By Michael Winkelman
“I broke the fangs of the wicked,
And plucked the victim from his teeth.” (Job 29:17, New King James Version)
There are those of us who are called to confront man’s fallen nature with violence. We are members of a class within our society that is both necessary and in many ways despised. We are required to be in a constant state of combat effectiveness. While society uses theoretical concepts that are appealing on paper we willingly plunge ourselves into the dark valleys of reality. We are hated for utilizing the tactics and equipment necessary to face ever evolving and more effective adversaries, scrutinized for using violence of action and being tenacious in its execution when required. Though the spectators rant and rave against us we set our faces like flint and rise up, continuing our endeavor because more than anyone we understand reality and our vital purpose.
We protect in love. Our love of what is behind us drives us forward towards that which threatens it. Our drive to protect is the fabric that holds our civilization together, we are the line between oppression and liberty, justice and anarchy. When man’s depravity causes him to violently assault other people, in love we relentlessly protect. In Christ we fulfill this purpose to the utmost. In divine power we surrender our lives to the holy Warrior and rise up in his strength. We look to the centurion of the Roman war machine as an example.
At the time of Christ’s ministry and the early church that followed Rome was an Imperial entity. The cornerstone of the Roman Empire was the Roman legion. Within these legions and their auxiliary units were the centurions. The centurion throughout Roman history was the quintessential combat leader. At the lowest level he commanded a “century” of men, typically 80-100 legionnaires. These centuries were organized into cohorts (battalion sized elements), and the cohorts organized into legions. Centurions were positioned throughout the legion at different positions within the chain of command.
"The centurio was the key, middle-ranking officer of the Roman army. Julius Caesar considered the centurion the backbone of his army, and knew many of his centurions by name. ... The centurion originally commanded a century of one hundred men. Centurions commanded the centuries, maniples and cohorts of the legion, with each imperial legion having a nominal complement of fifty-nine centurions, across a number of grades." (Dando-Collins, 2010, p. 40)
Centurions were the crucial link between the soldiers on the line and the strategic commanders controlling the legions. The centurions were essentially the seasoned tactical commanders who personally led the troops into battle and advised the legion/cohort leadership. Centurions were more commonly known to have rose from within the ranks to their positions. There are examples of centurions being appointed because of personal connection; however, in all instances they were expected to be centurions. “Apart from some centurions of
Equestrian rank during the reign of Augustus, the imperial centurion was an enlisted man like the legionary, promoted from the ranks” (Dando-Collins, 2010, p. 40).
"The infantry centurion was chosen for his stature, strength, and skill at arms. He was to be vigilant, temperate, and ready to execute orders without question; he must be a strict disciplinarian, active in exercising his soldiers, and ensuring that they were clean and well-dressed, with brightly polished weapons (Ep., II, 14)."(D'Amato, 2012, p. 9)
The infantry centurion was known to be the personal embodiment of an elite warrior, and was expected to personally train and lead his men to be the same. He was a master-at-arms forged by years of combat experience. He upheld the standard of personal stamina and physical ability that was required to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The centurion was competent and intelligent, the perfect mix of administrative ability and tactical expertise. “To a great extent the centurionate received men who were already part of an elite cadre, combining the military virtues with the necessary administrative competence” (D'Amato, 2012, p. 9). He was the example of discipline and was vigilant in his duty as the master disciplinarian of his men. This was revealed by the vine branch every centurion was issued upon being promoted; a symbol and instrument of discipline used by the centurion.
The centurion Sempronius Densus, who died defending the Emperor Galba sword in hand, is described thus: ‘lifting up the staff with which centurions punish soldiers deserving of stripes, he cried out to the assailants and ordered them to spare the emperor’ (Plut., Galba, XXVI).” (D'Amato, 2012, p. 38)
The centurion was at the front of the battle formation, and was distinguishable by the horizontal crest that was affixed to the top of his helmet.
The centurion could be identified – by friend and foe alike – by a transverse crest on his helmet, metal greaves on his shins, and the fact that, like all Roman officers, he wore his sword on the left, unlike legionaries, who wore their swords on the right. (Dando-Collins, 2010, p. 40)
His men looked to him in the fires of combat, and he was the one who inspired them to hold the line and maintain their strength and bravery by personally carrying the fight to their enemy with tenacity and valor. We are the centurions of our time, the leaders of our generation of warriors and protectors called to enter the fray. We lead from the front and are pillars of inspired bravery and strength
for those around us. We are disciplined in the advancement of our personal abilities and actively seek opportunities to further grow in skill and stamina. We understand that our adversary is committed in his preparation to destroy us and thus create a breach in the line between him and the innocent. We train our minds, we discipline our hearts, and we beat our bodies that we would have the skill and ability necessary to overcome this adversary. Consequently, if there be a breach, we enter the breach! As centurions of our time we lead the reactionary counter assault and enter the breach! As the centurions of our generation we take command in times of crisis and ferociously stand our ground. As the leaders of our profession and calling we possess the moral courage and virtue to be the tip of the spear and thrust forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost.
“They surrounded me,
Yes, they surrounded me;
But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.” (Psalm 118:11, NKJV)
Ha, yes, they may surround us, but in the Lord we zealously enter the fray and plunge into the fires of combat. The Christ, our Warrior-King, the sovereign and supreme has called us to this fight; let them come!
In our call as the Lord’s centurion we look to that great example, Cornelius the centurion.
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. ... And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” (Acts 10:1-2, 22, English Standard Version)
Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort. This was most likely a cohort of auxiliary infantry; auxiliary forces were formed into cohorts and given the name of the region from which they were originally created. “Like legions, auxiliary units had numbers and names. Those units originally raised in the western provinces generally took their names from a tribe or region, those in the east from a city” (McNab, 2013, p. 165).
Auxiliary infantry units were formed as flexible battalion sized elements to supplement the legions. During Cornelius’ time the infantry auxiliary were professional soldiers and underwent the same training and discipline as the legion; the only difference being they were not Roman citizens.
As part of the military reforms of Augustus, the auxilia were completely reorganized and given the regular status. Trained to the same standards of discipline as the legions, auxiliary soldiers were now long-service professionals like the legionaries and served in units that were equally permanent. (McNab, 2013, p. 164)
The auxiliary centurion was given the same respect as the legion centurion, and in many if not most cases, the centurion was transferred from the legion to the auxiliary cohort to train and lead the non-citizen infantry. But they relied for the maintenance of discipline, training and tactical leadership uponcenturions or decurions, who enjoyed the same status as legionary centurions. The
auxiliary centurions were mainly promoted from the ranks (or, especially in the 1st-2nd centuries AD, from among principals) of the legions.” (D'Amato, 2012, p. 6)
Cornelius was a warrior, a veteran and seasoned combat leader. While legions were stationed as reserve forces to react to threats, the auxiliary cohorts were stationed in frontier provinces like Judea to maintain stability, patrol, and conduct police activities. “The imperial auxilia had the tasks of patrolling, containing raids, tax collecting, and the multitudinous duties of frontier troops – the legions were stationed within the frontiers, both to act as a strategic reserve and to intimidate potentially rebellious indigenous ‘friendlies’” (McNab, 2013, p. 164).
Cornelius was a minister of justice within his area of authority and it is
clear he did it well. For Cornelius to have been the symbol of Roman authority and yet have a good reputation among the Jewish people would have taken a man who administered justice prudently. Judea was during this time a place of great civil unrest and instability.
Political movements were led by radical groups who used violence in an attempt to gain full Jewish independence. The Roman imperial authority was always at odds with the Jews and their religion. It is highly possible Cornelius would have had to organize and execute raids to silence revolutionaries and yet he maintained good rapport with the people.
Cornelius was answering the divine call. “‘Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment’” (John 7:24, NKJV). Cornelius was called upon to utilize the sword to exact justice and maintain order, protecting the populace he had authority over. This man also revealed a foundational characteristic of a true warrior; compassion. Noted in the Holy
Scripture is his generosity and charity to the people, he protected them in love and sustained them in love; he answered that great and divine call to be just.
Without compassion the warrior is but his enemy, a heathen who thirsts for blood and power. Cornelius exacted true justice showing mercy and judgment. “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4, NKJV). Cornelius was a minister to the people for good, but for those who practiced evil he stood ready to confront them with the sword and ferociously protect his people.
Cornelius was a just man, a good man, a compassionate man; but he was still a man that would face God’s judgment. Cornelius, like us all, needed to hear the Gospel message and receive the salvation that is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. Cornelius was on a personal journey, searching for truth and purpose as the Father beckoned him to the cross. Cornelius, like all of us, must make the choice to submit to Christ and his saving work. Peter preaches the Gospel message to Cornelius and his household:
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:38-43, NKJV)
Upon hearing the message Cornelius and his household place their faith in Christ and are born again, receiving the Holy Spirit. They now live with the very presence of God within them, enjoying personal relationship with their Creator. The spiritual war fought in eternity is the basis for all battle, and only the Warrior-King Jesus Christ can conquer the forces of darkness. We as warriors of our age are nothing without the fighting Spirit of God, the lion-heart of Christ. Yes
there are mighty men among us, men of renown that are of the world; but O what these men would be by surrendering to their King and striving forward in His glory! The warrior does not live to his full potential until he humbly surrenders his life to be crucified with Christ, and thus rise born again in the resurrection Spirit of the living God. The holy Warrior, Jesus, fought and died for our souls, sacrificing His life and rising victorious in the spiritual fight. The warrior, the Lord’s centurion, rises in the grace of Christ and pushes forward in the Lord’s might against those that seek to destroy the innocent.
We are the Lord’s centurions, we push aside the fear of death and look to the glory of God. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NKJV). Christ is our purpose, our glory, our Lord; we have surrendered our lives to him. He is our First Love, and we strive to humble ourselves according to the Spirit’s call, and fix our eyes upon Yeshua. We are already dead, our flesh crucified with Christ and buried. We have risen new creations in his resurrection and declaration of eternal victory. The Holy Spirit abides within us, seals us for
eternal glory, and covers us in immortality: death has no hold over us. In the Lord’s might, in his power and discipline we enter the breach and willingly, even joyfully, lay down our lives as we push forward into the fray. In the fires of combat the warrior knows that his life is low on the priority-of-life scale; he has chosen the sacred call to give his life to protect those who are being sought by the oppressor for destruction. The Lord’s centurion sings his song of war and seeks the glory of God as he enters into adversity and takes the fight to the oppressor.
The warsong of the centurion is one of joy, for though he is surrounded by carnage his eyes are fixed upon the mighty warrior Yeshua. “Father I rejoice, for Yeshua is my strength!” Christ has called the centurion to the fight, and no matter the outcome the centurions of God know they are covered in the sovereign grace of the Almighty. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! The centurions of Christ are covered in the perpetual deliverance of their Lord; sing your warsong and worship your God! The Lord’s centurion knows that a legacy of sacrificial love far outweighs a life lived in cowardice. He would rather be remembered as a warrior long dead than known as a coward living a life of comfort. In the Lord’s grace the centurion prays for a good death, a death that
would bring glory to God in battle. The Lord is his banner, he knows that Christ is victorious!
“Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8b NKJV).
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;” – William Shakespeare
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.” – G.K. Chesterton
“‘Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’” (John 12:27-28, NKJV)
Abba, my Father, I am the Lord’s centurion; I surrender my life into the sovereign hands of Christ. Father, lead me in the Spirit. Have mercy upon your servant and give me the strength to fulfill the calling you have put upon my life: to be a protector and guardian of my people. Lead me in truth, justice and righteousness according to your steadfast love. O my Father, consume me in Yeshua’s holy zeal and drive me in mercy, compassion and kindness. Make me holy as you are holy. Father, give me peace when I am in the fight. I will sing and give praise! Hosanna, hosanna in the highest! Father, glorify your name!
D'Amato, R. (2012). Roman Centurions 31 BC-AD 500. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Dando-Collins, S. (2010). Legions of Rome. New York: St.Martin's Press.
McNab, C. (Ed.). (2013). The Roman Army. New York: Metro Books.
About the Author:
Michael Winkelman is former US Army Airborne and a current Law Enforcement Officer. Mikey works as a Patrol Sergeant, SWAT Team Leader, and Firearms Instructor. Mikey is also the author of Sing Your Warsong, Christian! A beautiful and powerful devotional written for a fellow brother-in-arms. We highly suggest you snag a copy!