In John 19:19 we are given the sign that was ordered by Pontius Pilate to be placed above our Lord while on the Cross. It read, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” This sign was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek for all in the area to read and understand. As you know the Pharisees strongly objected to this in John 19:21.
Isn’t it interesting that those who seek for a sign, John 2:18 and 1 Cor 1:22, were given one in plain sight, yet they still rejected it.
Why was their objection so strong? Well when we translate the inscription from the Hebrew, as hinted to do so in John 19:13 and 17, we see something very interesting that answers the question.
It is pronounced [ee-ay-sooce’] [nad-zo-rah’-yos] [bas-il-yooce’] [ton] [ee-oo-dah’-yon].”
So we break the inscription down as follows:
English – “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Greek Transliterated – IESOUS NAZORAIOS BASILEUS IOUDAION
Hebrew Transliterated – YeHOSHUA NAZIR MELEK YeHUDI
Latin – IESUS NAZARENUS REX IUDAEORUM
In defining the Hebrew and decoding the message that the Pharisees objected to, there are four main phrases. From them we see:
[The Lord is salvation]
[Nazarite – “One separated or consecrated – an undressed vine”]
As we review the usage of King in this inscription, please also keep in mind that the term represents ultimate in sovereignty. So not only is an earthly King in view but the heavenly King too.
YeHUDI or YeHUDAH
[Judah = “he shall be praised”]
So all together it reads: “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS”, which literally means, “The Lord is Salvation, the one separated for our sins, the King, He shall be praised.”
The gospel of John is the only Gospel that identifies all four titles, as it were, of our Lord. Interestingly, (but also purposefully on the part of God, who divinely inspired, through verbal plenary inspiration, every word and punctuation mark in the Bible, 2 Tim 3:16), the other gospels only use portions of the inscription. Here’s why.
1. In Mat 27:37 the inscription reads, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS”.
a) In Matthew the phrase “this is” is added and the title “Nazarene” is omitted.
b) Matthew was written to the Jews emphasizing His Kingship, and that was the point being driven home to them.
c) The phrase “this is” is the Greek phrase HOUTOS ESTIN. HOUTOS means, “this, this one, he, she or it”. It can also mean “a matter of fact”. It is a demonstrative pronoun. Coupled with the verb ESTIN in the Present, Active, Indicative of EIMI, it means “to be” or “is”. So the phrase, “this is” identifies who is on the cross as a statement of dogmatic fact of reality. In other words, “THIS IS WHO THE ONE ON THE CROSS TRULY IS”.
d) As noted, the words “the Nazarene”, meaning “the separated one” are omitted. Why this omission? Because the point to be made is “The Lord of your salvation is the King whom you should praise” and the spiritual heritage of Israel with its ritual worship that had meaning was already telling them generation after generation of the sacrifice required for their salvation.
e) Conclusion: From the gospel of Matthew, the message written to the Jews to emphasize the Lord’s Kingship on the plaque ordered by Pilate read in Hebrew, “This is absolutely the Lord of salvation your King who shall be praised”.
2. In Mark 15:26 it reads only, “THE KING OF THE JEWS”.
a) In Mark the phrase “This is Jesus the Nazarene” is omitted.
b) Mark was written to the Romans proclaiming the servanthood of our Lord.
c) What an impression this would make on them as a King would pay such a price on behalf of His people. It was a far cry from what the Caesars of their day would do. The Caesars where to be treated as gods, to be served by the people, verses serving the people as our Lord the King had done.
d) Conclusion: To the Romans the message, “the servant-King who shall be praised” had the most impact on them.
3. In Luke 23:38 it reads yet differently, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
a) In Luke the phrase “Jesus the Nazarene” is omitted.
b) Luke’s gospel was written to pagan unbelieving Gentiles to reveal the Son of Man.
c) His gospel shows that God became a Man in the person of Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
d) This was done because the various gentile nations and cultures had many gods in their religion and mythology. The god’s where separate from man, and in all of their mythology no god had ever become a man to suffer and die for the people. In fact, if a god became a man, it was typically due to a curse upon that deity by other deities. It represented a flaw in that god.
e) Conclusion: The portion of the inscription that Luke utilized read, “This is absolutely the man-King who shall be praised”. For a god to become a man, take on the flaws of mankind when He had none of His own, suffer and die, and still be exalted was something quite unique and would grab their attention.
4. Back in John 19:19 we have the full inscription, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS”, excluding “this is”.
a) John’s gospel was written to Christians emphasizing Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
b) The point to be made is what God has done for the believer. God provided salvation in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
c) Jesus was the undressed vine when He was separated from God, taking on the sins of the entire world, and paying the penalty thereof.
d) At the same time He is the exalted King who will return to establish His eternal reign at the Millennium where “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD”, Isa 45:23; Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10.
e) Conclusion; this gives us the ALPHA and OMEGA glory of Jesus Christ. It tells us why He came and what the future holds in store for those who believe in Him. “The Lord is Salvation, the One separated for our sins, the King, He shall be praised.”
So now we understand a little better why the Jews objected so strongly to the intended mockery on the part of Pontius Pilate that had such an unintentional significance. Interestingly, Paul understood this entire picture and summarized it in Phil 2:5-11. Note that the underlined text below relates to the plaque above our Lord on the Cross and the bold text relates to the four Gospel messages.
Phil 2:5-11, “Christ Jesus (1. Lord of salvation), 6who, although He existed in the form of God (3. The Sovereign King – Matthew), did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but deprived Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant (Mark), and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man (He is the son of man- Luke), He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (2. Separated for consecration). 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess (4. He shall be praised) that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, (He is the Son of God – John).”
For those who were always looking for a sign of proof that the Messiah was coming or had come, they sure had a great one. A flashing billboard, as it were, that drew the attention of all; stating the fact that Jesus Christ was the Savior as promised by God. Therefore, let us not overlook the simple signs from God in our lives that are right in front of our noses, so that we can serve Him better each day.