Greater works than Jesus?

What Did Jesus Mean When He Said We Would Do Greater Work Than He Did?

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Written by  Oct 23, 2013

First of all, he said that to his disciples and only to us indirectly, if at all. He is speaking to the first-century church, and he makes the statement that the works they do will be greater than the works that he performed (John 14:12). Let me tell you what I don’t think it means.

There are many today who believe that there are people running around this world right now who are performing greater miracles, performing miracles in greater abundance, and actually doing more incredible acts of divine healing than Jesus himself did. I can’t think of any more serious delusion than that, that somebody would actually think they have exceeded Jesus in terms of the works he has done. There’s nobody who comes close to the work that Jesus did.

Some say that perhaps we can’t do greater works than Jesus individually but that corporately we are able to exceed in power the things that Jesus did. We see amazing things happening in the first-century church through the power that Christ gave to his apostles. We see people raised from the dead through Peter and Paul. But at the same time I would challenge people by telling them to add up all of the miracles that, according to New Testament records, were wrought through the hands of Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples corporately, put them all together, and see if they measure a greater degree than those which our Lord performed. If Jesus meant that people would do greater miracles than he performed in the sense of displaying more power and more astonishing things than he did, then obviously one of the works that Jesus failed to perform was sound prophecy, because that just didn’t happen. Nobody exceeded Jesus’ works. That’s what leads me to believe that’s not what he meant. I think he’s using the term “greater” in a different way.

I heard a church historian say that he was convinced that when Jesus made the statement “Greater works than these will you do,” he was referring to the whole scope of the impact of Christ’s people and his church on the world throughout history. I know a lot of people look at the history of Western civilization and say that the bulk of the church’s influence has been negative—the black eye of the Crusades, the Galileo episode, and holy wars, etc. If you look at the record, you will see that it was the Christian church that spearheaded the abolition of slavery, the end of the Roman arena, the whole concept of education, the concept of charitable hospitals and orphanages, and a host of other humanitarian activities. I think, personally, that that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about greater works.

One thought on “Greater works than Jesus?

  1. I get that Dr. Sproul is primarily talking about what he *doesn’t* think this verse means, and I agree, but his alternative explanation is either under-explained or does not take the text very seriously. Our Lord is speaking about doing works by the authority of His Father (v10) and the basis of the greater works that the disciples will do is by the same authority (v12a). While the positive influences of the church through various vocations (e.g., hospitals, orphanages) are commendable, they aren’t works that require the authority of the Father (and could be done by any pagan). Rather, the authority that Our Lord gives to the church is to forgive sins through the proclamation of His Holy Gospel. I think Paul Kretzmann explains it well in his Popular Commentary:

    “In connection with the mention of works which He was performing to testify in His own behalf, Jesus here gives His disciples of all times a glorious promise of works which they should do in their office as His ministers. Most solemnly He assures them, and comforts them by the assurance, that every believer in Him would be enabled to perform the same works that He had done, and even greater works than He had performed before them. The apostles and the disciples, especially of the early Church, performed miracles like those of Christ; they healed the diseased, they cast out demons, they raised the dead; and all this to testify to the truth of their teaching. Every believer in Christ is, however, by that token, filled with power from on high not only to testify of Christ, but, in so doing, to do greater signs than the Master Himself, namely, to awaken men from spiritual death. To convert sinners, to rescue lost and condemned men from damnation, that is a greater, a more important miracle than healing from bodily infirmities and awakening from temporal death. Not as though Jesus had not converted men by His preaching. But the great work of the New Testament, the gathering of the Christian Church through the preaching of the Gospel, did not really begin until after Pentecost. And the reason why the believers can perform these great works of saving souls is found in the fact that Jesus is going to the Father.”

    Now I don’t think what I have stated is necessarily in contradiction to what Dr. Sproul has written in this article. One could say my argument is merely unstated and inherent in his argument. But as a rebuttal to the charismatic understanding, I believe being more clear and precise can only help.

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