John's Gospel says that "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God..." I don't understand the meaning of "the Word?" Is the "Word" a person? How can a word be God?
The prologue of John's gospel is an important work within the New Testament because it provides perhaps the clearest statement of Jesus' identity in spiritual terms. Essentially, John's prologue states Jesus is and always has been God, but it also seeks to explain, to a certain extent, the nature of Jesus' existence and His role within the Godhead.
Let's start by examining the opening verses in John's Gospel:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:2 He was in the beginning with God.
John 1:3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
John uses the Greek word logos to describe Jesus "in the beginning," or before creation and time began. Logos means word, but specifically, it means the spoken word or a statement. Jesus is God's spoken word, according to John.
John then explains that the Word (Jesus) was "with" God and "was" God. This statement yields two important conclusions regarding Jesus and the Trinity: Jesus is God and existed from the beginning as God, yet Jesus' existence is somehow distinct from God the Father. Jesus was "with" God and "was" God at the same time. This is the mystery of the Trinity: all three Persons in the Godhead are One God and yet all are distinct from one another.
Moving to verse 3, John says that it was the Word (Him) that created all things. From this statement, we begin to see why Jesus is called the "Word" by John. Consider these facts we learn from John's Gospel and elsewhere in Scripture:
First, we know from scripture that God the Father is Spirit (John 4:24), meaning He doesn't exist in physical form. So, there is no physical substance to God the Father. The Creation cannot experience the Father as He truly is since we are bound to a physical dimension yet He is not physical.
Secondly, we know that the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is likewise spirit only and therefore invisible (John 3:6-8). He can only be known by observing His work in the Creation, Jesus says in John 3. Therefore, Jesus is the only member of the Godhead Who takes on physical form, and for that reason, He is the member of the Godhead responsible for creating all things physical. As John said in chapter 1, all things were made by and through Jesus. Paul echos the same thing in Col 1:15-17.
Moreover, Paul teaches in Colossians that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God," meaning He is the only member of the Godhead Who entered into and become a part of physical Creation. For this reason, Jesus can be perceived in a physical sense because He is incarnate. In fact, the incarnation of Jesus was intended, in part, to bring mankind a greater awareness of Who God is and what He is like. Therefore, Jesus is both the source of all Creation and an Ambassador of the Godhead into that creation.
Next, consider how the Creation itself was established in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 teaches that the world was created by the spoken word of God (note the repeating phrase in Genesis 1, "Then God said..."). So when God the Father determined to create the universe and everything in it, He "spoke" it into existence. But as John said in verse 3, Jesus was the One who made all things, therefore we can say that Jesus was God's logos, or spoken Word.
We can begin to understand this partnership (at least to some degree) by drawing an analogy to how our own thoughts and words reach into the physical world. When we desire to command something to happen in the world around us, we must first conceive the idea in our minds. No one can see our thoughts. They are invisible, yet they certainly exist. Without our thoughts, we could purpose to do nothing at all.
If our thoughts are to become visible in some way, they must move from the invisible realm of our mind and into the physical world. The progression from invisible to visible requires we transfer our invisible thoughts into a spoken command. The brain communicates our thoughts to our mouth where it becomes logos: spoken words. Once the spoken word leaves our mouth, it enters the physical world and yields its intended effect. This simple analogy helps explain how God the Father worked with God the Son (i.e., the Word) to establish Creation.
God the Father purposed to create the universe and all that it contains, and when the moment arrived to make it so, God's "thoughts" were made a physical reality by the Son, Who brought all things into being according to the Father's plan, and now the Spirit of God attends to the Creation after its formation.
This is John's meaning when he says that Jesus is the Word. He meant that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God the Father, just as a spoken word is the physical manifestation of our inner thoughts. Until Jesus took action and created the universe, there was no physical reality to God's presence. But when God "spoke" (i.e., when Jesus took action), the Creation came into existence.
Later, Jesus arrived in Person to meet with His creation, and as Jesus spoke His words to His disciples, He fulfilled the Father's purpose by providing a physical representation of the Godhead to His creation. Hebrews says it this way:
Heb. 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,
Heb. 1:2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
Heb. 1:3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power...
Paul reiterates this same thought in Colossians when he says:
Col. 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Col. 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.
Jesus is the Word because He was the means through which the Father brought all physical reality into existence and because He is the One Who represents the Father's invisible nature and character to that creation. Just as your spoken word is the physical manifestation of your thoughts and personality, Jesus is the "Word" of the invisible God to His creation.