The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15:38-39 NIV)
A Roman centurion is a general who is in charge of 100 soldiers. This centurion would have been responsible for looking after Pontus Pilate and carrying out his orders. He would have seen many crucifixions in his lifetime. Somehow Jesus’ death on the cross is different from the other crucifixions he has observed. As Jesus dies on the cross, he says, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Why does this Roman centurion call Jesus “the Son of God”? To start with, we must say this centurion is a Roman. He is not a Jew. He is unfamiliar with the Old Testament, which is the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore this Roman centurion does not understand the term “Son of God” the way we know it. We understand the term “Son of God” to mean God’s Son, the second person in the Trinity, who is God who becomes a human being. The Roman centurion has no such understanding of the term “Son of God”. For every Roman in the 1st century, the term “Son of God” is usually associated with the Roman emperors who are known to be divine in that culture. For example, the title for Augustus, the emperor of Rome is “Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome, Son of God”. Every Roman citizen is to bow before the emperor. The phrase that is used is “Caesar is Lord”. Therefore for this Roman centurion to declare that Jesus was the Son of God is something that is not expected of a Roman centurion. There is something about the way that Jesus dies which touches this Roman centurion’s heart. He is saying that he is willing to bow down before this Son of God, Jesus. I believe that in this Gospel, Mark is building his story towards this climax. Someone, who strangely is not of Jewish origin, declares that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is Lord.
This Roman centurion tells us that Jesus is truly the Son of God. We must all bow before Jesus. He urges us to think, do we have such understanding of Jesus?