Julius was Paul’s escort to Rome. To many ancient readers, Julius would have seemed like a contradiction —a kindhearted Roman centurion, though he is certainly not the only one to be found in the New Testament.
A member of the Imperial or Augustan Regiment, Julius would have had approximately one hundred men under his command. The few glimpses we get of Julius reveal an authoritative yet compassionate leader.
Julius was responsible for ensuring that Paul, on his way to testify before Caesar, arrived safely in Rome. It was no small task. More than one person wanted Paul dead, and even the weather seemed determined to make their journey as arduous as possible.
Along the way, Julius allowed Paul to disembark in Sidon (north of Judea on the Mediterranean coast) to visit friends—a gesture significant enough to merit inclusion in Acts 27. However, when Paul warned of a dangerous journey ahead, Julius ignored him, preferring to take his advice from the ship’s pilot and owner instead.
Paul was proved right when a storm threatened to tear the ship apart. He told Julius that anyone who tried to escape would perish. This time Julius listened, ordering his men to cut the ropes that held the lifeboat.
The fact that his soldiers would obey what must have sounded like a suicidal command indicates the kind of authority Julius held.
Later, when the ship ran aground, Julius’s authority and compassion united in his most important decision of the journey. His men wanted to kill the prisoners to keep them from escaping the shipwreck, but Julius intervened to save Paul’s life. If he had not done so, Paul never would have gotten his opportunity to preach the gospel in the very heart of the Roman Empire.
Julius’s refusal to kill his prisoners demanded a great deal of trust in Paul’s integrity. The penalty for losing a prisoner was death (see Acts 16:27). Paul was the kind of person who could be counted on to remain true to his word, even if the price was his own freedom.