The Context of the Centurion’s Request

06 Dec

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One may ask why the centurion would want or need the Jewish elders (Luke 7:3) to speak for him. Ordinarily, the Romans were viewed with contempt by the Jewish people. They were their conquerors who continually oppressed them. There is no reason to think that the centurion should believe Jesus would treat him or his request with kindness. Therefore, he needed friends of Jesus who would act on the centurion’s behalf and make his request known in the matter of his dying servant. But, what about the father of the dying young man? If Luke 7:2-10 reflects the same event as John 4:45-54, why couldn’t the young man’s father simply make the request of Jesus and expect Jesus to respond favorably?

We need to keep in mind the specific reason for Jesus’ returning to Galilee at this particular time (cf. Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14). The fourth Gospel tells us that, not long after the Passover of that year (John 2:13, 23; cf. 4:45) a controversy arose between the Jewish authorities and John’s disciples over the cleansing of sin’s guilt (John 3:25), thus implying the authorities were questioning the legitimacy of John’s ministry. It seems that immediately after this John was cast into prison, because it was at this very time Jesus had left Judea to return to Galilee (John 3:24; 4:1, 3), and the implication is that Jesus’ own ministry was now in jeopardy (John 3:26; 4:1).

Consider that, normally, the Jewish authorities would not pass through Samaria on their way to Galilee. In fact, most Jews, traveling between Galilee and Judea, would generally take a longer route and travel around Samaritan territory. This was done because most Jews despised Samaritans (John 4:9). However, a point seems to be made in the fourth Gospel that Jesus found it necessary to travel to Galilee by way of Samaria (John 4:4). In other words, it wasn’t by choice, as we see in Luke 9:51-52 that Jesus passed through their land to get to Galilee. It was for his own safety. Moreover, it is seen in Luke 9:51-52 that Jesus made preparations when he journeyed from Galilee to Judea and back, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in John 4. Jesus apparently left Judea in a hurry and under duress (John 4:6, 8). Apparently, Jesus used the finicky traditions of the Pharisees and Jewish authorities to his advantage by traveling through unclean Samaritan territory. Jesus did this knowing the Jewish authorities wouldn’t seek him there (cf. John 4:1, 9).

Understanding that Herod Antipas was the one who imprisoned John the Baptist (Mark 6:17), probably through the instigation of the Pharisees (cf. Mark 3:6; 12:13), puts anyone in his household in disfavor among the people who loved John. So, the young man’s father, if indeed he is the nobleman, Chuza (Luke 8:3; cf. John 4:46), had every reason to believe Jesus wouldn’t look upon his plight with favor. Additionally, since Jesus had reason to believe the Jewish authorities were trying to use Herod to get rid of him as well, the nobleman’s position looked even more bleak.

With this as a background the Jewish authorities came to Jesus and asked him to heal the centurion’s servant. The reason they gave was that he had built a synagogue for the Jews (Luke 7:4-5). While it is natural to believe that this synagogue would have been in Capernaum, it was more likely built in some other city, perhaps Caesarea, because it is probably true that the centurion in question was a Roman, and there is no reason to believe a Roman centurion would be stationed in Capernaum, which was part of the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Therefore, the centurion probably took his dying servant to Capernaum to be with his parents or he took him there, because he had heard of Jesus’ miracles even in a place like Caesarea.

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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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