The Gospel of John: The King of the Jews!

“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:19-22)

What we witness in today’s text was the continued verbal sparring between the Jewish religious leaders and the local political governor from Rome: Pontius Pilate. While Jesus was accomplishing an eternal redemption and atonement for sinners, the Jews and Pilate dickered about the formal charge against Jesus resulting in His execution. What a contrast between the significance of the crucifixion and the silliness displayed by the crucifiers.

“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  A sign listing the crimes committed was often placed around the neck of the condemned as they journeyed to the execution site. The placard would then be nailed to the victim’s cross (see Matt. 27:37Mark 15:26Luke 23:38). Pontius Pilate used this opportunity for a mocking revenge against the Jews leaders who had pressured him into this execution.

Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. There was a method to the so-called madness by Pilate. He wanted the greatest number of people possible to witness how the Jews treated their kings.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary of the New Testament explains, “The site of execution was necessarily outside the city, although the soldiers preferred that it be nearby. Jewish people in the Roman Empire dealt with three or four basic languages: Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew (of these, Greek especially was spoken outside Palestine and shared its prominence with Aramaic inside Palestine). Jewish inscriptions to foreigners were written in Greek and Latin.

Bible Teacher Robert Rothwell comments that, “Pilate inscribed “King of the Jews” on Jesus’ cross, likely intending only to mock the Jews who rejected Christ (John 19:20–22). He spoke better than he knew, indirectly witnessing to the One who is King not only of the Jews but of all people (Amos 9:11–12).”

“So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “The chief priests naturally did not want this to be proclaimed as a fact. They wanted Jesus to die for claiming to be the Jews’ King. So they protested to Pilate to change the superscription. Pilate refused to do so. Doubtless he felt he had done enough dirty work for the leaders of the nation, and he enjoyed his little joke against them. His haughty answer, What I have written, I have written, completes a series of amazing utterances by Pilate (cf. 18:38; 19:5, 14–15; Matt. 27:22).”

Walvoord concludes this section by stating, “Irony was also shown by John, who recognized that Pilate wrote those words but that God wanted His Son to die with this proclamation on His cross. The words in another sense are a fitting judgment on the life of Pilate. He had played his part and had his moment of truth. He, a Gentile, would be judged accordingly by the King of the Jews!

John Calvin writes: “When God declares that our salvation was so dear to Him, that He did not spare His only-begotten Son, what abundance goodness and what astonishing grace do we here behold! Whoever, then, takes a just view of the causes of the death of Christ, together with the advantage which it yields to us, will not, like the Greeks, regard the doctrine of the cross as foolishness, not, like the Jews, will he regard it as an offense (I Corinthians 1:23), but rather as an invaluable token and pledge of the power, and wisdom and righteousness and goodness of God.”

May God’s truth and grace reside here.

Soli deo Gloria!

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