John 19:20
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.
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(20) This and the following verses are peculiar to St. John, and furnish another instance of his exact knowledge of what took place at Jerusalem.

Many of the Jews.—That is, of the hierarchical party, as generally in this Gospel. (Comp. Note on John 1:19.) It has been sometimes understood here of the people generally, because the inscription was written in the three languages; but the last clause of the verse furnishes the reason for the action of the chief priests in the next verse. It would be better to punctuate the verses thus: “This title therefore read many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city. And it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Therefore said the chief priests . . .”

Nigh to the city.—Comp. Note on Matthew 27:33.

Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.—“Hebrew,” i.e., the current Syro-Chaldaic, was the language of the people generally. The precise form which occurs here is used in the New Testament only by St. John (John 5:2; John 19:13; John 19:17; John 19:20; John 20:16; Revelation 9:11; Revelation 16:16). “Greek” was the most widely-known language of the time. “Latin” was the official language of the Roman Empire.



John 19:17 - John 19:30

In great and small matters John’s account adds much to the narrative of the crucifixion. He alone tells of the attempt to have the title on the Cross altered, of the tender entrusting of the Virgin to his care, and of the two ‘words’ ‘I thirst’ and ‘It is finished.’ He gives details which had been burned into his memory, such as Christ’s position ‘in the midst’ of the two robbers, and the jar of ‘vinegar’ standing by the crosses. He says little about the act of fixing Jesus to the Cross, but enlarges what the other Evangelists tell as to the soldiers ‘casting lots.’ He had heard what they said to one another. He alone distinctly tells that when He went forth, Jesus was bearing the Cross which afterwards Simon of Cyrene had to carry, probably because our Lord’s strength failed.

Who appointed the two robbers to be crucified at the same time? Not the rulers, who had no such power but probably Pilate, as one more shaft of sarcasm which was all the sharper both because it seemed to put Jesus in the same class as they, and because they were of the same class as the man of the Jews’ choice, Barabbas, and possibly were two of his gang. Jesus was ‘in the midst,’ where He always is, completely identified with the transgressors, but central to all things and all men. As He was in the midst on the Cross, with a penitent on one hand and a rejecter on the other, He is still in the midst of humanity, and His judgment-seat will be as central as His Cross was.

All the Evangelists give the title written over the Cross, but John alone tells that it was Pilate’s malicious invention. He thought that he was having a final fling at the priests, and little knew how truly his title, which was meant as a bitter jest, was a fact. He had it put into the three tongues in use-’Hebrew,’ the national tongue; ‘Greek,’ the common medium of intercourse between varying nationalities; and ‘Latin’ the official language. He did not know that he was proclaiming the universal dominion of Jesus, and prophesying that wisdom as represented by Greece, law and imperial power as represented by Rome, and all previous revelation as represented by Israel, would yet bow before the Crucified, and recognise that His Cross was His throne.

The ‘high-priests’ winced, and would fain have had the title altered. Their wish once more denied Jesus, and added to their condemnation, but it did not move Pilate. It would have been well for him if he had been as firm in carrying out his convictions of justice as in abiding by his bitter jest. He was obstinate in the wrong place, partly because he was angry with the rulers, and partly to recover his self-respect, which had been damaged by his vacillation. But his stiff-necked speech had a more tragic meaning than he knew, for ‘what he had written’ on his own life-page on that day could never be erased, and will confront him. We are all writing an imperishable record, and we shall have to read it out hereafter, and acknowledge our handwriting.

John next sets in strong contrast the two groups round the Cross-the stolid soldiers and the sad friends. The four legionaries went through their work as a very ordinary piece of military duty. They were well accustomed to crucify rebel Jews, and saw no difference between these three and former prisoners. They watched the pangs without a touch of pity, and only wished that death might come soon, and let them get back to their barracks. How blind men may be to what they are gazing at! If knowledge measures guilt, how slight the culpability of the soldiers! They were scarcely more guilty than the mallet and nails which they used. The Sufferer’s clothes were their perquisite, and their division was conducted on cool business principles, and with utter disregard of the solemn nearness of death. Could callous indifference go further than to cast lots for the robe at the very foot of the Cross?

But the thing that most concerns us here is that Jesus submitted to that extremity of shame and humiliation, and hung there naked for all these hours, gazed on, while the light lasted, by a mocking crowd. He had set the perfect Pattern of lowly self-abnegation when, amid the disciples in the upper room, He had ‘laid aside His garments,’ but now He humbles Himself yet more, being clothed only ‘with shame.’ Therefore should we clothe Him with hearts’ love. Therefore God has clothed Him with the robes of imperial majesty.

Another point emphasised by John is the fulfilment of prophecy in this act. The seamless robe, probably woven by loving hands, perhaps by some of the weeping women who stood there, was too valuable to divide, and it would be a moment’s pastime to cast lots for it. John saw, in the expedient naturally suggested to four rough men, who all wanted the robe but did not want to quarrel over it, a fulfilment of the cry of the ancient sufferer, who had lamented that his enemies made so sure of his death that they divided his garments and cast lots for his vesture. But he was ‘wiser than he knew,’ and, while his words were to his own apprehension but a vivid metaphor expressing his desperate condition, ‘the Spirit which was in’ him ‘did signify’ by them ‘the sufferings of Christ.’ Theories of prophecy or sacrifice which deny the correctness of John’s interpretation have the New Testament against them, and assume to know more about the workings of inspiration than is either modest or scientific.

What a contrast the other group presents! John’s enumeration of the women may be read so as to mention four or three, according as ‘His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas,’ is taken to mean one woman or two. The latter is the more probable supposition, and it is also probable that the unnamed sister of our Lord’s mother was no other than Salome, John’s own mother. If so, entrusting Mary to John’s care would be the more natural. Tender care, joined with consciousness that henceforth the relation of son and mother was to be supplanted, not merely by Death’s separating fingers, but by faith’s uniting bond, breathed through the word, so loving yet so removing, ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ Dying trust in the humble friend, which would go far to make the friend worthy of it, breathed in the charge, to which no form of address corresponding to ‘Woman’ is prefixed. Jesus had nothing else to give as a parting gift, but He gave these two to each other, and enriched both. He showed His own loving heart, and implied His faithful discharge of all filial duties hitherto. And He taught us the lesson, which many of us have proved to be true, that losses are best made up when we hear Him pointing us by them to new offices of help to others, and that, if we will let Him, He will point us too to what will fill empty places in our hearts and homes.

The second of the words on the Cross which we owe to John is that pathetic expression, ‘I thirst.’ Most significant is the insight into our Lord’s consciousness which John, here as elsewhere, ventures to give. Not till He knew ‘that all things were accomplished’ did He give heed to the pangs of thirst, which made so terrible a part of the torture of crucifixion. The strong will kept back the bodily cravings so long as any unfulfilled duty remained. Now Jesus had nothing to do but to die, and before He died He let flesh have one little alleviation. He had refused the stupefying draught which would have lessened suffering by dulling consciousness, but He asked for the draught which would momentarily slake the agony of parched lips and burning throat.

The words of John 19:28 are not to be taken as meaning that Jesus said ‘I thirst’ with the mere intention of fulfilling the Scripture. His utterance was the plaint of a real need, not a performance to fill a part. But it is John who sees in that wholly natural cry the fulfilment of the psalm {Psalm 69:21}. All Christ’s bodily sufferings may be said to be summed up in this one word, the only one in which they found utterance. The same lips that said, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink,’ said this. Infinitely pathetic in itself, that cry becomes almost awful in its appeal to us when we remember who uttered it, and why He bore these pangs. The very ‘Fountain of living water’ knew the pang of thirst that every one that thirsteth might come to the waters, and might drink, not water only, but ‘wine and milk, without money or price.’

John’s last contribution to our knowledge of our Lord’s words on the Cross is that triumphant ‘It is finished,’ wherein there spoke, not only the common dying consciousness of life being ended, but the certitude, which He alone of all who have died, or will die, had the right to feel and utter, that every task was completed, that all God’s will was accomplished, all Messiah’s work done, all prophecy fulfilled, redemption secured, God and man reconciled. He looked back over all His life and saw no failure, no falling below the demands of the occasion, nothing that could have been bettered, nothing that should not have been there. He looked upwards, and even at that moment He heard in His soul the voice of the Father saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!’

Christ’s work is finished. It needs no supplement. It can never be repeated or imitated while the world lasts, and will not lose its power through the ages. Let us trust to it as complete for all our needs, and not seek to strengthen ‘the sure foundation’ which it has laid by any shifting, uncertain additions of our own. But we may remember, too, that while Christ’s work is, in one aspect, finished, when He bowed His head, and by His own will ‘gave up the ghost,’ in another aspect His work is not finished, nor will be, until the whole benefits of His incarnation and death are diffused through, and appropriated by, the world. He is working to-day, and long ages have yet to pass, in all probability, before the voice of Him that sitteth on the throne shall say ‘It is done!’

19:19-30 Here are some remarkable circumstances of Jesus' death, more fully related than before. Pilate would not gratify the chief priests by allowing the writing to be altered; which was doubtless owing to a secret power of God upon his heart, that this statement of our Lord's character and authority might continue. Many things done by the Roman soldiers were fulfilments of the prophecies of the Old Testament. All things therein written shall be fulfilled. Christ tenderly provided for his mother at his death. Sometimes, when God removes one comfort from us, he raises up another for us, where we looked not for it. Christ's example teaches all men to honour their parents in life and death; to provide for their wants, and to promote their comfort by every means in their power. Especially observe the dying word wherewith Jesus breathed out his soul. It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning his sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. It is finished; an end is made of transgression by bringing in an everlasting righteousness. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. It is finished; the work of man's redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up.See the notes at Matthew 27:32-37.19-22. Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross … Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews … and it was written in Hebrew—or Syro-Chaldaic, the language of the country.

and Greek—the current language.

and Latin—the official language. These were the chief languages of the earth, and this secured that all spectators should be able to read it. Stung by this, the Jewish ecclesiastics entreat that it may be so altered as to express, not His real dignity, but His false claim to it. But Pilate thought he had yielded quite enough to them; and having intended expressly to spite and insult them by this title, for having got him to act against his own sense of justice, he peremptorily refused them. And thus, amidst the conflicting passions of men, was proclaimed, in the chief tongues of mankind, from the Cross itself and in circumstances which threw upon it a lurid yet grand light, the truth which drew the Magi to His manger, and will yet be owned by all the world!

The place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city; as all their places of execution were, within two furlongs, or thereabouts.

It was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin; it was written in all three languages, that not the Jews only, but all such strangers as were come up to the feast, might understand it.

This title then read many of the Jews,.... Who were in great numbers, at the place of execution, rejoicing at his crucifixion, and insulting him as he hung on the cross:

for the place where Jesus was crucified, was nigh unto the city; Golgotha, the place of Christ's crucifixion, was not more than two furlongs, or a quarter of a mile from the city of Jerusalem: so that multitudes were continually going from thence to see this sight; the city also being then very full of people, by reason of the feast of the passover; to which may be added, that the cross stood by the wayside, where persons were continually passing to and fro, as appears from Matthew 27:39 and where it was usual to erect crosses to make public examples or malefactors, and to deter others from committing the like crimes: so Alexander, the emperor, ordered an eunuch to be crucified by the wayside, in which his servants used commonly to go to his suburb (s) or country house: Cicero says (t) the Mamertines, according to their own usage and custom, crucified behind the city, in the Pompeian way; and Quinctilian observes (u), as often as we crucify criminals, the most noted ways are chosen, where most may behold, and most may be moved with fear: and now Christ being crucified by a public road side, the inscription on the cross was doubtless read by more than otherwise it would:

and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin; that it might be read by all, Jews, Greeks, and Romans; and to show that he is the Saviour of some of all nations; and that he is King over all. These words were written in Hebrew letters in the Syriac dialect, which was used by the Jews, and is called the Hebrew language, John 19:13 and in which it is most likely Pilate should write these words, or order them to be written; and which, according to the Syriac version we now have, were thus put, ; in Greek the words stood as in the original text, thus, : and in the Latin tongue, as may be supposed, after this manner, "Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum". These three languages may be very well thought to be understood by Pilate; at least so much of them as to qualify him to write such an inscription as this. The Latin tongue was his mother tongue, which he must be supposed well to understand; and the Greek tongue was very much used by the Romans, since their conquest of the Grecian monarchy; and the emperors' edicts were generally published in Greek, which it was therefore necessary for Pilate to understand; and as he was a governor of Judea, and had been so for some time, he must have acquired some knowledge of the Hebrew language; and these being the principal languages in the world, he chose to write this title in them, that persons coming from all quarters might be able to read it, and understand it in some one of them.

(s) Lipsius de Crucc, l. 3. c. 13. p. 158. (t) Orat. 10. in Veriem. l. 5. p. 604. (u) Declamat. 275.

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.
John 19:20. This title was read by “many of the Jews,” because the place of crucifixion was close to the city, and lay in the road of any coming in from the north; also it was written in three languages so that every one could read it, whether Jew or Gentile.

20. nigh to the city] Pictures are often misleading in placing the city a mile or two in the background of the Crucifixion. S. John’s exact topographical knowledge comes out again here.

in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin] The better texts give, In Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek. The national and the official languages would naturally be placed before Greek,—and for different reasons either Hebrew or Latin might be placed first. In Luke 23:38 the order is Greek, Latin, Hebrew; but the clause is of very doubtful authority. In any case the three representative languages of the world at that time, the languages of religion, of empire, and of intellect, were employed. Thus did they ‘tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is king,’ or (according to a remarkable reading of the LXX. in Psalm 96:10) ‘that the Lord feigned from the tree.’ (See on John 20:16.)

John 19:20. Πολλοὶ, many) for a testimony to them. [It is not recorded when the inscription was put up, just as in the case of the cross itself, we are not told when it was raised up.—V. g.]—ὅτι, because) For not many comparatively would have gone far to see it.—τῆς) Construe this with ἐγγύς.—ὅπου) Refer this to τόπος.

Verse 20. - This title therefore many of the Jews read: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh unto the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Roman (Latin), and in Greek. The word Ἑβραῖστί occurs four times in this Gospel and twice in the Revelation, and nowhere else in the New Testament. Codex B reads Ῥωμαῖστι first. The Latin form of the trilingual inscription may very naturally have been placed at the top. The reference to this peculiarity of the inscription as also given by Luke, in T.R., is there omitted by Tischendorf (8th edit.), Tregelles, Westcott and Herr, and R.T., M'Clellan, and others; it looks as if the reading had been borrowed from John, or rather from the spurious 'Acts of Pilate,' with which it verbally agrees. The proclamation of Christ's royalty to the three great divisions of the civilized world is a providential fact of supreme interest. Thousands of Jews would carry the news of the mysterious "title" to far-off places, and ponder it in their homes. This was part of the preparation made by Divine providence for announcing to the whole world the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Since the cross from the very first thus became a throne, and the Crucifixion an installation into the kingdom, we learn thence the meaning of the Christian principle, "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him." John 19:20Hebrew, Greek, Latin

Some editors vary the order. Rev., Latin, Greek. Such inscriptions in different languages were not uncommon. Julius Capitolinus, a biographer (a.d. 320), in his life of the third Gordian, says that the soldiers erected his tomb on the Persian borders, and added an epitaph (titulum) in Latin, Persian, Hebrew, and Egyptian characters, in order that it might be read by all. Hebrew was the rational dialect, Latin the official, and Greek the common dialect. As the national Hebrew, King of the Jews was translated into Latin and Greek, so the inscription was prophetic that Christ should pass into civil administration and common speech: that the Hebrew Messiah should become equally the deliverer of Greek and Roman: that as Christ was the real center of the religious civilization of Judaism, so He should become the real center of the world's intellectual movement as represented by Greece, and of its legal and material civilization as represented by Rome. The three civilizations which had prepared the way for Christ thus concentrated at His cross. The cross is the real center of the world's history.

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