QUESTION: What is the meaning of the letters "I.N.R.I." at the top of some crosses?
ANSWER: The letters "INRI" are initials for the Latin title that Pontius Pilate had written over the head of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:19). Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire. The words were "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm." You will notice that a couple of the letters look peculiar. That’s because when the English letter “J” is written in Latin it looks more like our letter "I," and the English letter “U,” when written in Latin, appears as “V.” (i.e., Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum). The English translation is "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Some sects of the early church adopted the first letters of each word of this inscription "INRI" as a symbol. Throughout the centuries INRI has appeared in many paintings of the crucifixion. By the way, Pilate's title for Christ was actually written in three languages. The Word of God says, “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” (John 19:19-22).
In a crucifixion it was common for Rome to write the crime for which the man was dying over his head. This was Jesus’ crime. No other charge could be laid against Him other than He declared Himself to be God. This is the basis of Christianity. This is the rock upon which the church has been built and that we are told all Hell would not prevail against (Matt 16:18).
The truth is that Jesus remains on trial this very hour. How do you see the evidence? Was He really the only begotten Son of God who died in your place on that cross? Or is Jesus to you just a nut, a liar, a lunatic – those are your only two options. There is no politically correct third choice. Jesus is either to be worshipped as God or rejected as an infidel. What will you do with Christ (Matt 27:22)? What think ye of Christ (Matt 22:41-42)?