Sometimes Jesus said things that just rock my world. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably tend to live with a semi-comfortable understanding of His teaching, going about our day-to-day and turning to Him when we feel as though we need Him – occasionally feeling challenged by those more dynamic or radical statements. We justify ourselves – Jesus didn’t really mean that we are supposed to love our enemies, make disciples of all nations, and hate our mothers/fathers for His sake, right? We can be functional pacifists and turn the other cheek and talk about our faith when someone else brings up the topic. Surely that’s good enough.
But then Jesus makes crazy statements that throw us for a loop when we read them. Like this:
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”
– John 14.10-14
Everyone who believes in Jesus will do the same works as Jesus
and greater works as well.
Wait, what?! This is not written only about the apostles. This is not written in the abstract. This is not written about just those super-Christians who become pastors, missionaries and the extra-spiritual. Jesus says everyone who believes in Him will do greater works than Him.
What, however, are those works about which Jesus is speaking? Up until this point in the book of John Jesus has turned water into wine, healed a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years, walked on water, given sight to a man who was born blind, and even raised Lazarus after being dead for four days – just to name a few. Is Jesus saying that everyone who believes in Him will do these kinds of miracles? Because if so, probably none of us believes in Him. I’ve never raised a dead man or walked on water.
It is extremely important to remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture. Jesus will never contradict Himself, God, or other Biblical writers. And we see very clearly in the book of 1 Corinthians that not everyone will be given the gift of healing and miracles:
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
– 1 Cor 12.28-30
So not everyone will be an apostle, not everyone will be a teacher, not everyone will preform miracles and not everyone will have the gift of healing, let alone helps or administration! Jesus perfectly and fully did all of those things. What, then, are the works about which Jesus is speaking?
The verses leading up to this unfathomable statement help give us a little clarity. Jesus claims that the words He speaks and the things He does are actually the Father working in and through Him – and they are all done/said to the end that people would believe. “Otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 10.11). The works are those things that are leading people to faith in Jesus – giving them grounds on which to believe in Him.
So if we cannot define the works of Jesus – the type of which we will do “greater” – we know at least it is those things that lead people to faith in Jesus. How, then, can the words we say and the things we do be greater in leading people to faith in Jesus than what He Himself said and did? We get a clue in the second half of the sentence:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”
Jesus was the transition point of history. From the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve in the Garden, humanity was enslaved in sin and looking forward to a savior who would free humanity from sin, break the curse and crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3.15). The entire Old Testament and Old Covenant between God and Israel was built upon a sacrifice system that looked forward to one final and perfect sacrifice: Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus’ ministry was extremely unique, thus, because He was the embodiment of that transition and was teaching truth that would applied in the New Covenant, the new era and the new relationship of God to His people but yet He was still living under the Law. It was His death and resurrection that caused the transition from one to the other. This is why Jesus said that everyone who believes in Him will do greater works because He is going to the Father. Once Jesus’ work was completed on the Earth, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower every single believer to do the work of the ministry based on the new hope that we have of purification from sins. Up until this point, people were awaiting the purification from their sins, but with His return to the Father we can now be pardoned while still in our flesh. We are not yet perfect, and we are continually confessing our sins and repenting, but we have been justified and can therefore enter into God’s presence personally.
We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because of any merit of our own. We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because His works were lacking. In fact, most of the works and deeds He preformed far outweigh any that we will preform in magnitude, in the miraculous or in dependence on God, but they will be greater by nature of having the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in them to bring about new birth and eternal life. Jesus was not giving people new birth because He had not yet died to pay the punishment for their sins, and thus people were not yet offered eternal life through confession and repentance. They were still exemplifying faith by looking forward to salvation.
None of us is greater than Jesus. In fact, it is by His power alone that we can do these works of which He spoke. But we have been given the unique gift of proclaiming the Gospel – of preaching the forgiveness of sins by the work of Jesus – which brings about new life through faith. Any work preformed and any word proclaimed that leads to faith and new life is the greatest work possible, and distinct from even the ministry that Jesus had.
Let us not take for granted this blessing and honor. Let us get busy about living lives that proclaim the Gospel and lead people to faith in Jesus. That is the reason He has left us here on the Earth, and that is all that will matter in eternity.