The Centurion’s Confession

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Now when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” MAR. 15:39

It is usual on Easter morning to focus on a text that speaks of the joy of discovery when the disciples and others came to the tomb and found that the Lord was not there as He said He would not be. We might think of this as the fully developed dawn of the Christian church: that beautiful moment when the truth of His ministry first dawned in the minds of His disciples. But today, instead of the full dawn, we would instead focus on the “morning star” of the Christian church (TCR 379:e), the most fundamental and basic thing that the Lord taught while in the world, that idea first recognized and expressed by the Centurion who witnessed the crucifixion, that Jesus Christ was not a man, but He was the Son of God. Without this most fundamental and basic doctrine there is no Christian faith.

Each of the gospels tells the story of the Lord’s life on earth in a slightly different way, in much the same manner as several witnesses to an event will each remember the things that particularly stood out for them, but not necessarily exactly the same things as the others saw. However, we must also remember that the authors of the gospels were inspired to choose to write the way they did so that each gospel contains in its internal sense the story of the Lord’s life for a different spiritual state, or from a different spiritual point of view. Let us then briefly review the main historical events as recorded in Mark.

After His trial, Jesus was brought to Golgatha, or the place of the skull, a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem. There He was offered wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He refused it. He did this, we are told, because wine mixed with myrrh represented the truth from the Word mixed with falsities of evil. This represented the spiritual state of the Jewish Church and was not acceptable to Him, and He represented His rejection of the Jewish Church by not drinking it. They stripped Him, crucified Him, and cast lots for His garments. A sign was placed over Him, saying, “The King of the Jews.” Each gospel reports that two robbers were crucified with Him. John says nothing more about them. Luke says that one robber reviled Him, while the other spoke well of Him, and the Lord promised that he would be with Him in paradise that same day. Both Matthew and Mark report that both the robbers reviled Him.

All the gospels record that there was darkness over the earth from the 6th hour to the 9th. In Mark, it is reported that at about the 9th hour of the day, He cried out, saying, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) Obviously, the end was near, and someone filled a sponge with vinegar, lifted it up to Him with a hyssop reed, and He drank from it. We are told that He accepted this drink because it represented the falsity of the Gentiles, in which there is something useful and good, that is, false ideas from ignorance held for the sake of good to the neighbor. This kind of falsity can be accepted by the Lord because it looks to the good of others as an end. The hyssop represents that the false idease are cleansed by good intentions. The Lord is able to replace such falsity with genuine truth from the Word without difficulty. This is why the Lord accepted the vinegar on the sponge.

After this final symbolic act, the Lord cried with a loud voice and breathed His last. The gospels record that at that moment the veil of the temple in Jerusalem split from top to bottom, and that there were earthquakes. It was at this point that the Centurion is recorded in Luke as saying that there was no doubt that this was a “righteous man”, while in both Matthew and Mark he is recorded as proclaiming Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”. And although there was darkness over the land, the gentile centurion saw the “morning star.”

The first principle of faith in the Lord is the acknowledgment that He is the Son of God. We know this because it is repeatedly taught by Him in the Word of the New Testament, and it was repeatedly taught because unless men had first acknowledged that He was the Son of God, and thus God from God, the work that He and His disciples set out to do would have been in vain. (See TCR 342)

The Heavenly Doctrines define the Son of God by saying that “there is no Son from eternity; but that the Lord is from eternity…. The Human conceived of God, and born of the virgin Mary, is what is called the Son of God” (Lord 19). They further explain that Jehovah Himself “put on the Divine Human, from which He called Himself the ‘Son of Man,’ and also the ‘Son of God’; and by the ‘Son of Man’ He signified the truth itself, and by the ‘Son of God’ the good itself which belonged to His Human essence when made Divine” (AC 2159:2)

Here reference has been made to both the “Son of Man” and the “Son of God.” Jesus used both terms to describe Himself many times in the Word. Names signify qualities, and these names were used to describe the different qualities of the Lord that were dominant at various times and in various states.

The Lord referred to Himself as the Son of God when the main subject was of Good; when He was teaching, healing, or leading the disciples; thus when He was feeling the power of Jehovah within Him. He referred to Himself as the Son of God when He was in a state of Glorification, or unity with the Divine. When He was in this state He was expressing the Divine Love of God towards the human race, and since the Divine Love is pure and above any fault, the Lord was never tempted or tested as the Son of God. He could never be tempted as to His love, for His ruling love is the salvation, that is bringing into heaven, of the universal human race.

On the other hand, when He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, it reflects those states where truth was dominant, where falsity and indecision in the human from Mary could enter in, where He could be tempted as to how He must go about expressing His love for the human race. The love itself could not be tempted, but there were options, different paths that could have been taken, and the Lord agonized over these. These were the times when He prayed to the Father as if to another, when He felt the burden He had taken upon Himself, when He felt unequal to the task of saving the human race while at the same time preserving their freedom of choice in spiritual things.

When the Lord allowed the Human from Mary to die, when He refused to come down off the cross, as the hells, His enemies, His friends and even the angels of heaven all implored Him to do, when He let go of the human body, He won. His love of the Human race was conjoined with His Divine plan for their salvation. The hells were forced back into order. He could no longer be tempted or tested in any way for His victory was complete. He was no longer the Son of Man, because truly he was fully the Son of God, one with Jehovah.

We might ask ourselves why, at the moment of the Lord’s final victory, it was a gentile, a Roman soldier who proclaimed the truth that the Lord had in fact won the battle, who expressed the fundamental truth for all Christianity, that Jesus Christ was not a man, not the Son of Man any longer, but that He was truly the Son of God?

For our answer, we must look to the internal sense of the Word for only in the Word will we find the answer this question. First, consider the other place where a centurion is mentioned in the Word, the centurion who asked the Lord to cure his sick child, but who told the Lord that it was not necessary for Him to travel to his home, that it was enough for Him to merely say the word, and it would be done. That centurion was used to giving orders to those in his command, and having them done immediately. It was his simple belief that the Lord commanded the spiritual world in the same way, that His physical presence was not needed to heal the boy: all He need do was say the word. The officer’s faith was well founded, and the boy was healed.

Centurions, being Roman officers, were not Jews, and therefore by definition they were gentiles. We are taught that except for a small faithful remnant from the former church, the Lord always raises up a new church among the gentiles; those who have not been blinded by the false doctrines and corrupted by evils. And so, the centurion of our text then stands for all those people who want to believe in the Lord, but for one reason or another have not yet found Him.

A centurion has this representation in the Word because he is a commander over a hundred men, and the Latin root of “centurion” means “one hundred.” If we look at the Abraham series in the Old Testament, we can see that many important things happened to Abraham in his 100th year. These things represent in the internal sense the “unition of the Human of the Lord with the Divine and of the Divine with the Human” (AC 2213). In other places, one hundred represents “a full state of unition” (AC 2636). And finally, one hundred is ten times ten, and since ten represent remains, or those affectional states that remain with everyone from earliest infancy to eternity, one hundred represents a fullness of remains.

This further teaches us that all gentiles, all those who seek to do good no matter what their doctrinal background, can reach out and accept the doctrine of the Lord’s Divine Humanity, that in fact the Lord has provided each one of us from birth with the ability to receive this doctrine with joy.

It was often said by the Lord, when the sick were healed, that they should “have faith,” and it would be done unto them “according to their faith”. The reason for this is that the most important thing of all is to acknowledge that the Lord is the Savior of the world. Without this basic, fundamental idea, no one can receive anything of good and truth from heaven. The reason why you cannot receive any good and truth from the Lord if you don’t believe He is the Savior of the world, is that you won’t ask for it. Why would you ask Him for help if you did not believe that He could help? This is why, when the Lord came into the world and healed the sick that He questioned them about their faith before He healed them. Only those were healed who believed that He was the Son of God who was to come into the world, and that He had the power to heal and save. This “acknowledgment of the Lord is the first of all things of spiritual life, and the most essential thing of the church, because without it no one can receive from heaven anything of the truth of faith and the good of love” (AC 10083:5).

The Centurion, a gentile, not blinded by the falsities of the Jewish church, was the first to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s crucifixion. He knew that Jesus had healed the sick. He knew that Jesus had cast out demons. He had heard of all the signs and miracles that He had performed in the course of His ministry. He, like many others had suspected that Jesus would have miraculously saved Himself–perhaps he and many others had come to the crucifixion hoping to see just such a miracle. But when Jesus passively allowed these things to be done to Him and awaited death, it caused the Centurion to wonder, to think to himself, “What man would let this happen to Himself?” And by asking that question he opened himself up to the truth that this was not a man. Jesus Christ was willing to die because it was true that His kingdom was not of this world. Like a morning star, that bright beacon of light on the horizon that foretells the coming dawn, the Centurion gave voice to the first characteristic mark of faith: that the Lord is the Son of the Living God, and on this faith all else of heaven and the church rests. So on this Easter morning, as we think of the joyful discovery of the empty tomb, as we think of the Lord in His Glorified Human ruling as King of the heavens today, let us not let our faith be distracted by complicated doctrines, but remember this simple truth that was first seen by the Roman Centurion: “truly, this Man was the Son of God” (text).

Lessons: PSA 22; MAR 15:33-39, 16:1-8; AC 2405e

a3 2405e. As in the proper sense the “morning” signifies the Lord, His advent, and thus the approach of His kingdom, it is evident what it signifies besides, namely, the rise of a new church (for this is the Lord’s kingdom on earth), and this both in general and in particular, and even in the least particular; in general, when any church on the globe is being raised up anew; in particular, when a man is being regenerated, and being made new (for then the Lord’s kingdom is arising in him, and he is becoming a church); and in the least particular, whenever the good of love and faith is working in him; for in this consists the advent of the Lord. Hence the Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning involves all these things (even in the particular and the least particular) in regard to His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment.

There have been in general four Churches on the Earth

There have been in general four Churches on the Earth

That there have been four churches in general on this earth since its creation, one succeeding another, can be seen both from the historical and prophetical Word; especially in Daniel, where these four churches are described by the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in a dream (chap. ii), and afterwards by the four beasts coming up out of the sea (chap. vii). The first church, which is to be called the Most Ancient, existed before the flood; the consummation or end of this is described by the flood. The second church, which is to be called the Ancient, was in Asia, and in part in Africa; this was consummated and destroyed by idolatries. The third church was the Israelitish, which began with the promulgation of the decalogue upon Mount Sinai, and continued through the Word written by Moses and the prophets, and was consummated or ended by the profanation of the Word; the fullness of which profanation was at the time when the Lord came into the world,—and therefore Him who was the Word they crucified. The fourth church is the Christian, established by the Lord through the evangelists and apostles. Of this there have been two epochs; one from the time of the Lord to the council of Nice, and the other from that council to the present day. But in its progress this church was divided into three parts, the Greek, the Roman Catholic, and the Reformed. They are all however called Christian. Besides, within each general church there have been several particular churches, which, although they have withdrawn have yet retained the name of the general; as the heresies in the Christian church. (TCR n. 760)

General Character of these four Churches

In the most ancient times men were informed concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, by immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. For heaven then acted as one with the man of the church, for it flowed in through the internal man into their external; whence they had not only enlightenment and perception, but also converse with the angels. This time was called the golden age, from the fact that men were then in the good of love to the Lord; for gold signifies that good. These things are also described by the Garden of Eden in the Word. Afterwards information concerning heavenly things, and concerning the things that relate to eternal life, was given by such things as are called correspondences and representations; the knowledge of which was derived from the most ancient men, who had immediate intercourse with the angels of heaven. Heaven then flowed into these things with them and enlightened them; for correspondences and representations are external forms of heavenly things. And men were then enlightened in proportion as they were in the good of love and charity; for all Divine influx out of heaven is into the good in man, and through the good into truths. And because the .man of the church at that time was in spiritual good, which good in its essence is truth, those times were called the silver age; for silver signifies such good. But when the knowledge of correspondences and representations was turned into magic, that church perished; and a third succeeded, in which all worship was indeed performed by things almost similar, but yet it was unknown what they signified. This church was established among the Israelitish and Jewish nation. But as information concerning heavenly things, or the things which relate to eternal life, could not be communicated to them by influx into their interiors, and thus by enlightenment, therefore angels from heaven spoke by the living voice with some of them, and instructed them concerning external things; and little concerning internal things, because they could not comprehend them. Those who were in natural good received these things devoutly; and those times were therefore called the brazen age, for brass signifies such good. But when not even natural good remained with the man of the church, the Lord came into the world and reduced all things in the heavens and in the hells to order; to the end that man may receive influx from Him out of heaven, and be enlightened, and that the hells should not prevent and let in thick darkness. Then a fourth church began which is called Christian. In this church information concerning heavenly things, or concerning the things that relate to eternal life, is communicated solely by means of the Word; through this man has influx and enlightenment. For the Word was written by pure correspondences and pure representatives, which signify heavenly things,—into which the angels of heaven come when man reads the’ Word. Hence by means of the Word a conjunction of heaven with the church is effected, or of the angels of heaven with the men of the church; but only with those therein who are in the good of love and of charity. But because the man of this church has even extinguished this good, he cannot therefore be informed by any influx, and by enlightenment from the Word,—except concerning some truths which are not connected with good. Hence these times are what are called the iron age; for iron denotes truth in the ultimate of order. But when truth is such it is of the quality described in Daniel: “Thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay; they shall mingle themselves by the seed of man, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay” (ii. 43). From these facts it may be seen how revelations have succeeded, from the most ancient times down to the present; and that at this day revelation is only given through the Word. But genuine revelation is with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of truth, and not with those who are in the love of truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends. For, if you will believe it, the Lord is the Word itself, since the Word is Divine truth, and Divine truth, because from the Lord, is the Lord in heaven. They therefore who love Divine truth for the sake of Divine truth love the Lord; and heaven flows in with those who love the Lord, and enlightens them. But they that love Divine truth for the sake of honour and gain as ends, turn themselves away from the Lord to themselves and to the world; and therefore with them there can be no influx and enlightenment. They also, because in the sense of the letter they keep their minds fixed upon themselves and upon their own fame and glory, interpret that sense in conformity with such things as favour their loves. (AC n. 10,355)