Posted by Tim Harrelson

Jesus Offers a Rescue for Bullies

Truly this man was the Son of God!” In Jesus’ time, a common way to execute a criminal that was not a Roman citizen was to crucify him. Today, crucifixes are worn around the neck, on bracelets or anklets as pendants, all over T-shirts, or on any part of the skin as a tattoo. It’s interesting how things change over time. It’s more interesting to hear this quote in the context it is spoken. A few hours after nailing Jesus to the cross, this Roman centurion[1]observed Jesus give up his life, crying out with his final breath, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23:46) and “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This made an immediate impact upon the soldier for at least two reasons. First, it was unheard of that a crucified man would die that early in the process. It could take several days for a man to die by crucifixion, since the way one dies is by slow asphyxiation. Crucifixion was meant to be a tool for warning and humiliation for all criminals to see, which is why it was performed on a hillside, so all passing by got the memo. It was meant to strike fear in the hearts of all the would-be lawbreakers, as if saying “criminals beware.” The Roman guards, keeping watch over the victims, would supply them with sour wine mixed with numbing medicines to keep them alive as long as possible. The incentive to the drink was that the numbing medication took away some of the pain of the victim. So while you lived longer in such a condition, you also felt less pain. Furthermore, crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals. Normally, Roman citizens could not be crucified. Only foreigners that have committed heinous crimes could be crucified, including Jews.[2] Therefore, for a Roman centurion to see a man die within six hours of initially being nailed to the cross would be very rare. I would argue that it was so rare that it took the guard by such surprise so as to open his eyes to see that Jesus was the man he said he was.

Second, when Jesus died by crucifixion, he left an imprint no one else did when they were executed in such a way. Matthew, in his gospel, records certain miraculous effects that took place at Christ’s death, namely, that (1) the curtain of the temple was torn in two, (2) the earth shook, (3) the rocks were split, (4) tombs were opened, and (5) the saints who had died were raised to life and appeared to many (Mt. 17:50-54). Matthew writes, “When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” His eyes were opened to see the miracles as being linked to Jesus’ death and not some coincidental chain of events.

The point is this: the death of Christ surrounded a hardened, government-sanctioned executioner with such awe that it melted his heart and caused him to praise the one, true God. The good news is that since Jesus offered his life for those who took part in nailing him to a tree, he most certainly offers it to those 2000 years later who, in a different way, took part in the same act. While you may have made people cry, hide, fear, contemplate or even commit suicide, Jesus offers forgiveness. While this doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility in the matter(s) (you must make justice complete with those who you have wronged by seeking reconciliation through the process of asking and living out forgiveness), it does clear your guilt before God and gives you a new heart and desires to do good and to start down the path of making right the wrongs you have committed against others. Look to Christ. Be overwhelmed by his tremendous sacrifice for such a sinner who despised his Maker and looked only after himself. Repent and be restored. Then, go seek restoration with those whom you’ve wronged. May God bless you richly in Jesus Christ.


[1] A “centurion” was a military commander in charge of about 100 soldiers.

[2] All information on crucifixion taken from J.B. Green, “Death of Christ I: Gospels,” in The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament, under section title “Crucifixion in the Ancient World,” (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 265-66.