There was a sign, crudely carved and visible to all. A sign declaring His name, His title and His purpose. A sign Pilate had placed above the head of the One who was raised up for all the world to see. A sign to display the truth, just like the man hanging from the cross. A sign reading, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Was it for documentation or to continue stirring up the Jewish leaders? Or, was it placed as a statement of belief by Pilate? Whatever the reason, whatever the logic, the sign on the cross spoke more than just the seven words written on it, it spoke to the world.
Pilate also wrote and inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Therefore, many of the Jews read this inscription for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. John 19:19-20
Of the four Gospel accounts found in the Bible, John is the only one who takes such great care in telling us not only what the sign said, but also how it was written. Three languages were found inscribed on the sign. A seemingly insignificant detail of unimportance, right? I happen to believe nothing in Scripture is random or coincidental, which means this very specific description of the sign on the cross is more important than we think.
THE SIGN THAT SPOKE TO THE JEWS
The first language inscribed on the sign hanging above Jesus was written in Hebrew, the religious language of the Israelites. In essence, the Hebrew language represented God’s chosen people, it’s a part of their identity. Since God’s Law was written in Hebrew, all of the priests and religious leaders of Jesus’ day would have spoken and read this language, including Jesus. In Luke we read about Jesus in the synagogue where He took the scroll of Isaiah and began to read it out loud. He spoke directly to the Samaritan woman at the well, who would have spoken Hebrew, the language of Samaria.
The fact that the sign of the cross was written in Hebrew first wasn’t just a fluke. God wanted to speak to all those who knew the Law and taught others of God’s commands that the man hanging on the cross was indeed the King of their people. The Lord wanted to ensure those who read the words of the Prophets knew Jesus truly was and is and will forever be King of Israel.
Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion. Psalm 2:6
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation. Zechariah 9:9
THE SIGN THAT SPOKE TO AUTHORITY
If Pilate’s goal was to simply fuel the Jewish leader’s hatred of Jesus and incite their religious beliefs, the sign on the cross would only have been printed in Hebrew. The fact that Pilate added Latin (and Greek) to the mix changes his audience greatly. Latin was a language spoken not only by the aristocracy, but also the government, and was used in administration of the military. It was the language of the Roman Empire.
Essentially, Latin represented power, authority and even conquest. The soldiers, centurions, and most assuredly Pilate, would all have understood Latin. The soldiers at the foot of the cross could read for themselves exactly who they had crucified as they mocked Him saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” As praise from the centurion’s mouth lifted up toward heaven saying “Surely this was a righteous man,” one might think his eyes fell upon the sign written in the language of authority.
Not only was Pilate speaking directly to all those in government and the military, but he was also proclaiming to the authoritative world that Jesus was indeed the One with authority and power. God used Pilate to make a declarative statement to all who were, are and will ever be in a position of power that Jesus Christ is the ultimate Supreme Ruler. The sign on the cross of the King broadcasting to all “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”
In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. Isaiah 16:5
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Revelation 19:16
THE SIGN THAT SPOKE TO THE WORLD
Last but not least, the sign was written in Greek. At the time, Greek was an international language, similar to what English is today. People from all different countries and regions of the Roman Empire spoke Greek, including those in Israel. It was considered the language of culture, commerce, and human wisdom. Those who worked in business spoke Greek, those who considered themselves philosophical and “intelligent” spoke Greek, and almost everyone in the “known world” during the days of Jesus spoke Greek. It was the language of the people.
During Pilate’s questioning of Jesus, he was trying to understand the concept of Jesus being a king. Jesus responded with this statement; “You say correctly that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus was born to save the world; His life, His truth available for all who understand the language He speaks.
THE SIGN ON THE CROSS
The sign written in Greek, spoke to the world and to the people. From the most intelligent and wise to those just trying to understand the simple, the sign on the cross spoke to them. From the richest business owner in town to the peddling street vender, the sign on the cross spoke to them. From those lecturing in the circles of the educated to the person just wanting to converse with their neighbor, the sign on the cross spoke to them.
Jesus came to save the whole world; Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, learned or uneducated; He was and is and always will be King for ALL who believe. The fact that the third language printed on the sign was in Greek speaks to this very fact. There is not one culture, one country, one peoples exempt from the saving love of Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said “Father the hour has come; glorify your Son, that the Son may glorify you, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given, He may give eternal life.” John 17:1-2
There was a sign, crudely carved and visible to all; a sign reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” A sign on the cross that spoke to the world.