This title is recorded by all four evangelists in words varying in form but alike in substance. It strikes them all as significant that, meaning only to fling a jeer at his unruly subjects, Pilate should have written it and proclaimed this Nazarene visionary to be He for whom Israel had longed through weary ages.
John’s account is the fullest as, indeed, his narrative of all Pilate’s shufflings is the most complete. He, alone, records that the title was tri-lingual (for the similar statement in the Authorized Version of Luke is not part of the original text). He, alone, gives the Jews’ request for an alteration of the title and Pilate’s bitter answer. That angry reply betrays his motive in setting up such words over a crucified prisoner’s head. They were meant as a savage taunt of the Jews, not as an insult to Jesus, which would have been welcomed by them. He seems to have regarded our Lord as a harmless enthusiast, to have had a certain liking for Him and a languid curiosity as to Him which came, by degrees, to be just tinged with awe as he felt that he could not quite make Him out. Throughout, he was convinced that His claim to be a king contained no menace for Caesar and he would have let Jesus go but for fear of being misrepresented at Rome. He felt that the sacrifice of one more Jew was a small price to pay to avert his accusation to Caesar – he would have sacrificed a dozen such to keep his place. But, he felt that he was coerced to do injustice, and his anger and sense of humiliation find vent in that written taunt. It was a spurt of bad temper and a measure of his reluctance. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on John 19.19.