The teaching in John 14 comes after Jesus completes His public ministry, predicting one of the disciples will betray Him and foretelling Peter’s denial (John 12:36 to 13:38). So, Jesus now encourages His disciples by asking them not to be troubled by these events. He will be going away to prepare a place for them in heaven and assures them that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus also promises that even if He is going away, He will send another helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with them and help them.
As part of this conversation, Jesus says in John 14:12, “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.” What did Jesus mean by this? We often notice a misunderstanding of this verse or sometimes do not understand what Jesus meant by it. Once we take this verse in its correct context, the meaning of what Jesus said becomes clearer. Often, many Christians use this verse to teach they can do mighty miracles, signs and wonders even more spectacular than Jesus Himself did. But is this what Jesus meant?
When we look at scripture, Jesus did amazing miracles that not even the Apostles could perform. Jesus had power and authority over nature (Mark 4:38-40) and physical matter. For example, he turned water into wine in John 2:7-9, and He fed thousands of people from just a little food (Matthew 14:13-21), Jesus raised the dead (John 11:43-44), and Jesus had the authority to forgive sins (Matthew 9:1-9), etc. Based on the many powerful signs and wonders, no one can perform miraculous works more extraordinary than these. No one can surpass the power or the magnificence of the many miracles of Jesus.
When taking this passage into the proper context, it becomes clear that Jesus is not talking about His disciples having greater power to do mightier signs and wonders than Jesus. Instead, the work would be “greater in extent”, or the quantity of work done would be greater than that of Jesus. This work concerns salvation. The work of Jesus was limited to Galilee and Judea. Jesus’ public ministry from His baptism to His ascension was only about three and a half years long. In this short period, Jesus fulfilled the Law, the prophecies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled, and the salvation of humanity was secured.
Although Jesus never preached outside of Palestine, His disciples would go on to spread the gospel throughout the world. Jesus had hundreds of followers by the time He ascended to heaven. Forty days later, at the coming of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of Peter, around three thousand souls were saved (Acts 2:14-41) in one day alone, and continuing this work, countless thousands were being saved, and the gospel made its way to Rome. You see, this “greater work” was the miracle of salvation that the disciples and the followers of Christ would take to the ends of the earth.
We know this because just after Jesus speaks of the greater works to be done by His disciples in John 14:12, from John 14:15-30, Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit. As we see in the book of Acts, and as Christ promised, it is only by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit that we can be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The Holy Spirit baptises us into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and all are made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).
So, in John 14:13-14, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” Jesus is again reassuring His disciples that there is power in prayer. Notice this is not a magic formula to use the name of Jesus in prayers to fulfil your selfish desires or to get God to do what you want Him to do according to your wisdom. Instead, it must be consistent with the will of God so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Amen!
Likewise, this is the call to all believers, not only to enjoy this fantastic relationship with Christ, but we are to proclaim this great work of spiritual salvation to the ends of the earth by participating in this greater work by the power of His Holy Spirit. Amen!