Jesus focused his attention primarily on the population of Jews that lived in the areas of Israel that were occupied by Rome. These areas were known as the Decapolis, Tetrarchy of Phillip, and Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. Among the Jews were numerous Roman soldiers that enforced the laws of Rome and kept the Jewish people from rebelling against the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Some of these Roman soldiers were influenced by Jesus’ teaching and came to believe that he was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54). One of the incidents, when Jesus interacted with a Roman soldier, is recorded in Matthew 8:5-13. In Matthew’s account, the man, who was called a centurion because he was an officer in charge of 100 soldiers, came to Jesus asking him for a favor, “And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (Matthew 8:6). Although it is not stated, it is very likely that the centurion’s servant was a Jew. Jesus responded to this man’s request by stating, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7).
The centurion didn’t want Jesus to come to his house. He went to Jesus to ask him to do a miracle for him, but this Roman soldier understood something that no one in the Jewish population seemed to get. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” (Matthew 8:8). Jesus’ authority as the Son of God made it possible for him to command the spiritual realm by merely speaking a word. The apostle John described Jesus as the living word of God and testified that, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Because the centurion was a man with authority and was able to command others to do what he wanted them to, he realized that it was possible for Jesus to heal his servant without even seeing him. The centurion explained, “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” (Matthew 8:9).
Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s profession of faith demonstrated that he was not concerned about who asked for help, but only that there was a genuine belief that he was capable of doing what was being requested of him. Jesus said of the centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus’s criticism of his own people was followed by an indictment against them that their inheritance as descendants of Abraham would be given to those that truly believed in him. Jesus declared to the Jews, “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12). Afterward, Jesus concluded the incident by rewarding the centurion for his great faith, and said to him, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13).