The Gospel according to John specifically speaks of an inscription written by Pilot himself, and placed over Jesus as He hung on the cross. The inscription usually bore the charges against the person being hung. In this case, Pilot’s inscription was written as an identification.
What Pilot wrote caused a great commotion among the religious leaders, and they demanded that Pilot remove it. He refused. John 19:20 says the inscription was written in 3 languages – Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
The Jewish scribes of that day used a method of interpretation whereby the first letters in a sequence of words were combined to discern further meanings. Often, the first letters of the words were enlarged for emphasis.
The Roman Catholic church borrowed this idea when they placed the four letters, INRI, on the crucifix. These are the first letters of the four words that make up the inscription in Latin. When translated into English, the result yields a phrase containing six or seven words. In Latin there are only four words. They are Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. INRI.
There were four words inscribed, and the first letter of each word is twice the size and in bold type, so it really stood out. However, the hidden meaning in Greek or Latin is entirely lost unless we go back to the original Hebrew. The religious leaders of the day would certainly have related to their own God-given language. And herein lies the cause of their alarm. There are four words in the Hebrew translation, and they say, Yeshua Hanazri Vemelech HaYehudim. Yod, hay, vav, hay – YHVH. That is none other than the ineffable name of God! In those days that name was considered too awesome and too sacred to even speak aloud.
The sign also had an additional significance. At passover, each family would identify their own passover lamb by hanging a copper plaque around its neck – bound with a red cord and inscribed with their family’s name. This identified their sin offering to the high priest who sacrificed it on their behalf.
So the ineffable name of God was inscribed and placed over Yeshua as He hung on the cross.
Is it any wonder that the Pharisees were enraged as they looked upon Jesus and the inscription. The inscription that identified Him as God’s passover lamb for the sin of the world.