Greater Works?

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In John 14:12, Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do because I go unto my Father.

Is this a true statement, or was Jesus a liar?

Before we continue, I want readers to ask God for wisdom and clarity as we deal with this verse.

A. What did Jesus mean by “greater works?” Few take the time to carefully examine Christ’s statement.

An English professor was explaining to his students about using double negatives. Then he added, “I don’t know of any double positives.” A boy in the back of the classroom spoke up, “Yeah, sure!”

Jesus begins his statement with a double positive, “Verily, verily.” This tells us that he wishes to relate truth of special significance.

The following two verses are equally astounding. Jesus says, And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. Here are two more repeated positives!

Jesus knowingly places his entire credibility on the line. These are bold, prophetic statements!

B. The context

1. John chapters 13 and 14 describe the Last Supper, which Leonardo de Vinci so famously depicted for posterity. The disciples are gathered around the table with their Master and we could call this Christ’s last will and testament. Jesus had spent three intensive years training his disciples. There was a special bond of friendship between them and these were his final hours before his crucifixion. It is difficult to imagine how Jesus felt when he said, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).

2.  In John 13:4-17 Jesus washes the disciple's feet, setting an example of humility and servitude and in verses 18-22, Jesus drops a bombshell. He says that one of the disciples would betray him. All wonder who that person could possibly be. To their credit, they first asked "Is it I?" Peter motioned to John, who was sitting next to Jesus, to ask who it was.” Jesus told John, but apparently neither he nor Peter understood. In verses 13:26-30, Jesus dipped the sop with Judas and told him to go do what he had to do. Judas immediately got up and left, yet none of the disciples understood what Jesus said or suspected Judas of committing a traitorous act. They assumed that he was going shopping (v. 29).

3.  In John 13:33, Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away and that they will not be able to follow him. The last twelve words of verse 33 are, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you Anyone who has passed grammar school English can tell you that this is not a complete sentence. Why the KJV translators inserted a period here and began a new verse puzzles me. Apparently they didn’t understand either!

4.  We could safely paraphrase the Lord’s statement in verses 34-35 to say, "Because you cannot go with me when I leave you, I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

5.  That final item of business in the upper room should have worked like an earthquake causing them all to fear and tremble. When God gave the ten commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai, it was one of the most significant events in the history of the Jewish nation. Hebrews 12:20-21 says, If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned. Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” And now, Jesus, the Messiah, the holy Son of God, announces to his disciples that he is giving them a NEW commandment!

6.  The disciples seemed not to have heard him at all! In the next verse, verse 36, Peter asked a question related to the Lord’s previous statement about going away; “Where are you going?” It was as if Jesus had never mentioned a new commandment.

7.  Judas is not present in John, chapter 14. Jesus pours out his love, concern and heart’s desires for his faithful followers. These 31 verses say so much, yet like the disciples, few of us really comprehend what Jesus is saying. In the last verse, Jesus says, Arise, let us go hence. He then headed for Gethsemane where three of his disciples kept falling asleep while he prayed, sweating great drops of blood. This was the first blood that the Lord shed for them and the last drop would be shed in less than 24 hours.

C.  “Works” or "Work"?

1.  The Greek word used here is ergon, an all-encompassing word which can be singular or plural. We use the English word "work" in a similar fashion. We may speak of our “work,” “job,” or “occupation” (singular) or our works, jobs, or things we do at work (plural).

2.  The Greek ergon appears about 180 times in the New Testament and approximately half the time it is rendered in the singular, but in most cases, it could also have been translated in the plural. Jesus often spoke of doing the "works" of his Father. (ergon) In his prayer recorded in John 17:4, Jesus said, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do (ergon  - same word translated in the singular).

3.  Theologians refer to the crucifixion as the “finished work of Christ.” What work did Jesus do?  Men built the cross, carried the cross, dug a hole for the cross, nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross. Men pierced his side with a spear and they nailed a sign to the cross which stated, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  Jesus cried out from the cross, It is finished!  but he did not say that he was finished. Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father praying for us. Jesus did not take his own life, but gave it willingly for the sins of the world! He concluded his prayer in Gethsemane with three simple words, Thy will be done.

4.  In John 6:28, the people sought out Jesus and asked him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? They were probably thinking of his miracles, but Jesus replied in verse 29 in the singular, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. Both words are the same Greek word, ergon. The word must have given translators headaches, because they never seemed to know which form to use. The Greek ergon is found 27 times alone in the Gospel of John. The translators rendered the word in the plural form 22 times but in all but two or three cases, the context would have permitted the singular translation, “work”.

D.  Greater Work or Works?

Jesus said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12).

1.  Because ergon is translated in the plural, readers are almost forced to think of the miracles of Jesus. There is a problem with this translation, however. We must ask what kind of miracles could possibly be greater than those that Jesus performed? Even charismatic preachers who claim the power to heal are reluctant to state that their miracles are greater than those of Jesus. 

2.  When the new Testament refers to Christ’s or the Apostles’ miracles, the terminology is usually “mighty works” or “signs and wonders.” Jesus also said that many false prophets would come and amaze the people with “signs and wonders.” Most of the so-called “miracles” we hear about today are performed on stage and widely publicized, but Jesus generally told those whom he healed not to tell anyone.

3.  In John 14:12, “works” is in italics the second time it appears, meaning it does not exist in the original Greek.  In my opinion, it should read, “He that believes on me, the work[singular] that I do shall he likewise do and do more of it because I go unto my Father.

4.  Some Christians read this verse and get starry eyed, dreaming of performing signs and wonders, but if we desire to do the miracles, we must be willing to pray, “Thy will be done!” Those same Christians, however, are seldom eager to witness and share the gospel! If people claim to perform miracles, they are almost worshipped, but when we witness, we are mocked or persecuted. The Apostles suffered much, and most of them, like Jesus, died at the hands of wicked men. Paul wrote Timothy, Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. (II Timothy 3:12).

5.  Jesus did not come down to earth to heal the sick, the lame and the blind. He didn’t come to cast out evil spirits, to aid the poor or to feed the hungry. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. That was his work!

6.  Signs, wonders and miracles are no big deal for God, who spoke all creation into existence. He delights in doing the impossible.

The Greatest Work is Missions

1.  There is great rejoicing in heaven when just one soul is converted to Christ and enters God’s kingdom (Luke 15:7-10). Jesus took upon himself the most heinous suffering imaginable (Hebrews 12:2) in order to rescue people from the power of Satan and place them in his eternal kingdom. This always was and still is the Lord’s work here on earth, and the salvation of sinners is the primary task of the church of Jesus Christ. Nothing gives God more joy and pleasure than the conversion of a sinner. There is nothing greater in all the universe!

2.  We know that Jesus performed many miracles and preached to tens of thousands, but how many were truly saved? If his greatest work is the salvation of lost souls, how successful was Jesus when here on earth? The gospels mention first twelve and later seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out to preach the gospel. In John 6, many of his disciples deserted him (John 6:66!) because they thought his teaching was too harsh. Luke speaks of 120 disciples praying in an upper room on the Day of Pentecost, which was about ten days after the ascension of Christ into heaven, but where were the multitudes? They went out to hear him speak and see miracles performed, but we don’t read of many true conversions. A multitude also showed up at his trial before Pilate, shouting “Crucify him!”

3.  It was after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, that the “greater work” began in earnest. Over three thousand souls were saved and added to the church on its birthday! The following day there were 5,000 converts. Luke first attempts to report on the rapid growth of the church but soon gives up counting and just says that believers were multiplying (Acts 2:41+47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1+7 and 9:31). Enemies of the gospel claimed that the disciples had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

4.  Two centuries after the birth of the Christian Church, much of the then-known world had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was opposition and bitter persecution, but many vibrant, growing churches were established on several continents!

F. Obligation or Opportunity?

1.  When Jesus spoke of his work (or works) in John 14, I am convinced that he was speaking of missions and evangelism. Although the Apostles were given special powers and performed miracles, nowhere did Jesus command them to do this, but in Acts 1:8, he said, But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me.  The power of God is linked to witnessing!

2.  We have the privilege of preaching the gospel and making disciples. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). Jesus promised to accompany us and empower us until the end of the world – both geographically speaking and time-wise. We are privileged to do “the greater work.” There is not a single miracle recorded in the pages of scripture that can even come close to the miracle of the new birth! Involvement in the greater work is our golden opportunity to reap unspeakable joy now and enjoy innumerable blessings in eternity!  You have heard the saying, "You can't take it with you." That may be true for bread-winners, but not for soul-winners!

3.  How do we react to this golden opportunity? Do we yawn and ask, “Who me?” There are so many matters that grab our attention, energy and time. Life is so short and there is never enough time or money to get what we want and to experience all that this world offers. We don’t want to miss out on anything so we snub our noses at the “greater work.” In effect, we are telling God that the temporal things of this world are more important to us than the salvation of souls on their way to hell. And it also shows how little we love Jesus and what a horribly distorted view we have of heaven and hell!

4.  Missions and evangelism is not just a command or obligation; it is the opportunity of a lifetime! But God created us with a free will to make choices. If we choose to obey, the eternal blessings are innumerable and our joy indescribable. If we turn down opportunities to do the “greater work,” we are losers.

5.  Many Christians don’t like evangelism because sinners don’t like it. Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Romans 1:16). That statement came from a man who had once hated the gospel and attempted to silence anyone who propagated it. God’s Word is powerful and when we share it, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the hearers. It is not our job to save or convert people to Christ. We are only to be witnesses. The Holy Spirit and God’s Word do the rest.

6.  Some use the excuse that they don’t have the experience or know-how. Is that an excuse? Don’t go near the water if you can’t swim! A newborn baby has no experience, but it lets everyone around know that he or she is alive! It is no secret that newborn babes in Christ lead more people to Christ than older Christians. We don’t have to be great theologians. Our own conversion story can suffice as a starter!

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I want to say that I certainly believe God performs miracles. We called the Austrian Bible Institute a "miracle school" because miracles happened so often that we came to expect them. But the greater work are the many souls who give their lives to Christ and are transformed into new creatures through the ministry of the school's graduates.

Jesus said, Without me ye can do nothing!
Jesus said, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Jesus said, With God all things are possible!

No Excuses!

We have the Word of God – Share it!

We have the Holy Spirit – Give him a chance!

We have the experience of salvation. Tell it like it is!

We have the authority (the great commission) – Be His witness!

We have the promise – Do the greater work!

There are plenty of lost souls around us which give us the opportunity to do the greatest work!

Jesus worked miracles to underscore his messianic claims, but not many were saved because of the miracles. He healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give thanks. Miracles were often the reward of faith, not its cause. In Matthew 13:58 we read, And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief. Unbelieving Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, and he told them that they already had a sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah.  That was a slap in the face, because the Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t think very highly of Jonah.

I feel certain that God has good reason for not doing many signs and wonders through Christians today. Even in the New Testament there are situations in which the unsaved began to worship people (Acts 3:12; Acts 8:18-19; Acts 10:25; Acts 14:11-15; Acts 28:6). Jesus pronounced woes on the Pharisees who loved to be honored by men.

The Great Commission is Ours!

Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-17; Luke 24:47; John 20:21 and Acts 1:8

There are many races, nationalities and languages, but there is only one God and one plan for the salvation of man. We are entrusted with spreading the good news – the message of salvation – all over the world. Let us do the greatest work!

Ralph V Harvey

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