In the beginning was the Word,” John famously opens his gospel, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). That’s a powerful and mysterious introduction to our Savior, but what does it mean? We’re used to calling Scripture the Word of God, which makes more sense since it has a bunch of, well, words in it. But what does it mean to call Jesus the Word of God? It’s really a strange title, but the apostle John is drawing on a deep Old Testament understanding when he refers to Jesus in this way.
The Agent of Creation
God’s “word” is the agent of creation. That’s why the psalmist praised, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6), and Peter called God’s people to recognize that “by God’s word the heavens came into being” (2 Peter 3:5 NIV). The author of Hebrews rejoiced, “The worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3).
All these authors are riffing on Genesis 1. When God began to build the world, He did not pull out a hammer and nails to start constructing but instead simply spoke: “Let there be!” And there was. I can barely get my kids to clean their room, but God communicates and creation coordinates around His voice. Like the decree of a mighty king, our Creator’s word is powerful. When God speaks, things happen. This means Jesus is the agent of creation. As the Word of God, He is the one through whom “all things came into being,” according to John 1:3. Jesus is the pulsating power of God, the life-giving center through which all things hold together.
A Vehicle of Communication
For us, words are primarily a vehicle of communication. Imagine I’m at a coffee shop and, seeing someone I’ve never met, begin to guess from across the room, I bet his name is Bill. He’s probably an architect, and I’ll wager he’s single and likes playing golf. But then he walks across the room, introduces himself and tells me he’s a doctor who’s been married for 12 years, has three kids, and is a passionate equestrian. I was all wrong. But I didn’t know it until he spoke. His words reveal what’s within—they take the “internal” and make it “external” and let me in on who he is. Without that, it’s all just guesswork done from afar.
Similarly, God’s words reveal who He is. “The word of the Lord” comes to God’s people throughout the Bible—particularly in the prophets’ writings—to let them in on God’s perspective. And this word is tied to His character, “For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4 NIV). So our confidence is grounded in the revelation of who God is, like that of the psalmist who sang in difficult circumstances, “You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word” (Psalm 119:114). God’s speech gives us courage to trust in God’s character.
Our Creator communicates the core of who He is through Christ.
Jesus is God’s deepest communication to us. Without Him, we’d be guessing what God is like from across the universe, our imaginations coming up with all sorts of crazy things that are not actually true. But when “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), God walked across the room and said, “Let Me sit down and tell you who I really am.” Our Creator communicates the core of who He is through Christ.
Jesus not only is the Word of God; He also brings us the words of God, telling His disciples, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Isn’t that crazy? When the words of God’s Word—the speech of Jesus—take root in us and indwell us, we can approach God with boldness, because God’s very presence dwells in the power of His words.
A Communion of Love
John says the Word was not only with God but also was God. This is interesting. Think about your words for a moment. They are identified with you and yet are distinct from you. Your words can take on a life of their own, in a sense, as they proceed from your mouth. However, they have no life on their own, because they cannot exist independently without you.
When we encounter Jesus, we’re not simply meeting a messenger from God but rather are coming in contact with God’s very presence.
Jesus both proceeds from God and is God. As the eternal Word, He is both distinct from the Father and identified with the Father. Their identity is inextricably intertwined. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus tells us later in John, for “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me,” and “I and the Father are one” (John 14:9; John 14:11; John 10:30 NIV). Jesus is not just someone who’s been with God, but someone intimately identified as God.
This brings us to the mysterious and beautiful realm of the Trinity—the historic Christian doctrine that proclaims God is an eternal communion of love. The Father, Son, and Spirit are the one God. Though many people think the New Testament created this concept out of thin air, its roots are actually grounded deep in Old Testament soil.
The Hebrew Scriptures present many of God’s attributes—like His wisdom, name, and glory—in ways that are identified with God yet distinct from Him. Wisdom, for example, is personified as a character with God at creation and through whom God created the world (Prov. 8:22-31). Likewise, the “angel of the Lord,” a frequent figure people regularly interacted with in the Old Testament, was an independent messenger from God, yet He responded to the name Yahweh (Gen. 16:13; Gen. 32:30; Judg. 6:11-23). Similarly, when we encounter Jesus, we’re not simply meeting a messenger from God but rather are coming in contact with God’s very presence.
When Audio Became Visual
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the audio became visual. The very first time the phrase “word of the Lord” appears in the Old Testament is in Genesis 15:1, when “the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.” This phrase is strange, both in English and the original Hebrew. Words are audiological, but Abram encounters God’s voice as something visual. The word is something he “sees.”
The eternal Word took on flesh and bone, assuming the fullness of our humanity, for us and our salvation.
The same thing happens when Samuel is called as a prophet; the “word of the Lord” comes to him as a “vision” (1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 3:15). Ezekiel also encounters “the word of the Lord” as a dramatic vision of God (Ezek. 1:3). With the coming of Christ, however, something even more dramatic happened. He wasn’t just a vision of God but a face-to-face, flesh-and-blood encounter. When “the Word became flesh,” the Savior took on skin (John 1:14).
The word incarnation has at its root the Latin carne, or “meat.” (It’s the same word in carne asada, my favorite kind of taco.) And like an animal in the temple, the Savior served as the Lamb of God, sacrificed to atone for the sin of the world. The majesty of the incarnation is that divinity became physical; the eternal Word took on flesh and bone, assuming the fullness of our humanity, for us and our salvation.
God has skin in the game. Literally. The incarnation means God is fully invested in and committed to us. This is the power of the Word made flesh. Our Creator was willing to do whatever was necessary to become our Redeemer. God communicated His great love for us by entering the fullness of our condition—all to welcome us back home into the triune God’s eternal communion of love.
Illustration by Adam Cruft