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.

Run out of Nazareth, Jesus had proclaimed in a local synagogue that he is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy foretelling of the arrival of the Messiah.[2] Soon after that, Jesus delivered the celebrated sermon of the Beatitudes and made his new home in Capernaum.[3]

Approaching Jesus in Capernaum, a Roman military officer requested him to heal his beloved servant.[4] 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]

Definition of hekatontarches is a generic reference to “an officer in the Roman army.”[6] Whether centurion rank or not, he was a high-ranking officer in the Roman military.

Not with him, the boy was still at the Roman’ officer’s home paralyzed, in terrible pain and near death. Recognizing a common trait they shared, the Roman officer saw that each had “authority” to command accordingly believing 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 and told the Roman officer his servant would be healed just as he believed. At the time of the command of Jesus, it was confirmed the Roman officer’s servant was healed.[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 in the Gospels was Procurator Pilate who served as the Roman government judge. For this scenario as part of this responsibility, he was tasked with weighing the charges leveled against Jesus by the Jewish leadership.

Previously, Caesar Augustus had issued a standing decree chiseled into a pillar of the Temple of Caesar to treat the Jews with moderation. Anyone who transgressed the decree would be severely punished.[9]

Appointed by Tiberius, Pilate had to perform a difficult balancing act to avoid drawing negative attention from Caesar. Tiberius committed to honor the decrees of his predecessor even though both viewed the Jews as troublesome.[8]

No friend of the Jews, Pilate had twice offended the Jewish nation, once by bringing Roman ensigns with effigies of Caesar into Jerusalem. Another time, he used the “sacred money” of the Jews to construct a Jerusalem aqueduct.

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

Questioning Jesus privately, Pilate asked “Are You the King of the Jews?”[11] Jesus acknowledged that he is a King, but not one of this world.

Agreeing with the judgement of Galilee Tetrarch Herod, Pilate said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” Continuing, the crowd pressed Pilate:

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, thus Pilate represented a choice to the Jewish crowd – a robber, plunderer and murderer named Barabbas or Jesus called the Christ.[12] Shouting back, the crowd wanted Barabbas released.

Not having any crime to charge, Pilate asked what was to be done with Jesus?[13] Responding, the throng yelled, “crucify him.”

Pilate pushed back on the mob’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 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, they 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, the Jewish leaders wanted him to add “he said” to the sign, but Pilate refused.

Lastly was the Roman centurion, kenturion in the Greek text, who became a central figure in charge of the execution squad at the crucifixion of Jesus.[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. Confirmed by the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate approved the release of the body of Jesus to Joseph.[19]

Arriving at three different conclusions, one Roman military commander recognized the authority of Jesus to miraculously heal; another serving as a Roman judge found no guilt in Jesus; and the Roman centurion in charge of his crucifixion exclaimed Jesus was truly the Son of God.

Not Disciples, followers of Jesus or even Jew, do the statements and actions by these Roman officials add credibility to  the Gospel’s proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah?


Updated January 5, 2024.

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[1] Matthew 4:24-25.
[2] Isaiah 61:1-2; Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:16-30.
[3] Matthew 5-7, 8:5; Luke 7:1.
[4] Matthew 8:5-6; Luke 7:2-10.
[5] Mark 15:44. kenturion <2760> n.d. <>  “G2760.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <> CR Luke 23.47.
[6] hekatontarches <1543> <>  “G1543.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <>
[7] CR Luke 7:10.
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter III.1-2. n.d. <>  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.3-4. n.d. <>  Calmet, Augustin. Calmet’s Great Dictionary of the Holy Bible. Pilate. 1813. <,+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> n.d. <>  “G2760.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <>  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.