I Am Marinus, the Centurian

We had arrived tired, and ready to make camp outside Jerusalem’s walls. Instead, we were called to still an uprising.

These insurrectionists were all the same. They thought if they murdered, they could gain a following and secure their power. What fools to think that they could overthrow the power of Rome! We had enough strength and numbers to demand surrender.

I gathered my hundred men to calm whatever unrest the Jews stirred up in the city of Jerusalem.

When we reached back streets, the crowd parted before me, so I could see the body that lay in middle of the street. I turned him over with my foot. He had been stabbed several times. Didn’t even know what hit him.

I glanced around. The crowd shrank from my gaze, opening a view to a man restrained by three other men against the wall of a house. He continued to fight, spewing out his hatred for Rome and its power, calling his people to resist and to fight back.

I cracked my rod over his back to silence him. No one spoke against Rome in my presence.

He cowered from me, still glaring his hatred. My men restrained him and bound his arms behind his back.

I surveyed the crowd. “Any others involved in this?”

The crowd stared back at me, dumb and unresponsive.

I motioned to my closest man to direct the removal of this vermin. Rome didn’t waste space on those who caused uprisings. He would await his trial, but it wouldn’t be long in coming. Rome removed rebels quickly. She raised them on crosses where all could see the results of their poor choice of allegiance.


I thrived on Rome’s control over all people. Aligning myself with Rome and joining the ranks of her vast army had given me power. But crucifixion was gruesome. No other torture could change a man so. I had to remind myself that they were against Rome when I watched them die.

I shook my head and looked at my men now. They were disciplined. Our legion, 60 centurions with a hundred men each, had swelled into the city.

The Jews were having some feast day, and the city was packed with travelers who had come to celebrate.

Pilate had anticipated problems and had requested more troops.

We had come from the north, Sidon. The distance, although long, had been covered in just seven days. My men marched twenty-two Roman miles in five hours every day, carrying our weapons, and our own cooking and campsite needs. This was expected of the army; demanded by me. My men had proven disciplined on the march, in spite of their youth. We represented the power of Rome. We would display her strength.

Many joined the army for the twenty-five-year commitment, hoping to rise in the ranks, at least to reach my rank; it offered a livable salary. Then their current meager pay would be forgotten, and their virtue and bravery would be acknowledged.

I grasped my rod in my hand, my tool to encourage obedience. Although I could be heavy-handed, my men followed me because they respected me. They had heard from others of my feats of bravery in battles. They trusted me enough to stand by me in any battle. Following my leadership, we could crush any threat to Rome.

I wiped my forehead before putting my helmet back on. Already I missed the breezes, blowing from the Great Sea. I hoped that this city would not hold me too long. The dullness of this commission wearied me. My men also wanted more excitement than what this small city was likely to offer.

I was assigned to the Temple of the Jews. I was supposed to pacify the leaders while keeping the people from unrest. Jews were more volatile than other peoples, especially about their religious days and their Temple.

I gathered my men and we reported to the Temple to maintain order. We arrived to find another disturbance. Doves were flying through the air. Sheep were running, seeking protection.

I heard yelling from within the temple.

I pushed my way up the crowded stairs to see the cause of the disturbance. Money clattered onto the marble floor. More animals ran through my legs to escape the crowded entryway and run down the street.

When I reached the front of the crowd, I saw tables overturned. A Man upended another table where the merchants were exchanging their Hebrew shekels for Roman currency.

One merchant grabbed for his money, guarding it against his chest, unwilling to part with his money to grab his animals that were scattering.

The Man, who had overturned the tables, glared at the merchants. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you…” He stepped toward the merchants cowering against the wall behind where their tables had once protected them. He pointed at them. “You made it a robbers’ den.”

I surveyed the room. Who was at fault? Sounded like the merchants were the thieves and they were caught in their crime.

The religious leaders had gathered to see the commotion, watching from the doorway of the inner chamber of the Temple. They showed no sign of stopping Him. Their faces showed anger. Did He hold some power over them?

What should I do?

Time stopped as all watched what this one Man would do.

He waited.

He watched the merchants.

Finally, as if by an invisible thread of conscience, the merchants began leaving with heads down. They left all that was theirs and walked down the Temple stairs. Some hesitantly grabbed pieces of their money from the floor before retreating behind the others.

The people parted, making a path for those leaving.

I caught my breath, not even knowing that I had held it. What had transpired here? Who was this Man who demanded even those in the Temple to change their ways? What power did He possess over the religious leaders? They had not looked pleased.

Now, they covered their uneasiness by directing their servants to clean up the mess.

They set up the tables and picked up the forgotten money.

The Temple must be made clean.

I watched the religious leaders. Their neck veins bulged. They swallowed angry words, their faces red. They would have exploded, if the people had not been there.

I nodded. I enjoyed a good fight. This Man might cause one soon. Perhaps this stay in Jerusalem would not be too dull after all.

The highest leader looked at me.

I felt in his gaze hatred. My men’s presence in their “holy” Temple was an outrage to them.

I stared him down. Rome’s power was greater than the power of a lowly priest. After another look around to assure me that we weren’t needed. I directed my men outside the temple again.

Nothing more was required of us. There had been no violence; merely a Temple cleaning. I smiled inwardly. I could follow a Man like that.

I stationed my men around the Temple area to control the crowd, even though many had followed the Man as He left the Temple. I would have myself, if I could. He held a power. Not like I did, by using the rod in my hand, but by His very words.

The week progressed. Our presence curbed any disturbances. I watched for the Man who had made such a commotion in the Temple, commanding the respect of the people, and the fear of their leaders. I did not see Him again. I was disappointed.

The Jews’ Passover approached. I had ordered my men to their respective posts. They would not lean against any wall, but stand straight and stare ahead, monitoring the streets. Their discipline would reflect the Rome that they served. A passer-by would not even notice them standing there, they stood so still. But if a disturbance occurred, they would be ready.

Another quiet night.

Yet the quiet night seemed deceptive. I sensed a stirring underneath the quietness that left me anxious.

I stood with a few other centurions, my uneasiness increasing when a messenger arrived.

He stood panting before our group. “The leaders of the Temple request your help.”

I was alert. The Jews never asked for our help. Their disdain for us was clear. Was this a trap?

He paused, trying to catch his breath. “They request a cohort to bring in an insurgent. Meet at the Temple to be directed to the man.”

We moved as one, calling our men to march to the temple. The Temple courtyard was big enough for our six groups of a hundred men to assemble. No disturbance was evident. No one was about.

A man scurried through the rows of soldiers.

The messenger answered my unspoken question. “He’s the one the leaders wait for.”

I nodded.

We waited a few minutes before the man returned and with him several servants, probably from the leaders inside.

He directed us, “Follow me. You will take Jesus the Nazarene. I will show you who it is by greeting Him.”

I fell in line with the others. My men in front held torches, for darkness had already fallen. I wondered what kind of group would require six hundred men to stop their activities.

The messenger led us into an olive grove.

I felt my dagger on my right side, then realigned my sword on my left.

As the torch light penetrated the darkness, the silhouette of a group came into focus. The torch’s light reflected off their faces. After concentrating in the dark, my eyes took some time to focus with the light.

I saw the Man’s face before us. So this was how the religious leaders would get even. I gave no outward sign, but swallowed my disgust for their lack of courage.

He was the Man who had thrown the money-changers out of the Temple. He stood before us, with only His followers, a mere handful.

He would cause an uprising with these? I glanced around the shadows for more. Had we walked into a trap?

The informant approached the group with confidence. “Rabbi.”

The Man did not appear surprised. “Friend, do what you have come for.”

The betrayer, for I saw him for who he was, stepped forward and kissed the Man. Then he stepped back, expecting our immediate response.

The Man shook his head. “Judas, you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” He turned then, and acknowledged our presence. “Whom do you seek?”

I answered. “Jesus, the Nazarene.”

He stood tall. “I Am He.”

I fell before His presence. Not by my own will, but by His words…His words held the power of God. I bowed before this Man, Who was not even a Roman ruler. I knelt, my head to the ground in submission to Him. No thoughts of capturing this Man even entered my mind. He ruled supreme.

He again asked, “Whom do you seek?”

I answered again, but this time I did not speak with power nor authority. I spoke from the ground. “Jesus the Nazarene.”

“I told you that I Am He.” Who was this Man, that our entire cohort of the Roman army fell before His authority?

I stood then, hearing around me the others’ armor clank as they also rose to their feet.

His followers stepped to His side. “Lord, shall we strike them with the sword?”


But even as He spoke, one of His followers struck with his sword. What an inexperienced swing! With his wild swing, he somehow managed to cut off the ear of a servant, standing by the informer. I almost laughed out loud. This one hoped to defend the Man!

Before any could respond, He touched the bleeding ear, healing him. He rebuked His follower, “Put away your sword.”

I stepped forward to grab His follower.

He faced me. “I told you, I Am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way. All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Don’t you know I could appeal to My Father, and He would send  more than twelve legions of angels to My aid?”

Twelve legions of angels! We had brought 600 men and we could not even stand before His words. What would He do with twelve legions—5,000 foot soldiers plus cavalrymen?

I studied the sky, even though there was no moon. Were there angels waiting to destroy us? What god could save us then?

Who was this Man?

He was not finished speaking. “The Scriptures must be fulfilled. The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”

This was no normal insurrectionist, who fought until we proved our might to be superior. This Man owned all power, yet submitted to us. I did not understand.

I shook my head, trying to regain my usual air of command, even as I obeyed His command to let go of His follower who held the sword.

For the first time since our approach, He spoke to the chief rulers’ servants, “You come with swords as you would against a robber? I stood before you daily in the Temple, yet you did not touch Me. But this is your hour of darkness.”

I stepped forward now, willing myself to do my duty and seize Him. Yet even in this I sensed my impotence. I didn’t take this Man, He gave Himself to me. His power could crush any Roman legion that approached Him. Hadn’t He brought our entire cohort to our knees by His spoken word?

He allowed us to bind His hands behind His back. I wondered what good that would do if He decided to speak His words of power again. He turned away from His disciples.

We led Him to their court room where their chief priests had gathered.

I listened as they set up court. I struggled to maintain my stoic soldier posture.

They lusted for His power.

I wanted to tell them, the sway He held over the common people was something no man could get for himself. It was a supernatural power, and He would have to give it. But I knew He wasn’t going to give it to them…not after what I saw in the Temple at the beginning of the week with the merchants.

It was late.

A new group of soldiers came to take our shift.

My soldiers went back to camp, to sleep. I wanted to stay. I must know what they did to this Man.

Instead, I returned to camp. But sleep did not come. Who was this Man Who could cause an entire army to fall before Him at His words?

The Man’s words rang through my mind all night, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Isn’t that what I wanted?

With the sun’s rising, my shift came back on duty,  and I still had no answer to my question. Rome had been my source of power since I had begun this soldier’s life. I had dreamed of power. I had risen in the soldiers’ ranks, becoming the leader that I was.

I inspected my men. We were to keep order in front of Pilate’s palace. There was a gathering there by the time we arrived. We stood back, watching, ready to interfere if the crowd became a mob.

Pilate stood on his balcony with the Man beside him. Pilate had summoned the chief priests and rulers and people before him.

How had the Jews come up with a reason to take Him before Pilate? Pilate raised his arms to quiet the crowd. “You brought this Man as one who incites rebellion. I find no fault in Him. Nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us. He’s done nothing deserving death. I will punish Him and release Him.”

I swayed on my feet. The Jews had tried to have the Romans blamed for this Man’s death. I could see through their plan now. They didn’t want their own people to rise up against them. If they could blame the Romans for His death, they could turn an uprising against Rome. It was a clever plan, for they could not be blamed by either the Jews or the Romans. However, they forgot that Rome, although hard, was also just. But even as I understood their plan, they cried, “Away with this Man.”

I watched Pilate hesitate. He was a weak ruler, catering to the whims of these Jewish leaders.

Jesus stood behind him. He swayed on his feet. He had been drug around throughout the night, to Herod even. He wore a crown of thorns and a purple robe. Looked like the night shift soldiers had mocked and harassed Him.

Pilate pointed to Him. “I find no fault with this Man.”

But the rulers shouted, “Crucify Him!”

Pilate shook his head “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

The rulers answered, “We have a Law, and by that Law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”

Pilate turned pale. He swallowed and looked back at the Man. He commanded Jesus to be taken back inside.

The crowd outside waited, but not patiently. They were the same leaders who had been in the courtroom the night before. Their greed for power was greater after their night’s activities.

Pilate returned to his balcony. “I could release this Man.”

The Jews accused, “If you release this Man, you’re no friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate dropped his head.

They had cornered him.

Couldn’t Pilate stand on the Man’s innocence? I felt it. I knew it. But if Pilate didn’t cater to the leaders, there would be a mob. His career would be over. He’d be replaced.

The leaders knew they had won. They chanted, “Away with Him, away with Him. Crucify Him.”

Pilate shook his head. “Shall I crucify your King?”

“We have no king, but Caesar.”

Pilate brought out another man. “Shall I release Barabbas instead?”

I recognized the man. He was the man we’d taken at the beginning of the week for insurrection and for murder. How could Pilate claim to be just, offering such a man his freedom? He mocked Rome’s justice!

Pilate was desperate to release Jesus.

I could feel my heart willing to release Him, too.

The rulers would not consent. Mob control took over. Even those who had recently gathered to see what was happening began to echo the religious leaders. “Release Barabbas. Crucify Jesus.”

Pilate asked again. “What has He done? …Nothing that demands death.”

The mob chanted as one.

I stood taller, watching for violence and an excuse to end what they wanted.

Pilate did not want a mob. He would not look good before Herod.

He released Barabbas.

Pilate washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I’m innocent of this Man’s blood.”

The leaders cried even louder, “His blood shall be on us and on our children.”

I stood there, watching an innocent Man tried for a crime He did not do. Surely, He would not allow His own death, especially when it was unjust.

My stomach churned.

My country, Rome, under the rule of Pilate, had allowed this.

Where was justice? Where was power? Couldn’t Rome stand against these religious rulers?

Pilate wrote an inscription to be put on the cross: “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” He wrote it in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.

The chief rulers corrected Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that ‘He said, “I am King of the Jews.”’”

Pilate shook his head. “What I have written stands.”

My men and I spread out among the crowd, as the mob lined the streets, waiting for those who would be crucified to walk toward Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

When the convicts came, I gasped. The Man staggered, barely able to stand under the weight of His own cross. When He fell, one of the soldiers who kept the people back, grabbed a man from the side to carry it for Him.

What had happened to the Man who had whipped the merchants from the Temple? As He passed me, I understood. A crown of thorns dug into his head, the blood hindering him from seeing. His back held no flesh, only muscle and blood. Pilate had punished him all right.

I had not been there to make sure that He was punished; for that I was glad. I was there to control the mob. But what would a mob do in the face of such agony?

That day, as I stood watching the crucifixion of the Man, I recognized the power of Rome for what it was…a power based on cruelty, conquering others, and false hopes.

I looked at the Man, His blood congealing on His face from the thorns. His beard had been ripped from his face. The beating He had received was enough to kill a man. How long could He live?

The sun had risen bright. I took my helmet off to wipe my forehead and replaced it again. I was not accustomed to this city’s heat, even in spring.

I watched my own men gamble over His seamless tunic, woven into one piece. They had already divided his garments into four and claimed them. I turned away. The soldiers were poor, barely making enough to eat, yet finding enjoyment at the foot of a cross that held a Man Who should not die.

I listened to the criminals crucified on either side of Him. One mocked His title, even as the chief priests did. “Are you the Christ? Save Yourself and me, too!”

Others picked up the taunt. “He saved others; He can’t save Himself. Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe.”

The other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God? We suffer justly, getting what we deserve; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” He paused before raising himself again to get a breath. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

The Man raised Himself to breathe, pushing against his feet that were spiked to the cross. As he lifted Himself, He was able to speak. “Today, you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

My trust in Rome’s power seemed ill-placed. If Rome did not hold true justice in her hand, then where could I find hope? My strength and power seemed as nothing when I could not even save an innocent man.

I watched His blood pool beneath Him on the cross.

Could He give me the same hope He had given the criminal at His side? How could He offer hope, even in His death? I did not understand.

The chief rulers and leaders mocked. “Bah. You were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Save Yourself and come down from the cross!” They turned to the people, trying to rile them, as if they had finally found power over Him. “If He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

The Man spoke, even though it cost Him great effort. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Usually when we crucified people, I felt satisfaction. Rome had conquered another criminal. Rome had done justly. But with this Man…I shook my head. Rome had not done justly. She had caved to the whims of a group of religious leaders that were too cowardly to kill on their own. But they weren’t the only ones. I had been in the Garden. I had laid hands on Him. I had brought Him to trial.

I remembered the dirt where I had fallen to my knees. I fell, recognizing His power. Was it only the night before?

The sign above the cross seemed to mock me. Could this Man be the Son of God?

What had we done?

The sun grew dark. It was only the sixth hour. There had been no clouds before. The timing, just after this Man’s words, made my heart grow cold.

Thunder rolled and lightning flashed.

No one ran for cover. They continued to watch this Man hang on the cross.

I squinted through the darkness, watching His labored breathing. All His weight rested on His feet. If He didn’t raise himself up against the cross and pull on His arms, He would suffocate. Every breath required this movement. To speak required greater effort.

I barely heard Him when He whispered. “I’m thirsty.”

A vessel full of sour wine had been left there from another crucifixion. A follower grabbed a branch of hyssop, and placed a cloth soaked with the wine on the end.

Another yelled, “Don’t give it to him. See if He calls Elijah to save Him.”

He ignored their jeers and placed the cloth to His lips.

Jesus licked it. When He tasted it, He closed His mouth, though the effort cost Him.

I licked my own lips, as if it would help Him with His thirst. Why wouldn’t He accept a bit of pain reliever? Must He suffer all the agony of a common criminal?

His life lingered. His breathing came more shallowly as His strength lessened.

I tried to will Him to draw another breath. His life was leaving.

The other criminals seemed less stressed, but they had not been beaten as He had. He had bled so much even before He was put on the stakes.

He cried out again, in a loud voice, “It is finished.”

I looked at the Man. The Man who held such power in His words. He didn’t breathe. He was dead.

My entire body felt the emptiness. I had witnessed His power, but it had vanished before I could even understand it. I didn’t know what to do with this loss.

The other criminals, hanging on either side of the Man, still breathed. We would break their legs to speed their death. Then they would have no way to raise themselves up to breathe. They would suffocate.

We couldn’t have them alive when the sun set. One of the soldiers raised a metal rod to hit the first criminal’s legs. The whack of the metal bar against his legs echoed loud over the hillside. The criminal crumbled, gasping for his last breath. The soldier moved to the other criminal on the other side of the Man, finishing his death.

The soldier paused before the Man. “He’s dead already.” He seemed surprised and disappointed.

I was not. I saw His blood pooled at the bottom of the cross. I was exhausted, and I hadn’t been through what He had.

“Wait.” I demanded. I took the javelin from one of my men standing by and approached the Man on the cross. I pierced His side, reaching into His heart. When blood and water poured out, it was a sure sign that He was dead. His heart broken.

The blood and water ran down the javelin and I hurried to give it back to my man who stood beside me. I wiped His blood from my hands on my tunic. I felt empty. Like there was no hope. I shook my head.

His followers had stayed the entire time, watching, crying. Even the women, who normally could not bear to watch the agony and torture.

I had no idea what time it was. The darkness was as a moonless night. But as soon as I had pierced Him, the sun broke through the clouds. The angle of its rays told me the evening had come.

When the beams shone through, I breathed deeply, as if the darkness had hindered my breathing.

I spoke, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.” I witnessed His power. I saw His truth. It was too late.

I went through the motions of showing the power of Rome, but I had no power. My insides were empty. I had no hope. I couldn’t understand this feeling of helplessness. Almost like I was in a dream.

Pilate demanded that our legion stay in the city. He feared a mob.

I could have told him the mob had already worked its damage.

Initially, I had wanted to leave this city, the dullness and dirt making my skin crawl. But it was by staying in the city that I found that his followers had gathered, and they were proclaiming that He had risen.

I sought out the Roman guard who had been assigned to watch His tomb. It seemed a ridiculous request to guard a tomb. Until the body was missing.

The centurion on duty told me in private, under oath that I would not speak a word, how two men in shining raiment came and rolled the stone away. That same stone had required six men to put it in place. Another example of this Man’s power…Good thing He hadn’t sent His angels in the Garden.

He hesitated to speak further until I told him that I had fallen on my face before the Man when we arrested Him. Then he seemed willing to share how the entire guard had fallen in terror, then fled.

He smirked a bit.

“What is it?” I demanded.

“The religious leaders paid all the guards money to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away, while we slept.’”

I laughed. “While you slept?” If they had slept on guard duty, they wouldn’t be alive. “But what if Pilate should hear about your guard duty?”

He shrugged. “The Jews promised to keep us out of trouble.”

I nodded. Any amount of money could control people. That’s why Rome was so powerful. She controlled all money. I almost didn’t hear the centurion continue.

“I’m going home. I have enough money to retire early from the Roman army and live like a king.”

“They gave you that much money?”

He laughed again. “But I don’t think their plan will work; not with the Man walking around telling everyone that He’s alive.”

I went to see the tomb, now heavily guarded. Because of my uniform and status, I could enter the tomb. It was indeed empty. But not as if someone had stolen the body. It was as if His body had raised up out of the grave clothes and left them lying in His shape.

I didn’t touch the grave clothes.

They seemed too holy.

How could I know this Man, this God, who accepted the agony of death on the cross, when He could have called a legion of angels?

I searched for His followers, hoping if I found them, that I would find Him. I followed a crowd, almost running to Galilee.

He was there.

His followers worshipped Him. And rightly so.

Jesus spoke, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all the nations. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I believed.

He was the Son of God. And He gave His authority to us.

I can say “us” now, because I follow Him too. I’m still a Roman soldier, but not seeking the power of Rome to overthrow all people. I am waiting for the Kingdom of My God and King, Jesus the Nazarene, whom I arrested, and watched surrender His life, so that I could live by the power of His Father.

I do not crave power anymore. I have it, not by conquering all people, but by showing them the Savior Who willingly gave up His power so that I can know Him.

Mile—Roman measurement of 1000 paces, equaling about 1616 yards or 1477 meters;
20 current mile x      5280 feet     x 1 Roman mile = 22 Roman miles
  1 current mile      4848 feet

I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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Tell of My Kingdom's Glory
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