So I noticed JP Sonnen over at Orbis Catholicus Secundus had a post about the meaning of INRI with an appropriate image by way of explanation:
It seems to me that the Hebrew acrostic is the essential message of this sign and felt compelled to comment to that effect on JP Sonnen's post. An acrostic is a common form of writing (especially for the Jews) in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. For example, one famous acrostic was made in Greek for the acclamation JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, SAVIOUR (Greek: Ιησούς Χριστός, Θεού Υιός, Σωτήρ; Iesous CHristos, THeou Yios, Soter — ch and th being each one letter in Greek). The initials spell ICHTHYS (ΙΧΘΥΣ), the Greek for fish.
The Hebrew acrostic of INRI has an extraordinarily powerful meaning. This was the subject of some homework for my son William in his first year of secondary school, when he was asked to produce a poster explaining who Jesus was (we immediately changed this to who Jesus is). This is the result, and clearly explains the Hebrew acrostic, which scarily, spells out the divine name for God which no Jew could say.
In John's Gospel we find wrapped around Jesus the λόγος are the main themes of the Gospel: light (1:4), life (1:4), darkness (1:5), testimony (1:7), faith (1:12), glory (1:14), and truth (1:17), all of which are developed in subsequent chapters.
These ideas are then unfolded by Jesus words through which He claims divinity in an increasingly explicit manner, and by his actions, particularly His miracles.
Jesus’ words are arranged around seven “I AM” statements through which we can observe the growingly clear claim of Jesus’ divinity:
“I AM the bread of life” (6:35, 48);
“I AM the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5);
“I AM the door” (10:7,9);
“I AM the good shepherd” (10:11,14);
“I AM the resurrection and the life” (11:25);
“I AM the way the truth and the life” (14:6) and
“I AM the true vine” (15:1-5).
These statements, egó eimi in Greek, constitute a direct reference to the Tetragrammaton; the sacred name for God that no Jew would pronounce. The words in context have an obvious metaphorical meaning, behind which lies an astounding claim. The understanding reader of John’s Gospel would be expected to recognise that the absolute “I AM”, which is the cause of those listening to Jesus to conclude He is blaspheming, is the claim of the Fourth Evangelist that Jesus of Nazareth was truly God, the Word become flesh. This is even clearer when considered along with John 10:30 “The Father and I are One.”
Perhaps the most powerful exposition of this title comes from an understanding of the Tetragrammaton in relation to the sign hung above the crucified Christ. On numerous occasions, Jesus refers to His being “raised up”. For example, in 8:28 we have an “I AM” statement without any accompanying image;
“When you lift up the Son of Man you may believe that I am”. This is a repetition; in 3:14, Jesus couples the prediction of His paschal sacrifice with the relic of the bronze serpent from Numbers 21:4-9. Just as those who were bitten by the fiery serpents in the desert were saved when they looked upon the bronze serpent, so Jesus’ own Crucifixion will bring healing to a rebellious world (CCC 2130).
When Jesus is Crucified in 19:17, Pilate writes a sign and puts it on the Cross in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. We are very familiar with this sign’s acrostic in Latin; INRI which stands for IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM. The Hebrew would have read HaYehudim vMelech HaNazarei Yeshua, the acronym would then be:
י ה ו ה
The sacred name for God; YHWH; “I AM”. They Crucified Him and hung the sacred name for God above Him. No wonder then, that the chief priests wanted the sign changed (19:21).
We can see Jesus using this name and its effect in 18:5-6. Here Jesus unleashes the power of the divine name, causing His enemies to fall back. ‘The name’ evokes the sanctity and transcendence of God, as we can see from Isaiah 43:10. In the context of the arrest at Gethsemane, we can see our Lord’s threefold ‘I AM’ as a manifestation of divine power and majesty.