Caesarea Maritima (by the sea) was one of our first stops on our Israel tour and is very important site in the Holy Land because of its many archeological remains and significance during the life of Jesus and birth of Christianity. Considered one of the three most important Roman cities during Roman rule, King Herod built an impressive palace which jutted into the sea. The city also boasts archeological ruins of a Roman theatre, hippodrome, ampi-theatre, colossal statues and an extensive network of aqueducts. Herod dedicated the city to his patron Caesar Augustus, by naming it after him.
Situated along the Mediterranean between TelAviv and Haifa the site of where Caesarea is located was first established by Phoenicians as a port because of its many bays and location on the Great Sea. It also flourished during the Greek period because of its access to Greece by boat. Herod capitalized on its location and cultural significance by extensively adding to the city’s building and architecture, and it became an important seaport for trade. North of the city, an extensive system of Roman aqueducts can still be seen (as pictured). Because of the city’s significance, it became the capital of Judea, thus playing an important historical role in ancient Israel.
Caesarea figures prominently in the Bible. It was the home of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea during the time of Christ, and it was here that Pilate wished to return. It was also home to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, who had received a vision from God to call for a man, Peter, from Joppa. “At Caeserea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa” (Acts 10:1-8).
In response to what the Lord had showed Peter, that nothing that God called clean was to be called unclean, he responded to Cornelius and came to Caesarea. “The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said; “I am only a man myself” (acts 10:23-27).
Cornelius then explained his vision and Paul his and “then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10: 34-46).
This was the first time that the gospel message was brought to the Gentiles and they received it with joy. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:44-46).
Not only did the Gentiles receive the message, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized! This event heralded the beginning of the gospel’s universal message to both Jew and Gentile.
Caesarea is also known for another prominent event that took place later in the life of another significant apostle, Paul. In spite of the warnings from friends and prophets, Paul had determined to go back to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey. Paul aroused the whole city who was up in arms by his presence. As he was being dragged out of the temple, he addressed the crowds, telling them of is dramatic conversion;. The crowd wished to throw him over a cliff, but he was ordered to be imprisoned. Here Paul disclosed that he was a roman citizen.
The next day Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin and addressed them, but he caused a stir between the Sadducees and Pharisee’s over the issue of the resurrection of the body When they discovered that a plot to kill Paul was in place, the Romans ordered troops to bring him to Caesarea. “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor” ( Acts 24:1). He gave his defense before the governor of the time, Felix. “Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs” (Acts 24:22-23).
Paul stayed under house in Caesarea for two years and then Felix was succeeded by Festus as governor. He invited King Agrippa and Paul was received with much “pomp and splendor” in Agrippa’s palace.When Paul appeared before the new governor, he appealed to Caesar. Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25: 10-12).
Paul spent several years in Caesarea imprisoned in Agrippa’s palace built by Herod, similar to his experience of ‘house arrest’ in Rome, but without as many freedoms. The place of Paul’s hearing was in Herod’s palace as pictured in what remains of it today. This is further evidence of the importance of Caesarea politically, spiritually and economically.