The Hidden Message on the Cross the Pharisees Saw
Did the corrupted religious elite see some hidden message on the cross that made them nervous, when they said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’, but he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews'”? It all began with the four verses in the Gospel according to Yochanan, to which we now turn.
And Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross, and the writing was: YESHUA OF NATSARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews therefore read this title, for the place where Yeshua was impaled was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, in Greek, in Roman. Then, the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’, but “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written” (Joh 19:19-22).
We do not ask the reader to substitute our judgment for his/her own but to consider what we intend to say in the following. The reader has therefore to expect that the subject mentioned in this introduction is a matter of the present author’s personal opinion.
When we keep these considerations in mind, we will also understand the reason why the disciple felt the necessity to insert a small detail. Thus, it will be clear to the reader that the perception of something implied in the note on the cross is expressed by, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’” and “What I have written, I have written”.
We will explore this seemingly trivial detail in the account of the crucifixion of Yeshua that will pose significant challenges for the careful reader.
The Pharisees’ plot
Time came when Yeshua told his disciples that after two days the Pesach would take place, and he was to be delivered up to be impaled, thus predicting his own death. But they did not understand him.
Then the corrupted religious elite of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people came together at the court of Kayapha, the high priest, and plotted to seize Yeshua by trickery and have him killed. But they said, “Not at the festival [of Unleavened Bread] lest there be an uproar among the people” (Mat 26:2-5, Mar 14:1-2). And the chief priests, and the elders, and all the council were seeking false witness against Yeshua to put him to death, but found none, although many false witnesses came forward.
And in the night of the fourteenth day of the month, that was the Pesach, Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives together with his disciples. There he was arrested by an armed crowd of the high priest. And having seized him, they led him and brought him first to Chanan, the father-in-law of Kayapha, and then they brought him to the house of Kayapha, where Yeshua was falsely accused of crimes he did not commit and beaten (Luk 22:54).
Yeshua was first brought to Chanan, and then he was brought to Kayapha. We should note here that Yeshua was not brought before the Great Sanhedrin, as required by law, but in the house of Kayapha, where a private council was staged. Had he been brought before the Great Sanhedrin of seventy-one judges, wherein we can expect to see Nikodemus and the other Pharisees, who believed in Yeshua (see Acts 15:5), certainly the outcome of the trial must have been quite different.
Still, even among the rulers many did believe in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the congregation, (Joh 12:42)
But nay, it was not meant to be that way. The Son of Elohim must have died in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled as written. Even the corrupted Kayapha knew that when he said,
You know nothing at all, neither do you consider that it is better for us that one man should die for the people than that the entire nation should perish. (Joh 11:49-50)
Kayapha knew who Yeshua was but nonetheless had misinterpreted the prophecy about the Messiah Mosheh commanded Israel to await. By his vote to condemn Yeshua, Kayapha appointed his victim to death, who in that memorable year was to perish for the entire nation.
But, as Yochanan puts it, the high priest spoke these prophetic words inadvertently which he did not completely understand; words spoken widely and truly than he knew.
But he did not say this from himself but being high priest that year he prophesied that Yeshua should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather together into one the children of Elohim who were scattered abroad. (Joh 11:49-52)
In his own words Kayapha indeed admitted he knew who Yeshua was. But he feared that Yeshua would gain such an influence over the people that would lead a revolt against Rome. For Kayapha it was better that Yeshua should die for the entire nation. Thus, Yeshua’s destiny was sealed by the words of a corrupted man so that the prophecy must come to its fulfillment. So, from that day on they plotted to kill Him.
But as Yeshua said to his disciple, “You do not know what I am doing now, but you shall know after this” (Joh 13:7), so should the Pharisees have understood after this …
The Pharisees’ protest to the message on the cross
And it was the preparation day for the Pesach (the Passover lamb), when Yeshua was delivered to the Roman soldiers to be impaled (Joh 19:14). And they crucified him, and two others with him, on either side of him.
The Roman governor of Judea Pilate ordered the following to be written on the cross in Hebrew, Greek, and Roman. For the purpose of this study, we will read from the Greek text of Joh 19:19; it says,
YESHUA NAZARENE THE KING OF THE JEWS.
However, upon seeing it the corrupted religious elite became nervous and said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews'”, but “He said, I am the King of the Jews” (Joh 19:19-21). But Pilate said, “What I have written, I have written”.
What did the Pharisees see that made them so concerned about the title on the cross and wanted the Roman governor to change the note? This is what they saw on the cross.
Reconstructing the hidden message on the cross
First of all, we should note a few peculiarities. At first reading, we notice that the syntax of the Hebrew of “Yeshua Nazarene” is problematic and the translation uncertain. The phrase “Yeshua Nazarene” sounds incomplete and begs for the definite article “the”, i.e., “Yeshua the Nazarene”, as this is the common practice in the Hebrew text of the Scripture in such cases in which a person is identified by ethnic origin or geographical place.
For example, in Est 5:13 we find הַיְּהוּדִי ha-yehudi, “the Jew”, speaking of Mordekai the Jew. Or Avraham אַבְרָ֣ם ha-ivri הָעִבְרִי Avraham the Hebrew, and Uriah אוּרִיָּה the Hittite הַחִתִּֽי, etc.
In the same manner, in our verse we should have expected to see Yeshua ha-natsriy, Yeshua the Nazarene, but the definite article “the” is missing in Greek. But how does the Greek of the other gospels render the same phrase?
Mat 27:37 has it, “This is Iesus (Yeshua) the King of the Jews; Mar 15:26 and Luk 23:38 have the shorter version, “The King of the Jews”. Hence, se see that what is common for these three gospels is that “the Nazarene” and the reaction of the Pharisees are altogether omitted. For this reason, the first three Gospels, which describe events in Yeshua’s life from a similar point of view, are called “synoptics”.
Note: In 1516, the first printed edition of the Greek “New Testament” was published by Erasmus. This Greek text would be known as the Textus Receptus. This first edition was based solely on six manuscripts, while later editions used ten. That is why we have the Textus Receptus with variants from the different sources of Greek. None of these Greek manuscripts were complete which made Erasmus translate many portions of Revelation from Latin Vulgate back into Greek. This Textus Receptus, compiled from the poorly preserved Greek manuscripts, served as “evidence” by which the Christianity embraced the primacy of the Greek text, and which later served as the basis for the King James’ Version. From this KJV many other translations of the Protestant churches sprang.
With that being said, we have the solid grounds to argue that the note on the cross put up by the Romans to be seen by everyone, as we have it in the Greek texts of the Gospels, is incomplete and open for interpretations.
And besides, why would there be the necessity for the Pharisees to contend for a “better” note on the cross, unless they had seen something that disturbed them. What did they see on the cross because we find nothing disturbing for the Pharisees in “Yeshua Nazarene the King of the Jews”. They had what they plotted, and what difference it would make for them to argue with the Romans. They did not protest when Pilate mocked Yeshua and the Jews with this title during the trial. Nay, the Pharisees must have seen something beyond the usual Roman contempt. What was it?
On the supposition, which is a very probable one, that in Hebrew, “Yeshua Nazarene the King of the Jews” would spell out like that (from right to left):
of the Jews היהודים and King ומלך the Nazarene הנצרי Yeshua ישוע
YESHUA HANATSRI V’MELECH HAYEHUDIM
Do we see the hidden message on the cross the Pharisees saw? This suggestion rewrites slightly the verse but keeps the same meaning. If our line of reasoning is correct and this explanation is accepted, then, a closer examination of the text, Yeshua Hanatsri V‘melech Hayehudim, shows that the account is not merely being informative here, but that it reveals an acronym which reads the Set-apart Name of the Creator, YHVH. Many of the Jews read this message on the cross for it was written in Hebrew and the place where Yeshua was impaled was near Jerusalem.
Why did the Pharisees insist on the note, “He said, ‘I am the King of the Jews’”? Because their change, if it was accepted, would alter the hidden message on the cross many indeed saw.
It was natural for a native Hebrew to read a Hebrew text in the form of acronym, as did the Pharisees. Upon seeing this encoded massage that Pilate inadvertently but prophetically wrote, Kayapha who was the one who gave counsel that it was better that one man should die for the people, must have recalled the proverb that reads thus,
Who has gone up to the heavens and come down?
Who has grasped the wind in His fists?
Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His son’s name, if you know it? (Pro 30:4)
Kayapha knew the Name of the Creator and feared that many would see it too and believe that Yeshua was indeed the son of the invisible Elohim. For this reason, he wanted to change the hidden message on the cross, but it was too late. The Roman said, “What I have written, I have written”.
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