Someone wrote something and put it on the cross on which God’s Son bled and died. The words were written in three different languages: Greek, Latin, and Hebrew (Luke 23:38). That which was written and placed on His cross is called “a title” (John 19:19), “an inscription” (Luke 23:38), and “the inscription of His accusation” (Mark 15:26).
The Bible records matter-of-factly that “they put up over His head the accusation written against Him” (Matthew 27:37). That statement identifies the location of the inscription: it was over/above the Christ’s head. But who wrote it? The answer to that question is found in only one Bible verse: “Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross . . .” (John 19:19). Pilate wrote it, that is, “Pontius Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:2), who tried Jesus, sentenced Him to death, and oversaw the whole shameful, unjust affair.
What did the inscription/title written by Pilate say? Here is the Bible’s record:
- “THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Mark 15:26)
- “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Luke 23:38)
- “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Matthew 27:37)
- “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19).
Other than recognizing the facts of what was written, who wrote it, and where it was placed, what other observations and spiritual lessons can we glean from the inscription placed over Jesus’ head?
First, read “the whole story.” Regardless of the Bible topic, in order to get the complete picture, we must read and consider all that God has spoken on any given subject. When we do that with the words comprising the inscription on Jesus’ cross, we see that the totality of that title would be this message: “THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” The temptation is to read a single Bible verse/statement and jump to the conclusion that no other information is available or needed. Some do that with John 3:16, concluding from the wonderful words of that text that in order to be saved from sin, there is no need for a lost sinner to repent and obey any instructions from the Lord.
That supposition easily is shown to be false simply by reading other Bible verses which touch on the matter of forgiveness, including the “repent and be baptized” message of Acts 2:38. Read it all, friend.
Second, different is not necessarily contradictory. What the four individual writers (John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew) tell us about the inscription on Jesus’ cross is not the same. Mark’s version is the shortest, and what he records is found verbatim in the other three books as well: “THE KING OF THE JEWS.” What Matthew, Luke, and John record simply supplements what is found in Mark’s account. There is no contradiction between any two of those writers’ messages. Something is a contradiction only when there is no logical, rational way of explaining the differences. Different is not wrong: different is just that — different.
Notice the response of the chief priests to the inscription that Pilate wrote. They told Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’” (John 19:21). The Jewish leaders had a serious issue: Jesus’ miracles and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies proved He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Contrary to their claim, He did not “make” Himself God’s Son (John 19:7): He was God’s Son! In the same way, in God’s plan He was to be king. It was not some sort of self-exaltation.
A fourth lesson: sometimes unbelievers say things that are accurate. Pilate, an unbeliever, described Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus confessed that He was Jesus of Nazareth (John 18:7,8). Even if Pilate in mockery wrote that Jesus was the king of the Jews, this fact remains: earlier that day when Pilate asked, “Are You the King of the Jews,” Jesus responded, “It is as you say” (Luke 23:3). Even the mockery of an unbeliever (Pilate) did not change the truth which he wrote, a truth that the whole world needs to hear.
What response will you and I have to Pilate’s inscription? Will we serve Jesus as our King? Now, look below the inscription and see the love of the sinless, tortured Savior, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter. 2:24).
— Roger D. Campbell