
I remember the first time that I went to Jericho, we crossed the Jordan. We did it in the same way as Israel many years before. We went with great expectations because we hoped the Jordan was like the river Amazon, wide and torrential. Especially when we study the Bible, we think that the Jordan must be a wonderful river. But to our surprise, when the guide told us that we were arriving and that we would cross it, it was very, very narrow. It is probably a third of the size of the river Mapocho that crosses Santiago city. Imagine how disappointed we were!
In fact, the reason for this is very simple. In Biblical times it was a wonderful river. But because Israel rebelled against God they fell under judgment, and the land was devastated. We know that the history of Israel is connected with that piece of land. So it should not surprise us that we were disappointed with the river Jordan. Yet if you go to the source of the river, to the area of Caesarea Philippi, you will see something very different. There is no mud there; you can even see the bottom, and the fish swimming in its waters. There at the beginning, our vision is very clear. Everything is so pure. When we follow the course of the Jordan down, to the Dead Sea, then we don't find any type of life. Everything is dark, muddy. We don't see anything at all.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is similar in the history of the Church. On the day of Pentecost the Word of God was so pure, so clear, but now that we come to the XXI century, this river has run for more or less 2.000 years. When we come to the lowest part of the river, everything becomes dark. Now we understand why the Lord took His disciples to the source of the river, to Caesarea Philippi. Because it was there that the Lord wanted to reveal Himself. It was something that was in Christ's heart, and also in His heavenly Father's heart.
Only at the source of the river can one have a clear vision. Everything is opaque there; everything is clearly seen; but if we continue down the river, if we follow the way, even the Christian world is confused and not very clear.
Four great truths
If we read this whole chapter we will see that the Lord is about to reveal himself. What did the Lord want to reveal?
Of the principle truths of the Bible, these four are the foundation of the Christian life, of the church life. Without this revelation, then we will go astray. Why today do we see the ruin of the testimony of God? Because when we lose the vision we become divided. Only the vision can make us come back together again. Now we understand why the Lord had to take them to the region of Caesarea Philippi.
If we read the whole chapter, we will see that the Lord is going to give four main revelations. What are they? Allow me to summarize them: First, Christ; second, the Church; third, the Cross, and fourth, the Kingdom. If we read this chapter, we find that this is something that is always in the heart of our Lord. If we study the whole Bible, we find that the whole Bible points to these four main truths.
Do you know about Christ? Yes; we know about Christ as our Savior. But do you know that Christ is your Lord? Do you know that Christ is the Head of the body that is the Church? Today many Christians know something about Christ, but have they seen Christ in the Spirit? Is Christ revealed in their Spirit? Nowadays people know something about Christ, but the vision is not clear, it is not very transparent.
Now then, what is happening with the Church? How much do we know about the Church? Many think that the Church is a building. For that reason it is usual to say: "I left my umbrella in the church." But if the Church is Christ's body, how is it possible that we can leave the book or the umbrella in the church? Now you understand how today we are in the lowest part of the river. Over the last twenty centuries many things have been introduced into the Word of God, polluting it. Therefore the river is dark. So, it should not surprise us that nowadays, if we follow the course of the water, we won't know anything about the Church.
How much do we know about the cross? Many know about the cross because they carry a wooden cross as a decoration. You know that the way of the cross is the way toward the harvest. The way of the cross always takes us towards glory. How can we be transformed into Christ's glory? How can we be together in unity? The secret is the cross. How much do we know about the way of the cross? Are we ready to take up the cross and follow our Teacher? Are we ready to utterly deny ourselves all the time? Nowadays, when we speak about the cross, it is also something very vague. We touch on some points, but we are never clear. It's the same with the Kingdom. How much do we know about the Kingdom? When we arrive at the XXI century, we arrive at the lowest part of the river Jordan.
How can we be clear about the will of God? For that reason the Lord took His disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi. Brothers and sisters, the way that we can continue on is always to return to the Bible, to the beginning, to the source of the river. Only in the region of Caesarea Philippi will we receive a revelation of our God. I feel that this is very, very important.
One day some people asked our Lord, why did Moses allow them to have divorce papers? Do you know how our Lord answered? That this was only the permissive will of God, but not the eternal purpose of God. What is the eternal purpose of God? The Lord said: "it was not this way in the beginning." Their hearts were hardened, for that reason the Lord allowed them to do that. But if we are obedient sons, we won't only be satisfied with the permissive will of God: we will look for the eternal will of God. What is the eternal will of God, the purpose from the beginning? This is the reason why the Lord took His disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi.
The mystery of God: Christ
In Matthew 16 we see that our Lord first asked the disciples: "Who do men say that the Son of Man is?" Then Peter responded. Peter was representative of the whole Church. He made a great confession; the biggest confession in humanity's history. It is not simply Peter's confession. It is the confession of you and me also. He said: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." And what did our Lord answer? "Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood didn't reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." How is it that Peter could come to the understanding that Jesus was the Christ? It was not given him by flesh and blood. According to our Lord, the Heavenly Father revealed Christ to Peter.
What does that mean? That in the heart of God there was a secret. That secret had been hidden from before the foundation of the world. Our God had kept it throughout the centuries. Think about this: What a privilege Peter had! It pleased the Father to reveal to Christ. Here we have the first revelation. Christ is connected to the heart of God. It should not surprise us that Paul said that Christ is the mystery of God. He means that God had a secret, and that one day he lifted the veil and that revelation was given to Peter, and it is also revealed to us all in this day. For that reason the Lord told Peter: "you are blessed!", because it really is a wonderful blessing. It is not simply like having a beautiful car or house; here we are told that if we receive this revelation, we are blessed. Our Lord said to Peter: "It is my Heavenly Father who has revealed this secret to you." This is the beginning of the revelation.
Remember: if we really see something of the Bible; if we really receive a revelation (the first revelation), we are able to touch the heart of God. Now He has opened His heart to us, and we can see the secret that is in the heart of God. This is called the mystery of God: Christ. But that is only the beginning.
Christ's mystery: the Church
What does the Lord say in verse 18? "And I also tell you...." If the Father revealed His Son, that is a wonderful revelation, but that is not enough. The Lord tells us: "My Father not only has a secret; I also have a secret for you. God revealed this secret to you, now I will reveal my secret to you." For that reason the Lord said: "And I also tell you...." On the one hand we have the Father's secret, the Father's mystery. But the Father's revelation is only half of the story.
This universe has a secret, Christ, but thanks to the Lord, He will reveal the other half: "On this rock I will build my church." Do you see that? The secret of God is Christ; but Christ's secret is the Church. For that reason Christ says: "And I also tell you, on this rock I will build my church." It is very interesting.
When the Lord said this, they were probably in a high place of Caesarea, at the foot of Mount Hermon. Now even today we find that there is a very big rock there. That city was built surrounding that rock.
When the Lord said to Peter: "On this rock I will build my Church", of course this rock refers to himself. There is no doubt about that. But the Lord also uses it as an illustration, because their eyes see a rock at the foot of Mount Hermon. "I will build my Church on this rock." How does Christ build His Church? There we discover the way in which Christ builds his Church: it is through the way of the cross. For that reason He said: "On this rock."
The disciples saw the current of the Jordan, but how did it flow? The snow of the summit melted and the water flowed to the bottom of the mountain. The deer saw the water and they panted for it, but the great rock became a wall that impeded the course of the water. How then was it possible for the disciples to see the source of this river?
The broken Rock
Many years ago, God made the world tremble, then the volcano erupted, and that rock which was there for many years... (According to geologists, this rock is the oldest in the land of Canaan)... that rock opened up, and then the water could flow. The river Jordan began there. In this way, the deer's thirst could be satisfied.
Brothers and sisters: This is the history of the cross. Do you remember when the Lord said: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus took your place and my place. All our sins were upon him. Do you know the color of sin? When the Heavenly Father, the Holy Father, saw his Son on the cross taking your sin and my sin on Himself, the rod of God's wrath fell upon our Lord Jesus. That rod was to fall on us, because we are the sinners, not Jesus Christ. But because He loves you and me, and because all our sins were upon our Lord Jesus, and because God is a God of justice, because of that, the rod of God's wrath fell on our Lord.
Then, Christ, the Rock of the ages, in that moment was broken. From the Lord Jesus' side, blood and water flowed out. Just like how God took something out of Adam's side when he was sleeping, and Eve was made. It is the same story. When our Lord Jesus died for us on the cross, the church was taken of His side. If we really see the Church, we will never be able to separate Christ from the cross. Peter said to the Lord: "This will never happen to you." What did Peter want? Peter wanted Christ, but without the cross. He confessed that Jesus was the Christ. His mentality was a Jewish mentality. Christ had to be in glory; not going to the cross. What he wanted was Christ, but without the cross. That is impossible. The Lord said: "On this rock I will build my church." Do you now understand? Christ is always together with the cross; always through the cross. From there the church is born, and is edified. Not only Christ, also the Church and the cross.
The cross and the Kingdom
For that reason, we cannot only preach Christ. We cannot only speak of Christ's Church. How is it that God will complete His purpose? The secret, the way, is the cross. If there is no cross, there is no harvest. If there is no cross, there is no edification of the Church. Today we can have a congregation of ten thousand people, but the reality of the church is not there. What is Christ's church? Not simply Christ in you; not only the blessing of Christ. Not only that: it is the work of the cross. It is not only Christ in you and Christ in me, but rather the cross will also touch you and me. That is Christ.
Some only know about benefits, about addition; they don't know about loss or subtractions. This is what the cross does today. If we are really jealous for the Lord, if the Church is to be edified in this way, we will discover the work of the cross. It will work very deeply in each one of us. Finally we will discover that the Church is being edified.
Due to the work of the cross, you are no longer on the throne. We sometimes have the tendency, when the Church meets together, of sitting ourselves down on the throne, instead of leaving Christ there. The work of the cross always dethrones us, with a purpose: that Christ be on the throne. When we see that Christ is on His throne, then we will have the Kingdom of the heavens mentioned in this chapter. If we really live the life of Church according to the purpose of God, all of us, even the leaders, must be dethroned, so that only Christ is on the throne. Then we see the Kingdom of God.
Now we see the connection of these four truths: Christ, the Church, the Cross, and the Kingdom. Finally, the purpose of God will be able to be carried out. Today we must be taken to the source of His revelation. Let us return to the beginning, to the source of the river. Then we will see that the revelation is very clear for us. Not only Christ, also the Church, the Cross and the Kingdom.