Early summer had already begun to bathe the Sea of Galilee with an intense heat which would grow steadily as the season advanced. Herods hostility toward Jesus steadily increased when spies had brought the tetrarch word of the attempt to make him king after the miracle of the loaves and fish. For these reasons he went to the lush green mountainous region to the north near Caesarea Philippi where the climate would be more pleasant. Philip the tetrarch who ruled there had shown no animosity toward him and he could train his apostles in relative peace.
Even the journey was beautiful. The Master and his disciples traveled northward on the east bank of the Jordan toward Caesarea Philippi. The northern part of the river was a wide swift-rushing stream filled with fish and fringed by a belt of oleanders, papyrus, and giant reeds. Along the bank were many towns and villages where Jesus paused to teach, for although this was predominantly a Gentile region, many Jews lived here.
Almost halfway to Caesarea Philippi, the Jordan widened out to form a small body of water called Lake Huleh. The jungle-like swamp abounded with animals, birds in great numbers nested here, and there was constant the hum of bees to the rush of water. A broad, fertile plain extended north of Lake Huleh for some eight or ten miles. To the northeast were the foothills of majestic Mount Hermon (Hebrew: sacred mountain) and in the midst of a fertile plain was the ancient city of Dan. It was the northernmost town in ancient Israel when its limits extended from Dan to Beersheba.
From Dan to Caesarea Philippi was a two hours walk along a road winding upward to the lower slopes of the twenty mile long Mount Hermon ridge in Syria. Christs transfiguration (Greek: Metamorphoo, to change into another form) occurred on its slopes. From Mount Hermons lofty crest at over 9,000 feet, almost every point in Israel was visible on a clear day: the Great Sea (Mediterranean) could be seen to the west, and to the east, the white roofs of Damascus might also be visible.
At the base of Caesarea Philippis slope, headwaters of the Jordan burst from beneath a high wall of rock in what had been called since ancient times the Cave of Pan. In the beautiful region around it the air was fragrant with flowers and cool even in summer. In this area, Jesus and his disciples withdrew from the press of the crowds which had followed them for so many months. He was able to be alone with the Father, and teach his apostles privately.
In the evening they arrived at the foot of Mount Hermon, and set up camp in a sheltered canyon with steep walls and a running stream with an abundance of fresh water and fish. They had brought bread and dates with them, and anything else they needed could be purchased in town. In the cool shade of the trees and lush vegetation, they made a resting place and temporary home in quiet solitude. After dark, the stars shone brightly, the night birds sang, and a soft warm breeze rustled through the trees in this wilderness paradise.
Opon This Rock
The apostles faith in his Messiahship was continually assaulted by unbelieving leaders, fickle crowds, and his continuing resistance to gather armies and set up the expected earthly kingdom. Many people had deserted him at Capernaum, but his wise and gracious dealing with the Twelve enabled them to overcome.
Alone with his closest companions around the campfire, Christ asked for a confirmation of their faith, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
Peter had no doubt and immediately proclaimed, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
For Jesus, this was one of the greatest and happiest moments of his earthly life. Here, at last, was the flame of true faith. For so long he had been nursing the flickering sparks of belief in his children, only to see them go out again; but now at last the flame was truly alight as the campfire.
The Master expressed his joy in his reply of a special commission to Peter, You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed it to you. You did not learn this from any human source. Now I say: you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. I will give you keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven. It was more than a play on the Greek words Petros meaning Peter, and petra which meant rock. He announced privately what had been apparent to the disciples for a long time: Simon Peter was their rightful leader. Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone he was the Messiah.
Early next morning, Jesus went alone further up the canyon to a grotto with a waterfall flowing from the mountain into a shallow pool. The sound of the falling water calmed him as he took off his sandals, sat down on a boulder, and dipped his tired feet into the cool water. He enjoyed the purely human pleasure of feeling the cool water beneath his feet and watching the fish and other water creatures swim about in the shallow pool. The birds with their sweet songs and wildlife that came to drink at the pool refreshed his soul. For a few brief hours he was in another world away from everything and everyone as he prayed to the Father.