Question: What made the centurion say “Truly this man was the Son of God”?
Answer: After watching the Savior suffer on the cross and watching him die, the centurion must have felt that Jesus was “truly the Son of God.”
39 And when the centurion (Roman soldier), which stood over against him (across from Jesus), saw that he so cried out (had so much strength when he called out), and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.
Note: It was common for victims of crucifixion to live two or three days before dying. The soldier was startled because he was experienced in crucifying people, and it appeared to him that Jesus, who was still relatively strong, and after only six hours on the cross, had decided to leave his body and did so. That is exactly what happened, and the Roman soldier apparently received a witness of Christ at that moment.
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In Mark’s account, the first person to speak after the Savior died was the Roman centurion who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). This statement echoes the one made by Mark at the outset of his Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Together, these statements frame Mark’s account of the Savior’s mortal ministry and accentuate Mark’s testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (New Testament Student Manual, Chapter 14, Mark 11-16)
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President Gordon B. Hinckley:
A little more than 2,000 years ago the Redeemer of mankind was born in Bethlehem of Judea (see D&C 20:1). While yet an infant, He was brought to the temple in Jerusalem. There Mary and Joseph heard the wonderful prophecies spoken by Simeon and Anna about the tiny babe who was destined to become the Savior of the world.
He spent His boyhood in Nazareth of Galilee, and when 12 years of age He was brought to the temple again. Mary and Joseph found Him conversing with learned men, “and they were hearing him, and asking him questions” (JST, Luke 2:46).
The Great Jehovah
Later, as the Master stood on the temple’s pinnacle, Satan tempted Him as He began His ministry. Still later, the Lord drove the money changers from the temple, declaring, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matt. 21:13).
Jesus was in very deed the great Jehovah of the Old Testament, who left His Father’s royal courts on high and condescended to come to earth as a babe born in the most humble of circumstances. His birth was foretold centuries earlier by Isaiah, who declared prophetically, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).
This Jesus Christ of whom we solemnly testify is, as John the Revelator declared, “the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.” He “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” (Rev. 1:5–6).
The Savior of the World
He was and is the Son of the Almighty. He was the only perfect man to walk the earth. He healed the sick and caused the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear. He raised the dead. Yet He suffered His own life to be taken in an act of Atonement, the magnitude of which is beyond our comprehension.
Luke records that this anguish was so great that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44), a physical manifestation confirmed in both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. The suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary, just a few hundred meters from Gethsemane, included both physical and spiritual “temptations, … pain, … hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer,” said King Benjamin, “except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7).
After the agony of Gethsemane came His arrest, His trials, His condemnation, then the unspeakable pain of His death on the cross, followed by His burial in Joseph’s tomb and the triumphant coming forth in the Resurrection. He, the lowly babe of Bethlehem who two millennia ago walked the dusty roads of Palestine, became the Lord Omnipotent, the King of Kings, the Giver of Salvation to all. None can fully comprehend the splendor of His life, the majesty of His death, the universality of His gift to mankind. We unequivocally declare with the centurion who said at His death, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).
Our Living Lord
Such is the witness of the testament of the Old World, the Holy Bible. And there is another voice, that of the testament of the New World, wherein the Father introduced His resurrected Son, declaring, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name” (3 Ne. 11:7).
Added to all of this is the declaration of modern prophets: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” (D&C 76:22).
No event of human history carries a more compelling witness than does the reality of the Resurrection. His followers on two continents testified of it. Uncounted millions of men and women through the ages have suffered, even unto death, for the witness in their hearts that He lives, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind, whose Atonement came as an act of grace for the entire world. How long and how great is the concourse of brave and humble people who have kept alive the name of Jesus and a testimony of His Redemption!
Now He has come again, in the latter days, to bless us and warm our hearts, to quicken our faith and bring us sure and certain knowledge of His living reality. We, of all people, can sing:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
And Saints and angels sing.
(“Joy to the World,” Hymns, no. 201)
We honor Him, we worship Him, we love Him as our Redeemer, the great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New Testament. The entire thrust of the testimony of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants declares our living Lord before whom we kneel in humility and faith.
The Son of God
And so at this Christmas season, we sing His praises and speak our words of faith and gratitude and love. It is His influence in our lives that stirs within us more kindness, more respect, more love, more concern. It is because of Him and His teachings that we reach out to those in trouble, distress, and need wherever they may be.
It is proper during this season when we commemorate His birth that we remember the Lord Jesus Christ in reverence and with love. He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has brought meaning to our mortal existence. He has given us the gift of eternal life. He was and is the Son of God, who was “made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
God be thanked for the gift of His Son, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Prince of Life and Peace, the Holy One.
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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 96; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 155; Ensign, December 2002, First Presidency Message, “A Testimony of the Son of God, “ by President Gordon B. Hinckley.