“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.
We come across some pretty amazing statements in the Bible, and this verse qualifies. As Christians, we sometimes need clarity on the words that we read, or we can get off track. When I was young and first read these words, I thought that I would be able to perform all the miracles that Jesus performed. But that is naïve thinking. Non-Christians can look at these words and hold it against us that we are not changing water into wine, healing the sick, and raising the dead. We can be disappointed that we cannot do those things. After all, isn’t that what Jesus was saying?
So, let us investigate these words and try to discern what Jesus intended. The first line states “anyone who believes in me ….” This means that all who attune to Christ, trust Christ, who align their minds and hearts with Jesus and believe his message of love, will continue the works that Jesus began. This is not for Pastors, Priests, or mature Christians only. It’s not a call to a particular gender or status, or socioeconomic group. It is for all people who believe in the power, peace, and forgiveness that Jesus shared through his birth, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection.
The second part of that first phrase is that we will also do the works that he did. Jesus did many things that we would consider works. He prayed, taught, performed miracles. But all these things were done for one purpose – to put the spotlight on God, to give glory, importance, credit, fame, and recognition to his Father in Heaven. This was his works on earth - to bring focus to God, our focus and the focus of all whom we connect with. In other words, everything Jesus did was to bring us into the loving hands of God.
The second part of that first phrase states that “…and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” Although we can understand that we will be continuing the works of Jesus, what does he mean by “even greater” works? Are we expected to believe that we are going to do things greater than raising the dead and walking on water? Aren’t we doing ourselves an injustice by expecting to perform those kinds of works and then deeming ourselves unworthy because we cannot feed 5000 people with one fish and loaf of bread?
So, what does Jesus mean? Just as there are 46,000 different Christian denominations, there are nearly as many interpretations of those words. Some think that he refers not to the quality of the deeds, or works, but to the quantity. Others believe it is the number of converts into the church. Similar to this is the idea that the works are “greater” because Jesus spent time in a localized geographic area, whereas his followers today work everywhere around the globe. Or perhaps they are “greater” because over the centuries his works are no longer confined to or flow from only one person. Or again, they are “greater” because Jesus ministered in only a three-year span whereas his followers are ministering over two eons. There is a sense in which all those things are true.
We also have to consider the phrase, “…because I am going to the Father.” So, it really reads, “Because I am going to the Father those who believe in me will do even greater works than these.” Jesus went to the Father by way of crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, and the bringing of the Holy Spirit. That was the entire process of salvation and forgiveness of our sins.
Prior to the Holy Spirit being conferred upon the Apostles, all sins were forgiven in anticipation of this completed process. Now that Christ had come and provided us with the Holy Spirit, we just need to let people know the truth that their sins right now – are forgiven. Perhaps that is the ‘greater works’ to which Jesus referred.
His words could also be seen as a prophecy to what all his followers would come to do: bringing about the miracles of technology, modern medicine, aviation, the unraveling of physics and quantum theory, the unveiling of all the common and esoteric knowledge the world possesses, and perhaps even the yet-to-be-revealed marvels still awaiting their future manifestation.
And of course, there are those who believe that what Jesus meant was that we would literally continue performing miracles. Dr. Craig Keener has a Ph.D. from Duke University and is one of the most highly regarded New Testament scholars in the world. In his two-volume book entitled “Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts,” he documents and defends the miracles during biblical times, the distant and recent past, and those happening today. The cases he cites involve healings of every imaginable sort from all over the globe: cancerous tumors, congenital blindness, deafness, paralysis, heart disease, kidney disease, tuberculosis, and diabetes, just to mention a few. He includes several documented cases of people being raised from the dead. According to Dr. Keener miracles are still happening today.
This debate continues. Despite the uncertainty over what ‘greater works’ means, it is clear that these works will come into being to glorify God. John 13 says, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.” We can ask for anything ‘in his name’, ‘in the name of Christ,’ and Christ will do it.
That phrase, ‘in my name’ means ‘by the authority.’ When we pray ‘in the name of Jesus’, we are not using the name ‘Jesus’ to usher in something magical. ‘In the name of Jesus’ means by the authority of Jesus, by the truth, power, wisdom, and love of Jesus. Praying ‘in the name of Jesus’ does not guarantee that we get our way with a prayer; it means that we get Jesus’ way, and we go that way together, as a community. ‘In the name of Jesus’ means we are putting focus on God and God’s Will through Jesus. “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory, bring focus, bring credit to the Father.”
If we are praying for worldly gain, selfish desires, or personal satisfaction of any kind, and stick on a ‘This I pray in Jesus’ name,’ we are not glorifying God. Words cannot substitute for the attitude of our heart but reflect that attitude.
Although there are no bad prayers, some are pretty useless. “Lord, this person is evil. I ask that you remove him from earth. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.” I think we can understand the error of this thinking. Better would be, “Lord, this person is evil. I ask that you change them. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Although better, it is not getting to the core of our heart.
Best would be what Jesus asks of us, to love them. “Lord, I have anger and hatred toward this individual. I pray that you soften my heart, illumine my mind, fill me with Your love, tolerance, and wisdom and help me direct that toward this person. This I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
This is doing the work of Christ. These works and greater will we do. It could be that the ‘greater works’ we do are not done in the world at all, but within us – in the name of Jesus Christ. All the works that we continue in Christ’s name begin within. The Holy Spirit gently places a thought in our mind or on our heart. This whisper mixes with our gifts and an idea to serve is born.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that “each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” These include wisdom, knowledge, healing, the work of miracles, prophecy, to speak or interpret tongues. These are the ones mentioned, and I suspect from the unlimited abundance of God there are infinite other gifts that are dispensed. Then in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 Paul rhetorically asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” The answer is “no.” Not everyone has all the gifts, but we all have some spiritual gift that Spirit uses to accomplish our works in the world. Christ then teaches us, guides us, encourages us, and changes us – spiritually – to continue his legacy of work.
All the work that God calls us to do is revealed in the intuition of Spirit. When we act according to our thoughts, emotions, and ambitions, we fail to follow the will of God. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit; all other things are not. If we are to continue doing the work of Jesus, our work must only come from receiving revelation from Spirit; otherwise, the ego takes over.
Our human nature guides us toward rationality, thoughts, reasons, emotions, feelings, likes, wishes, and desires as the standard for work. But these have no spiritual value. This doesn’t mean they are bad or wrong or evil. It only means that they are good servants, but poor masters. Spiritual work must arise from Spirit. God will not reveal His will in any place other than in the spirit.
As we allow Christ to change us internally by increasing our capacity to love each other, our works in the world will bring more of the spotlight upon God. As I heard Pastor Chris Ward say, make God famous. I pray that we bring more glory, fame, focus, and credit upon our Heavenly Father in all that we think, do, and say, which is our purpose in Christ.