A line drawing of a Roman Centurion. The upper portion of his armor, with his distinctive helmet, can be seen. He is staring at the camera.

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant and Jesus’ Authority

One of the most well known aspects of Jesus’ ministry was His miraculous healing ability. The gospel accounts are filled with stories of Him healing lepers, the diseased, and more. These miracles are used for a variety of reasons. Some demonstrate the love and compassion of God. Others are explicitly related to providing evidence that Jesus is God and that He can forgive sins. Interestingly enough, there is at least one instance where a healing is related to the topic of authority.

Both Luke and Matthew provide an account of a centurion pleading with Jesus to heal his servant. Shortly after the Sermon on the Mount, He comes to Capernaum. Matthew tells us, “…a centurion came to him, asking him, 6 and saying, ”Lord, my servant lies in the house paralyzed, grievously tormented’ ” (Matt. 8:5-6).

This account is impressive on a number of different levels. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but this Roman centurion still came to Jesus. Not only is a Gentile making this request, but he isn’t even asking for himself. He is pleading on behalf of his servant. Such an action may go against our preconceived notions about relationships between masters and servants. For some of us, the passage challenges our ideas of the first century in that regard. Sometimes we need to adjust our ideas of what we think that time period was like, and replace it with a more accurate view. Being well read in the Bible helps us achieve that. The second half of verse 6 tells us the seriousness of the situation, which helps explain one possible reason why the centurion sought out help. The phrase, “grievously tormented” is used. When I looked into those words for this article, the concept of excessive torture came to mind! That’s terrible indeed!

The record continues with these great words,

Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”

Matthew 8:7

The Centurion’s Great Faith

That would have surely been encouraging to the man. Wouldn’t it be for you? “Jesus of Nazareth listened to me! He is going to heal my servant!” Thoughts similar to these may have ran through his mind. Then the Roman does something unexpected.

“The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I am also a man under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and tell another, “Come,” and he comes; and tell my servant, “Do this,” and he does it’ ” (Matt. 8:8-9).

By relying on his understanding of authority as a centurion, the man displays an incredible recognition of Jesus’ abilities. This military man commanded many to do certain things. He spoke words, and individuals obeyed him. This was part of his position as a centurion. He applied a similar concept of authority to Jesus. He believed that if Jesus said something, it would be done.

He was absolutely correct. Jesus did have authority, and what He said happened. Although this may seem to come out of nowhere, this reminds me of God’s authority when He spoke creation into existence. I point this out because this is one of many miracles that point to Jesus being divine. God the Father has an awesome degree of authority, and Jesus does too.

Jesus’ response is something else. He actually marvels. “When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Most certainly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel’ ” (Matt. 8:10). Jesus’ comment may cause alarm in some. If Jesus knew everything, why would He have reason to marvel? Didn’t He know everything? He seems surprised to me!

I wouldn’t be worried by it. The Christ’s ability to change the world by speaking is still far and away different than what mere man can do. Even though the Lord was God in the flesh, He still had emotions and responded to events around Him. Sometimes He was angry. At least one time He cried. The human aspect of Him could still have an appreciation for actions and statements made by others. Such seems to be the case here.

As the verse continues, Jesus’ words also teach us that this centurion was indeed a Gentile. He was not a Jewish convert, even though he built a synagogue for the Jews (Luke 7:5). Perhaps it was through the children of Israel that this man heard of Jesus and was willing to ask Him to heal his servant. Whether directly, or as delegated to Jewish elders and friends, the man had the faith to ask for help (Luke 7:3-6). 

At the end of Matthew’s account, it tells us that Jesus Christ did speak, and the servant was healed. He did not step foot under the man’s roof. “Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go your way. Let it be done for you as you have believed.’ His servant was healed in that hour” (Matt. 8:13). Jesus heals a servant He doesn’t even meet. He heals because someone else had faith and pleaded for Him. The Lord had compassion, spoke with authority, and it was done.

Jesus’ Additional Statements

However, is that all that Matthew’s biography tells us? No, it isn’t. The Gospel of Matthew includes an additional series of statements.

“I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, 12 but the children of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12).

After speaking of the centurion’s great faith, Jesus continues His thought. In verse 10 He speaks of a Gentile’s faith, and then those from the east and the west. As in, those who are separate from the Jewish people. These will sit with the Patriarchs in the Kingdom of Heaven (vs. 11).

The Lord then changes the subject. He describes the children of the Kingdom, which is an obvious reference to the children of Israel. This is made especially clear when we remember that Jews had a high regard for the physical kingdom of King David, had a desire for its restoration, and that Jesus spoke of a coming Kingdom at the beginning of His ministry (Matt. 4:17). Outside of the differing subject, the Lord also says that the children of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness (Matt. 8:12). There will also be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

These references to the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth are stunning. They, and others, prove to me that Jesus was sometimes a fire and brimstone preacher. They were actually the first part of the New Testament that really stuck with me when I read the Bible for the first time in 2005. I remember being dumbfounded and taken aback when I first came to this passage. I really didn’t know what they meant. All I knew was that this was bad.

I know that is simplistic, but it’s the truth. I don’t have too much more to share about these two verses other than a few comments. I know they aren’t comfortable. However, they were recorded because God knew we needed to read it. At least I know I did. All of the Word of God is valuable, and those who teach the Scriptures should share the whole counsel of God to the best of their abilities.

That is one reason why I quoted those two passages above. I will be judged by what I say, and also what I omit. As long as I quote it, at least I will be making an honest attempt to share the Bible with others, including the more difficult portions.

We know from other passages that God is light, and we can draw near to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6; 1 John 1:5). The phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” appears to be a particularly Jewish statement. It is found in Luke 13, but in Matthew it is shared repeatedly. Please also see Matthew 22:13, 24:51, and 25:30 for other examples. If you do so, you will recognize that it is not an isolated case. God knows that there is a place of torment that is outside His presence, and He has the authority to send people there. By speaking of it, I can only assume that Jesus knew that some would be more likely to respond to Him in faith if they were warned of the consequences of rejecting Him.

He wants all of us to be in His presence forever instead. He does not wish that anyone should perish (2 Pet. 3:8-9). By healing the centurion’s servant, we see a great demonstration of His authority that we should respect. He responded to the man’s faith, just like He will today.

Image Used

The Roman Centurion by macrysstina from Pixabay.