Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
This is an astounding statement. If overfamiliarity with it has dulled its impact, mull it over a while and let it sink in. Jesus spoke these words as part of the farewell instructions he gave to the eleven (after the departure of Judas) during supper the night before He died. Prefixing it by “Truly, truly, I say to you…,” He intended this statement to be taken seriously, and we would do well to pay careful attention to it.
We have ways, though, of mitigating its force. One is by focusing on the second part, the “greater works” Jesus says we will do. “That just means we will evangelize far more people than Jesus ever did” is the comeback. The way this works is that “greater works” can be “greater” in some way—without being the same works that Jesus did. Yet “the works that I do” allow for no dodge from Jesus’ clear intent.
Nor can we take His words as being for the apostles alone. Apart from the fact that He told them to teach us to do everything He had commanded them (Matt. 28:20), Jesus opens the door wide: “whoever believes in me…” Where have we seen this phrase before?
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38-39)
Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:44-46)
Now, what are the “works” Jesus is referring to? He makes this clear in the immediately preceding verses:
The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:10-11)
The works were the works of God, which Jesus did under the Father’s authority, and they were such that even if one was not convinced by Jesus’ words, His works were reason enough to believe. These were acts through which the Father manifested Himself on the earth, glorified Himself. As the John 12:44-46 citation above shows Jesus’ works led ultimately to belief in the Father by making visible the invisible: “whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” And Jesus repeats this very point in this chapter: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (v. 9)
Why? Because, as Jesus said “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (v. 10) With His farewell instructions He is extending the chain:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. (John 13:20)
In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
The works are those through which God makes visible His character and His nature, to which the world is blind. If this is not clear enough, Jesus explains:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (vv. 13-14)
This is all quite astounding, if we will dare to believe it. It is difficult not to qualify this promise, to discount it somehow, because we’ve tried it and have come to the conclusion that there must be some fine print somewhere. There is no fine print, but we have to pay attention to His words. He says it twice; “in my name.”
This is not a tag phrase for our prayers. It means acting under His authority, as He acted under His Father’s authority. Recall what He has just said: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (v. 10). Jesus was sent and acted in the Father’s name (John 5:43). We are sent and are to act in Jesus’ name, and it is only by virtue of the ongoing dynamic connection with Him that we do His works, that His promise of “anything” has force. It involves acting under His orders, and if we do not understand that this involves an open channel of communication with Him, through the Spirit, then this promise of prayer, and indeed, any ministry “in His name” ceases to have power.
And all this, Jesus says, “because I am going to the Father.” How is that? His departure brings an end to one phase of His ministry, and His departure begins another, and that will happen at Pentecost: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” (John 16:7). “Because I am going to the Father” means then “because the Holy Spirit will come as the Helper.”
Some of the works that he did, such as prophecy, which we examined in a previous post in this series (John 13: Jesus and Prophecy), are what we would label as “miraculous.” But there is no dividing line here between these and works of compassion or preaching the word, which Jesus also did. He did all that He was sent by the Father to do, including living out God’s love and displaying His character, as well as “mighty works.”
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
Since Pentecost, each believer has been anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, and we are sent as well, with specific works to do:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)
And these manifest God’s light to the world to bring Him glory:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)
The best of us carries out our assigned works so imperfectly, so fallibly, it truly is a wonder that God has ordained to use believers in this way to bring glory to Himself. Yet he has. The power is there, in the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we must grow in our willingness and in our ability to manifest this power, whether it is living a godly life, speaking words of prophecy, or effectively praying healing for the sick.
So from this passage I conclude:
- The second phase of Christ’s ministry is for believers to carry on the works that He did.
- This is true for every believer, not just the apostles.
- This involves an ongoing vital and dynamic connection and communication with Christ through the Holy Spirit.
- This is true beginning with the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost and while He remains until Christ’s return.
- This is Christ’s express will and His Father’s plan.
- This brings glory to God and is part of God’s means to effect faith in the world.
- Christ’s Word promises the power, but we still have a learning curve in doing these works.