Peter and the Rock

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 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." (Mt 16:13-19)

Elsewhere, we’ve looked at this passage. Here I’d like to focus on the location: Caesarea Philippi. This place was so named because the tetrarch of Galilee – Philip, son of Herod – had built a temple to honor his Roman overlord, Caesar. That is, the presumed leader of the Jews bowed in homage to Rome. It was here that Jesus established the Petrine Office, the replacement of the Jewish high priest as the Lord’s chief steward. And that Petrine Office was to ultimately locate itself in Rome. This location fairly symbolizes the transfer of religious authority from the Old Covenant in Judah to the the New Covenant in Rome.

But there is more. The temple referenced above was built upon a mountainous rock. Within that rock was a large cave. Years earlier, Greek pagans had built a sanctuary in that cave dedicated to the god Pan. This is interesting in two ways. First, Pan was the god of shepherds. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, here handed His pastoral staff over to Simon Peter, who was to be the chief shepherd of God’s people. Second, and more noteworthy, is that Pan was the only Greek god who died, and he died during Jesus’ life. The Roman historian, Plutarch, wrote that a divine oracle came to a sailor named Thamus, who was tasked to spread the news (De defectu oraculorum, "The Obsolescence of Oracles"). Christian apologists since Eusebius saw in this "death of a pagan god" during Jesus' lifetime a passing from an old world order (paganism) to the new world order (Christianity). (Of course, there was no god Pan actually; it is interesting, though, that this pagan god was thought to have died at the same time as Jesus lived.)

So, we have the Old Covenant transformed over to the New Covenant, likewise paganism transformed over to Christianity. There is still one more consideration, though. Within the great cave was a deep spring, which flowed out as the head waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River has a long history associated with it in the Bible. In the OT, it was an eastern border of Israel; the Israelites crossed through it on their entry into the Promised Land in a manner reminiscent of crossing through the Red Sea.

13 "And when the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be stopped from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap." 14 So, when the people set out from their tents, to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap far off, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off; and the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 And while all Israel were passing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. (Jos 3:13-17)

Once again, the Israelites crossed a river on dry ground, the waters being miraculously stopped. In this case, they enter into their “Promised Land,” a pledge and symbol of heaven. Christians can see an easy baptismal typology here: passing through the baptismal waters, we enter heaven. We can see the topic of baptism again in the Jordan in the NT:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" 15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness." Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; 17 and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Mt 3:13-17)

This text is clear enough. Generally, we can see the Jordan River as itself a symbol of baptismal waters. And the head waters of the Jordan originate from the spring under the rock of Caesarea Philippi. Considering the symbolism of this particular rock and its association with Peter, we can then conclude a connection between Peter and baptism, or rather, the Sacraments. As Peter is the new ‘high priest,’ then his priesthood is a sacramental one, the sacramental graces flowing from the rock, which is Christ in Whose Name he fulfills his priestly charism.

Finally, let’s compare these ‘waters from the rock’ with the OT narrative of Moses and the waters of Meribah and Massah. I’ll just refer you to another post on this subject: The Rock Was Christ. In this OT narrative, the coming sacraments are wonderfully typified.