Caesarea Philippi was a Greco-Roman city located 40km north of the Sea of Galilee, in an area that is nestled between modern day Lebanon and Syria. It was originally a center of worship to Baal and later the Greek god Pan. During the time of Jesus, it had recently been renamed by Philip the Tetrarch to honor himself and Caesar Augustus, complete with temples and shrines for worshipping Caesar.
It’s in this oppressively pagan context that Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” It’s a good question for us to ask ourselves today. The environment and culture we come from inevitably shape our worldview, how we understand God, and how we view our identity in this world.
We see this struggle with the prophet Isaiah during his calling: “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). He acknowledges that he is just like everyone else around him, but then something happens. He has a powerful encounter with God, cleansing him from his sin and enabling him to use his lips to serve as a messenger for the King.
Going back to Jesus’ question: Who do people say I am? This is a helpful question, but Jesus didn’t stop there. His next question was and inevitably always will be, “Who do you say I am?”
This is where it gets real. Understanding our cultural environment can help give us insights about ourselves, but Jesus is not reduced to our circumstances. He always transcends them. He gave his life so that nothing could separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:39). How would you like to encounter the King and be forever changed?