All four Gospels include in their accounts the notice placed above Jesus on the cross. But the Gospel of John includes an extra piece of detail in 19:19-20:
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.
We have thought of the cross as located “on a hill far away,” like the old hymn about “the old rugged cross.” But the cross wasn’t very far away at all. The condemned were crucified just outside the city, nearby in order to serve as an example. Anyone journeying to or near the city of Jerusalem would get the message.
And in Jesus’ case in particular, the notice is written in Aramaic (or Hebrew), Latin, and Greek. What is the significance of these three languages? Aramaic was the local languages of the Jews living in the area. Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. And Greek was nearer to the universal language of the day. So, whether you were a local Jew, a Roman citizen, or a traveler on economic business, you should get the message. Today it would be something like posting a sign written in English, Chinese, and a local language.
So Jesus is crucified near the city where plenty of people would pass by and witness the sight. And the sign over him, “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews” is written to be read by persons from every conceivable background.
Rome is saying to any passerby: “This is what happens when people dare to transgress the power and sovereignty of Rome.”
And I think God is saying basically the same thing: “This is what happens when people dare to transgress the power and sovereignty of Almighty God.”
But the difference is critical, of course. For Rome, it is a message of destruction.
For God, it is a message of forgiveness.
One thought on “what rome and god were both saying in the cross”
I appreciate your insight. It hit me again as I read what you wrote that the sign the soldiers wrote could not have been more true — unless it had said: King of the Universe or Lord of All. At least he was crucified for something that was true and transcendent.
In God’s message of forgiveness is the truth that God was saying: I will take all hostility you have to give and redeem it. A far cry from our petty grievances, grudges and desire for revenge.