Roman Authority Encounters with Jesus

 

Celebrity status of Jesus of Nazareth quickly spread throughout the area. Inevitably the news of his famous miraculous healing abilities would extend outside of Judea.[1] Many people, including those who were not Jewish, trusted enough in what they had heard or witnessed that they too believed Jesus could help them — including some Romans.

Soon after delivering the celebrated sermon of the Beatitudes, Jesus was in Capernaum where he made his new home.[2] Jesus had been run out of Nazareth when he proclaimed in a local synagogue that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy foretelling of the arrival of the Messiah.[3]

A Roman military officer sent some Jewish elders to approach Jesus with his request to heal his beloved servant.[4] Still at the Roman’ officer’s home, his servant was paralyzed, in terrible pain and near death.

Original Greek text word hekatontarches used in both Matthew and Luke is most frequently translated as “centurion” although it is not the specific Greek word, kenturion, for “centurion.”[5] The actual meaning of hekatontarches is a generic reference to “an officer in the Roman army.”[6] Whether centurion rank or not, he was a high-ranking Gentile officer in the Roman military.

As Jesus neared his home, the Roman military officer sent friends saying he was not worthy to allow Jesus into his house although he recognized a common trait shared with Jesus — each had “authority” to command. The Roman officer believed Jesus could heal his servant by merely commanding it.

MT 8:8-10: “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it. (NASB)

Marveling at the words of the Roman officer, Jesus told the crowd he had never seen such faith as this in Israel. Jesus told the friends of the Roman officer his servant would be healed just as he believed. It was confirmed later the servant was healed at the time of the command of Jesus.[7]

MT 8:10, 13 “Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed that very moment.” (NASB)

Next encounter with Roman authority was Procurator Pilate who served as the Roman government judge weighing the charges leveled against Jesus by the Jewish leadership. No friend of the Jews, Pilate had twice offended the Jewish nation; once by bringing Roman ensigns with effigies of Caesar into Jerusalem and the other by using the “sacred money” of the Jews to construct a Jerusalem aqueduct.

Pilate had to perform a difficult balancing act to avoid drawing the negative attention of Tiberius who had committed to honor the decrees of Augustus.[8] Previously, Caesar Augustus had issued a standing decree chiseled into a pillar of the Temple of Caesar to treat the Jews with moderation and anyone who transgressed the decree would be severely punished.[9]

On the surface, it would seem to many that Pilate would relish being able to crucify a Jew, no less at the behest of the Jewish leaders under the accusation of insurrection and tax evasion. Instead, Pilate repeatedly tried to free Jesus.[10] Crucifixion of Jews was commonplace by the Romans making Pilate’s treatment of the case of Jesus highly unusual.

Taking the accused aside, Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You the King of the Jews?”[11] Jesus acknowledged that he is a King, but not one of this world. Pilate went back to the Jewish leadership, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jewish leaders, however, continued to press Pilate.

Hearing that Galilee Tetrarch Herod, a son of the late King Herod, happened to be visiting Jerusalem, Pilate sent Jesus to him to be judged under the Tetrarch’s Galilean authority. Interrogating Jesus for a considerable length of time while the Jewish legal experts “vehemently” accused him, Herod determined that Jesus had committed no crime and sent him back to Pilate. Addressing the Jewish leadership again, Pilate said:

LK 23:15-16 “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.” (NASB)

Traditionally at the Passover, Rome would pardon a Jewish prisoner and as such Pilate represented a choice to the Jewish crowd – a robber, plunderer and murderer named Barabbas or Jesus called the Christ.[12] The crowd shouted back they wanted Barabbas released. Not having any crime to charge, Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus?[13]

Crying out, “crucify him,” Pilate pushed back on the crowd’s demands again asking, “Why, what evil has He done?”[14] Reaching the point he had no other choice to avoid a riot, Pilate made one more public statement to absolve himself of the mob-motivated killing of an innocent man:[15]

MT 27:24 “So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’” (NRSV)

Jewish religious leaders succeeded in getting what they sought, the execution of Jesus. Seeing the sign on the cross announcing the charge for which Jesus was being crucified, the Jewish leadership disliked the sign’s verbiage. Written in the three prevalent languages of Judea – Latin, Arabic and Greek – it read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”[16] Complaining to Pilate, they wanted him to add “he said” to the sign, but Pilate refused.

Lastly was the Roman encounter at the crucifixion of Jesus. The Roman centurion, kenturion, in charge of the execution squad became a central figure.[17] The sun failed, the earth quaked and hearing the final words of Jesus, the hardcore Roman centurion made an excited utterance at the death of Jesus:[18]

“Truly this was the Son of God!”

Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus, but Pilate was surprised that Jesus was already dead and wanted wanted confirmation. It was the responsibility of the centurion in charge of an execution to officially reported to Pilate that, in fact, Jesus was dead. Once his early death was confirmed by the centurion, Pilate approved the centurion to the release of the body of Jesus to Joseph.[19]

Romans typically despised Jews, yet three witnessing Roman government authorities said otherwise. One military commander recognized the authority of Jesus to miraculously heal; another serving as a Roman judge found no guilt in Jesus; and the centurion in charge of his crucifixion exclaimed Jesus was truly the Son of God.

Are the statements and actions by these Romans consistent with the Gospel’s teaching that Jesus is the Messiah?

 

Updated December 2, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 4:24-25.
[2] Matthew 5-7, 8:5; Luke 7:1.
[3] Isaiah 61:1-2; Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:16-30.
[4] Matthew 8:5-6; Luke 7:2-10.
[5] Mark 15:44. kenturion <2760> Net.Bible.org. n.d. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2760>  “G2760.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2760.html> CR Luke 23.47.
[6] hekatontarches <1543> Net.Bible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=1543>  “G1543.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/1543.html>
[7] CR Luke 7:10.
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter III.1-2. n.d. <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=Augustus&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.3-4. n.d. <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=Augustus&f=false>  Calmet, Augustin. Calmet’s Great Dictionary of the Holy Bible. Pilate. 1813. <https://books.google.com/books?id=FgM2AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP305&lpg=PP305&dq=Pilate+banished,+Vienne&source=bl&ots=fIZ2ZHY3xl&sig=ACfU3U101WIrN_RVsnslwXcQIHIdEdILGw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiJxYrQpYbnAhUJOisKHZ5HB1gQ6AEwEHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Pilate%20banished%2C%20Vienne&f=false>
[i9] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapter VI.2.
[10] Luke 23:2-5, 22; John 18:37; 19:12.
[11] Matthew 27:11; John 18:33.
[12] Matthew 27:15-21; Mark 15:6-11; John 18:39-40. CR Luke 23:18-19.
[13] John 18:38-40.
[14] Matthew 27:23.
[15] Matthew 27:24; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:22; John 19:1.
[16] John 19:19-22. CR Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38.
[17] Mark 15:44. kenturion <2760> Net.Bible.org. n.d. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2760>  “G2760.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2760.html>  CR Luke 23.47.
[18] Amos 8:9-10; Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39.
[19] Mark 15:44-45. CR Matthew 27:58; Luke 23:52.

Angels Who Saw It Happen

Throughout the Old Testament, the Tenakh, angels delivered messages and prophecies, dispensed judgements, provided protection and bore witness to special events – some of the Bible’s most profound events.

An “angel of the Lord” called out to Abraham in the mounts of Moriah to spare the life of his only son, Isaac ; provided a substitute sacrifice; then delivered a blessing to Abraham and his descendants.[1] Abraham eventually became the patriarch of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Balaam’s donkey was blocked by an “angel of the Lord” when he attempted to go to King Balek on his own volition rather than first waiting to see if the King summonsed him. While Balaam was allowed to proceed with meeting Balek, the angel commanded Balaam to only say to the King what God instructed him to say.

King Balek wanted Balaam to place a curse on the Hebrews in an effort to prevent them from defeating his own nation. Balaam prophesied instead that a future star would shoot out from Jacob and a scepter would arise from Israel.[2]

Judgement was dispensed by an “angel of the Lord” for King David’s sin of failing to have faith in God’s promise of protection by enumerating the warriors to determine the strength of his army.[3] To obtain forgiveness for his sin, at the direction of Gad the prophet, David built an alter and offered a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Moved by the events, David issued a royal command that this location on Mount Moriah would become the future location of the Temple.[4]

Mouths of the lions were shut by “His angel” protecting Daniel when King Darius had him thrown into the lion’s den.[5] Later, the angel Gabriel interpreted for Daniel his vision of the 70-week prophecy.[6]

Gabriel would again appear hundreds of years later in the Gospels. First, the angelic messenger of God appeared to the priest Zechariah in the Temple to announce that his older and barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son to be named John.[7] Their son would later become known as John the Baptist, the forerunner messenger of Jesus of Nazareth.[8]

LK 1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”

Six months later, Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing, “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”[9] Her husband, Joseph, was unaware of God’s message to Mary and considered divorcing her for infidelity. Before Joseph reached a final decision, “an angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph in a dream informing him that Mary’s conception was from God to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy – she was not by pregnant by another man.[10]

Shepherds in the field outside of Bethlehem were visited by an “angel of the Lord” whose appearance shone around him. The Greek word phobeo is translated as “terrified,” “greatly afraid,” and “terribly frightened” – the hard-core shepherds wanted to flee.[11] Calming the shepherds, the angel told them not to be afraid because he was bringing good news and great joy for everyone: 

“for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[12]

Instructed by the angel to go into Bethlehem, the shepherds would find the a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger; very specific and unusual information. In a small town, finding a newborn baby in a stable lying in a manger rather than an inn … what are the odds of finding more than one?

As the minds of the shepherds whirled from this sudden, unexpected angelic encounter, a more spectacular event occurred – a host of angels appeared in the sky. “Host” is translated from the Greek word stratia meaning a vast number of troops; a number so great it is likened to the countless number of stars in the sky.[13] In the largest angelic appearance ever recorded, a multitude of angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[14]

Two men in dazzling clothes witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus, according to the initial empty tomb encounter chronicled in Luke, albeit the account does not identify which of the two angels spoke to the women. Matthew and Mark only describe one angel who spoke to the women at the tomb although it does not mean a second angel was not present.[15]

Confirming two angels appeared at the empty tomb is the witness statement of Cloepas who also used a plural reference indicating more than one angel was at the empty tomb. Noteworthy is the Jewish Law that required two witnesses to establish a legal fact.[16]

Written by the same author of Luke, the Book of Acts describes two men dressed in brilliant white clothing appearing to the witnesses from Galilee who were fixated on seeing Jesus rise from the ground into the clouds.[17] The two men are described in very similar terms as the angels at the empty tomb. Many Bible experts consider these two angels at the Ascension to be the same angels who were at the empty tomb.[18]

In both instances – the Resurrection and Ascension – the angels asked the witnesses why they marveled at what they were seeing? Reflected in their questions, the angels seemed to be puzzled by the human reactions at what the angel’s regarded as not all at surprising to them:

LK 24:4-5 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (NRSV)

Acts 1:10-11 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (NRSV)

If angels witnessed and participated in key events in the Old Testament, the Tenakh, does it then make sense angels would be heavenly witnesses to the events involving Jesus of Nazareth described in the New Testament?

 

Updated April 9, 2022.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Genesis 22:11-12, 15-18.
[2] Numbers 22:15 – 24:19. Commentary. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/numbers/22-22.htm>
[3] I Chronicles 21:1-30. 2 Samuel 24:10-17.
[4] I Chronicles 22:1.
[5] Daniel 6:19-21.
[6] Daniel 9:20-23. CR Daniel 8:15-18.
[7] Luke 1:8-21.
[8] Luke 1:17; John 3:28.
[9] Luke 1:26-38.  NRSV – Luke 1:31.
[10] Matthew 1:20.
[11] Luke 2:9. “phobeo <5399> NetBible.org. Luke 2:9. Greek Text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=5399>
[12] Luke 2:11. NASB.
[13] “stratia” <4756> NetBible.org. Luke 2:13. Greek Text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=4756>
[14] Luke 2:14. NKJV.
[15] Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:4.
[16] Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:2, 13. CR Matthew 28:2-8; Mark 16:5-7;
[17] Acts 1:10-11.
[18] Commentary. Acts 1. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/acts/1-10.htm> “Ascension.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ascension-Christianity>

Demon’s Recognition of the “Son of God”

 

Gospel accounts of the supernatural realm of principalities recognizing Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God occurred in a specific hierarchical sequence. Before Jesus was born, Matthew and Luke accounts report the birth was announced by God through an angel saying that Mary miraculously conceived her baby by the Holy Spirit with Luke reporting he would be the Son of God.[1]

As an adult, God Himself was the first to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Voice of God called out: [2]

MK 1:11 “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

John the Baptist himself testified to what he had seen and heard that day when he baptized Jesus of Nazareth:[3]

John 1:32-34 “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (NKJV)

Fasting for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism, Satan approached Jesus in his emaciated condition. In the second recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, Satan cunningly began his temptations by saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” Rebuffing the temptations, Jesus quoted from the Scriptures.

Beginning his public ministry, Jesus traveled from Nazareth to a Capernaum synagogue where he taught. A man in the audience was possessed by an “unclean demon” and its voice cried out: [4]

LK 4:34 “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!” (NKJV)

Paying close attention to the pronouns using the word “us,” the demon spoke on behalf of other demons, then spoke for himself. Commanded to be silent and to come out of the man, the demon threw the possessed man down with convulsions before leaving him unharmed. Those who witnessed the exorcism were “amazed” exclaiming Jesus was someone of authority and power prompting his fame to quickly spread.[5]

It would not be the only instance when demons proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. Mark and Luke wrote that whenever demons saw Jesus, they forced their hosts to fall down before him crying out, “You are the Son of God.”[6]

Matthew, Mark and Luke record another especially harrowing encounter with demons in the Gerasenes (Gararenes) region.[7] The incident occurred after the miracle of calming the storm during a journey across the Sea of Tiberius (Galilee) to the Gentile side in present-day Syria.

Living naked among the tombs, restraints on the possessed man were useless – chains and shackles would only be broken into pieces. Out of fear, people obviously avoided the area of the tombs.

Mark and Luke accounts say there was just one possessed man while Matthew’s Gospel says there were two. Note that Mark and Luke based their accounts on witnesses’ memories while Matthew very well have been present. The difference does not mean there was not a second demon-possessed man. In all accounts, multiple demons were are referenced.[8]

Arriving on shore, the head demon spotted Jesus and forced its host to run and bow down before him. A voice of one demon cried out asking for mercy:

MK 5:7 “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” (NKJV)

Asked for his name by Jesus, the demon-voice answered said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”[9] When Jesus commanded the demons to come out, Legion begged Jesus for mercy not to be thrown into the abyss; instead, asking that they would be allowed to enter a nearby herd of swine.[10]

Begging for mercy to the Son of God, the demons recognized that Jesus had complete power and discretion over them. Granting their request, Jesus allowed the demons to enter a herd of pigs which then charged down a steep hill into the sea and drowned.

Herdsmen of the hogs ran into the town and told their story of what had happened. A crowd gathered, went out to see for themselves and found the former fearsome, demon-possessed man clothed and calmly sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Fear gripped the crowd and they implored Jesus to leave them alone. Jesus honored their request telling them to return to their homes, then sailed back across the sea. Meanwhile, the healed man proclaimed throughout the town what Jesus had done for him.

Pharisees became involved and accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, another name for Satan.[11] In a response, Jesus asked two rhetorical questions:

LK 11:18-20 “”If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (NKJV)

Accounts of the exorcisms carried such a degree of credibility, the enemies of Jesus eventually believed the witnesses as is demonstrated by the sons of the high priest of Judaism. The Book of Acts, written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, recounts another demon encounter, but this one did not end well.

Some Jewish exorcists, the seven sons of high priest Sceva, attempted an exorcism. They tried to invoke the name of Jesus saying to the demon, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”[12]

Not impressed by the authority of their command, the demon retorted, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?”[13] The demon reacted by causing the possessed man to overpower the seven sons and beat them to a point they ran from the house naked and bleeding. According to the author, word of the incident spread throughout Ephesus causing fear and praise for the name of Jesus.[14]

In the supernatural realm, God was the first to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as His own son. Secondly, Satan recognized Jesus as the Son of God, then followed by the demons who recognized that Jesus had power over them and bowed down to him as the Son of God. If God, Satan and his demons recognized Jesus as the Son of God, what then should mortal people believe?

 

Updated December 19, 2022.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 1:30-32, 35. CR Matthew 1:20-22.
[2] Mark 1:11. Luke 3:21-2. NKJV.  CR Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 4:16-28; John 1:32-33.
[3] NKJV.
[4] Luke 4:34. NASB. CR Mark 1:24.
[5] Mark 1:27-28; Luke 4:36-37.
[6] Mark 3:11; 9:17-27; Luke 4:41, 6:18. NKJV.
[7] Matthew 8:29-34; Mark 5:1-13; Luke 8:26-39.
[8] Matthew 8:28. NetBible.org. Footnote 1.  Kant, Garth. WND. “How skeptic turned demon hunter.” photo. 2016. <https://www.wnd.com/2016/08/all-american-girl-turns-skeptic-into-demon-hunter>  
Matthew 8:28. BibleHub. “Commentary.” n.d. <https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/8-28.htm>
[9] Mark 5:9. NET.
[10] Luke 8:29-33.
[11] Matthew 9:34; 12:22-24; Mark 3:20-30;. Luke 11:14-23.
[12] Acts 19:13. NET. Acts 19:13-17.
[13] Acts 19:15. NET.
[14] Acts 19:13-17.