The Temple Jesus passed on the way to Matthew 16

At first glance, the prominent hill in the Golan Heights seems to be in the middle of nowhere. But take a hike past the rusty fences that warn of land mines, and you’ll soon see another example of how archeology is bringing the Bible to life.

Omrit horizontal

The “Temple of Omrit” lies in the shadow of the snow-capped Mt. Hermon, at the northernmost part of Israel. Only three miles away, Jesus would ask his disciples a point-blank question: “Who do you say that I am?”

Before 1967, the hill served as a Syrian military bunker. It overlooks a key intersection at the northern-most end of the Hula Valley, the fertile land that today belongs to Israel.

Two thousand years ago? It belonged to the Romans.

Within the past decade, archeologists have uncovered a temple built to honor Emperor Augustus on the hill, just a short hike from the Khirbet Omrit community. The “Temple of Omrit” and the ancient road beside it provide a stunning look into one of the most important passages in the New Testament.

Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, we learn in Matthew 16, where he would soon proclaim, “On this rock I will build my church.” Just before they arrived at their destination? They walked past a temple built to honor the emperor … as if the emperor was a god!

The contrast between two men could not be more pronounced. One controlled the Roman Empire. The other was a penniless rabbi. The emperor was being called the son of the gods. The rabbi was walking on water, multiplying food instantly and healing people with all kinds of diseases. Some whispered that he was the son of God.

Just three miles past the Omrit Temple, Jesus demanded from his followers an answer: “Who am I?” he asked. It’s a question that still hangs in the air wherever the lesson is taught.

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