Faith of the Centurion

We have possibly heard this story, relating to the faith of a centurion, many times. A centurion was an officer in the army of ancient Rome, who was responsible for one hundred soldiers.

Read Matthew.

[Matthew 8:5-13]
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. 10 When Jesus heard it, he mar-velled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.


The centurion appearing in this story is the envy of all believers since he was highly commended by Jesus because of his faith. We all wish to have good faith that might be commended by the Lord.

However, when we start to think about what the reality of the centurion’s faith is, we get lost. All we can say about him vaguely is “Look at the centurion. Jesus commended his faith. He is Roman but he is good and is on our side.” We do not know why, and for what Jesus commended the centurion. If we fail to know the reality of his faith, any reference to him as a role model of faith becomes meaningless.

We often conclude that the centurion’s faith was commended by Jesus because he trusted the power of Jesus totally. Specifically, he believed that his servant would be healed at His word only, while others might have believed that he would be healed only when He directly comes to him and lays His hand on him.

However, this is not the correct understanding of the centurion’s faith. Also, such faith is not uncommon in the Scripture. For example, in Chapter 14 of Matthew, after having done the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, Jesus instructed His disciples to get into a ship and go before Him to the other side. At night, He went to them walking on the sea. When the disciples were in trouble thinking it was a spirit, Peter said, “If it be You, bid me come unto You on the water.” Then, Jesus said, “Come,” and he came down out of the ship and walked on the water to go to Him (Mat 14:28-29).

Even though Peter sank, his faith resembled that of the centurion. That is, he had faith by which he could walk on the water when He spoke the word only to bid him walk on the water without holding him by the hand. Since Peter believed what He had said and actually walked on the water, his faith was no less than that of the centurion. Considering the case of Peter, we can find that He commended the centurion not because he had the faith that was built by seeing many miracles of Jesus.

Furthermore, in the current passage of Matthew, He continued to say in a slightly excited tone, “Many should come from the east and west, and should sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven whereas the children of the kingdom should be cast out into outer darkness.” From this, we can imagine that the issue of the centurion’s faith is something that influences our entering the kingdom of heaven. What faith did the centurion have? What faith is it that will push the children of the kingdom out and enter the kingdom instead, as stated verse 12 above?

Now we will see the true nature of centurion’s faith, which received the warm commendation of Jesus.

Two Things to Know in Advance

We should know the next two facts so as to understand the faith of the centurion. First, these events took place in Capernaum, that is, this scene in which Jesus meets the centurion and has a talk with him does not simply refer to a historical story or event. It is symbolic of the spiritual world. Because of this spiritual symbolism, the historical re-cords found in the Scripture become the word of God that remains the same forever and ever. Jesus has prepared the current scene as a means of explaining spiritual things to us. This scene reveals a hidden spiritual truth.

Secondly, the Scripture tells us that faith will come to us through the process of the revelation of the triune God to an individual believer. We should meet Jesus in our life, go through the healing process for a certain period of time, and receive the Holy Spirit who comes into us to be one with us. Jesus will come around us first, and when Jesus completes the building of His mansion within us, then He will come into us as the Holy Spirit. He on whom the Holy Spirit has come is already in the kingdom of God, and the kingdom is in him.

God-Jesus-Holy Spirit, this is the progressive process that we should go through one by one to have the sound faith of the centurion. We will now approach the current topic with these basic understandings.

I Am Not Worthy

[Matthew 8:5-8]
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. 8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.

As I said, the event and dialog happening in this situation symbolize spiritual aspects. Therefore, if you think from the centurion’s saying, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only” that he was a very humble man who took His direct visit as an honor he was not worthy of, you have missed the point. This passage of the Scripture does not intend to teach us the humility of the world.

Knowledge We should Have

The roof or house here represents the centurion himself. When He said He would come under his roof, it signifies that He would come into him, the centurion. If we had been him, we would have said, “Wow, it’s great to have You home! Yes, please come.” We would have been very wholehearted, and would say, “I don’t care whether it is Jesus or the Holy Spirit who will come to me. I’ll welcome Him. Is the word of truth so difficult to understand? Would not that be all we needed to do just to believe in Him? I will believe. Give me faith. I’m fully ready to receive them all.”

We often gather together in the church, fast and pray to wait for the coming of Jesus, saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” You must have been leading a Christian life like this for a long time, and were you successful? I am afraid not. There is no reason why you should have been.

An old Korean proverb says, “It is no use tying a thread on the middle part of the needle.” None of you will ever do needlework if you tie the thread on the middle part of the needle, no matter how sincere you are in doing so; not in ten thousand years. It is meaningless to say, “I made every effort and did my best for a lengthy period of time.” If you want to do needlework correctly, you should first understand that “One should do needlework after he passes a thread through the eye of the needle.”

Jesus wants to reveal to us this truth in believing Jesus. Jesus in the flesh should come first and after healing us, then the Holy Spirit, that is, Jesus in the form of the unseen word. Jesus cannot be received into us even if we want Him immediately. It requires a series of steps or a process. 

However, we do not want to acknowledge this. As we do not wish to be healed by Jesus (Mat 13:15), we try to do the works of self-righteousness instead. That is, however, like one trying to do needlework while binding the thread on the middle part of the needle.

People Lacking in Knowledge

The Israelites, for example, ignored this process but they thought it would be okay if only they did their best and worked hard for God. They had zeal of God but not according to knowledge.

[Romans 10:2-3]
For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

Do you have knowledge about how the faith of Jesus comes to us? Have you realized the way to reach the kingdom of God? If not, all your zeal and efforts will prove useless; no matter how hard and how long you try.

[Hosea 4:6]
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

Knowledge is a serious matter that relates to whether we are destroyed, whether God will reject us, or whether God will forget us. It also relates to whether we are cast out of the heaven or not, be-cause Jesus said that the children of the kingdom without knowledge would be cast out. Nobody can enter the kingdom of heaven if he has no knowledge of the way to the kingdom.

I Am Not Worthy

The centurion accurately knew how Jesus could be received in him. He knew it better than anyone else that He could not directly come to him no matter how urgently he wanted Him. So when He said that He would directly come into him, he answered that he was not worthy that He should come immediately. As I said, the Scripture does not mean to point out the humility of the centurion. But it intends to show that he knew the way of truth. Surely, the centurion knew the true way in which Jesus comes.

Now, I will explain what was meant when he said “I am not worthy.” When we meet Jesus in our life, He cannot immediately come into us to be one with us. We need a time of healing through Jesus in order for Him to be received as one in us. This time of spiritual healing represents the period in which we are not worthy that He should come under our roof. When the time of healing has been finished, we are worthy that He should be received in us, and at this time, He comes on us as the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the case of the disciples, when they first met Jesus even though they forsook all and followed Him, He could not immediately come into their bodies to be one with them. They needed a time of healing; said to be the three and a half years. During this time frame, they were not worthy that they should receive Him in them.

However, after the process of healing had been finished, they became worthy of receiving Him, and so He was received in them as one. That is, He comes on them as the Holy Spirit. In the idiom of the story of the centurion, He entered the house of the disciples as the ‘word.’

The centurion had fully understood the process in which Jesus comes on a man and He is then received in him as one. Jesus tells him having knowledge of the right way of faith: “As you have believed, so be it done unto you.”

Do you know the process in which faith comes to you as he did? If so, it will be done to you just as you believed it would. Of course, the knowledge of the Scripture that we are talking about here is not merely ‘head’ knowledge, but it is the knowledge that our whole life would move according to it.

For instance, during healing by Jesus if we stand firm to the end without giving up, then it means that we have a sound knowledge of the process. If we do not stand firm through that process, then it will prove that we do not fully understand the process.

Who is the Servant of the Centurion?

[Matthew 8:9]
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

The centurion wanted to have his servant healed of the palsy. The servant is also a symbol of spiritual reality. Now, let us see what the servant with palsy symbolizes.

Human Being Made up of Two Parts

To understand this, we should first know that the human being is composed of two parts: the body that contacts the material world, which is seen, and the soul that cannot be seen. The visible body and the invisible soul are combined to form a person. In fact, a human being consists of spirit, soul, and body (1Th 5:23), the triune attribute of man. Since the spirit and the soul that cannot be seen can be combined into one, we can divide the human being into two parts as I said. Consider Matthew and James.

[Matthew 10:28]
And fear not them which kill the body (soma in Greek), but are not able to kill the soul (psuche in Greek): but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

[James 2:26]
For as the body (soma in Greek) without the spirit (pneuma in Greek) is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

In general, in Greek the spirit is pneuma, the soul is psuche, and the body is soma. However, the ‘spirit and the soul’ are considered as one sometimes in the Scripture, and are called either the soul (psuche) or the spirit (pneuma) as the case may be. So each person is composed of the ‘spirit and soul’ that cannot be seen and the ‘body’ that can be seen. The soul which is unseen controls the body which is seen.

The Soul is Commander of the Body

We are wearing clothes. If we wear clothes, the clothes follow us as we move. The clothes cannot move by themselves, but they are moved by the body. It is similar to the relationship between our soul and body. The body corresponds to the clothes of the soul in the above analogy and does not act nor move by itself, but moves according to the commands of the soul.

The body of a living man moves. Imagine that a man has just died. The body that the soul has left cannot move. Based on this, we know that the body is not capable of movement without the soul. The body can be active only with the soul in place, and the soul activates the body. The Greek soma meaning the ‘body’ is usable for the dead body as well as the living body. See the following cases:

[John 19:40]
Then took they the body (soma) of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.

[Acts 9:40]
But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body (soma) said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.

As we know, the body has no vitality without the soul. The passage of Scripture below describes the scene in which Jesus resurrects the 12-year-old daughter of the ruler of the synagogue.

[Luke 8:53-55]
And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead. 54 And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. 55 And her spirit (pneuma) came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

When her spirit left her, the body died and could not move. However, when the spirit came again, the body became alive and began to move again. We find that the thing that makes her alive again and enables her body to move is her soul/spirit.

Our beings consist of the soul and the body, and the soul controls the body. Many people think that if they die, that is the end of the story. However, this is definitely not true. The source of life is not in the seen, material world, but rather in the unseen spiritual world. Not many people understand this.

Servant and His Paralysis

Shall we return to the case of the centurion with this basic understanding? The centurion says to Jesus “I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.”

Now, we can understand the spiritual meaning of what he said. He talks about the relation between the soul and the body through the example of the officer and the servant, and the master and the servant. In other words, the body is the follower and the servant of the soul, and so when the soul gives a command, the body follows. Why did he say this? I mean, why did he mention that the body is the servant of the soul in connection with receiving Jesus into his house? In fact, what he said reveals a deep truth.

The Scripture compares the sinner to the sick and mentions various diseases such as palsy, leprosy, physical handicaps, blindness and deafness. The servant of the centurion indicates his body, and the fact that the servant is sick of the palsy signifies that the body serves the soul that has sin and thus the body commits sins. The centurion knows that he himself sins because he is born a sinner. And he knows that his body will be naturally healed, that is, stop sinning, when his soul is healed by Jesus. [Romans 6:13]

Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

The above passage has the same logical connection as the story of the centurion and his servant. If a man has a sinful soul, his members (i.e., body) become instruments of unrighteousness, and when his soul is healed to be one with God, his members will be changed to instruments of righteousness. The same members will be either the instruments of unrighteousness or the instruments of righteousness depending on the state of the soul. The members are servants of the soul. Therefore, the soul should be healed so as to heal the members.

This knowledge may sound obvious at first, but it requires a long period of hard experience under the law in order to realize this. Dependence on the law represents human attempts to control bodily members by suppressing or encouraging certain deeds. After having realized that the dependence on the law produces no fruit, we can then speak as he did.

As You Has Believed, So Be it Done unto You

[Matthew 8:10]
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.

We can imagine from what the centurion said that he realized that he was a sinner and he knew how to be free from sin. His statement of “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof” signifies that he had an accurate idea of how He will come to him. Further, he clearly understood that his sin would be perfectly forgiven when Jesus corrected his soul.

Upon hearing it, Jesus said “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” When Jesus comes on us as the Holy Spirit, it means that we receive faith. The Holy Spirit whom we receive through Jesus is faith itself. Faith comes to us not by man’s hope or effort but by the grace of Jesus. Faith does not come to us even if we try to believe, and the Holy Spirit does not come to us if we seriously seek baptism in the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus will bring faith to those who followed Him through the process. To the centurion knowing all these things and hoping for the same, Jesus says, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Mat 8:13). If we also have clearly understood through what process Jesus comes into us and forgives our sin, we already have the same knowledge of faith as the centurion. It will be done to us as we have believed, i.e., we will receive the faith of Jesus.

Works of Jesus, Hidden Completely

In fact, up to the current dialog between Jesus and the centurion, the reason why He came to the world was completely hidden. The centurion says to Jesus “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but speak the word only,” and he continues that he has soldiers and when he issues a command, they follow him.

Because of usage of the word ‘soldiers,’ his saying ‘speak the word only’ may be apt to be interpreted as that if Jesus gives an order by ‘word,’ the palsy will obey Him. It would seem that there is no other interpretation of this statement. However, as described, what it means is that, when Jesus heals the centurion and He is then received by him as the ‘word (i.e., Holy Spirit),’ his soul will be healed and his sinful body will stop sinning and be forgiven.

Let us think carefully. Did Jesus come to heal our bodies or save our soul? It is natural that He came to the world to save our souls. So it would be a misunderstanding if we simply think of Jesus as the man of power who heals the palsy only by speaking. God does have such power. So there is no reason for Jesus to come into the world to carry out such miracles in place of God.

You have rightly understood this passage only when you can find the very Jesus who has come to save souls and forgive you of your sins.

Children of the Kingdom into Outer Darkness

[Matthew 8:11-13]
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.

There are many people who are eager to believe in Jesus but do not know how. Few people among them have the knowledge of faith as the centurion has. When you, the believer, get to know the faith of the centurion, it is not right that you simply commend his faith and think no further. Because Jesus is now saying that you cannot go into the kingdom if you do not have the faith and knowledge of the centurion.

The children of the kingdom represent the Israelites who first received the word of God. Concurrently, the believers in Jesus are included in this definition of the children of the kingdom. We, the believers, received the word of God first but, in contrast to the centurion, do not interpret and understand the word correctly. We worked hard at achieving the kingdom and God’s blessing.

However, this is based on our own understanding and knowledge, which, in turn, is based on misinterpretation of the Scripture. This is quite evident when we think about the centurion and his sound knowledge of the faith.

If we believe in Jesus in our own way, we will not be able to enter the kingdom. Since we cannot go into it, we are not saved, and since we are not saved, we are living in outer darkness. God does not cast us out, but we are still living in a place of outer darkness in our current situation. We will weep and gnash our teeth in frustration and disappointment at our fruitless efforts.

Qualification for the Kingdom

The natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the Jews, but the three characters appearing in the Scripture are the symbols of those who have faith. In fact, spiritually, the sequence of ‘Abraham-Isaac-Jacob,’ which can also be expressed as ‘God-Jesus-Holy Spirit,’ reflect the steps for growing in faith.

This sequence corresponds to ‘Called-Justified-Glorified’ as is said in Romans 8:30: “Moreover whom he did predestine, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” So when we complete this process, we will be glorified, as in the case of the centurion.

Therefore, if the Jews do not have the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob although they are regarded as their natural descendants, they have no spiritual connection with them. From a spiritual perspective, the centurion shows the faith of, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but their natural descendents, the Jews, do not. The man who acts in faith as Abraham did will be actually called a descendant of Abraham. [John 8:37-40]

I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, be-cause my word hath no place in you. 38 I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. 39 They answered and said unto him, Abra-ham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abra-ham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.

Jesus admits that the Jews are the natural descendants of Abraham, but the Scripture says that the spiritual descendants of Abraham are his ‘true’ descendants. The spiritual descendant who will go into the kingdom and abide with Abraham is symbolized or rep-resented by the centurion in the current passage. We, therefore, should be the centurion to enter the kingdom.

How did the centurion who was a heathen become accepted as a descendant of Abraham and go into the kingdom? It has already been described. He understood correctly the way to the kingdom, but the Jews had no idea. The centurion naturally enters the king-dom and if the Jews continue to follow misguided doctrine, then they will finally fail to get there. Here, the Jews represent the believers, and we might be one of them.

Jesus said to the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour. The centurion symbolizes the man whose sins are forgiven by Jesus and who has gone into the kingdom.

Disciples vs. Centurion

Some might query that if the centurion’s faith was so great, then how about the faith of the disciples who were actually following Jesus. Should not their faith be better than that of the centurion?

Jesus revealed the way to faith by means of the story of centurion. So when He highly commended the faith of the centurion, He wanted to demonstrate to us the correct way to come to faith. As for the disciples, they were those who were actually on the right track. In the end, the disciples would become men who received Jesus as the Word at Pentecost.

And this was foreshadowed in the story of the centurion. In short, the centurion’s case is taken as the sign of the correct faith, and the disciples’ case is the reality of progress to the correct faith.

Epilogue

To conclude, faith comes to us in the order of ‘Jesus’ and then, the ‘Holy Spirit.’ We need to understand this properly. Then, it will be done to us as we have believed, and we will be forgiven our sins perfectly.

I pray we all meet the real Jesus and be healed to receive Him in us as the ‘word.’ Thus, we activate all the glory and promises that God has given to us. Amen.

Taken from the Book “Fresh Eyes to Read the Bible II – The Real Jesus”

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