John 19:21
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(21) Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate.—Better, Therefore said . . ., i.e., because the inscription could be read by all comers, and the Messianic title, “King of the Jews,” would be exposed to scorn. Yet these are the men who said, in order to accomplish the death of Jesus, “We have no king but Cæsar.”

The expression, “chief priests of the Jews,” occurs only here in the New Testament, perhaps in contrast to the title, “King of the Jews,” to indicate that their anxiety about the title came from them as representatives of the national honour.

What I have written I have written.—The words are a formula to signify that the thing was done and could not be undone. There are frequent instances of similar expressions in the Rabbinical writings.

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 Jews thought it would be a disgrace to them, that Christ should be reported abroad as their king, therefore they desire an alteration of the writing.

Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate,.... Who were not only informed of this inscription, but might read it themselves, for they were present at the crucifying of Christ, and mocked at him as he hung on the tree; these, when they read the title, were greatly offended at it, partly because it was doing too great an honour to Jesus to call him the King of the Jews: and partly because it fixed a public brand of infamy upon their nation, that a king of theirs should be crucified: wherefore they went to Pilate and addressed him, saying,

write not the King of the Jews: because they did not own him for their king, which this title seemed to suggest, nor had he in their opinion any right to such a character; wherefore they desired that in the room of these words he would be pleased to put the following,

but that he said, I am King of the Jews; that so he might be thought to be a seditious person and a traitor; one that laid claim to the temporal crown and kingdom of Israel, and one that suffered justly for attempts of that kind.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
John 19:21-22. The Jewish opponents of Christ have, with hierarchic tact, deciphered the resentful bitterness in the τίτλος, hence the chief priests among them suggest to Pilate, etc. The expression οἱ ἀρχιερ. τ. Ἰουδ. does not stand in contrast to the βασιλεὺς τ. Ἰουδ. (Hengstenberg, Godet), but the high clerus of the opposition desired not to see the ancient sacred designation of Messiah profaned.

μὴ γράφε] The writing, because still capable of being altered, is conceived as not yet concluded.

ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα] Formal way of designating that with what is written the matter is unalterably to rest. Analogous formulae from the Rabbins, see in Lightfoot. Comp. also 1Ma 13:38; ὅσα ἑστήκαμενἕστηκε. Now, too late, he who was previously so weak in character stands firm. In this subordinate point at least he will have his own opinion, and not expose his weak side!

John 19:21. Naturally the chief priests remonstrated and begged Pilate so to alter the inscription as to remove the impression that the claim of Jesus was admitted.

21. Then said] Better, said therefore. Now that they have wrung what they wanted out of Pilate they see that in granting it he has insulted them publicly before the thousands present at the Passover, and in a way not easy to resent.

the chief priests of the Jews] The addition ‘of the Jews’ is remarkable, ‘and it occurs nowhere else in N.T. It probably refers to the title: these ‘chief priests of the Jews’ objected to His being called ‘the King of the Jews.’

John 19:21. Οὶ ἀρχιερεῖς) So the Syr[389], Arab., and Anglosax. Versions have it, without adding τῶν Ἰουδαίων, which is read in other copies. Very often οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς are mentioned, and never are they called οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς τῶν Ἰουδαίων: and in this passage transcribers most easily laid hold of τῶν Ἰουδαίων from the subsequent words. If, however, John wrote it so, he has intended thereby to mark the hatred wherewith the chief Priests of the Jews abhorred the King of the Jews.[390]—ἐκεῖνος, that man) They now by this time use an appellation of Him, as of one whom they have removed far from them. In ch. John 18:30 they had said οὗτος, this man.

[389] yr. the Peschito Syriac Version: second cent.: publ. and corrected by Cureton, from MS. of fifth cent.

[390] Syr. alone of the oldest authorities omits τῶν Ἰουδαίων. Tisch quotes also Vulg. Amiat. for the omission. But Lachm. gives the Vulg. ‘Judæorum.’ AB and all the oldest authorities have τῶν Ἰουδαίων.—E. and T.

Verse 21. - Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate. They must have hurried back to him with petulant resentment of his intentional scorn. Observe the very unusual phrase, "the chief priests of the Jews," as though the priesthood felt the connection between the priesthood and kingship of the theocratic people, and it gave additional sting to the sarcastic reproach involved in the inscription. Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. They resented the association of the theocratic or Messianic symbol with the spiritual Being whom they had condemned. Had they not already declared that they had no king but Caesar? Doubtless he said, "I am the King of the Jews;" he made the claim, not in a sense which could be rationally entertained in a Roman court, but in the true Messianic and prophetic sense. The priests knew perfectly well that because Jesus had altogether refused, Heir of David though he was, to entertain the Kingship in the only sense in which they desired to proclaim it, they had rebelled against him and rejected his claims. For Pilate to have given any color to the purely spiritual prerogative of their Victim roused their remonstrance, but that it might be treated as identification of the national cause with a convicted and crucified felon exasperated them. John 19:21The chief priests of the Jews

A unique expression, possibly by way of contrast with the King of the Jews.

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