Have you ever seen a picture or a movie depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion and noticed the sign that was hung above Him with the letters “INRI”? What does it stand for and what does it mean? Well, it symbolizes this Latin phrase: "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum." Totally clear now, right?! I know, unless you're a Latin scholar, that answer probably doesn’t help much. Where is Google Translate when you need it?
The phrase “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum"—often abbreviated “INRI” means “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” Ah, now things are making more sense!
John 19:19-20 (NIV) says, “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.” So when pictures or movies want to abbreviate what the sign said, they do so with the letters “INRI” to represent the Latin version of the phrase. To be historically accurate though, it was actually written out completely.
It's interesting to note that in John’s Gospel this item is called a “notice” or “sign,” but the Gospels of Matthew and Mark both refer to it as a “charge” or “accusation” (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26). The reason that Matthew and Mark take a harsher tone in their description of this object is because it was customary during a crucifixion to post over the heads of the ones crucified the crime for which they were suffering and the name of the accused.
The accusation was that Jesus proclaimed Himself the “King of the Jews” (Mark 15:1-2, 12-15). But when Pilate had this written on the sign, the Jewish leaders objected to the application of this Messianic title to Jesus. They said, “Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (John 19:21, emphasis mine).
Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22) and refused to alter the sign—a keen statement to the truth. Ironically, the “crime” for which Jesus was killed was neither a crime nor a lie. Rather, "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews" described the way things really were in complete truth.
The phrase “King of the Jews” has two implications—one being a physical, political ruler and the second being a spiritual and messianic king. During Jesus’ day, the Jews were looking for a man who would rise up, fight against and defeat the Romans, then establish an earthly kingdom.
Initially, this is what the Jews saw in Jesus, but His time to reign as a physical King on the earth had not yet come (John 6:15; Luke 19:38; Acts 1:6). Being from the linage of King David and since He will one day sit on the throne in Jerusalem as King, He is indeed the literal King of the Jews (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
But there's another aspect of His kingship which is important—not just for the Jews but for all of humanity.
When kings were chosen in the land of Israel, they were anointed with oil as a sign of God’s choosing. (See 1 Kings 1:39.) The term “Messiah” means “anointed one.” The Jews knew that the Messiah would not just be a physical king but would also bring about humanity's spiritual salvation from sin and eternal death. In Acts 2, Peter explains that David prophesied that the Messiah would be from his (David's) bloodline, die, and come back to life for the forgiveness of our sins. This Messiah is Jesus (John 20:31). So Jesus being the King and the Messiah is like one and the same (Mark 15:32).
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He was not dying to pay for any crime He committed. The only One who could ever pay for the crimes (sins) of mankind is Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). Only through Him can we be forgiven of our sins.
The reason Pilate would have made sure his sentencing about Jesus was written in three languages is because these were the most common languages of the known world at that time. In this way, it was like a proclamation that Jesus was the King and Savior of the whole world.
Jesus' invitation of salvation is open to all who believe, and one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the King—not just of the Jews but Lord of all (Philippians 2:9-11, Revelation 1:7). Have you believed in Jesus as your Messiah? If not, you can choose to believe right now! If you have more questions about what it means to believe in Jesus, check out the "Also See" links below. If you have chosen to believe today, then join in with the nations, proclaiming Jesus the King!
In visual depictions of the crucifixion, we often see the letters “INRI” on a sign above Jesus’ head. These letters are an acronym for what was really written in Latin: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum,” which means “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” This phrase is what Pilate commanded to be written and displayed over Jesus’ head (John 19:19-20). It was customary for the condemned to have their name and crime displayed at their death. This title is ironic because, while the Jewish teachers wanted to condemn Jesus for saying He was the King of the Jews, the truth was that Jesus is indeed the King. He came from the linage of King David and was the promised Messiah who would sacrifice Himself for the sins of humanity, then come back to life. One day, everyone will bow down and confess that Jesus is King—not just of the Jews but Lord of all (Philippians 2:9-11, Revelation 1:7).
Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.