The most isolated fortress in Herod Antipas’ territory, which was called Perea, was Machaerus.  Here you can see the flat topped mountain of the Machaerus fortress.  There are excavations of the fortress at the top.

John the Baptist baptized along the Jordan in Perea.  Josephus tells us that John was imprisoned at Machaerus. Everything changed in Jesus’ ministry when he and his disciples arrived back at Capernaum and heard that Herod had killed John and wants to see Jesus.  We understand what “see” means.  It is not a friendly visit!  Herod had just finished “seeing” John.  It was not good news that the paranoid fox, Herod Antipas, wanted to “see” Jesus.

The death of John may have been at the prison itself.  The fact that Herod was clamping down on people who were popular with the crowds was good for his relations with Rome.  Roman administrators liked local governors who weren’t afraid to clamp down anyone who was popular with the people, because the fear of the Romans was that the people might revolt.

There are many traditions for where the head (relic) of John the baptist is.  Luke tells us that Quirinius was governor of Syria and Herod Antipas would have ruled Galilee and Judea under Quirinius’ jurisdiction.  Thus, the best tradition for the location of the relic of John the Baptist is the one at the church in Damascus.  The Muslims purchased this church from the Christians, in exchange for building four new churches, so they could build a mosque on the site where the church is.  John the Baptist is named in the Koran.  The church remains as part of the mosque.  There are about a dozen other churches that claim they have the relic (head) of John the Baptist.  I had a student who once said, “Maybe that is why the Gospels say all of Judea went out to see John,” – he was implying that John had multiple heads!

The death of John the Baptist was a very sad time for Jesus and his disciples.  The government had killed the one who was heralding that the kingdom was coming and now Herod wanted to “see” Jesus.  Another way to phrase this is that there was a picture of Jesus along with others on the wall of every post office in Galilee – Jesus was a wanted man.  The crowds began thinning out and people would think twice about inviting Jesus and the disciples to their houses.

This is the difference between the two “sending out” episodes in scripture.  The first time they were sent out they were told, “Don’t take a cloak or a purse.  Someone will invite you to their house.”  Now, people would think twice about being associated with Jesus and the twelve.  It was far more dangerous than most of us are aware.

This leads us into the “withdrawal” section of Jesus life.  Jesus withdrew from Galilee, which means that he was withdrawing from Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee.  It is complicated because there are two people named Herod, and they are brothers.  Herod Antipas ruled Galilee (in the green on the map) as well as Perea (in the orange on the map).  His brother Herod Philip ruled Gaulanitis, which became the Golan Heights and Trachonitis (in light blue on the map).  Philip’s wife liked to go to Tiberias (in Galilee) to go shopping and while she was there she and Antipas became friendly.  Herod Antipas married her, the wife of his brother Herod Philip, even though she had not divorced Philip.  Philip was not on speaking terms with Antipas because of his immorality in stealing his wife.  And Herod Antipas did not dare go into Herod Philip’s territory and so the Gospels say, “Jesus withdrew to the district of Caesarea Philippi.”  Caesarea Philippi is at the base of Mount Hermon (not to be confused with Caesarea Maritima, which is on the coast.)

Whenever Jesus moves, we call this a “turning point” in his life.  There was a geo-political reason for the turning point that people in the first century would have been aware of but we are often not aware of.  So we call this the withdrawal section in the life of Jesus.  He withdrew from Galilee, which was ruled by Herod Antipas.

At Caesarea Philippi there is a grotto from which a branch of the Jordan River flows. There is a cliff with a cultic center that has five temples at the edge of Caesarea Philippi. It is the most pagan place Jesus and his disciples visited, though they did not actually go into the town. The Gospels are always careful to say they went to the “district” of Caesarea Philippi. It was not the tradition of Jesus and the disciples to enter Gentile, pagan cities.

It was not until we get to the story in Acts 10 that Peter, for the first time in his life, entered the house of a Gentile. Peter was pointing his finger at Cornelius and was saying, “You know it is unlawful for a Jew to mix with someone of another nation.” Not all rabbis believed that but this reflected Peter’s conservative background.

The first passion prediction by Jesus occurred at Caesarea Philippi. This relates to our subject of Servant Messiah. Mark 8-10 gives an outline broadly followed by Matthew and Luke. Most scholars believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be circulated in the church.

Three times Jesus predicted that he was going to Jerusalem and what would happen there. The most famous prediction was at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked the disciples who they believe he is. Most likely Simon Peter was anxious for the Lord to call on him for an answer. At this time Simon Peter was not the leader of the twelve by rather the one who represented them.

Peter was the kind of student teachers love. He was not afraid to guess even though he did not know the answer. The disciples have been discussing things and Peter is the only one bold enough to say, “You are the Messiah (Mark 8:29); you are the Messiah of God (Luke 9:20); and you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:16).” The Latter was probably Peter’s eventual full confession.

Then Jesus, like a good teacher, checked Peter’s answer. Is there any room for Servant Messiah in the mind of Peter? Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed to you, but my Father in heaven.” Jesus used the inductive style of teaching – What is your conclusion? Kings used the deductive style – I am king and you better obey me or you are in big trouble. Jesus’ style of teaching was consistent with the Servant Messiah notion and he was not intimidating or coercive.

Jesus told the disciples, “I must now go to Jerusalem and Suffer many things.” Peter said, “No Lord, Messiah does not suffer.” This response proves you can pass the exam and fail the course. You can be doctrinally correct and spiritually dead. You can have the right words but not the correct understanding of those words. The first passion prediction is given at Caesarea Philippi. The strongest rebuke or correction by Jesus of a disciple is at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus says to Simon Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”

I remind you that for Servant Messiah rebuke is always made with affirmation. “One day your name will be Peter. You will be given the keys to the kingdom. What you bind will be bound and what you loose will be loose.” This is an amazing responsibility for the church to speak in the name of God. It is interesting that the Servant Messiah rebukes but with affirmation. This is good advice for parents, teachers and clergy. Sometimes when someone is dead wrong they need to be rebuked. However, we have to make sure it is with affirmation. The affirmation that is presented in the Synoptic Gospels is sometimes the sentence before and sometimes the sentence after Peter’s Confession but it is associated with the rebuke. How different our lives might be if we included affirmation with every rebuke.