Scotty emails to ask: “Jesus said when the Holy Spirit comes we will do even greater works than Jesus himself did. What does he mean? And how should these ‘greater things’ be manifesting themselves in the lives of us as followers of Christ?”
That is such an important and hard question. I will read the verse because the question left out part of it, and it might be the hardest part. John 14:12 reads, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do,” — not just greater, but works that I do; this is mind blowing enough — “and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
Works for All Believers
Here are several observations. First, this is not a statement that only charismatically gifted people will do greater works. This verse includes every single believer. “Whoever believes in me” will do my works and greater ones. Everybody. Nobody is off the hook here. And we can’t say, “Oh, well, these miracles happening over in China like someone getting raised from the dead. Out of, let’s say, four of those, Jesus only did three.” That is ridiculous. That is not what the verse is talking about.
The first thing we must do is realize the verse says every believer will do my works. Jesus turned water into wine. He read the mind of the woman in Samaria. He healed the official’s son. He healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. He turned a little group of loaves and fishes into enough to feed five thousand. He walked on water. He opened a blind man’s eyes. He raised Lazarus from the dead.
Every believer will do those works, right? Well, no. We know that is not true, and not just from experience. We know it from 1 Corinthians 12:29. The verse asks, “Do all work miracles?” Answer: No.
“Every believer will do Jesus’ works. Nobody is off the hook here.”
He clearly doesn’t mean everybody will turn water into wine and everybody will heal the lame and everybody will feed five thousand. He just doesn’t mean that. That wasn’t true for his disciples, it isn’t true for us, and it isn’t biblically true according to 1 Corinthians 12:29.
Here is what I think he means in the first half of the verse. All of them will do the works of Jesus in the sense that all the works of Jesus testify to his truth and his deity. Every Christian will do these works. Every Christian will let his light so shine before men that they may see his good works and give glory to the Father, the Son, and the risen Christ. We are the aroma of Christ. We are the light of the world.
The common denominator between Jesus’s works and our works is that all his works were works of love that pointed to his reality. All our works should be works of love that point to his reality. And, in fact, all our works as born again Christians are more or less pointing to the reality of Jesus. We are, all of us, doing the works of Jesus, not the precise ones like feeding the five thousand, but the kind of works that validate Jesus, point to Jesus, and glorify Jesus. That is the first half of the verse.
Even Greater Works
There is a second part to that verse. This is the one that people really stumble over even though I think they should stumble over the first one we just talked about. It says, “And greater works than these will he do.” What can be greater than raising the dead, walking on water, feeding five thousand, and turning water into wine? What does Jesus mean?
We know, according to 1 Corinthians 12:29, that God doesn’t intend for all of his people to work miracles. Therefore, it can’t be that every believer will do more stunning supernatural miracles because John 14:12 says every believer, and later in the New Testament, not every believer is promised the ability to perform supernatural miracles (1 Corinthians 12:29).
So here’s my thought. I have more on this in a sermon below.
One, at the end of the verse it says, “When I go to be with the Father, then this will happen.” It has something to do with his death, resurrection, and ascension. His pouring out of the Holy Spirit is what makes this possible.
Second, in John 20:21–22 Jesus says, “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” I think this is an acted-out parable of what the Holy Spirit is going to mean. When you get it (after I am risen), then if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you withhold the sin of any, they are withheld (John 20:23). Now that is amazing.
All the works of Jesus testify to his truth and his deity. All our works should be works of love that point to the same reality.
I am going to give the Holy Spirit to you — you disciples, you followers of me, every one of you. And the effect of this is going to be you witnessing to the crucified and risen Christ with such effectiveness that sins will be forgiven (or withheld) according to your message of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. That had never been done before in the history of the world. Jesus himself had never done that because he hadn't been crucified yet. He hadn’t been raised yet. He hadn’t ascended yet. He hadn’t poured out the Holy Spirit in fullness yet.
“What is new?” “What are the greater works?” The greater works are the normal, living and speaking of the new people of God in the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the name of the crucified and risen Jesus in such a way that sins are forgiven in his name — the crucified and risen one. That shift in redemptive history, Jesus says, puts his people in a category of doing greater works because they proclaim a finished work of salvation that had not been finished even in his own life. And in that sense their works are greater than even what he had done.