“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.’” (John 14:12)
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and a sign will not be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matt. 16:4)
There has been much debate over what Jesus meant by His “greater works” statement in John 14. I have believed, and written in the past those works He said we would do would be afforded us in the one commodity we have Jesus did not: time. While Jesus had a scant three years to change the spiritual landscape, we have time to love – time to lay down our lives (John 15) for any number of people while here on earth. And while I still hold to that, a discussion I had recently with some brothers I meet with on Saturday mornings opened my eyes to other answers, while not nullifying that aspect of it.
First, it is important to understand the Greek word Jesus uses for “works” is ergon, which means toil, act, deed, or work. Many misinterpret this as referring to miracles. The word the Scriptures use for those is “dunamis”, or mighty works. This means Jesus was not talking about miracles here. It is man’s preoccupation with the spectacular that leads us to that interpretation, and not Jesus’ words. Signs and wonders permeated the thinking of the Pharisees, which brought about the rebuke of Jesus in Matthew 16 above. The Pharisees were guilty [Jesus called them “evil and spiritually adulteress”] of missing altogether the greatest miracle of all, which was not the physical signs the Jews were used to gauging God’s presence by, but a spiritual miracle which would forever dwarf all physical manifestations. That sign was “the sign of Jonah:” His death and resurrection that led to the New Covenant, grace, and salvation.
Jesus more or less restated the same thing in Luke 10 when He told His disciples, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this: that the spirits are subject to you. But rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” Same message: no abundance of evidence of physical power or miracles would ever hold a candle to the power of what salvation would bring to a man, both here and in heaven. The greatest miracle of all would be the inner spiritual transformation, along with the kingdom of heaven on earth, salvation would bring to the human soul.
But something came after the sign of Jonah Jesus refers to in John 14 that gives us further insight into the “greater works” we would be able to do. When you think about it, at the time He made that statement He had not suffered on the cross, died, or been resurrected so salvation could become a reality. Something else would come after which would also be critical to the saving of a soul, and that was the coming of the Spirit to indwell us, bringing the kingdom of heaven to our hearts and minds. Jesus indicated this when He said we would do these greater works “because He was going to the Father,” which had to come first.
In John 16:7, when the disciples were lamenting Him informing them of His departure, Jesus said it was to their advantage He would go away, because only then would the Spirit come and the transformational process of salvation, the greatest work or miracle of all, be completed. Therefore, while He was certainly paving the way, at the time of the “greater works” statement Jesus had not “saved” anyone. The writer of Hebrews tells us it was after He “suffered and was made perfect” He became the source, or author, of salvation. So Jesus had to suffer the torture of the cross, and go to the Father so the Spirit would come, before salvation would be possible.
This all adds up to His “greater works” statement meaning we would be His agents for bringing about the greatest work, miracle, labor, etc ever on earth – one that would dwarf and render lesser any physical miracles ever done – one that, at the time, even He had not been able to do! Furthermore, we would have the time to love many converted souls in to the kingdom through the Great Commission: the “making of a disciple,” something time constrained Him to only the twelve.
When we think about what it means to do works or miracles in Jesus’ name, let us remember we have been given the tools and the power to preach, teach, and set an example worthy of God using us, through evangelism and discipleship, to play a role in ushering souls into the kingdom. If we are blessed to be a part of that it should be enough. While signs and wonders may accompany us, we are not to rejoice in or seek for any further evidence of God’s power alive in us than these blessings.
We’re entering a time in history where Satan’s chief deception will be signs and wonders, and it’s truly frightening to observe the Christian landscape today and see how many are set up to be taken in. Rather, we should always be about the “greatest work” of all – a work Jesus had not done when He made the statement in John 14. To seek beyond that is spiritual adultery and will carry a heavy price tag. Seek to do the greatest work of all in the kingdom of heaven on earth: bringing others in and then helping them take full advantage of it right here, right now.