Part Two: WHICH "Rock"?

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Why would Jesus choose this place, the filthiest (morally) place within walking distance of his earthly region of ministry? Might it be possible that he took his [apostles] to the most degenerate place possible to say to them “THIS is where I want you to build my church. I want you to go out into the repugnantly degenerate places, where God is not even known. I want you to go out to places that make Caesarea Philippi look tame, and THAT is where I want you to build my church.” Because that is exactly what they did. They went to places in Asia Minor and the ends of the earth, where “gods” were worshipped in unspeakably awful manners and where Christians would be persecuted in horrific manner, and they gave their lives doing EXACTLY what they were told to do by their Rabbi. Fishing The Abyss.
A shine to the "god" Pan

Exactly which “rock” Jesus was going to build this on – Peter’s confession or Peter’s hereditary authority – has divided Christians for centuries, at times occasioning as much cruel, unreasoning terror as proceeds from the Gates of Hell themselves. But what if Jesus meant both alternatives plus a third: this Rock of the “gods”?

Seldom explored clues are in the meaning of “gates”, and of “upon”. Even the word “church”, the common translation today of εκκλησιαν, translated “congress” above, was the booty of enough of a translation war that King James made that the one single word where his translators were ordered not to follow the Greek text but the king’s command.

Well, Jesus didn’t use the word “Congress”. But neither did He quite use the word “church”. Matthew quotes Jesus as using the word “ekklesian”. What did that Greek word mean to Matthew, if not “church”, which virtually every translation since the King James version renders it? Tyndale’s New Testament, published in 1526, translated the word “congregation”. King Henry VIII executed Tyndale 10 years later for translating the New Testament. “The Word Church not to be translated Congregation” was the order handed down 78 years later by Henry VIII’s great grand-nephew, King James.

[Henry VIII’s sister was Margaret Tudor, mother of James V of Scotland, father of Mary Queen of Scots, mother of King James I of England]

Why did Tyndale reject the translation “church” by Wycliff 142 years before? Doesn’t “congregation” mean “the people who listen to sermons at church”, so that both terms refer to the same institution? So then why did King James make such a royal fuss over the word, ordering his translators to render it “church” rather than whatever they thought εκκλησιαν meant? Could the word “congregation” have meant, then, something enough different than the “church” which the king ruled, to explain his surprising concern?

Despite King James’ instruction to copy the Bishop’s Bible authorized by Queen Elizabeth “as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit”, his translators copied 80% of Tyndale’s New Testament verbatim into their New Testament. But not, in the context of a Christian gathering, the word “congregation”.

What exactly did Jesus say He would build, upon (or “against”?) exactly what manner of “rock”?

The King James translation reads:

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

“Upon”, “rock”, “church”, “Gates”. What did their Greek words mean to Greeks?

The Three “Rocks”

Jesus pointed to “this rock”, but the Bible doesn’t tell us where He was pointing. Protestants say it was Peter’s rock-solid confession. Catholics say it was Peter himself. Recent Bible commentators have noticed He was standing near the “Rock of the Gods”. Could Jesus have meant all three?

Peter. Peter was certainly an important part of the founding of Jesus’ Church. (Uh, Congress? Oh well.) He was a leader of the Church At Jerusalem, he wrote part of the Bible, and the Bible tells us more about his faith walk than about that of any of the other 11 Apostles.

Whether he ever presumed to have the final word on all theological questions, much less whether he ever imagined that his authority would be institutionalized into a succession of humans holding the final word on all theological questions, is vigorously disputed; but surely there is no disagreement that his was a critical role in the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. Which makes Peter a reasonable theory about what “rock” Jesus meant.

The “confession” of Peter is trivialized in much current theology as a mere intellectual statement of fact made in the safety of one’s home, or one’s church in which everyone smiles at you for saying it.

No, that falls short of Peter’s confession. Peter wasn’t just smart. He may not have been the smartest apostle, to know that. Others likely knew that. But if anyone else knew that, no one else dared say it. Especially not there!

Peter’s statement was not in a safe place. Jesus had taken Peter and the others into the spiritually darkest place on earth, the most dangerous place on earth for a believer, very likely a crowded place, and had very likely drawn the attention of very evil people, who were watching and listening.

Peter knew not only the evil of that cursed Rock of the Gods with that pathetic Gates of Hell, but he knew that the mountain, at whose base this city laid, was the very spot where fallen angels had descended from Heaven to violate human women to create the race of wicked giants. He knew that this mountain was called the mountain of Baal both by the Phoenicians on the other side of it, but in Scripture.

Caesarea Philippi/Banias is located at the foot of Mount Hermon (see center and bottom of photo). Mount Hermon is part of a range that divided the land of Israel from ancient Syria and Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). The Phoenicians, worshippers of Baal (think Jezebel–e.g.,1 Kgs. 18:19), actually considered Mount Hermon to be the mountain of Baal. Long before Alexander the Great instituted the worship of Pan in the area, Baal was the main attraction. In fact, Mount Hermon was also known as Mount Baal-Hermon in biblical times (Judg. 3:3; 1 Chron. 5:23). [Note: several translations of 1 Chron 5:23 make it sound like Baal-Hermon and Hermon are two separate mountains; but Bible commentator Albert Barnes explains, ““Baal-Hermon,” “Senir” Deu_3:9, and “Mount Hermon,” are here not so much three names of the one great snow-clad eminence in which the Anti-Lebanon terminates toward the south, as three parts of the mountain - perhaps the “three summits” in which it terminates.”] [ Caesarea-Philippi & Nephilim]

But Peter believed what he said, beyond mere intellectually grasping the facts.

When you really know the Son of the Living God is with you, not just intellectually but you think about how that impacts all the reality around you, it hits you that for all the danger there may be in saying what you know, that is a lot safer than denying what you know; it hits you that no danger can touch you without the consent of God, and that God will not burden you with more than will help you grow because God loves you a lot more than you love yourself.

Peter was bold. He said what he saw, where the violent blind were listening.

There were whole centuries after Peter’s time when not only would everyone smile at you for saying what Peter said, but people would torture you to death if you didn’t say that, along with several more statements not particularly in the Bible but required by men who called themselves God’s representatives.

But where Peter spoke, people were destroyed for saying a lot less than Peter did.

This was not just another place of pagan idolatry. This was the spot where fallen angels had come down to mate with the daughters of men, resulting in the giants who had necessitated the Great Flood, and which later had triggered such evil in the land and even its polluted animals that their near-genocide by Israel was justified.

Peter was not ignorant of this history! He had read it in the Book of Enoch, which he later cited in one of his letters to Congress. Uh, Church. (1 Peter 2:4-5 cites the Book of Enoch.)

Book of Enoch: 6:1 And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. 2 And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ 3 And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ 4 And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ 5 Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. 6 And they were in all two hundred; who descended ‹in the days› of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it (Charles, R. H. (Ed.). (1913). Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Vol. 2, p. 191). Oxford: Clarendon Press.). Bible Study with Randy

Peter, along with every other Jew, would not have needed to read Enoch to understand how evil this place was. The very name of this mountain means “devoted to God for destruction”, the same name given the evil inhabitants of Canaan whom the Israelites destroyed with God’s miraculous help.

“Just the name ‘Hermon’ would have caught the attention of Israelite and Jewish readers” (The Unseen Realm, by Michael Heiser, p. 201). The name Hermon is derived from the Hebrew words ḥerem (a thing devoted to God for destruction) or ḥaram (the verb form which means to devote to destruction because it is set apart to God alone). These are the words used in the Conquest narrative (Deut.-Joshua) to describe the utter destruction of the people of Canaan. Heiser believes that this word is particularly connected with the descendants of the Nephilim (e.g., Num. 13:33). Bible Study with Randy

Plus, Peter knew about this place from Sunday School. The city, called Baal Gad (literally “Master Luck”), was the name of a god of fortune who may later have been identified with Pan. Joshua 11:17 says Baal Gad was “in the valley of Lebanon under mount Hermon”. It was also listed in Joshua 12:7 and 13:5.

Not only was this “Gates of Hell” in the “Rock of the ‘gods’” at the foot of the Mountain Devoted to Destruction where demons descended to mate with humans, but the whole mountain, cliff, and city were in the Northwest corner of the Land of Bashan, which means “the Place of the Serpent”.

Not exactly the kind of place a respectable Son of God should want to be seen!

Although one meaning of Bashan is “fertile, stoneless piece of ground,” another meaning of this root is “Serpent” (Lete, del O. G. (1999). Bashan. In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst [Eds.], Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible [2nd extensively rev. ed., p. 161]). Bashan has associations with the Rephaim, descendants of the Nephilim going way back in antiquity. Bible students should recall that Israel, under the leadership of Moses conquered this territory which belonged to Og king of Bashan. In fact, Joshua 12:4-5 says it this way: “The other king was Og king of Bashan and his territory, who was of the remnant of the giants [Hebrew = Rephaim], who dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei, and reigned over Mount Hermon, over Salcah, over all Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maachathites, and over half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.”
Note the references to Mount Hermon and the Nephilim in this passage. Not only does the Bible state that King Og of Bashan is a descendant of the Nephilim, according to Heiser the designation of Og as an “Amorite” associates him with Babylon. Furthermore, the dimensions of his bed (see Deut. 3:8-11) “are precisely those of the cultic bed in the ziggurat called Entemenanki–which is the ziggurat most archaeologists identify as the Tower of Babel referred to in the Bible” (Heiser, The Unseen Realm, p. 198).
....Bashan, the territory in which Caesarea Philippi resides, has ancient associations with the Nephilim, as well as carrying the meaning of  “the place of the Serpent” The association of Bashan with “The place of the serpent,” as well as being a dwelling place of the Rephaim ( a word used in the Bible for the descendants of the Nephilim) also finds confirmation in the Canaanite literature discovered at Ugarit. Bible Study with Randy
This map shows the area of Bashan colored in green on the right
This painting is a reconstruction of what the temples built against the "Rock of the 'gods'" looked like in Jesus' time

Not that God needs man to feel good, but how must God feel! Rejected everywhere! His very birth made the occasion of the mass slaughter of innocent, beautiful babies and toddlers!

Rejected by everyone important, a curiosity to the masses. Finally one human acknowledges Him, and not just in the comfort of home but where saying it is dangerous! Humans don’t normally say what is dangerous to say, just because it is true. There is usually some better reason. Like love.

Peter must have loved Jesus. Peter must have wanted to bless Jesus with the only thing he had to offer: his “thank you”.

How Jesus must have appreciated Peter’s courageous kindness!

Expositor’s Bible Commentary: THIS conversation at Caesarea Philippi is universally regarded as marking a new era in the life of Christ.
His rejection by “His own” is now complete. Jerusalem, troubled at His birth, had been troubled once again when He suddenly came to His Temple, and began to cleanse it in His Father’s name; and though many at the feast were attracted by His deeds of mercy, He could not commit Himself to any of them: (Joh_2:24) there was no rock there on which to build His Church.
He had passed through Samaria, and found there fields white unto the harvest, but the time of reaping was not yet.
Galilee had given better promise: again and again it had appeared as if the foundation of the new kingdom would be firmly laid in the land of "Zebulun and Naphtali"; but there had been bitter and crushing disappointment, - even the cities where most of His mighty works were done repented not.
The people had eagerly welcomed His earthly things; but when He began to speak to them of heavenly things they “went back, and walked no more with Him.”
And though opportunity after opportunity was given them while He hovered on the outskirts, ever and anon returning to the familiar scenes, they would not repent; they would not welcome or even receive the kingdom of God which Christ came to found.
The country has been traversed from the wilderness of Judea, in the far south, even unto Dan; and as there had been no room for the Infant King in the inn, so there was none in all the land for the infant kingdom.

So was Peter, the man, indeed the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his...uh...what He was about to build?

The Confession. What would “church” be, without the manner of “confession” that Peter made? Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” What would “church” be, without “saved” people? Clearly, Peter’s confession, which Paul said was the confession of every Christian, is a central pillar of the Church/Congress.

Romans 10:9 is trivialized in comfortable safe American theology as saying certain words once in your life before friends who will reward you for saying them. But if we remember where Peter made that confession, could the “rock” Jesus meant be our readiness to “confess Jesus” even where confession is very costly?

Well, of course, persecuted churches indeed thrive and strengthen as their people do that.

So Jesus may very well have meant, by “this rock”, both Peter, the man, and Peter’s bridge-burning “confession” which is an example for all of us. Then what about the Rock of the “gods”?

Stairway to Hell

The Rock of the “gods”. Something would have to be very weird for Jesus to build His Church/Congress “upon” that pagan cliff – meaning, that paganism would become the foundation for Christianity! But the Greek preposition epi – επι – just as easily translates “against”. It is an all-purpose preposition. It is surely true that Jesus built His church/Congress “against” all the powers of Hell, and that the more viciously Hell attacks, the more His Church/Congress grows.

….[There is an interpretation] that the “this rock” Jesus spoke of was neither Peter himself nor his confession, but the place where they were standing at the time. This interpretation is also set forth in the Lexham Geographic Commentary [which] is currently only available in some Logos Bible Software base packages.... "Caesarea Philippi and the Gates of Hell"

Jesus' Little Living Rock Congress

A fourth meaning that can reasonably be taken from Jesus’ encouragement of Peter is also true. Although Jesus didn't name all the rest of us “Rocky” - only Peter – the rest of us are very much like little “rocks”. We are like the little stones that David used to bring down Goliath. Jesus uses us weak nobodies to bring down the great, terrifying powers of Hell and Hell’s political powers on Earth.

In fact, this metaphor of us as little rocks, was exactly the metaphor which Peter, the original “little rock”, used to describe how we are the elements of Jesus’ Cong...uh, Church?

1 Peter 2:1 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

Jesus Christ, the Corner Stone. Peter should know what “rock” Jesus was talking about. Our fifth candidate for what Jesus was talking about is in Peter’s next verse after the verse about us being “lively stones”. Jesus Himself. We, “living stones”, are plural. In the next verse, Peter describes the Corner Stone, singular. Many stones are needed for a stone building; but there is only one Corner Stone, the stone cut so true an square that it can keep the others in line. Ephesians 2:20, below, describes three tiers of construction: we are built on the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, who are in turn lined up with the Chief Corner Stone.

Psalm 18:22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.
Isaiah 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Jeremiah 51:26 And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the LORD.
Matthew 21:42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Mark 12:10 And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner:
Luke 20:17 And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
Acts 4:11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Romans 9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
1 Peter 2:6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
Albert Barnes on 1 Peter 2:6: The principal stone on which the corner of the edifice rests. A stone is selected for this which is large and solid, and, usually, one which is squared, and worked with care; and as such a stone is commonly laid with solemn ceremonies, so, perhaps, in allusion to this, it is here said by God that he would lay this stone at the foundation. The solemnities attending this were those which accompanied the great work of the Redeemer.

How little are us “lively stones”? Are we bigger, in Jesus’ metaphor and in His plan for the ages, than grains of sand? How can mere grains of sand prevail against the Rock of the Gods? Yet see how God uses mere sand to set the bounds of great forces:

F.B. Meyer, Bible commentator, on Jeremiah 5:22: Notice the delightful metaphor of Jeremiah 5:22. When God would stay the wild ocean wave a barrier of sand will suffice. The martyrs were as sand grains but wild persecutions were quenched by their heroic patience.
Jeremiah 5:21 Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: 22 Fear ye not me? saith the LORD: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it: and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it? 23 But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. 24 Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest. 25 Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.

To paraphrase, and to add some Old Testament prophetic context, Jesus said:

“This great Rock of the Gods represents all the horrors of Hell – all the great world tyrannies prophesied in Daniel 2 – all the murder, torture, and slavery that has turned what began as Paradise into Hell on earth.
“You represent these little pebbles under your feet. Helpless, powerless against that great rock, you imagine. You are without hope. How can such tiny little things as yourselves ever pull down that great evil mountain, you demand? Rhetorically, you assume.
“I could pull down that mountain for you, all by myself. Easy. I could do it in a second. Just like any parent could go to school for his children, take their tests for them, ace every one. But only a lousy parent would do that.
“So I have news for you. I’m not going to do this for you. YOU are going to do it. No, WE are going to do it. Together. I will help all you little pebbles unite into a massive stone cut without hands that will grow until it fills the whole earth, smashing every mountain of evil into powder which My Breath will blow away, just as Daniel prophesied.
“I won't make you unite. I will wait for you to choose to unite with each other and with Me.
“You can’t imagine all the good things that wait for you to choose to unite, any more than a baby can imagine all the blessings, opportunities, and adventures of adulthood. Each new blessing requires a new responsibility, which you must choose, as you grow to understand it. With each step, you, as individuals, and as a growing civilization, will choose whether that is enough for you, or if you want the full blessings that spiritual maturity offers.
“I will wait. And I will build. And during the long centuries of waiting for all of you who are called by My Name to want the full blessings I offer, you will learn that all the powers of Hell can never touch the Spirit I put in you.
“What I am waiting for is for your love to grow. And not just grow in you alone, but to spread across the earth, and across history. I will wait for the observation and experience of all the unspeakable consequences of turning away from the Heaven I offer, across all of suffering humanity, to move you not to fear, terror, or doubt for your own safety and comfort, but to a heart broken for their sakes. I will wait for your love to lift from your shoulders the heavy burden of living for yourself, to strengthen you to rescue them from the Hell they are ignorantly choosing.
“I have no desire to swing you like an insentient club against that Rock of the Gods. My strategy is not to glue you into a solid mass and swing you against Evil, or have you swung by another, like a priest in a Church who does all the swinging while all the rest sit passively, watching one leader make decisions, their own individuality paralyzed.
“My vision is of a mass of living stones each individually choosing every detail of how to attack that Rock of the ‘gods’ with love and truth, together as much as is practical, individually speaking and reasoning with each other as well as with the Darkness, more like a Congress making decisions together about action you will take together than a Church where action is incidental and rare – and growing until living, myth-smashing stones fill the whole earth and nothing is left of the Rock of the ‘gods’ but the myth-dust which the Wind/Holy Spirit is waiting to blow away.”

Story Continues at Part Three: Politics in the Gates (Return to Part One)