There are very few Centurions mentioned by name in the New Testament. In the gospel according to Luke, a certain Centurion, who upon hearing that Jesus Christ had come into Capernaum, immediately sent the elders of the Jews to plead with the Savior to heal a servant of his, who was sick unto death. In a very few verses, we can feel the love of this Roman leader for those in his house, especially for his dying servant, who was especially dear to him.
In Luke 7, we read:
4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
The Jews at this time were not known for their affection toward their rulers or for keeping company with anyone of another nation or Gentile, considering them all unclean. But these elders, being as it were, teachers and shepherds of their flocks, truly favored their commander. He had paid to have a place of worship built for them and proved to be a good caretaker. They emphasized his love for the people of Judah.
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:
There is no doubt in my mind that he was familiar with their customs and knowing only by word of mouth that the Son of God was approaching, he sent others to stop him from entering his home, or perhaps even setting foot on his property. For perspective, let’s look at another Centurion, Cornelius, who was ministered to by an angel and also by the apostle Peter in Acts 10:
25 And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him.
26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.
27 And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together.
28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.
To make the long story short, after having been ministered to by an angel, Peter taught Cornelius, who had fasted for four days, and baptized him and others. This is a great chapter and worth reading to understand the full context of the story.
As illustrated, I believe that the Centurion who’s servant was dying, knew that it was unlawful for a Jew to keep company with a Gentile, and the Centurion out of great respect did not want to make such an imposition upon Jesus Christ. And believing their tradition, he felt himself especially unworthy of His divine presence.
7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
He acknowledges Christ’s divine power that a simple word spoken is all that is needed. Indeed if the emperor of Rome spoke a word, it became law. Furthermore, he acknowledges the Savior’s authority:
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
When Peter smote off the ear of a man in Getheseme in a misplaced desire to defend Jesus Christ from being arrested, the Savior explains the following to Peter:
Matthew 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
A Centurion commanded an army of up to one hundred men known as a Century. There were various divisions known as Centuries, Cohorts, Legions, etc. A Legion typically consisted of approximately six thousand men comprising Centuries, Cohorts, and Horsemen. Twelve legions of angels would easily consist of 7,200 angels, six thousand for the Savior as well as for each of His apostles, excluding, of course, Judas, a traitor who stood opposite the Lord.
The Centurion was accustomed to commands and obedience to commands whether coming from his own superiors or whether he issued those commands himself. He is basically telling Jesus Christ that as men obey him, so would this sickness obey Christ. A simple word from the Master, and it was as good as done. This Centurion, who did not consider himself worthy of the Son of God’s presence, yet was considered worthy by his own friends and especially the elders of the Jews, displays the kind of meekness and humility which Christ had recently preached in His sermon on the mount.
9 When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
Jesus Christ taught that of such is the kingdom of heaven. His astonishment at the humility of a Gentile invoked from the Savior the same compassion, which the Centurion held for all those in his house. This is the kind of love and compassion, which Jesus Christ continually displayed for others. This Centurion was likely among the first fruits of the coming Gentile harvest.
I can only imagine that the joy, which the Centurion felt when his servant was made whole will be very similar to the joy our Savior will feel when we are made whole and brought back into His presence. His servant, through the merits of Jesus Christ, overcame death and through His merits we will also overcome death and likewise be brought back into His presence one day.