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When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His
disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am ? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist : some, Elias ; and others, Jeremias, or one of the Prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am 3-St. Matt. xvi. 13.
Taus did our Lord propose to His first followers the momentous question, which for eighteen centuries has riveted the eye of thinking and adoring Christendom. The material setting, if we may so term it, of a great intellectual or moral event ever attracts the interest and lives in the memory of men; and the Evangelist is careful to note that the question of our Lord was asked in the neighbourhood of Cæsarea Philippi. Jesus Christ had reached the northernmost point of His journeyings. He was close to the upper source of the Jordan, and at the base of the majestic mountain which forms a natural barrier to the Holy Land at its northern extremity. His eye rested upon a scenery in the more immediate foreground, which from its richness and variety has been compared by travellers to the Italian Tivoli a. Yet there belonged to this spot a -higher interest than any which the beauty of merely inanimate or irrational nature can furnish; it bore visible traces of the hopes, the errors, and the struggles of the human soul. Around a grotto which Greek settlers had assigned to the worship of the sylvan Pan, a Pagan settlement had gradually formed itself. Herod the Great had adorned the spot with a temple of white marble, dedicated to his patron Augustus; and more recently, the rising city, enlarged and beautified by Philip the tetrarch, had received a new name
Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 397.
which combined the memory of the Cæsar Tiberius with that of the local potentate. It is probable that our Lord at least had the city in view b, even if He did not enter it. standing on the geographical frontier of Judaism and Heathendom. Paganism was visibly before Him in each of its two most typical forms of perpetual and world-wide degradation. It was burying its scant but not utterly lost idea of an Eternal Power and Divinity beneath a gross materialistic natureworship; and it was prostituting the sanctities of the human conscience to the lowest purposes of an unholy and tyrannical statecraft. And behind and around our Lord was that peculiar people, of whom, as concerning the flesh, He came Himselfd, and to which His first followers belonged. Israel too was there; alone in her memory of a past history such as no other race could boast; alone in her sense of a present degradation, political and moral, such as no other people could feel; alone in her strong expectation of a Deliverance which to men who were aliens from' her sacred commonwealth' seemed but the most chimerical of delusions. On such a spot does Jesus Christ raise the great question which is before us in the text, and this, as we may surely believe, not without a reference to the several wants and hopes and efforts of mankind thus visibly pictured around Him. How was the human conscience to escape from that political violence and from that degrading sensualism which had riveted the yoke of Pagan superstition? How was Israel to learn the true drift and purpose of her marvellous past? How was she to be really relieved of her burden of social and moral misery? How were her high anticipations of a brighter future to be explained and justified? And although that 'middle wall of partition, which so sharply divided off her inward and outward life from that of Gentile humanity, had been built up for such high and necessary ends by her great inspired lawgiver, did not such isolation also involve manifest counterbalancing risks and loss? was it to be eternal ? could it, might it be 'broken down'? These questions could only be answered by some further Revelation, larger and clearer than that already possessed by Israel, and absolutely new to Heathendom. They demanded some nearer, fuller, more persuasive self-unveiling than any
• Dean Stanley surmises that the rock on which was placed the Temple of Augustus may possibly have determined the form of our Lord's promise to St. Peter in St. Matt. xvi. 18. Sinai and Palestine, p. 399. c Rom, i. 20.
d Ibid. ix. 5.