Our group hiked up to the Temple of Omrit today, reminding me again of the powerful statement the building made as Jesus and his disciples passed by.
This building once overlooked a busy intersection of travelers going between Damascus and Capernaum. Excavations continue to unearth more and more details about the site, including a broad Roman road directly adjacent to the temple.
The building was built to honor Caesar Augustus, who was known as the “son of the gods.” Omrit’s proud proclamation was that Augustus was the god-man. Fully god, fully man.
And the temple was standing when Jesus and the disciples made their way to Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16).
The most logical route for Jesus to take that day was right by the Temple. At the very least, they saw it on the hill as it towered over the Hula Valley.
Did Jesus mention it as they passed by? Did he even look at it?
I can’t imagine a more striking contrast for the disciples. They were following a man who had stopped storms, healed lepers and raised the dead. He could multiply food in the time it took to say grace. He claimed he could forgive sins. He had walked on water. In other words, Jesus was doing things only God could do.
The emperor? He couldn’t heal his own head cold.
So who was the fake, and who was the real deal? If there was ever going to be someone who was God incarnate, was it the powerful emperor or the simple rabbi? Would it be the man honored by Omrit’s temple or the man who owned nothing but the clothes on his back?
Three miles up the road, Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi. Another temple honoring Augustus as god was there. More temples honored Zeus and Pan. Statues and idols of multiple gods were on display.
With that cafeteria of religious choices surrounding him, Jesus asked the most important question his followers would ever need to answer.
“Who do you say that I am?”