It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:44-47).
A centurion was an officer in the Roman army that had the responsibility of overseeing a hundred soldiers. Centurions were usually career soldiers who were appointed based on their excellent performance. They formed the backbone of the Roman military. When it came to executions, a Roman centurion was a pro. It was his job and he knew that if the prisoner somehow escaped, then he and his men could lose their lives.
Imagine what it would be like to be the centurion stationed at the cross. He stood there and witnessed Jesus praying for his enemies, granting eternal life to the condemned criminal and making sure his mother was well cared for. It’s safe to say that the centurion had never seen anything like the death of Jesus. It was accompanied by darkness and an earthquake. He was deeply impressed.
The gospel of Matthew gives a more complete account: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54). This suggests that along with the one centurion there were other soldiers who acknowledged Jesus as the son of God, but it’s hard to know what they meant by that saying.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary states: “They [i.e. the soldiers] may have used the term in the Hellenistic sense, ‘a son of God’ referring to a divine being in a pagan sense. But the governor’s soldiers were probably non-Jewish natives of the land (see Matthew 27:27). If so, or even if they were Romans who had been assigned to Palestine for some time, they may well have understood ‘Son of God’ in a messianic sense….The darkness, the earthquake, the cry of dereliction convinced the soldiers that this was no ordinary execution” (Volume 8, page 582-582, ed. Frank Gaebelein, clarification added).
The Jewish establishment rejected Jesus and chose to kill him. In contrast, Jesus is seen most clearly as the Messiah and the unique Son of God in the events surrounding his death. Jesus not only laid down his life for his friends, but he laid down his life for his enemies as well. There’s no greater love than that!
Ultimately, the crowning proof that Jesus is the Son of God is not the testimony of Roman soldiers, it is the triumph of a resurrected life. It was the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and over 500 people saw him (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). And the good news is, he’s still alive to touch your life today!
Thank you, God, for the overwhelming historical evidence related to the resurrection of your Son. We confess today that Jesus is alive from the dead and Lord of heaven and earth. We celebrate your presence in our lives, living in us by your Spirit.
Have you ever been amazed at something God did in your life?