It was just “another day at the office” for the quaternion of Roman soldiers assigned to carry out Jesus’ crucifixion after Pilate had sentenced Him to death in order to pacify the Jewish leaders.  Death was a routine part of their lives as soldiers charged with maintaining the Pax Romana and Jesus was no different to them than the many others they had similarly executed in performing their duties, or so it seemed at the start.  They were likely among those who had earlier mocked and scorned Him with the purple robe and crown of thorns, who had spit upon and beat Him.  After crucifying Him they had divided His garments between them as spoil for their labor.  And yet, as Pilate himself quickly discerned, they too began to discover that Jesus was no ordinary man.  He didn’t react to their mocking as was natural for other men, but bore His sufferings patiently, without the usual apprehensions of one’s impending death.  He made no attempt to return evil for evil, even with vile or threatening words, but kept silent, having composed Himself with a noble strength of sorts as if He could actually be of royal birth, though completely lacking the worldly might and power of the only monarchs with whom they were familiar.  In spite of their treatment of Him it also no doubt unnerved them to hear Him pray, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luk 23:33-34).  Perhaps they even noticed something about His clothes after coming into possession of them, that although worn by the abrasions of this world, were yet unstained by human sin.  And no sooner had they raised Him on the cross than an unnatural darkness fell upon the land, lasting just until He died three hours later (Mat 27:45).

But while these things intimated that there was more to Jesus than met their eye, the events immediately surrounding His death convinced them of it.  What does Mark record in this regard that convinced the centurion overseeing His death of His divine nature?  See Mar 15:39.  What does the KJV text for this verse indicate that it was about the way Jesus breathed His last that struck the centurion?  Cf. Mar 15:37.  What else does Matthew record was associated with the loud voice with which Jesus cried out as He breathed His last that added to the centurion’s awe?  See Mat 27:50-54.  Although Matthew mentions several things as associated with His death, some of which the soldiers would not have been aware of at the time, what does “the things happening” in Mat 27:54 indicate about the possibility that there were other phenomena from the intersection of the material and spiritual worlds that happened, that perhaps couldn’t be expressed in words, but that also added to their wonder?  See Mat 27:44 and consider the transformation of one of the criminals upon the cross as the Spirit that ebbed from Jesus’ life somehow touched him; cf. Luk 23:39-43 and consider that Luke’s account likely came to us from the soldiers, whose own lives were also touched by the Spirit of His life that was poured out not only for lost sheep of Israel, but for life of the whole world (Joh 6:51, 1Jo 2:2).

What does Matthew 27:54 say was the effect upon the soldiers keeping guard over Jesus of all the things that happened as He died?  Consider that these warriors served in the most powerful army of the day so that by their training they were among all men less given to fear than most, and that their centurion was even more seasoned against fear than they; what is the significance then that they were not only frightened, but greatly frightened, even extremely terrified (NET)?  See Mat 17:6 for the same fear experienced by Peter, James and John at Jesus’ transfiguration, and cf. Exo 19:16-20, 20:18-19, Heb 12:18-21.  What is the importance of the fear of the Lord to the wisdom that leads to true salvation?  See Psa 111:10, Pro 9:10, 2Ti 3:15.  For all the effect that the events surrounding Jesus’ death had upon one of the criminals and these Roman soldiers (see also Luk 23:48 for a similar effect upon the multitudes present), is there any indication that the same fear in any way gripped the other criminal or the Jewish leaders who put Jesus to death?  Cf. Luk 23:40. On the contrary, as they remained unhumbled by Christ’s Spirit, in what way were their hearts hardened all the more?  See Heb 3:7-8,15, 4:6-7 and recall that although the Jewish leaders had obtained their will against Jesus by Pilate condemning Him to death and it was the day of preparation for the Passover on which they had much better things to do, yet they followed Him to the cross to get in their last licks by reviling Him as He died, Mat 27:41-43.  See also Act 4:5-6, 16-18, 5:27-28, Pro 1:7, 1Co 2:6-8.

When the soldiers exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God,” did they necessarily mean it in the way that we understand it today as the only begotten Son of God who was the second person of the Trinity?  Note that the definite article (“the Son of God”) is absent in the Greek, and very literally reads, “Truly of God a son was this one.”  Even in Scripture a son of God may simply refer to a very righteous person (Mat 5:9, Rom 8:14, cf. Luk 23:47) or a mighty person of supernatural power (Gen 6:2,4, Job 1:6, 2:1, Luk 20:36)[1].  While it is clear then that the soldiers recognized Jesus in some divine sense, we shouldn’t suppose they understood it as we do today.

[1] See also Mat 4:3,6, 27:40,43, Mar 1:1, 15:39, Luk 1:35, 4:3,9, Joh 10:36, 19:7 for the other gospel occurrences of Son of God where the article is also lacking, and Mat 26:63, Mar 3:11, Luk 4:41, 22:70, Joh 1:34,49, 3:18, 5:25, 11:4, 27, 20:31 where the article is present.