The Lesson of Caesarea Philippi

“And I say also unto thee. That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build this church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against thee.”  Matthew 16:18

Sitting in the southwestern base of Mount Hermon in the land of Israel in the Golan Heights are the remains of an ancient Pagan city known as Caesarea Philippi. Prior to the period of Roman domination, this city was called Paneas, after the god Pan. The name was mutated to Banias, for which it is known today. During the reign of King Herod the Great, the Roman “representative king” in Judea, in his effort to flatter and win the approval of Caesar in Rome, named cities after Caesar usually called Caesarea followed by another name to distinguish it from the others; for example Caesarea Maritima, which was a large port city just north of modern day Tel Aviv.

Around 20 BC, Paneas was annexed into the kingdom of Herod the Great and became known as Caesarea Philippi because it was ruled by King Herod’s son, Phillip, the Tetrarch, thereby honoring both Caesar and Philip.

To those who have visited the sight, Paneas (Banias) offers an impressive view starting with a scenic spring that runs through the old city. Overlooking the spring from the hills above, sits the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to the pagan god Pan in addition to well preserved pillars and other artifacts. Under a cliff in the hill sits a large cave that was known as the Gates of Hell. In its first century heyday this became the site of decadence and fleshly pleasures. It was a popular place for Roman soldiers to visit while on leave. Its modern equivalent would be Las Vegas in terms of its decadence and immorality. Nothing was off limits.

What Was Jesus Doing There?

In the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he and his apostles took a detour to the north to the town of Caesarea Philippi. One is correct to wonder why this place? Certainly if they were looking for converts, this would not be a likely place. Yet, this appears to be a key turning point in Jesus’ ministry. While conversing with his apostles, the subject of who people thought Jesus was arose. In Matthew 16:14-19 (KJV) this exchange took place.

  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.
  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
  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.
  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.
  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Roman Catholic doctrine makes the absurd claim that at this time Jesus appointed Simon Peter as the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Clearly, our Lord was not establishing a hierarchy or official sectarian organization. What Jesus was proclaiming was that upon this rock or foundation truth was that Jesus was the Son of God and the basis for Christian belief.  Having fully established this foundation with His Apostles, they made the final turn towards Jerusalem where Jesus would give His earthly life as a ransom for all. 1 Timothy 2:6

And the Gates of Hell?

But what does the phrase, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” mean? Was Jesus speaking of a place of eternal torment for those who don’t accept His message? Or was there a different meaning altogether? From where our Lord and the apostles were standing, the Gates of Hell was a literal place at the temple of Pan. The Gates of Hell was the cave opening in the temple of Pan. It was not the morphed idea of Hell that many now hold, a place of fire and brimstone, of eternal torture for sinners. What Jesus is saying is that sin and decadence and human degradation, which those literal Gates of Hell exemplified,  would not continue forever. That by His sacrifice, humanity would be brought up out of the condition of sin and be made perfect in the resurrection and Millennium.

The Wages of Sin Is Death…Not Eternal Torture

No doctrine has created more Atheists and Agnostics than the idea that a so-called loving God would throw millions of His human creation into a literal lake of fire to be tortured around the clock, forever, in extreme and unfathomable pain. Those facing this destiny are sinners unless of course they become “Christians”.  The most abominable sinner, minutes before death who confesses Christ as their personal savior is saved and goes to bliss in Heaven, while the person who lived a good life and did well for others, who has not accepted Christ, is sentenced to eternity in Hell! While we are told in the scriptures, that Jesus Christ and he alone, is the only path to salvation there is far more to this fact than is often presented.

What about the millions of people who have lived and died without ever even hearing of the one name by which one can be saved? By the logic of those who make such a bold statement on salvation, their conclusion has to be that God has sent billions to eternal damnation without even giving them a chance to decide to accept Jesus or not! Does this sound like a just and loving God to you?

What do the scriptures actually say?  In the book of Genesis, we first become acquainted with the concept of sin and its punishment. Was that punishment eternal torment? NO! It was death. (Gen 2:17 KJV)  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. There is no mention of burning in Hell fire, just the loss of the gift of life.   (Ecc 9:5 KJV)  For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 

Burning With Fire Never Entered the Lord’s Mind

(Jer 19:5 KJV)  They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:  It appears that devoted but misguided Christians over the centuries have accused their Creator of an atrocity that never even entered His mind. According to traditional Christianity, Hell is a truly horrible place. This concept claims that God, a supposed God of love, has or is going to send the majority of the human race to an eternity of unbearable torture. In this place the pain will be extreme and never eased. It will be for day and night, forever and ever.

How can this be? We find in the above quoted scripture the entire concept had never come to His mind. In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the Hebrews, as they had previously, fell into the worship of pagan gods. The very first commandment given to Moses was that the people were to have no other gods before Jehovah, for we know in Scripture that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is “a jealous God.” These people had become so carried away in their worship of the pagan god Baal, that they were offering their own sons as a burning sacrifice.     

The Dead are Unconscious

(Ecc 9:5 KJV)  For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.  We are told numerous times in scriptures that the dead do not remain alive as spirit beings but are completely out of existence. (Ecc 9:10 KJV)  Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.  In the New Testament, prior to Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his Apostles that Lazarus sleeps. In reply, one of them said Lord if he sleeps, he does well. We know that when  a person is ill, the best way to get better is to rest and sleep. Jesus then made it clearer to them by stating -Lazarus is dead! Why did Jesus say at first he sleeps? Because death is like sleep. One is unconscious and knows nothing of what is going on, knows nothing of the passing of time.

Hell Is Not What You’ve Been Told It Is

Some would say that believers who do not acknowledge the idea of eternal torment, do not believe in hell. Nothing is further from the truth, the Bible clearly teaches that Hell is the punishment for sinners. Hell is not eternal torment rather the state of death. The Hell of the Bible comes from the translation of Hebrew and Greek words. Hell in the Old Testament is translated from the word She’ol – Strongs H7585. This is a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and unrighteous, regardless of moral choices made in life, cut off from life and from God. The Greek word Hades -Strongs G86 means death, hell, or pit. Another Greek word translated Hell is Gehenna – Strongs G1067. Gehenna is a small valley just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem that was once used as a place where the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire. Later it became a place where refuse from the city was thrown and burned. The bodies  of executed criminals were also thrown into Gehenna. The fire is said to have continually burned. This place was used by Jesus as a symbol of destruction. 

The Dictionary Definition of Hell

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, under “hell” says, ‘”From ‘helan’ to conceal.” The word “hell” thus originally conveyed no thought of heat or torment but simply a covered over or concealed place. In the old English dialect, the expression, “helling potatoes” meant, not to roast them, but simply to place the potatoes in the ground or in a cellar.” 

Collier’s Encyclopedia [1986, Vol 12, p. 28] says concerning the word “Hell” : First it stands for the Hebrew Sheol of the Old Testament, in the Greek, Hades of the Septuagint and New Testament. Since Sheol in the Old Testament times referred simply to the abode of the dead and suggested not moral distinctions, the word ‘hell’ as understood today, is not a happy translation.” 

Why Did Job Pray to Go to Hell?

In the Old Testament book of Job, we learn the experiences of a devoted man of God. The first verse of the book of Job says, “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” According to verse three, Job was a very wealthy man “he was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” 

In a cynical attempt by Satan, he approached God proclaiming that the only reason Job was so upright and faithful, was because he was blessed with riches and an easy life. God allowed Satan to test Job mentally and physically in the most extreme ways. First, Job’s children died and his wealth vanished, then his health was attacked and his friend’s and even his wife turned against him. At the height of Job’s misery, he did not renounce God but he asked God to hide him in Hell (Sheol) until God’s wrath had passed. In Job 14:13. Notice the word used for grave is the very same word – Sheol- that is mistranslated Hell – a place of torment. Clearly Job was not praying to be tortured in an even worse place but was asking for relief of his suffering.

Hell Is To Be Destroyed

In Scripture we are told over and over again, that the true penalty for sin is death – the loss of life. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are later told by the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor 15:26, that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Revelation 20:14 tells us “then death and Hell [Hades] were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the Second Death.” 

So according to Scripture, Hell is going to be destroyed forever. So how can it be a literal place of eternal punishment? Hell simply means death, destruction, the blotting out of life. 

But What About the Rich Man and Lazarus?

Our Lord Jesus while teaching often spoke in parables. This was perplexing to His followers. Some have argued that this was done to make His teachings easier for people to understand when in fact it was just the opposite! In Matthew 13:10 Jesus was asked, “Why do you speak to people in parables?” In verse 11 Jesus replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven has been given to you and not to them.” In verse 13 Jesus quotes from the Old Testament, “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” At this time the teachings of Jesus were only meant for His true followers, “a little flock,” those in the right heart condition to receive and appreciate His message. Most acknowledge that all of Jesus’ parables are symbolic of a greater message, yet Hell-fire proponents want to make the Rich Man and Lazarus literal. 

The Orthodox view of Hell as a place of literal torment is often based on the parable of the “Rich man and Lazarus.” While it is evident to most students of scripture that the Lord’s parables were symbolic, those advocating literal Hell-fire insist that this parable is one hundred percent literal. Luke 16:20-31, “But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,  desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’  But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’  “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,  for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’  Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

For those who see this as literal consider this– What is it the “rich man” did to merit an eternity in Hell? Is it a sin in itself to be wealthy? What is it that the “poor man” did to merit Heaven? Does being poor give someone a free pass to Heaven? In addition, if the rich man is literally in a Hell of torment, the poor man has to be literally in Abraham’s bosom! If Hell is as hot as many claim it to be, how in the world would one drop of water from Lazarus’ finger serve to cool the rich man? This parable is a symbolic picture of the Jewish nation at the time of Jesus’ first advent. The “rich man” is the nation of Israel, the poor man represents the gentile nations who were to receive the future blessings of Christ’s kingdom because of the Jews rejecting him.

“They Will Be Tormented Day and Night Forever” – Revelation 20:10

Advocates of the idea of eternal torture for those who reject Christ in this life often go to the above scripture to prove their point. Let’s look at it from their standpoint that these are three specific individuals – Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. Those would only be three beings and not billions of people. While we believe Satan is indeed an individual being, the other two are clearly false religious systems. So how could they be literally tormented day and night forever?!

Putting that argument aside, the real issue here is in a problematic translation. The word translated torment is more properly translated touchstone, which has the meaning “to test, measure, yardstick, benchmark.” In addition, the term “forever and ever” properly means “for the ages.” When properly translated, this passage simply means the memory of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet will be remembered contemptuously by the redeemed world of mankind forever as former things pass away. 

Man Does Not Have An Immortal Soul

In the garden of Eden, while testing Eve, Satan told the first lie that would result in six thousand years of sin and death. (Gen 3:4 KJV)  And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:  It is the standard belief of most religions that when we die we don’t actually die. That our spirit or soul is immortal. Depending on the religion, one’s soul goes to heaven or hell, or is reincarnated either into another human form or possibly something lower, such as animals. 

(Gen 2:7 KJV)  And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  The word soul is translated from the Hebrew word nephesh, which means “a breathing creature.”  In scripture we are informed “the soul that sins shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20  An honest translation of the word immortal means that you cannot die, so you cannot die and be even more alive! By claiming that mankind possesses an immortal soul, false religion is serving to perpetuate Satan’s great lie–that we do not die!

This great lie is perpetuated throughout our world’s culture and traditions such as horror movies, holidays such as Halloween, and festivals such as Mardi Gras and the Day of the Dead. One can almost daily hear reference of loved ones looking down over us from Heaven or statements proclaiming the one who wronged us is going to burn in Hell.  

Concluding Thoughts

This abominable doctrine, the doctrine of a burning Hell was invented by the beast, “the Papacy,” is thankfully false. Our Heavenly Father is a God of love. It is much more logical to believe that the one who gave us life would simply take it away or blot us out of existence if we do not meet His standard of righteousness. The Heavenly Father would not create beings that He gave free will to and were also immortal from the moment of their creation, without being tested to prove their worthiness to Him and His plan for the world of mankind. Man must be brought up to perfection, and even then must remain loyal to righteousness to have eternal life. Only Jesus and the Church, after being tested, are granted immortality! 

The passages from Isaiah 25, verse 6 thru 12, are a perfect illustration of our God’s true plan for mankind. Yes, God’s little flock, His true Saints, the 144,000 and the Great Company, will spend an eternity in Heaven. The rest of mankind upon being raised up to perfection in the 1000 year day of judgement, as mentioned in Revelation 20, will be blessed with eternal life on this Earth restored to perfection.