Who was a Centurion?:
The title Centurion was used in the Roman army to designate a non-commissioned officer who was in charge of around 100 men. In practice, though, centurions were usually in charge of a century of just 80 men. A Roman legion of 4,800 to 6,000 men thus contained 60 Centurions.
What did Centurions do?:
Centurions were men of status and experience in their communities. Sometimes their duties were limited entirely to military affairs; other times, they might be in charge of the administration of a small military district. A Centurion was held in high-esteem for his experience, skills, and trustworthiness. Centurions were, in more ways than one, the backbone of the Roman army.
Why were Centurions important?:
Centurions are mentioned six times through the New Testament. One appears in Capernaum asking for help for his ill servant. One appears at Jesus crucifixion and, upon Jesus death, declares him to be the Son of God. Cornelius was a Centurion at Caesaria who was converted by Paul. Two more Centurions appear with Paul at the Antonia Fortress. Centurion Julius saved Pauls life while transporting him from Caesaria to Rome.
Centurions were symbols of the organized, Gentile world. Jesus healing a centurions servant showed that he came to help Gentiles as well as Jews. A centurion confessing the true nature of Jesus showed that such a confession required an understanding of how Jesus died, not being Jewish. The centurions with whom Paul associated demonstrated the conflicts as well as connections that could be made between Christian faith and secular political power.