No, the centurions were not a 1950's Rock and Roll band, at least not as far as I know. Centurions were Roman military officers who were commanders over military units of about 100 men each. They were ubiquitous in the Holy Land during Jesus' day because, after all, Judea and its environs were occupied territory.
Yet there is something curious about each and every centurion mentioned in the New Testament. Let's take a quick survey of these men and the accounts about them.
Luke 7:1-10 and Matthew 8:5-13 – A centurion sends word to Jesus, begging him to come and heal a servant who is paralyzed and near death. Jesus agrees and offers to go to the servant's bedside. As Jesus is on his way the centurion sends word to Jesus, stating his own unworthiness to have the Lord "trouble" himself to "enter under his roof", and instead just say the word, knowing that his servant would be healed. Jesus marvels at his faith and heals the servant from a distance.
Mark 15:39 – After seeing signs (a darkened sun, an earthquake, and the temple veil being torn), a centurion recognizes that "truly this man was the Son of God."
Acts 10:1-48 – The centurion Cornelius, "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household", and "who gave alms generously to the people", and "who prayed to God always" receives a special revelation from God to send for Peter for instruction in the way of God. God chooses this centurion and his household to be the first of the Gentiles to receive the Holy Spirit.
Acts 22:25-26 – Paul is delivered to the soldiers to be scourged even though there is no basis for it other than unfounded accusations by a small politically-driven religious class. Paul addresses a centurion who was standing by and reveals his Roman citizenship, which meant it was illegal for him to be scourged. The centurion prevents the scourging and appeals Paul's case to the commander, who rescinds his previous order.
Acts 24:23 – A centurion at the command of the governor Felix allows Paul liberty.
Acts 27:1-3 – A centurion named Julius is charged with the transporting of Paul as a prisoner to Rome. He treats Paul in a "kindly" way by allowing Paul to go ashore to receive medical care. Later (verse 43) he saves Paul's life as the ship was about to break up.
I take a lesson from this, though I am sure there are many more than just one. First Century Rome was an extremely corrupt place. Its empire was corrupt, its morals were corrupt, its people were corrupt, its officials were corrupt. In spite of all this there were still men of honor who were a part of the Roman system. It is the same today. It is tempting sometime to paint everyone in the government employ with the same wet brush. But that just isn't fair, as the stories of the centurions show.
*Reproduced, with permission, from Morning Companion.