Located in the northeastern part of Israel at the foot of Mount Hermon, lay Caesarea Philippi, a pagan city built by Herod Philip, a son of Herod the Great.
For many years, people in this area had worshiped false gods, including Baal (Josh. 11:16-17; 12:7). And several miles away, in the city of Dan, King Jeroboam had set up the golden calf on a "high place" (1 Kings 12:25-31). During Jesus' time, the people in the region worshiped many Greek fertility gods.
At the base of a cliff more than one hundred feet high, people built temples and shrines dedicated to various gods, including "Pan," the fertility god of the mountains and forests. (In fact, the ancient name of Caesarea Philippi was Panias named after Pan.)
This cliff could also be referred to as the "Rock of the Gods," because idols and statues of gods and goddesses were placed into small openings cut into the rock.
In the midst of this pagan self-indulgence, Jesus challenged his disciples to deny themselves and follow him. Christians today must also have the courage to boldly live out Christ's message in a pagan society.