Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.
THE death of Christ, we said, was at the same time a revelation and a concealment. All of His signs were that: also His last sign. Hence we can never understand the Christ or His signs without the Word. The fact simply is that He did not come to us without the Word.
This also became apparent in the moment in which God rent the veil, opened the graves, gave voice to Hades, disturbed hell, and had the heavens receive Christ.
That certainly was movement enough, tumult enough. But Jesus was silent; He said nothing: He did nothing. All was stationary. Every one felt embarrassed. No one could go either ahead or backwards. All of them stood hopelessly embarrassed. Here was one who had reflected upon the Christ, but his reflection could not progress because it was not based on faith. There was a person who felt perturbed in his emotions; but his emotion did him no good, because it was not based on faith. A third sensed a certain amount of devotion; but the devotion did him no good; it was not based on faith. The Nazarene was quiet now; all was at dead center.
Just look at Golgotha. Here was a man capable of reflection; the centurion. Here was a crowd who felt strong emotions, and beat upon their breasts. And here was a group of devoted people. “Jesus’ acquaintances,” these were, and His ministering Marthas and Marys. But these stand afar off and look on, and cannot place the experience any better than can those who were on the way to Emmaus. The whole constitutes a pathetic spectacle, and this time it has no dramatic power. Nevertheless, we want to step nearer and observe it.
There was, first of all, the centurion, the captain of a hundred: Who is he? We do not know. His Name? Some call him Longinus. His descent? Some look upon him as a German, others as a Roman, and still others as a Syrian. The course of his life? Many count him among the converted.
 Reflection in the sense of pondering, of combining various phenomena and of drawing a conclusion from the comparison.
But we do not know, and we may not leap to conclusions. We do not know the man, we do not know his thoughts, we do not know the kind of education he had. We know only that he was in the military service of Rome, that he had a first-hand acquaintance with the Roman world, and that on this day he was in command of those in charge of the execution.
But the man said something, and the Bible has preserved what he said. He said two things about Jesus: He called Him righteous, and he called Him a son of a god (Mat_27:54; Mar_15:39).
Now we may not permit him to say more than we can actually read from the text. Much as we would like to read a confession of faith in his words stating that Jesus was the Son of the living god, we may not, for the confession is not written here. We do not deny the possibility, but we may not create the fact In the original both the word god (the Greek language of the manuscripts has not capital letters) and the word son is used without the definite article. A son of a god, that is what is written. This is a very different statement from the one Simon Peter makes to Jesus. Thou art the Son of the (our) God, the living One. (Matthew 16). There the definite article is included before the word “Son” as well as before the word “God.” Hence, if we read the text carefully, and do not assume more about this pagan man than we actually know, we can say nothing about him except that he said: Truly, this was a son of a god. Even the paganism of that day had not completely lost the faith of former days which acknowledged the possibility of supernatural beings, children of the gods, special bearers of special qualifications. And when the old faith waned, the worship of Caesar presented the old gods in a new garb. We have only to put ourselves in the intellectual climate of the Orient, especially of the Romans, to know that these gave the same title to a Caesar, to Alexander, to Augustus, to Nero, which this centurion gave to the Saviour. We have simply to recall the case of Simon Magus, Simon the “Magician,” who was called the “power of God,” and the whole spiritual atmosphere of the time, in order to reduce the statement of the centurion to its proper proportions. We can infer no more from the utterance of the man than that he regarded Jesus as the bearer of supernatural qualifications. It was plain that a spark of divine life had undoubtedly fallen upon the Nazarene; the man hanging on the cross was certainly a friend, if not a messenger, of the other world; and his other remark to the effect that Jesus was righteous is in harmony with this view. The man was not playing any tricks. Jesus did not deserve to die among scoundrels. He represented more than men had guessed.
 In general, and also in respect to this particular text, see Robertson-Grosheide, Bekn. Gramm. op het Gr. N.T., Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1912, p. 136.
 Deissman, “Lich vom Osten,” 1923, p. 294-295. Dr. Zwaan, “Jesus, Paulus en Rome,” 1927, p. 167 f.
Therefore we may not see a conscious confession of faith in this utterance of the centurion. Perhaps someone would still like to point out, however, that he glorified God (verse 47), but the same expression is used to characterize the reaction of a whole crowd very often. The same designation is used to indicate the response of the masses to the wonderful things which they have seen (Mar_2:12; Luk_5:26; Luk_7:16; Mat_15:31). And certainly no one would say that the crowd at such time is making confession of faith.
Just what was it motivated this Roman military official to make this statement? If we read the text carefully, we will discover that he reflected upon the situation. His statement is the product of reflection, and not of emotion, even though we are told that the military representatives present there as a group feared greatly (Mat_27:54). Especially the manner in which Jesus had died captivated his attention. According to the account which Mark gives of it we learn that he was amazed by the death of Jesus. He had taken special note of “this case.” There was something about the man hanging in the center of the three which fascinated him. Standing directly overagainst Jesus, he saw that He had died “so.” The great calm, the mastery, the absence of all that was bitter and ugly, the triumphant trust in God, all this had caused him to reflect. Luke says that he had seen what was done. The Greek uses the singular here. In other words he had seen the thing which had been done. In the case of the crowd the plural is used. In other words, the masses had received an impression of all the miraculous signs taken together, of the earthquake, of the darkness, of Christ’s calling aloud. All these things together had astonished the masses. But the centurion had been especially attracted by one thing: namely, the manner in which Jesus had died. We might say that he had studied Jesus and that he could not rid himself of the impression that Jesus had not lost His life, but that He had surrendered it by an act of His will.
 It is true that according to Matthew the centurion as well as the soldiers, were amazed by the signs—and all that was connected with them; in Matthew’s account in this respect the military section of the crowd is regarded as a unit, and no further discrimination is made. The total impression of the “soldiers” was just as confused as was that of the crowd. But the centurion, perhaps a peculiarly sensitive mind, had given his attention to just that one point.
Now this intellectually accomplished conclusion about “Jesus” does not prove that the centurion was “in Christ.” We cannot even say that it is evidence of an “historical faith.” We know that an historical faith has a knowledge of the content of preaching, and unless the man goes beyond that point, he has not left the basis of an unforsaken heathendom.
Nevertheless this utterance coming from the centurion has its significance. Before the night had passed out, the sentence which Pilate imposed on the Christ was critically condemned even within the circles of the Roman soldiery. Next to the dream of Claudia we must now place this calm, reflectively attained, and sane utterance of the centurion. Both of these censure Pilate’s yielding to the jealousy of the Jews. Christ is given a good testimony, not only by the realm of dreams, but also by the mind of an honest and reasonable man.
However, that is not the only thing. From the incident of this captain of a hundred, we may learn that God’s lightnings are now reaching out further than they did formerly. This centurion is a representative of the pagan world. At this point we recall those oriental magi, who came to the Christmas celebration to greet the newborn King of the Jews. Just as those pagans from the Orient put Herod, his court, and the whole world of the scribes, in other words, the secular and the spiritual authorities, to shame, so these are now again put to shame by a heathen of the Occident, a man who neither through dreams nor through stars has reached his conclusion. Jerusalem no longer influences the East nor the West but is contradicted by both. The source of light is hidden from both. The pagans must do their own seeking, and they get farther than the blind of a forsaken Zion. Is it not true that God has made great progress in these thirty-three years which intervened between the two milestones? Is it not true that the history of revelation has moved apace to a higher level of the dissemination of power? Those magi first came to seek the king when a sign had appeared in heaven and only after many generations in which their learned colleges had arrived at a specific doctrine about a “king of the West.” This Roman centurion, on the contrary, had not studied the stars, nor pursued the message of a Messianic preaching. He suddenly encounters this brutal spectacle of practical soldiery. Nevertheless He gives God the honor. True, the magi of the East also had to enter a very ordinary house in order to find their king, but even there they simply could not forget the dazzling sign which had conducted them to the place. The house in which they found the child was very lowly, but nevertheless heaven had been perturbed because of it. This centurion, on the other hand, has seen nothing but sheer misery. Heaven had withdrawn its light and he sees hanging before him a person whom the people call a scoundrel. Nevertheless he praises God, and believes that in this broken man powers of the world to come are at work. Thus this centurion joins the company of those Greeks who, but a short time ago, had come to see Jesus (John 12). The majesty of the man Christ captivated him so entirely that he gives the same title of honor to this tattered and abused “Jew” which his people reserve for living Caesars. “Son of a god,” he calls Him.
Accordingly we can say that this is the moment of revelation in these affairs. Yes, the world of paganism reserves the title “son of god” for rulers even though they are unrighteous, are ridiculous, even though they are “beasts.” But now the first of these Romans comes and thinks it possible that a son of God can manifest himself in the form of a person who is robbed of all power, but who is righteous, holy, and full of spiritual majesty. Why should we say beautiful things about, the magi of the East, and nothing about this centurion? Is he not a messenger of other times? Is he not a messenger of the Christian era in which there will he room among the pagans also for the preaching that the powers of God are revealed in the broken Nazarene?
If we give our attention to the centurion alone, we gain nothing. He remains an open question to us. His reflection about the Christ is nothing without the power of the Word of revelation. He wants to explain Jesus’ life and nature and background on the basis of His dying, and it is necessary that he begin on the other side. Jesus’ dying can only be understood by the person who has allowed himself to be instructed about His essence and His origin. Besides, the reflection of the centurion does not touch upon the issue of guilt. He did not see the conflict of sin and of the devil. He does not beat himself upon his breast. He tries to place Jesus in reference to the ius and the fas, that is, in reference to the justice of men and the justice of God; but he cannot determine his own position overagainst these two. At best only a little of the truth that Jesus’ heels have been bruised will dawn on him; but the other truth that the old serpent’s head has been bruised can never dawn on him. Yes, if we look upon the man as he is in himself alone, there is little that is constructive and edifying in the account, But if we place him on the broad highways of the history of revelation, we see that he has his unique significance as an index of the progress of revelation and of the world-vanquishing power of the crucified Christ.
 De Zwaan, op. cit., p. 168.
Even on these two highways of the history of the revelation of God he has a prophetic power only as a symbol. We know nothing about him as a person. As such we need to know nothing about him any more than we need to know anything about the children of Bethlehem, in order to hear Rachel weeping in her fashion, and to appreciate the symbolism of that. Just so we need not know the centurion as a person in order to hear prophecy speaking in him. To us he is a sign of the change in the thinking of paganism. Everything has been put aside, his doctrine, his faith, his superstition. These can give him no satisfaction. He is in a condition of despairing confusion. The dead man hanging in the center of the crucified persons puts him in the position of dead center. Where in God’s name must he go now?
The same holds true of the crowd. As compared with the centurion’s reflection, they are moved by emotion. The crowd leaves the hill of Golgotha beating upon its breast. This is a sign of emotional disturbance and confusion. God’s signs had confused the crowd, and conscience did the rest. They have lost their equilibrium. No longer is there any room for their haughty mockery. The depressing question simply forces itself out: Can it be that something has happened here whose significance we do not appreciate? The emotion of the crowd goes a little farther than the reflection of the centurion. The centurion does not participate in the action, but the crowd does. And their beating upon their breasts can be explained as an expression of self-accusation, or of regret, even though the cause of this may simply be the sense that they have dispatched this Nazarene too quickly.
Again, however, if you take the expression of the crowd “in itself,” you will find nothing edifying in it. The faults of the centurion are repeated here. These perturbed folk also pass from the particular to the general. The circumstances of Jesus’ dying make every general utterance about His life, His nature, and His origin disputable to their minds. They also want to determine the nature of Jesus’ life on the basis of his death. Accordingly, their emotions can in no sense be regarded as an expression of repentance. We can even give their faith the name of “temporal faith.” At best it is an acknowledgment possibly of a specific sin committed against the Nazarene and His God, but it has no room for real sorrow because of sin, because of the state of sin which keeps life under the curse of death. The crowd, too, does not do the crucified Christ justice. After all, to witness many terrors does not suffice to convert. If this were true, hell would be the most infallible means of conversion.
Nevertheless, this emotionally perturbed crowd has its significance. We look at it from the viewpoint of the history of redemption. When, a few hours ago, Jesus had been led to the knoll of the cross, only the women shed tears for Him. Now the whole crowd is disturbed. Recall for a moment the celebration of Christmas eve. How God has progressed! On Christmas the problems of the King of the Jews were dispatched and decided in private conference with the magi; the crowd had no part in the discussion. Here, however, the crowd is in principle divided against itself in its attitude towards the government. The lofty words of the exalted gentlemen mean nothing to these people any more. Thus God is preparing for the day of Pentecost, when a great crowd will ignore the seats of the judges of the Nazarene, pause before the pulpit of Galilean fishermen, and will ask in “ecstasy”: What is the meaning of this? Or: What are we to do? No, the ecstasy and the emotion are not in themselves expressions of religion. It is sometimes said that great disturbances of the emotions of a crowd tend to unify the parties included in it, and to remove the differences. For confirmation, simply look at the masses gathered on a national feast day or day of mourning. But the statement is too pretty. True, such a crowd may remove the semblance of difference for a moment, but it cannot positively unite the differing parties by the power of a new community life. However, on the day of Pentecost God the Holy Spirit will unite those who are opposed to each other by the new life which is in Christ. As a preparation for that event it is good that the crowd no longer feels the differences inherent in it. Thus the spirit of Pentecost can presently give the fellowship of life to those who believe. Now the crowd is still beating upon its breast, the great and the humble, the men and the women, the people who must thank Jesus for a miracle of healing in their own family, and the others who were no more than passing acquaintances of Him. No, the seed is not being planted here, for the seed is the Word. But the ground is being cultivated for receiving the seed, which is to appear on the day of Pentecost.
Thus the crowd also reaches dead center in its despairing confusion. They are no longer in harmony with the government and are not positively opposed to the government. They simply cannot go ahead or retreat. They do not know what they do.
Then there were the women who had followed Jesus from Galilee: and besides these there were His “acquaintances.” What must we say of them?
No, do not ask any further questions, and we do better to stop classifying all these people. We do not know what we are supposed to think of them. Yes, there were those among them in whom the new life had issued in works of love; but under the caption “acquaintances” there may certainly have been those who had no knowledge of Christ at all, no knowledge which comes by faith. These all are standing afar off trembling. The centurion places himself directly overagainst Jesus, but these remain at a distance. Yes, if we look at these people as they are in “themselves” everything becomes most comfortless again. Then the story ends with a question mark. There were those who loved Him, but what did they understand of the works of God? True, their love made them go farther than the reflection of the centurion and the emotion of the crowd had done. They had already to a certain extent performed works of love for Christ. And they also felt themselves involved in the problem of the day. These had caught a glimpse of the conflict being carried on by God and Satan. Theirs had not been a flighty and momentary perturbance, nor a cool and calculating “study” of the Saviour; a continuous acquaintance with Jesus had united them to Him. And yet we cannot even say of them as a group that they deserve the phrase which the church has called “true saving faith.” “All His acquaintance” is too general a classification to permit us to allow them that caption.
Again, however, if we put these people in their right position, if we put them on the highway of the history of redemption, we know that God tells us something by means of them. Their standing afar off is a sign of helplessness. The family, the circle of friends, can do nothing. After all, the blood relationship of the Nazarene can do nothing against that surging stream of the spirit from below. A feeling of friendliness towards the man Jesus cannot turn the helm of the world from Christ. Now this is a sign of helplessness. This helplessness to a certain extent contains a beautiful preaching of the Spirit of God. Recall Christmas eve again. There the people, the acquaintances, have still so much to do, and the child in the manger is not yet qualified for the task. But today God’s strong wind blows over the heads of the people, over the heads of “all his acquaintance,” and these have nothing to do. Christ fastens His ropes to the throne of God. That had been free grace and sovereign plan which had induced Jesus to send Mary and John on their way. He could do the great deed alone. This same free grace now makes “all his acquaintance” inactive, inasmuch as not one jot or one tittle of that psalm of the cross in which the law of free grace sings, “It is finished,” is removed. Again we say that God has made great progress in thirty-three years. Nevertheless, there is great sorrow in this spectacle of people who are standing “afar off.” They are strayed sheep, unwitting ones, defeated ones; the travelers to Emmaus betray all their poverty-stricken misery to us after a while. They do not know where to go. Shall they work or preach, fish or evangelize, protest or acquiesce. Where to, Lord? The Sabbath is dawning, but what a Sabbath! Lord, Thy friends are at dead center. The “remnant” of Israel is at dead center. “All his acquaintance” are at dead center, and that is also the center of history.
Yes, we know it had to be this way. Thus He who is called the second Adam could achieve His effects in this same moment of time in order thus to conduct not all His acquaintances but all those whom He knew on the path of His Lordship. Yes, we can be of good courage, God is making progress; the history of redemption is going straight on. But at the time it was very grievous. Lord, where to?
Thus they all came to dead center; the company of Pilate, the crowd of Jerusalem, the circle of Jesus’ acquaintances. No one feels confident any more. All that the best can do is to grope vaguely and uncertainly towards a word, towards a deed.
But this was the great glory of Christ Jesus. Up to this time He had been in constant movement. He had spoken, had pleaded, had protested. He had worked, had blessed, had condemned. He had always done something new, had kept the people busy, had incited them, provoked them to reaction, had mastered them. But hardly has He grown silent, hardly has His head nodded in death, and hardly have they supposed that now they are done with Him, before the old self-assurance is gone and all the feasts are turned into mourning. This, we said, is His glory. It proves that Christ cannot be explained and cannot be accursed without His own deed and without His own word. He apparently stood still now. This was not actually the case of course, for, as we observed, His departure spelled His progress. He was hastening Himself to the next word and the next act. But to men at least it seemed as though His action had now been thwarted. And now the psalm and the curse both were immediately stifled. People reached dead center. Reverence Him now, and learn of Him. Learn to expect Him, for He will return in order to capture psalm and curse from the world, and bring these to perfection. A Christ standing still is a pathetic manifestation, and cannot make history progress. He who deals unjustly no longer deals unjustly, but not by dealing justly. He that is filthy shamefacedly covers the filthy spots on his garment with his hand, but is not yet washed in His blood. He that is righteous stands afar off helplessly, and is not publicly justified. He that is holy takes refuge in his nocturnal haunt, and simply does not find his public manifestation among the church of the first fruits. Lord God, help us, we cannot exist and cannot even perish if Thou art so quiet.
Do not lament, O man, for this is His glory. As He stands still He drives the whole world into a blind alley; this He does by doing nothing. But be of good comfort, He is not going to stand still. He has already progressed to the next stage of God’s sublime program. He has died, but He has not been put to rest. He is inactive only according to appearances. If Christ had not made His departure a progress, yes, then we would have perished. But be patient, for He is already busy with the angels and has already placed his credentials with the Father. He is hurrying Himself greatly over there behind the clouds, is finding His way to the day of Passover and to the day of Pentecost. And He is already writing the first words of the great theme of His continued program there, the words which are to be the last words of His completed Scriptures:
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still:
And he that is filthy, let him be filthy still:
And he that is righteous, let him be righteous still
And he that is holy, let him be holy still.
God be praised. There was no such thing as a dead center in the activity of God: that was to be found only in the reaction of man. Christ merely seemed to be exhausted, but He was living as positively as He had lived throughout His days and as He lives throughout eternity. We thank Thee, Lord, for the death of Jesus; we thank Thee for the fact that it is nonsense to say to Him: Rest on now. We thank Thee that we could only frighten ourselves about a blind alley, that He at the same moment was busy preparing the great mobilization in heaven, the mobilization designed to incite the whole created world to move out of the alleys and byways, and to join in the one great struggle of Revelation 12. The centurion must give a further account of himself; he has not done with the problem yet. A further division must be made of the crowd; the differing parties have not stepped aside nor those who agree been united. The acquaintances must make their public appearance. Only those whom God has known will He give a place in His house. All those whom He has known may stand afar off, but they are irresistibly drawn to Him.
But all of these will succeed in getting off dead center. O Lord, how very hot the temperature, here, on Golgotha.