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Thoughts on John 14:12

on December 19th, 2010 by Michael Betot
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The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John

What does Jesus mean in John 14:12 when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” ?

Before I give my interpretation, a few comments will be made about the context.

In verse 12 it says that the promise is not just made to the apostles, but to anyone.  Jesus says that anyone who believes will do greater works.  That’s anyone, not just a special 12.  In the wider context of John 14 Jesus’ main goal has been to re-assure his disciples that his absence from them will be better than him being there.  He is going to prepare a place for them so that they can be with him forever (John 14:3-4), and Jesus tells us that we already know the way.  Jesus says; I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. Taking a view of that from a metaphysical standpoint, we see that we cannot attain the Kingdom of Heaven without reaching that Christ Consciousness.  And, as we know, the Kingdom of Heaven is within.  Luke 17:20-21 says; Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”.

Back to verse 12, on the phrase “greater works”, it is another assurance that Jesus’ absence will be beneficial to those that believe in him.  In verses 13-14 Jesus promises that in his absence all prayers will be answered if asked through him.  If we can travel within and listen to that still small voice, and ask from a place of Spirit, from Divine Goodness, from a Christ Consciousness, our prayers will be answered. In verses 15-17, he promises the Spirit to those who obey His commandments. Thus, in Jesus’ absence we can do greater works, our prayers in Jesus’ name (Christ Consciousness) will be answered, and we will have the power of the Holy Spirit.

I think the greater works Jesus has in mind are not greater miracles in terms of signs and wonders. However, the greater works done by those who believe in Jesus (Christ Consciousness) refers to the work of the Spirit within people’s hearts (the Living Spirit), a work of the Spirit that has greater dimensions now that Jesus has ascended to the Father.

I have several arguments that support this interpretation.

  1. What does the “greater works” mean?  Will we do more miracles than Jesus, or better quality miracles?   What would be a better quality miracle anyway?  He raised the dead, opened the eyes of the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, cast out demons, healed the lame, calmed a stormy sea, etc. No miracle-worker has even come close since the days of the apostles, and even the apostles did not do any signs and wonders that were greater than these.  That being said, Jesus does say we can do it.
  2. But perhaps John really does mean that believers will do greater works in the sense that we will do more miracles than Jesus?  But the Greek word for “greater” used here does not refer to a greater number of works. If John wanted to refer to a greater number of works, he most likely would have used the Greek word polla meaning “more.” A careful study of the word “greater” in John’s gospel shows that the word consistently refers to something that is greater in quality rather than something that is greater in number.  For example, in John 19:11 Jesus says to Pilate “Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” In other words, Judas’ sin is a more serious sin (not greater in number,) than Pilate’s because he actually betrayed Jesus.

Some other examples:

John 4:12 “Are you greater than our father Jacob,…” This obviously means greater in quality, and the idea of greater in number doesn’t make any sense.

John 5:36I have a testimony greater than John.” The testimony is not greater in number, but greater in quality, for the superior testimony comes from the Father.

John 8:53Are you greater than our father Abraham?

John 10:29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all;

John 13:16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

John 14:28 If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

The most significant example is from John 5:20 where Jesus says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.” This verse is very close to John 14:12 because in both verses Jesus speaks of “greater works.” Jesus is contrasting here his healing of the lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-16) with the greater works that he would do in the future. The greater works in this context appear to the communication of spiritual life (John 5:21, 24-25), the judgment of all (John 5:22), and the future resurrection from the dead (John 5:29). The point here is not that these works are greater in number, but they are of a superior quality to the healing of a man who was lame. These works are superior because they will last forever, while the lame man got sick again and died.

To conclude this point: the greater works does not mean believers will do more works than Jesus, but that they will do works qualitatively better than those Jesus did in His lifetime.  These better works are due to the increase in Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. Put another way, Jesus, our great teacher has shown us the way to do these things.  (Note: This verse is not limited to those who have the gift of healing.  It refers to all believers.  I will soon be releasing a series of blog posts regarding Spiritual Gifts, leading up to the release of my Book on Spiritual Gifts as well as a free assessment you can take to see what your Spiritual Gifts are. ]

3.    The word “works” in John’s gospel in some contexts clearly includes Jesus’ miracles (John 7:3, 21; 9:4; 10:25, 32, 33, 37, 38). But even though the word often includes the idea of miracles, the word “works” cannot be limited to the signs and wonders that are in John’s gospel.  For example, John 6:28-29 identifies the “work of God” as “to believe in the one he has sent.” And in John 8:39 Jesus exhorts the Jews to “then you would do the things Abraham did,” and there is no record of Abraham doing miracles, and so Jesus must mean, “do the good deeds of Abraham.”   Again, follow the example of the “Father”.  John 14:10 is especially interesting to me, for Jesus states, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” Here the “words” of Jesus in the first part of the verse are defined as his “works” in the second part. Thus, we have clear evidence (compare also verse 11) that the word “works” should not be restricted to signs and wonders. Indeed, when John wants to speak of miracles, he consistently uses the word “sign.”  ”Sign” is the unambiguous word John uses to describe miracles, and the word “works” is a more general term, which may include miracles, but does not necessarily have to.

All of this suggests that the first part of verse 12 where Jesus says, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these,” does not necessarily mean that believers will do miracles to the same extent as Jesus. The word “works” is a general term, and thus Jesus is simply saying that you will do works of the same quality as he did and more.  Thus, Jesus’ miracles were in one sense a unique manifestation of his glory and divinity, but this is not to deny that miracles cannot be done today.

4.  The greater works then, refer to the extended work of the Spirit, which will occur when Jesus ascends to the Father.  When we become as one with Spirit.  This is not to say that Spirit was not alive previously in significant ways, but that the work of Spirit on earth was intensified with Jesus’ ascension.  Again, we were shown the way.  Note that Jesus specifically says that “the greater works” will occur “because I go to the Father.” Going to the Father then, provides the reason or ground for the greater works.  Because of this fully enlightened state, becoming one with Spirit.  But why does Jesus’ going to the Father make it possible to do greater works? The rest of John’s gospel answers that question. In John 16:7 Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” This fits beautifully with John 14:12. Jesus says that it will be better if he goes because only when he goes will the Spirit be sent.

5.    John 7:37-39 is another set of passages that helps us to understand why greater works will be done when Jesus goes to the Father.  In verse 38 Jesus promises “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” I think Jesus is saying here that life-giving water will flow from believers to satisfy the thirsty souls of others.  The apostle John notes, however, that such living water is to be identified as the Holy Spirit.  Thus, water represents Faith.  Shown in verse 39, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” Why wasn’t the Spirit given to believers yet?  John says that it was because “Jesus was not yet Glorified.” In other words, Jesus had not yet gone to the Father and accomplished his work on the cross. He had not ascended to the right hand of God, and this outpouring of the Spirit would only occur after he was glorified, after he had gone to the Father.  Again, the “greater works” are the works that are possible when the Spirit is poured out, when we become one with Spirit.  When we reach that level of enlightenment.

John 20:21-23 also confirms this interpretation. Here Jesus breathes on the disciples, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit.  When the Spirit comes, they will have the power in the name of Jesus to forgive sins and to retain them. The greatest work of all is surely for sins to be forgiven, and this verse hints that such a work was available to believers more extensively after Jesus had given his life for sinners and ascended to the right hand of God.  Taking the original meaning of sin, that of separation, and missing the mark.  It can be said that by showing someone the way to Divine Spirit, showing them how to journey within, can remove sin.  It is actually not so much a removal of sin, but a removal of that separation with Spirit.  The Book of Acts supports the interpretation that “the greater works” are possible after the outpouring of the Spirit as well.  The Holy Spirit is not poured out until after Jesus has ascended. Note how Luke emphasizes Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9-11 as a prelude to the pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2.   Again, this shows us that Jesus is the great teacher.  He is leading us down the path to complete enlightenment.  Also, Acts 2:33 specifically says that “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Again, a direct connection is made between Jesus’ ascension and the giving of the Spirit.

In conclusion: Just because it is stated that greater works are done by believers after Jesus’ time on earth is done in no way diminishes the ministry of Jesus, nor does it suggest our ministry is somehow better than His.  I have argued that the greater works refers to the work of the Spirit through believers, all believers.  But such work is not our work.  It is the work of the risen Lord (Divine Spirit) within us and through us, as us.  He is the one doing the work, and He is worthy of all the glory!

Look for other eBooks and articles on similar subjects at my website:  Astral Metaphysics

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Posted in Religion & Faith, Spiritual

2 Responses to “Thoughts on John 14:12”

  1. silver price says:

    The greater works that we will do and that will cause us to marvel are the works of physical and spiritual resurrection. We’ll marvel at physical resurrection when Jesus returns and we’ll marvel at spiritual resurrection every time we preach the gospel and a person is born again.

  2. gold price says:

    Incredible! Jesus promises that his disciples will do even greater works than he did. And they did! And they still do! How is that possible? Jesus is still at work through his disciples. He has specifically told us to use prayer to release his power and bring his blessing. So often we sell ourselves short because we view things from only a fleshly, earthbound perspective. However, when we serve and pray in Jesus’ name, incredible things happen! Jesus does greater things through us than we can imagine!

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