Summary: A narrative story from the perspective of the Centurion at the Cross of Jesus
"With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37-39 NIV
Some days are just so intense, so emotional, so different than what you expect, that you never forget them. You never want to forget them. It was that kind of day for Claudius. In fact, it was an intense day at the end of an intense week. It was Passover in Jerusalem. Claudius was a Centurion in the Roman regiment assigned to maintain the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, in Jerusalem. It was not easy, especially at Passover. Over 100,000 Jewish pilgrims came into the city for Passover, swelling its occupation many times. The Romans were greatly outnumbered, so keeping things calm was no easy task. While the Roman Empire was vast, encompassing many diverse countries, cultures, and peoples, the Roman method for keeping the peace was the same everywhere: Walk loudly and carry a big sword. In other words, let your presence be seen and felt. And, if necessary, put on a show of force to intimate and deter anyone who entertained ideas of rebellion. Otherwise, one spark and a fire could erupt.
Claudius was what you and I might call a career soldier. He had joined the Roman Army as soon as he was old enough and worked his way up to the rank of Centurion. That mean he was the commanding officer over 100 other Roman soldiers. Join the Army and see the world. To Claudius, it seemed that most of the world he had seen was made of sand. His latest assignment was Israel, where he worked under the command of Pontus Pilate, the Roman Governor. He was a good soldier, trained to obey his orders, which is exactly what he did. And on occasion, the order he received was to carry out a crucifixion.
Crucifixion was a dirty, rotten business. Claudius had worked his first one when he was just a “Private.” His stomach was not ready for the sound of the crack of the bone, the spewing of blood, and the cries of anguish. Crucifixions were designed to be the most humiliating and degrading of all deaths. In fact, Roman Citizens were never executed on a cross. They were beheaded. That is not pleasant, but at least it was instantaneous. During that first crucifixion he worked, Claudius could not stop himself from throwing up. By the time he found himself in Jerusalem for Passover, he had executed several dozen crucifixions. Honestly, after a while it did get easier, but it never got easy and he never got totally used to it.
He had just reported in for duty at the Fortress Antonia on Friday morning. Sunset that day would mark the beginning of Passover and the city would return to calm. One more day…One more day of Claudius roaming the streets, riding his horse, showing that strong Roman presence and the hard week would be finished. But it was not to be that simple.
As Claudius was approaching the Fortress Antonia to report for duty on Friday morning he heard the sound of a crowd coming down the street toward the residence of the Governor. Recognizing that it was far too early for such a large number to be moving through the streets even during Passover, he quickly made his way up to Pilate’s home to see what was happening.
When Claudius got there a crowd was already gathering out at the entrance. He asked one in the crowd what was happening. He stunned man replied, Jesus, the teacher, the prophet from Galilee has been arrested. The Chief Priests are going to ask the Governor to crucify him.
By the time Claudius got inside a dialog had already begun between the Jewish leaders and Governor Pilate. Pilate had to come out to the gate where the Jewish leaders awaited after delivering Jesus to him. They would not come inside the residence because it was a holy week for them and to enter into the home of a non-Jew would in some way damage their spiritual status. Claudius knew Pilate well enough to conclude (accurately) that he really did not enjoy the conversation in which he was engaged.
When Claudius got close enough to hear some of the talk, Pilate was saying I find no fault with this man. At that moment Claudius figured that Pilate would send them away and it would all be over quickly. Instead, with amplified intensity the charges against this Jesus were restated, He stirs up the people all over Judea. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here (Luke 23:5).