Jewish thinkers have always struggled with the idea of God, a spirit being, bringing forth matter, whether fiery suns or delicate flowers. The idea of God creating through a different aspect of Himself, an intermediate stage, had always been an acceptable concept. Even one of the most learned of Jewish sages, the Ramban, declared that an intermediate stage existed between spirit and matter, so we find that aspects of the Trinity are not so alien to the Jewish mind as modern Rabbis may want you to believe. Jewish scholars have seen this all over the Creation account. When the Bible says “… and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) they look at a parallel passage in Isaiah and see this as the “spirit of the Messiah”. When God said, “let there be light”, they see the “great light” of the Messiah.
The Messiah has made his appearance in our story. For orthodox Jews, there is no more important subject and, although their understanding does not always tally with the Christian understanding of Messiah, this concept will be developed as we travel together on our voyage of discovery. But for now it is sufficient just to accept that although He is One, God does not work alone.
So, as we found out last week, the Word of God, the Memra, is the means whereby God created the Universe. This idea is even re-inforced in the Psalms:
“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalm 33:6).
When John introduced the idea of Jesus as the Word of God, this was not as alien to the Jews of his day as we are led to believe. Some have even suggested that John pinched his ideas from the Greek philosophy of the day, forgetting that he was just a poor Jewish fisherman and the only reason he was able to write such monumental passages of Scripture as his Gospel, his letters and the Revelation of Jesus Christ, was through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Unless, of course, you believe the Holy Spirit borrowed his ideas from the Greeks!
First Century Jews would read the first Chapter of John’s Gospel and immediately recognize Jesus as the memra. It would have caused them no problem at all. It troubled later generations of Jewish rabbis, though. Because the concept of memra so evidently pointed to Jesus and gave credence to the idea of the Trinity we find that, once the Targums had slipped away from common usage, the subsequent holy writings of the rabbis, the Talmud, failed to mention the memra in any significant way. It reminded them too much of the rejected Messiah, so it just dropped out of sight, a symptom of the hardening of heart that God inflicted on His people for His own reasons. This is highlighted by an entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia:
“In the ancient Church liturgy, adopted from the Synagogue, it is especially interesting to notice how often the term Logos, (this is the Greek word for the memra) in the sense of ‘the Word by which God made the world, or made His Law or Himself known to man,’ was changed into ‘Christ.’ Possibly on account of the Christian dogma, rabbinic theology, outside of the Targum literature, made little use of the term ‘Memra.'”
So Jesus, the Memra, was the means by which the Universe was created. He’s not only our Saviour and Deliverer and future King, but he also put the whole thing together in the first place. In case you’re still not sure about this, let’s read from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, speaking about Jesus:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)
The first few words here confirm our developing theme of Jesus being the physical manifestation of God, the aspect of God concerned with the dirt and the grime of the World. God is spirit and invisible, but Jesus is very visible, his very image was seen by many over a 30 year life span in the First Century. Yet …
“Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered …” (The Servant King, Graham Kendrick)
We have been brought up with an image of Jesus, whether through paintings, icons or the medium of the cinema. Now try to imagine Robert Powell or Jim Caviezel alongside God at the creation, flinging stars into space. It’s just too much to imagine for our puny mortal brains. Didn’t God say, in the Book of Job, “where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).
There are some things that we just have to take God’s words for. I’m happy with that, I’m quite willing to take my Almighty Creator on trust that He created the Universe in the way that he did and that, if that was through the very same Jesus who died for me, a broken and bloodied First Century Jew, then it just makes me love him even more and helps me to appreciate more fully the sacrifice he made for me.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book ‘Jesus Man of Many Names’)
How was Jesus the Word of God?
Written by: Miriam Emenike
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