INRI - What does it stand for? What was the inscription placed on Jesus' cross?

The Latin abbreviation INRI can be traced back to the sign that Pilate had nailed to the cross of Jesus. John 19:19-20 states, "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."

In Latin, the phrase "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" would have been translated "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum." The first letter of each word creates the abbreviation INRI. Throughout history, art displaying Jesus on the cross has included Pilate's sign, using INRI as an abbreviated form. In medieval Europe, these four letters were sufficient to communicate the idea that originated in the Gospel accounts.

Was the abbreviation INRI written on the sign posted above the head of Jesus on the cross? Probably not. John's Gospel indicates the words were written out for others to read. John 19:21-22 says, "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.'" Since the Jews protested the wording, it is clear the full text of the phrase had been used.

Both Matthew and Mark refer to this sign as well, providing additional support for this view. Matthew 27:37 shares, "And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.'" Mark 15:26 adds, "And the inscription of the charge against him read, 'The King of the Jews.'" In both of these cases, the sign is called a "charge." It appears the sign was added to make it clear the alleged crime that led to the death of Jesus.

These words provided both an accusation of His crime and a statement of fact regarding His identity. Jesus was a man from Nazareth and claimed to be the King of the Jews. Yet His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10).

In Revelation, Jesus appears as king. Revelation 1:5 notes, "Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth." His first coming to earth included His role as servant. His second coming will reveal His full role as King of the Jews, as well as King over all the earth.


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