Authority is a strange thing. One cannot see authority, touch it, smell it, hear it or taste it. In other words, authority is something we may know and understand, but such a thing cannot be witnessed through our five senses. Nevertheless, we know when we are in the presence of authority. A man of authority is able to move many men to act according to his will, and some men are able to move nations by the word of their power. Jesus represented Heaven, so he spoke and acted out of the authority of God. It is interesting to see, as we read the Gospel narratives, who recognizes Jesus’ authority and who does not. One may even be surprised with the fact that the very men, who were given authority over God’s people, were unwilling to recognize God’s authority over them in the person of Jesus.
While the centurion may have wished to send Jesus friends to act as his intermediaries with Jesus, these Jewish authorities (Luke 7:4) don’t seem to be any different from those Luke points to in Luke 5 and 6 (cf. John 4:48). In other words, although they sought out Jesus to act favorably toward the centurion’s request, they didn’t recognize Jesus’ position of authority to act in God’s behalf. Rather, if pressed for their opinion of Jesus, they would have claimed Jesus acted under the influence of Satanic authority (cf. Luke 11:15). Nevertheless, Jesus went with these emissaries to heal the sick young man (Luke 7:6, cf. Luke 6:27-28, 31).
Considering what follows, there seems to have been messengers running back and forth between the centurion and Jesus. No doubt, the messengers were on horseback, but Jesus traveled on foot, This would account for the centurion’s hearing about Jesus’ approach and his still being able to contact Jesus before he actually came to the centurion. It seems odd to me that the centurion was surprised that Jesus would come to him. First he sends for Jesus, then tells him not to come—something here seems out of place. I think the centurion’s original request of Jesus via the Jewish elders was very similar to his statement about how authority works (cf. Luke 7:6-8). Probably, it was the unbelieving elders’ idea to have Jesus come to the centurion (cf. John 4:48). They must have insisted upon seeing it all occur before their eyes, something like the sign they sought Jesus to do on command.
When the centurion heard that Jesus was on his way, he sent other messengers to tell Jesus not to trouble himself to actually come to his dwelling (Luke 7:6-8), which would have been viewed by many Jews as improper behavior (cf. Acts 11:2-3) on Jesus’ part. In fact, the very emissaries who went to Jesus and made the original request on behalf of the centurion, probably would have remained outside his dwelling until word came of the fate of the young man (cf. John 18:28), or they may have insisted the young man be brought outside (cf. John 4:48). Therefore, the centurion asked Jesus to simply command the young man’s healing from afar, and the matter could be done without cleanliness becoming an issue for Jesus and the Jews.
The context shows the centurion held Jesus in great esteem. He believed he was a man of God, having the authority of God. The centurion understood that, if Jesus was acting on God’s behalf, he commanded or had authority over everything the people of the 1st century AD considered spiritual (cf. Luke 5:23). If Jesus was able to command the spirits, distance meant nothing. Just as the centurion could command a man in his presence and expect that command to be effectual at a distance, so he believed Jesus could do likewise with regard to the spiritual realm.
It is difficult not to notice the great contrast in how Jesus was received by this centurion and how he was received in his own hometown of Nazareth. In the case of the centurion Jesus admired (G2296) the great faith he saw in this gentile (Luke 7:9), but, on the other hand, when Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16, 28-30) he marveled (G2296) at their unbelief (Mark 6:6). Thus, Luke seems to show in the person of the Roman centurion that gentiles are already becoming the beneficiaries of God’s blessing instead of God’s people, the Jews, whom one would expect should receive such gifts (Luke 4:23-27). It is not so difficult to see Naaman the Syrian (cf. Luke 4:27 & 2Kings 5:1-27) in the person of this Roman centurion (Luke 7:2). Besides their both coming from the ranks of the military of a conquering foe, they both believed in the ability of the man of God to heal. Moreover, in both circumstances the healing took place at some distance from the prophet (cf. Luke 7:10; 2Kings 5:14), showing only God’s power could effect such a healing.
The Jewish authorities questioned Jesus’ power or authority. They tried to fit him into what they thought they knew to be true, instead of finding their truth in Jesus and adjust what they thought they understood to agree with him as their model for truth. On the other hand, the centurion was willing to let Jesus be who he claimed to be and adjusted his understanding of him and the things he did in that context.