The large cave you see is actually where water used to run out into the stream. However, in 1837 there was an earthquake and now the spring runs out at a different spot. So imagine tons of water running out of the mouth of the cave, resulting in all the beautiful green of the area that is not typical for most of the landscape in Israel. People worshipped fertility gods and therefore this became a very religious area because of the fertility of the land. The life was brought through water, and life comes from god, so where the water is must be where the god is.
This place had idols dedicated to worship, pan, the god of fertility. So how do you worship a god of fertility? I don't know details but don't necessarily want to know. I learned that they would have orgies in front of the idols and I don't care to know more.
During Jesus' day, he spent 70% of his ministry in the religious triangle of Chorazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida. Now read Matthew 16:13-15. He's ready to complete his ministry and talks to the disciples here before he dies. Weird, huh?
I'd like to challenge you to rethink what rock Jesus told Peter he would build his church on. Imagine Jesus teaching his disciples on the mountainside that I took this picture and saying "on this rock." I know what rock I would have been thinking of when he said that (most people believe the rock he's talking about to be Peter's works or his confession). I now think Jesus is saying "this rock" meaning the rock where the gods are, representing the paganism of their culture, all of the ungodly, nasty sin. This is where he will build his church.
A deeper message of this place comes with the knowledge that this opening is called the Gate of Hades. They called it this because fertility gods would go into the underworld, or Hades, during the winter (this is why there was not rain) and if worshipped right they would return in the spring bringing fertility, or rain, to the land.
Jesus says, "I will build my church on this rock. And the gates of hell will not stand against it." We know that gates are built to protect things. Jesus is calling us as a church to not be immersed in the culture, but take Jesus amidst it all (movies, sports, food, etc) and attack the gates of the paganism of our culture.
I have been rethinking the way I live my life. Am I living offensively to attack my culture or to form a bubble that I find myself helpless to love those outside of my bubble. My prayer is that as a church we may work to offensively attack the gates of Hades in our culture!