Doing the Works of Jesus and Greater Works

John 14:12–14,

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. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

These words of Jesus, as perplexing as they are at one level, are powerfully inspiring and encouraging when you ponder them in their context. And I mean powerful for your life today and for Bethlehem’s life today and tomorrow.

What a surge of excitement when through me when David Livingston texted me that at the auction last Friday we got the land on 35W in Lakeville! And then when we talked and I heard the price my heart leaped up with gratitude to God. I thought about Jason Meyer preaching for the next three weeks on our way to a congregational vote on May 20 and it struck me what a perfect plan God has for us as a church — it is so fitting that there are energies and excitement rising about a third anchor campus and energies and excitement rising for a new Pastor for preaching and vision to lead the way in that dream.

Words for Your Life, and Our Together

And these words of Jesus in John 14:12–14 bear directly on your life and our life together in these exciting days. What they say is that all of us who believe in Jesus will carry on with his work, and in some wonderful way, do something greater than the works of Jesus, and as a means to that end will have access in prayer to Jesus today so that everything we need we can ask for and receive it.

So let’s take those three parts of the text one at a time. 1) All of us who believe in Jesus will carry on with his work. 2) In some wonderful way, we will all do something greater than the works of Jesus. 3) And as a means to that end will have access in prayer to Jesus today so that everything we need we can ask for and receive it.

1. Carrying on the Work of Jesus

John 14:12a: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Two crucial observations. This promise is not made to the apostles alone, but to all who believe. And second, this is a promise that we will do Jesus’ works. It’s not yet a promise that we will do greater works, just Jesus’ works.

Just Normal Christianity

It’s a promise to all believers. This is astonishing. So there is no exclusion here if you are a Christian. You shouldn’t think: O this is for pastors, or veteran Christians, or highly spiritual, mature Christians, or professional Christians, or missionaries, or elders, or evangelists, or highly gifted Christians. No. The text says, “whoever believes in me.” Believers, pure and simple, will do the works I do.

We have seen this exact phrase before: “Whoever believes in me.”

  • “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
  • “Whoever believes in me . . . ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)
  • “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25)
  • “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)

In other words, this is normal Christianity. This is what it means to be a Christian. Believing on Jesus is what unites you to him for eternal life. So when it says, Whoever believes in Jesus will do this or that, it is describing the normal Christian life.

That’s the first observation: The promise in verse 12 is not made to the apostles alone, but to all who believe.

All Believers Will Do His Work

The second observation is that Jesus promises all believers will do his works. It’s not yet a promise that we will do greater works, just Jesus’ works. Verse 12a: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.”

Now we create problems for ourselves immediately by thinking of Jesus’ most amazing miracles. At this point in the Gospel of John

  • Jesus has turned water into wine (John 2:1–11).
  • He has read the mind of the woman of Samaria (John 4:18).
  • He has healed the official’s son (John 4:46–54).
  • He had healed the man crippled for 38 years (John 5:1–9).
  • He had fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish (John 5: 1–14).
  • He had walked on water (John 6:19).
  • He had healed a man born blind (John 9:1–7).
  • And he had raised Lazarus from the dead after four days in the grave (John 11:43–44).

What did Jesus mean when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Did Jesus mean that every Christian would do all these? Or that every Christian would do one or two of these? And if you don’t, you don’t believe?

That’s not likely in view of the fact that in the New Testament letters where miracles are mentioned they are a gift that some Christians have and not others. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says,

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom . . . 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles . . . 29 Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? (1 Corinthians 12:7–10, 29–30).

Well, if Jesus doesn’t mean that all believers will do miracles like his, what does he mean when he says, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do”? Let’s look closely at the connections here and then at a more distant parallel.

Works to Believe

First the connection between verse 11 and 12. Verse 11: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” So the word “believe” and “works” occur together in verse 11 just like they come together in verse 12. Jesus’ works are designed to help people believe. Right? “Believe on account of the works.” If my verbal testimony is leaving doubts in your mind about who I am, look at my works. Let the works join with my words and lead you to faith. That’s what verse 11 says.

Then verse 12 follows: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.” Now put verse 11 and 12 together and let the function of the works be the same in both verses. Verse 11: My works function to lead people to faith in me. Verse 12: When you believe in me, I will work in you (like a vine works in a branch, John 15:1–7), and your works, like mine, will lead people to faith.

So the connection between verses 11 and 12 goes like this: Believe in me on account of my works — let my works lead you to faith (verse 11), because whoever believes in me (verse 12a), will also do works that lead people to believe in me.

Works That Point to Jesus

So whatever the specific works are that Jesus has in mind, what defines them here is that they are pointers to Jesus which help people believe in him. They are a witness along with Jesus words that lead people to faith. That’s what his works do, and he is saying, at least, that’s what all believers’ works do. "Whoever believes in me will do the works I do" — the works that point people to faith. If you are a believer in Jesus, that’s what your life is. Your works, your life is a display of the trustworthiness of Jesus.

Here’s another support for this. If we search for the exact phrase in verse 12a, “the works that I do”, it occurs in one other place in John, namely John 10:25, “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” So again the function of the “works” in John 10:25 is exactly the same as here in John 14:11–12. My works are the things I do that bear witness about me.

So at least we can say with confidence that in John 14:12a Jesus means that all believers will be marked by this: they will be so united to Jesus that they will carry on his work by his power and do the kinds of things that will “bear witness” about Jesus. They will point people to Jesus, and through Jesus to the Father.

In his prayer in John 17 Jesus prayed, “[Father,] I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” His work was what he did to draw attention to the glory of his Father.  In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A life of love will draw attention to the truth of Christ and the reality of our own new life in him. And in Matthew 5:16 Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Christians are defined by works or life which flow from faith in Jesus and point to the glory of Jesus.        

So I conclude that, however many Christians God may give gifts of miracles and healing, all of them (and that is what the text is about, “whoever believes in me”) — all of them will do the works of Jesus in the sense that all his works of every kind testified to his truth and deity. And every Christian does these works — that is, lives this life. We are the aroma of Christ. We are the light of the world. We were dead. And we are alive, “created in Christ Jesus for good works — the works that Jesus did — which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). A life of words and deeds that help people believe in Jesus. That's the first part of our text: verse 12a, "Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do."

2. Doing Greater Works Than Jesus

The second part of this text (John 14:12b) is that, in some wonderful way, we will all do something greater than the works of Jesus. “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.”

Again it is every believer, not just the apostles, not just pastors or elders or charismatics or evangelists. “Whoever believes in me . . . greater works than these will he do.” This is the mark of being a Christian, not being an apostle.

If you think “greater works” means “more miraculous” you will be hard put to exceed walking on water, feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and raising the dead. I don’t know of any Christian who has ever lived — inside or outside the New Testament — who has ever done all three of those miracles, let alone something more miraculous. Let alone every Christian having done these miracles or something more miraculous.

And again, remember that the New Testament tells us not to expect it for all Christians. “Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?” The answer, Paul expects, is No (1 Corinthians 12:29–30). Which means that when Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me . . . greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father,” he probably did not mean that every Christian was expected to do things more miraculous than Jesus — at least not more spectacularly miraculous. No apostle, no missionary, no Christian has ever done this.

Two Clues for Clarity

So what does he mean? There are many suggestions and I don’t claim to have the final or decisive word here. But here’s what I see. There are two clues that lead me. The first is the phrase at the end of verse 12, “because I am going to the Father.” “And greater works than these will [every believer] do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12). And the other clue is the text we looked at on Easter (John 20:21–23). Jesus said to his disciples after he was raised from the dead,

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:21–23)

So in John 14:12 Jesus is saying that his disciples will not only continue his works, but will do greater ones because he goes to the Father. And on the way to the Father he goes to the cross and lays down his life for the sheep (10:15; 1:29), rises from the dead and ascends to God, from where he sends the Holy Spirit so the disciples can do the works they are called to do.

And in John 20:21-23 he is saying that his disciples are to continue his work by receiving the Holy Spirit and, in that power, imparting the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus — on the basis of Jesus death and resurrection.

Is there, in the connection between John 14:12 and John 20:21–23, a pointer to what Jesus means by the greater works they are all going to do? My suggestion is this: What’s new and greater is that never before in the history of the world had anyone ever been forgiven by faith in the already crucified, already risen, already reigning, already indwelling Christ.

All salvation up until now had been by anticipation, by promise of the coming Redeemer. But now — now that Jesus has gone to the Father, now that he had been crucified, buried, raised, exalted, and sent in the person of the Holy Spirit, the great purchase of forgiveness by substitution was finished once for all.

So I think Jesus would have said, “Even when I have forgiven sinners during my earthly life, I have forgiven them in anticipation of that. But you will forgive them in my name on the finished basis of that. The Spirit in you will be the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ. The message you preach will be the message of not of a promised ransom but a paid ransom, a complete payment, a finished propitiation."

Your Greater Works

What are the “greater works” that you will do — all of you? You will receive the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ. Before the resurrection of Jesus, nobody in the history of the world had ever done that, not even Jesus. And in the power of that absolutely new experience — the indwelling of the crucified and risen Christ — your works of love and your message of life in union with Christ, will point people to the glory of the risen Son of God, and you will be the instrument of their forgiveness on the basis of the finished work of Christ (John 20:23). This will be new. This will be greater than Jesus' earthly miracles, because this is what he came to accomplish by his death and resurrection.

Which leaves just a moment for the third part of the text. And I won’t begrudge the brevity because this truth turns up again in chapters John 15:7, 16 and John 16:23–24.

The first part of our text was: all of us who believe in Jesus will carry on with his work. The second part was: we will all do something greater than the works of Jesus. And now the third part is

3. As a Means to That End, We Have Access in Prayer to Jesus, So That Everything We Need We Can Ask for and Receive It

John 12:13–14, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father maybe glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

As you seek to carry on my work in the world, and as you seek to let your light shine, and live in love, and offer forgiveness of sins in the name of the crucified and risen Christ, ask me for whatever you need and I will give it to you. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.”

No condition as in John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” No condition as in 1 John 5:14–15, “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” No condition as in Mark 11:24, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Only one condition: “in my name.” Verse 13: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” Verse 14: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." So, does Jesus mean we can ignore all those other conditions: abide in him, ask according to his will, believe his word? Or are all these included in the meaning Ask in my name?

That’s what I think Jesus would say. I give you the Holy Spirit. I give you the power of the crucified and risen Christ. And I now promise you that you can ask for anything in my name for this mission — for the glory of my Father.

“In my name!” That is, for my fame and not yours. Because of my divine worth and my infinite payment on the cross. And according to my sovereign wisdom. Put every request though that filter — my fame, my worth, my purchase, my wisdom. And every prayer will be answered. You will have everything you need to do the works that I do, and even the greater works.

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