And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
CHRIST became the subject of world caricature. In this caricature He was depicted as the mock-king of the Jews. Now God says to Him: Do not regard this as though something strange had happened to you. Do not think it odd that you are entitled the mock-king of the Jews in the language of the world. And indeed Christ became so used to it that He did not regard it as strange. In this caricature He was given what was rightly His. First in the picture of the soldiers and afterwards in the official language of the court He was mocked and despised. This is the title that is given to Him: Jesus. Of Nazareth. King. Of the Jews, you understand.
 Christ on Trial, Chapter 28, p. 525 ff.
For it is in terms of defiance and mockery that you can state the significance of the superscription which was placed over Jesus’ head on the cross. They make a public spectacle of Him as the King of the Jews. He is proclaimed as such in the Hebrew language. And in Greek. And also in Latin.
The superscription was written in three languages, but that can be understood, for it was at the behest of Pilate that the title was written over Christ’s head. If we may trust the reports which can be gleaned from the several writers, it was a custom of the day to affix a “title” to a person condemned to death. Sometimes such a “title” was written on a white placard; on this, in red or black letters, the breach of law for which the person had been condemned was inscribed. Sometimes the “title” was carried ahead of the condemned person; at other times the placard was hung on the victim’s breast. In this way he himself had to give all who cared to read a chance to learn what the verdict in his case had been.
We do not know which of these two methods was employed in the case of Jesus. Perhaps neither. We do not know just when this placard — if a placard was actually used — was prepared, and when it was affixed to the cross. According to some commentators the superscription was prepared by Pilate immediately after the verdict had been read. These maintain that he thereupon at once gave orders that the placard be prepared. Many add to this the assumption that the soldiers carried the superscription. In that case it was easily accessible to the eyes of the public. Thus we can explain that it was not till after the crucifixion, until after the “title” had been placed over Jesus’ head, that the high priests noticed what was written on it. But there are others who maintain that Pilate saw the high priests coming to him at once, that is, as soon as the procession had started, to protest against this phrasing of the superscription. And these believe further, therefore. that the placard, or whatever it was, was then very likely hung upon Jesus’ breast at once.
We believe that the first reading of the account is the better one. We feel, however, that the significance of such inquiries is little. The only question that matters in this connection is what the superscription meant for Him for Whom it was made.
Now it is remarkable that the superscription over Jesus’ head was put as tersely as it was: Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews. Doubtless Pilate’s sarcasm had a part in the conception of this terse phrasing. The deep disdain which he felt towards the Jews, with all their king-and-messiah problems, moved him to seek out a subtly ironic and poignant superscription. We had a taste before this of the superciliousness with which Pilate looked down on those seething Jews. And today his disdain has a special reason for wishing to express itself, for he feels more humiliated today than at any time. He had already mocked the Jews by the statement, “Behold, your king,” and also by the question, “Do you really want me to crucify your king? Obviously, Pilate’s mood had not improved any as time went on. The sentence which had been elicited from him had left him in a bad mood, in an angry temper. Consequently he grimly gives expression to his sarcasm in the terse statement: Jesus of Nazareth, the Jew-king.
The high priests noticed at once that the judge had given expression to his sarcasm in these superscriptions. They had been told in plain language that Pilate personally did not believe in the legitimacy of the charges which they brought against Jesus. Hence, when he by way of officially circumscribing the breach of law, states that the quintessence of the whole trial could be summed up by the word “Jew-king,” everyone felt that he had in mind to mock the Jews more than to mock the poor Galilean. Ah me, these Jews! The whole lot of them are worth no more to me than this miserable, broken, annihilated king. The Jews are precisely like that man himself: they are so many good-for-nothings; they are a people who occupy space on the earth for nothing.
Consequently the superscription over the cross was indeed a severe humiliation for Christ. It is a gruesome passion to the Bearer of God’s justice to be made the dupe of Pilate’s moods. Let Pilate be never so angry with the Jews, he must give Christ what is coming to Him. But that he does not want to do. He knows very well that for him to disclose the truth is also to reveal his own shame.
For that reason we can say that the superscription over the cross is an eloquent symbol of our sin. Man as he is by nature does not want to admit that he is doing Christ an injustice. Hence he calls Jesus an unfortunate king of other people. Thus he supposes that he can avoid the confession that he, the man who does the maligning, is an unfortunate subject of that king. In this state, man does just as Pilate did. He bandies Jesus Christ to and fro between himself and others. But Christ can see through such a person; he knows what is in man. He knows very well that Pilate is doing nothing “strange”; He knows very well that all “flesh” by nature does what Pilate did, and that it in the same way refuses to acknowledge and establish the charges against itself. In the last analysis, the titles which the “flesh” conceives for the Saviour are all prompted by a feeling of resentment. Man knows he has been defeated by Christ, and thus he says that Christ has been defeated by another. All unfortunate subjects say: Behold the unfortunate king.
But there is much more to say. The title “king of the Jews” is intensely satanic. Jesus wants to be the king of the world. His kingdom is ecumenical; He gave expression to that Himself in the presence of Pilate. Nevertheless Pilate designates Him solely as a king of the Jews. The degradation of Christ relentlessly pursues its own inevitable logic; it gives expression to its envy and hatred without reservation.
 Christ on Trial, Chapter 16, p. 314 f.
In this we see a pathetic contrast: Jesus is called the king of the Jews, but the name is written out in the language of the world. He is called the king of a sect, but the language in which the mockery is couched is an ecumenical language. The superscription is written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Those were the three languages in which the entire world of the time might be able to read the placard. It was written in Hebrew for all the Jews going to the feast. All the guests of the temple had to read how pathetic was the case of the king of the Jews. It had to be written in Greek, for that was the language of culture, of the world then civilized. And it had to be set down in Latin, for that was the language of Pilate’s king, it was the language of law and of official jurisprudence. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin: the language of the land, the language of the world, and the language of jurisprudence. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin: the language of Zion, of the Acropolis, and of the Forum. The language of Jerusalem, of Athens, and of Rome. The language of religion, culture, and of the usurpation of power. The language of the ancient Orient, of the changing West, and of the incipient, newly-formed world-empire. The whole image of the beast of which Nebuchadnezzar once dreamed is given a mouth with which to speak on Golgotha. The Beast opens its mouth in order to speak grievous words against the Spirit. For all the world empires which Nebuchadnezzar saw issued in that of Greek culture, and arrived at the point of the Roman empire. These are the kingdoms, we can say, which are represented by the head, the trunk, and the appendages of the vision which Nebuchadnezzar saw. Latin is the language spoken by that world empire represented by the feet of the image of Nebuchadnezzar. Hebrew is the language of him, who in the vision of Daniel, is called the rolling stone, the stone which causes the vision of Nebuchadnezzar to crumble. Hebrew is the language of Christ Himself, the language of Daniel’s Son of man, and of Daniel himself. This precisely constitutes the humiliation, the gruesome mockery: In this superscription the Hebrew is merely a subordinate matter. Pilate uses it not because he recognizes that the Hebrew language is a world language, but because he wants to mock the Jews in their own dialect. The Hebrew, well, that is but a subsidiary part of this matter; it really does not count. The Hebrew language would, in fact, have been omitted entirely in the superscription if Pilate had not wanted his mockery to be evident to every Jew. For this reason, also, the superscription is a grievous source of suffering to Jesus. He is announced in the language of the world then known as an unsuccessful dictator to a pathetic little group of people, who have no longer a role to play in history. The rolling stone which Daniel saw seems to have lost its power and to be unable to harm the image of the Beast. Look at the superscription, read the title written there in three languages. Does it not seem to be mockery to believe that that rolling stone could possibly make an impression on the gigantic image of Nebuchadnezzar? Son of man — that is the title God writes in the Hebrew language. And the Greek and the Latin, that is, the cultural powers represented by those two languages, were supposed to be splintered into pieces by this power. Of that victory there is no hint or suggestion on Golgotha. The superscription on the cross again comprises all the offense and foolishness of the Gospel.
 Nebe, op. cit., p. 233.
Most pathetic, indeed. Even in the language in which it is expressed, prophecy is being mocked to its very face. Offense! Foolishness! Hebrew, Greek, and Latin! But the Hebrew is merely thrown in for good measure.
The Hebrew language was the instrument by means of which the antique world, in so far as it allowed itself to be served by the true religion of Israel, moved on its way. Latin and Greek were the instruments by means of which the new world, to the extent that with its pagan culture it fought against the religion of Israel, made its progress. Latin and Greek were the two languages by means of which the beast would presently oppose the Spirit, and paganism would oppose the young world of Christendom. Hebrew was the language of revelation up to this time. Greek and Latin were the tongues spoken by the opposition.
We can say, therefore, that the little white placard is suspended between two worlds, between the ancient and the modern. It hangs suspended between two cultures, the Oriental and the Occidental. It hangs between two religions, the religion of revelation and profane religion. God Himself affixed this superscription of the cross to the line of demarcation separating those two worlds.
But is this cause for lamentation? No, for through the deep humiliation of Christ the power of His exaltation again breaks through at God’s behest. The Son of man is lifted up on the cross; that is, He is made visible, He is made conspicuous to all. Well, it is an appropriate part of such exaltation that it be given expression in a universal language, in the language which causes two worlds, two cultures, and two religions to clash.
Christ is, of course, called a sectarian person, but He proves to faith, nevertheless, and that in the very languages in which He is being mocked, that He is the Son of man, that He is exalted, lifted up on the cross, and that He could not be thrust aside at the crossroads of times and cultures and religions.
 Christ on Trial, Chapter 15, p 298 ff.
Exaltation! Even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up . . . before and above the world. But this exaltation could accrue to Christ only by means of His humiliation and therefore God permits Him to be mocked by all those who speak the tongues of men. He had to be given a name of mockery by all the languages spoken at the time. That was His glory, but it was also His shame.
It was His glory. Be very careful, Pilate, lest you overlook some language on that white placard. He lays claim to at least three groups of languages. Again we say that the superscription written in three tongues is His glory. In the last analysis Jesus, and especially the Jews themselves, are being mocked and defied in three languages. Moreover, it is apparent that the Jews themselves sense this. They ask Pilate, we note, to alter the superscription, not to say that Jesus was king of the Jews, but that He wanted to be known as such. But this by no means changes the fact that the superscription which was phrased in three languages was also Jesus’ shame. True, the mockery which the Jews would heap upon Christ returns like a boomerang upon their own heads. This is so essentially true that several expositors believe that they must detect in John’s account a delicate play on words. John tells us that Jesus was called the king of the Jews, and thereupon the priests are very advisedly designated as the priests of the Jews. These expositors think, therefore, that John wanted to say this: The king of the Jews is passing into exile together with the priests of the Jews and is being mocked together with them.
 This would then be a striking allusion to the chapter we have discussed at various times, the chapter of Zechariah (Christ on Trial, Chapter 23, p. 430) in which the priest and the king are both represented in Joshua, and can only be affirmed or denied together. In that case, the Bible wishes to tell us: Unless the Jews are willing to honor the Priest of Zechariah 6 together with the King, the Priest and the King will be together in their humiliation.
But what, pray, does that subtract from the passion of Christ?
We have repeatedly pointed to the fact that the shame of the Jews cannot be the honor of Jesus, and may not be that. He is not a child of hell, deriving solace and comfort from the misery and degradation of those who hate Him. On the contrary, the disdain of the Jews grieves Him. As often as Pilate uses Jesus’ despicability as an argument for what, coming as it does from His mouth, is an irreligious contention to the effect that the people of Abraham is good for nothing under the sun, so often is Christ mocked, He and the community of Abraham, for He must confess these all as long as it pleases God that He should do so. For He Himself is the great mystery of Israel. He who, in the manner of Pilate, despises Israel and all her mysteries, despises especially the Christ Himself.
Therefore we say that the superscription over the cross is a proclamation of great power for us. In this title over the cross Pilate takes over the crown of thorns, the reed, the gorgeous robe, and all the forms employed by the caricaturing soldiers beforehand. The caricature which the soldiers printed now goes through another edition, this time accompanied by a commentary which is translated into all “civilized” languages. The superscription over the cross leaves Christ in the caricature of the world. By means of it the Saviour is punished for the “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem.
Above Pilate’s superscription God wrote His own epigram. God speaks in and through and above Pilate. You ask what God says? Notice this. The superscription on the cross, placed as it was above the head of Jesus, is a repudiation of all the sentimental imaginings of men which have woven a halo, a nimbus, around the head of Christ. As I look at the superscription I recollect again that Christ was crucified between the bandits. Therefore I would see Him who is my Lord and God, the King of the world and the King of my heart, as One who was unsuccessful according to the flesh. Pilate, that which you write or do not write, that which you subtract or leave, does not touch Him, it does not affect Him. What thou hast written thou hast not written. God wrote and He still writes, and He only writes. And the Lord my God summons me to Him today and says to me: What I have written, I have written, I, the Lord, the Almighty. I have written over His head, not that He said that He had to be the King of your heart, but that I said it, and He, and that He is that because He is that. His name, also when He proclaims Himself to be the king of your heart, is: He is what He is. And that is the end of the matter, saith the Lord, the Just One.
Hebrew, Greek, and Latin . . . Christ in the caricature of the world. Christ in the literature of the world. Hallelujah, amen! He is preparing the day of Pentecost, the day of tongues — for what the Spirit of Pentecost has prescribed, that He Himself has done.