Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus and the disciples went on up to the region around Caesarea Philippi – this is not the town of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, but a town in the area north of the Galilee, north from Bethsaida. In this region was a temple to the Greek god Pan, built around a great cave, which is still there, though the temple itself is ruins – a few niches in the stone around the cave, a few columns. From the mouth of the cave a stream once cascaded (earthquakes since have changed the course of the stream and it now comes from beneath the rocks), one of 3 rivers that come together to make up the Jordan, and feed the Sea of Galilee. People used to throw babies into the cave to appease Pan, who was thought to cause earth-quakes when he was unhappy.
Interesting, that it is in such a pagan place that Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought he was – their responses indicate confusion in those Jesus taught, the crowds. They thought perhaps Jesus was John the Baptist returned, or Elijah, or perhaps a prophet. “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” The word is translated “the Christ” in other places. “Messiah” in Hebrew, and “Christos” in Greek both mean the “anointed one”, meaning the “anointed one of God”. It refers back to the promises of Isaiah.
This revelation was a great step forward in understanding for the disciples – and yet, they would still misunderstand and fail Jesus many times. They were very human, the disciples as they are portrayed by Mark, stumbling, failing, misunderstanding. And yet, in the end, they followed Jesus, and established his church. We are not expected to be perfect, or to always understand, or get it right. We are simply expected to follow Jesus.