Author: Ron Graham

Why Be Religious?

The Inscription on the Cross
—John 19:19-20

Pilate wrote an inscription, and put it on the cross of Jesus. Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city.

The inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek (John 19:19-20). It said...


There is perhaps much more in this inscription than meets the eye. It seems that Pilate intended more to be read into it than he actually wrote. And more still can properly be read into it, than even Pilate might have intended. Of course the five truths below cannot be deduced from the sign on the cross. However, when these truths are revealed to us in the gospel, then we are able to see them embedded in the words on the sign.

1 He is the Saviour

No doubt Pilate wrote the name "JESUS" because that was the name of the one being crucified. But this name was given by God at Jesus's birth because it meant something -- Saviour (Matthew 1:21). And now, at his death, it has by no means lost significance, but rather gained the more. The name Jesus comes from the Hebrew Jehoshua, meaning Jehovah saves. The first word in the inscription tells us that the death of this man is the means of salvation from sin.

2 He Fulfilled the Prophecies

No doubt Pilate's inscription describes Jesus as "THE NAZARENE" simply to identify him in terms of geographical address. But, perhaps unbeknown to Pilate, there survived an old prophecy that the Messiah (or Christ, the coming King) would "be called a Nazarene" (Matthew 2:23). It is only one detail, but it points to the fact that Jesus was the Christ of whom the prophets spoke.

Unfortunately the populace was in no mood to reflect upon this at the time. We, however, removed from the heat of the moment, should reflect upon it soberly. For the prophets also called him, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief... pierced through for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:3,5).

3 His Kingdom is Not of This World

Next, the inscription calls Jesus "KING". Pilate had questioned Jesus carefully about whether he was a political king. Pilate had been satisfied with the answer Jesus gave: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:33-38). The inscription on the cross acknowledges Jesus as a spiritual king, not usurping Caesar but transcending Caesar. The only kingdom this dying king ever threatened, was the Satanic "dominion of darkness" (Colossians 1:13).

4 He Is the Whole World’s Hope

The inscription representing Jesus as Saviour and King may have said, "OF THE JEWS", yet it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Hebrew was the language of the Jews in Jerusalem. But Latin was the official language of the Roman world superpower, whilst Greek was the most widely spoken language across that world.

The inscription was multilingual for the practical reason that anyone might then understand it, not just the Jew but also the foreigner passing by. This happened to be appropriately symbolic as well. The inscription was written first to the Jew, and also to the Gentile, which reflected the "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Romans 1:16).

5 He Was Punished for Another’s Guilt

It was customary to write and display the accusation against a man being crucified. Accordingly, "they put above his head the charge written against him" (Matthew 27:37). Yet, when you look at what was written, it makes no specific accusation at all! The Jews realised this, and protested to Pilate, "Don't just write 'King of the Jews' but write that he claimed to be King of the Jews." But Pilate refused. "What I have written, I have written" (John 19:21-22).

Pilate had found no guilt in Jesus (John 19:6). This was why the "accusation" he wrote was really no accusation at all. It is fitting that Jesus was, at least officially, accused of no wrongdoing, because "he did no sin" (1Peter 2:22).

But if Jesus did no sin, and there was no guilt in him, the question arises, Why was he being punished? Surely God would not allow his Son to be punished so cruelly if not for guilt? Yet he was not being punished for his own guilt, for he had none. Then for whose guilt was he being punished?

When you answer that question for yourself, you have answered the other question we are asking in this series, "Why be religious?" When you realise that Jesus died "for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53:5), and in particular for your own transgressions, how can you help but worship him with all your heart and soul?