What Does the Sign ‘INRI’ Over Jesus on the Cross Mean?

Adobe Stock

INRI…You’ve probably seen this sign on decorative crosses. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, a sign with the letters INRI was hung over his head. This angered the Jews. Was it a mockery or is there a deeper mystery?

What does INRI on the cross of Christ?

The Bible, in John 19, tells us that when Jesus was crucified, the governor of the Roman province of Judea, Pontius Pilate, ordered that an inscription be hung on the cross over Jesus. It was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.

According to John 19:19, it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

How INRI came about

according to most explanations, the words were written in Latin as: “Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm.”

Latin does not have the letter “J” and uses “I” instead. So Jesus = Iesvs.

The early church adopted the first initial of each in the phrase to arrive at INRI, Christian Answers reports.

Differing accounts in the gospels are not contradictory

Jesus’ crucifixion is recounted in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There are slight differences as to what is reported as being written on the sign hung on the cross.

“And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, ‘THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS’.”

—Matthew 27:37

“The inscription of the charge against Him read, ‘THE KING OF THE JEWS’.”

—Mark 15:26

“Now there was also an inscription above Him, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS’.”

—Luke 23:38

“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS’.”

—John 19:19

Some may see them as contradictions – they are not. Although the word-by-word translations vary, not only in the Gospels but within Bible translations themselves, the context is exactly the same. In all four, Jesus is referred to as King of the Jews.

The mystery of INRI on the cross of Christ

The sign was originally intended to mock Jesus. The Jews were angry and insulted that the sign referred to Jesus as a king – mockery or not.

“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.”

– John 19:21-22

The result is a profound mystery. Because of Pilate’s refusal to change the sign, the truth remains. God used what was intended to be a mockery, to make a declaration in three languages that Jesus Christ is the king of the Jews and the world.

The late Billy Graham wrote: “The title was written in Hebrew so the religious would understand. It was written in Greek so the cultured world could understand. It was written in Latin so world government could understand.”

The truth is that Jesus is the king of all and he died for all.