The Centurion

In Mark, only at his death did the Roman centurion who was present at his execution recognize who Jesus was

In Mark, all men prove incapable of recognizing who Jesus is, even his disciples. The only exceptions are John the Baptist and the Roman centurion at Golgotha, the man in charge of his execution. Mark has threaded this theme throughout his gospel to make the point – The Messiah cannot be understood apart from his death on Calvary.

Scripture, John the Baptist, and the “voice from heaven” all confirm his identity. Moreover, his healing miracles and authority over demonic forces attest that he is the “Son of Man.” Even the “unclean spirits” exorcised by him recognize him and declare him to be the “Son of God.”

But DESPITE all this, men remain confused about who he is. Even his family and closest associates fail to recognize him as the Son of God. Apparently, he is not the kind of Messiah everyone expects.


After the heavens are “rent asunder” at his baptism, the voice from heaven declares that he is the “Son of God.” The term rendered “rent asunder” translates the Greek verb schiz┼Ź, which means “to rend asunder, cleave, split open.” In Mark, it occurs only at his baptism and when the veil of the Temple is “rent” at his death.

Moreover, the “rending” of the heavens alludes to the passage in Isaiah when the prophet longs for Yahweh to “rend the heavens” and make His name known throughout the earth. Mark expects his audience to recognize this verbal allusion since, in Christ, the name of God will indeed be manifested before all nations - (Isaiah 64:1-2, Mark 15:38).

In the town of Capernaum, Jesus casts out an “unclean spirit” that recognizes him as the “Holy One of God.” The men around him are all astounded and ask, “Who is this?” Despite his impressive deed, to them, he remains unrecognizable, though the demons certainly understand who he is and the danger he poses to them (“Are you come to destroy us?”).

This pattern repeats several times in the gospel of Mark. Though demonic spirits recognize him, men and women do not, including members of his own family and his inner circle of disciples - (Mark 3:11-12, Mark 5:1-7).


Proximity to Jesus does not mean recognition. The “scribes” from Jerusalem cannot deny his ability to cast out demons, but rather than acknowledge that he does so by divine authority, they charge him with casting out demons by “Beelzebub, the prince of demons” - (Mark 3:21-30).

By his word only, he calms a storm raging across the Sea of Galilee. In great fear and confusion, his disciples ask one another, “Who is this, that even wind and the sea obey him?” Even a tremendous display of power over nature is insufficient for them to recognize the Messiah of Israel - (Mark 4:36-41).

One day, Jesus heals the daughter of the local synagogue leader who is dying, leaving the crowd amazed but dumbfounded, and still ignorant of his identity. Even his ability to raise the dead is insufficient to convince anyone that he is the Messiah - (Mark 5:21-43).

At one point, he returns to his hometown and begins teaching in the synagogue. Many who hear him start to question who he is. Rather than rejoice that the “Son of God” is present in their village, the people of Nazareth are “offended by him.” (Mark 6:1-6).


After he miraculously feeds five thousand men, he departs to a mountain to pray. When the disciples cross the Sea of Galilee by boat against a contrary wind, Jesus appears suddenly and walks on the water. He identifies himself, enters the boat, and causes the wind to cease.

Previously, they saw him calm a great storm, yet this stupendous display fails to convince them about who he is because “their hearts are hardened” - (Mark 6:45-52).

On the way to Jerusalem, momentarily, Peter begins to grasp his identity.  When Jesus asks, “Who do men say that I am,” he answers correctly - “You are the Christ!” But he then admonishes the disciples to remain silent on the matter, explaining that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

To this, Peter objects. The very idea that the Messiah will suffer torment and death is beyond the pale for a patriotic Jew. Nevertheless, that is exactly what it means to be the king of Israel - (Mark 8:27-38).

Whatever insight Peter may have gained is lost when he is confronted with the reality of the suffering Messiah. Nevertheless, his mission means exactly that - to endure rejection and death. Jesus rebukes Peter, recognizing Satan’s attempt to thwart him from his Father’s will - (Mark 8:31).

Likewise, Jesus taught his closest disciples that he must be “delivered up into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again.” And once again, they did not understand his words.

When he is put on trial, the High Priest demands of him, Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus responds, “I am he. And you will see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

Before the priestly leaders of the nation, he has identified himself as the Messiah. Now, there is no more doubt. But rather than accept him, they charge him with blasphemy, and the “chief priests and the whole council” condemn him to death - (Mark 14:60-64).

Ironically, the Roman governor confirms his messianic status when he has “King of the Jews” inscribed on the sign that is nailed to his cross. Yet, as he is hanging on it, Jewish spectators reject and mock him - (Mark 15:26).


During his death throes, the chief priests and scribes ridicule him despite the testimony of God, Scripture, his miraculous deeds, and his own sworn testimony before them. It is clear to anyone with “eyes to see” that he is the “Son of God” and the Messiah of Israel.

But the Temple authorities mockingly challenge him - “Let him come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even the two brigands crucified alongside him “were casting it in his teeth” - (Mark 15:26-32).

Only at Calvary does a human voice identify him as the “Son of God.” As he utters his last cry before death overwhelms him, the “the veil of the temple is rent in two from the top to the bottom,” and the centurion standing before the cross declares, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” - (Mark 15:37-39).

Thus, two related and significant events are caused by his death, the tearing of the Temple veil and the confession of the centurion. This is the veil that is before the Holy of Holies. Mark intends for us to connect the tearing of the veil with the centurion’s confession - (Exodus 26:31-37, Hebrews 9:3, 10:20).

Just as the “rending of the heavens” at his baptism produced a declaration regarding his status, so, too, the “rending” of the Temple veil produces the same confession, only now on the lips of the pagan centurion.

Only as Jesus is crucified does a human voice understand who he is, and paradoxically, NOT by any member of the Jewish nation, his family, or one of his disciples. Instead, it is the Gentile officer most likely in charge of the execution squad.

When Jesus reveals what it means to be the Messiah - humiliation and death - even his disciples are horrified. Nonetheless, only in his suffering and death are we able to grasp his identity and mission, and, consequently, what it means to be HIS disciple. As wonderful as miracles, signs, and wonders are, the true understanding of Jesus can only be found on Calvary.


His Superior Word

The Mission