In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. [Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)]
As we left the church, my friend asked “What do the letters INRI above the cross mean?” Unable to say it in Latin, I replied that it was an abbreviation of the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” In Latin, these words would be Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. When someone was crucified, it was usual to affix a sign to the cross declaring the cause of execution. Since the official charge against Jesus seemed to be that he’d challenged Roman rule by proclaiming himself the king of the Jews, Pilate had those words written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. As Pilate phrased it, however, the words seem more of a title rather than an accusation. When the high priests asked that the sign be changed to read “He said, I am the King of the Jews,” Pilate refused.
Other than that dark day when He was crucified and the title “king of the Jews” was used with scorn and mockery by the soldiers and crowd, Jesus was referred to as “king of the Jews” only one other time: at the visit of the Magi when they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:2] While most of Jesus’s countrymen didn’t acknowledge His identity, it was foreigners who recognized his sovereignty at His birth and a Roman governor who acknowledged His kingship at death.
Was Jesus the king of the Jews? A king’s supremacy is limited to his domain. The ruler of a nation, a king’s power is limited by his lifetime and the borders of his kingdom. He must defend his government from enemy nations and his regime from revolution. A king of the Jews would reign only over Judah’s territory and the children of Israel. When asked if He was king of the Jews, Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world. Indeed, Jesus’s kingdom wasn’t limited to Judah and the Jews. Unlike earthly kingships, His reign is absolute, unbreakable, sacred, and everlasting. When God raised Jesus from the dead, He was given power over all of creation and all people on earth, not just the Jews of Judah. Pilate’s sign was wrong. Jesus wasn’t the “king of the Jews;” He was and still is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.