“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. 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.” (John 14:12-14)
These are amazing words of Jesus. But how do we apply them?
First, let’s discuss what these words CAN’T mean:
- They can’t mean that we have a GREATER Holy Spirit than Jesus had. The Holy Spirit is God and unchangeable. He is no different in us than He was in Jesus.
- They can’t mean that we have a GREATER CAPACITY for the Holy Spirit than Jesus had. Jesus alone is said to have the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and He is the “Christ” or “Messiah” (which means the “Anointed One” – and shows that His person is tied to being completely anointed with the Holy Spirit). In contrast, Christians are told to “be [continually] filled” with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:19), and that the Spirit gives various manifestations and gifts to various members of the church, but does not give full manifestation to individual members (1 Cor. 12).
Now let’s discuss what John 14:12-14 means:
- In context, Jesus says that something is changing by the fact that He goes to the Father (John 14:12). But what is changing?
- Well…from the time He spoke those words in John 14, to the time that He would be exalted at the right hand of the father, Jesus would die, be buried, and resurrect. This brought: forgiveness of sins, new life, direct access to God, and the Holy Spirit to anyone who would receive Jesus. These could all be called “greater works” than Jesus offered in the time of John 14. Thus, the depth of the work was greater.
- Furthermore, the mission of Jesus before His death and resurrection was confined to the geographic region of Israel and to those who were ethnically Jews. But after He goes to the Father, the mission would expand to the whole world (Acts 1:8) and to non-Jews (e.g. Acts 15). Thus, the work would be “greater” in terms of geography, ethnicities involved, and numbers of believers. In other words, the “breadth” of the work was greater.
- And all of this expanded work is only possible by the Holy Spirit (the same Person who resided in Jesus during His ministry). God the Holy Spirit will demonstrate Himself in new ways to people, which will involve signs that are “greater”, in some ways, than Jesus’ signs. For instance, the early church is recorded as doing various things that Jesus is never recorded as doing: speaking in tongues (Acts 2), Paul was bit by snakes and lived (Acts 28), Paul’s handkerchiefs healed people (Acts 19), etc. Even the fact that signs were given to the Gentiles was “greater”, in a certain sense, than Jesus’ signs (which were only given to the Jews).
Thus, the same Holy Spirit and Jesus are at work now as were at work in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But the depth and breadth of this ministry has changed (since Jesus died, resurrected, and ascended), and so the manifestation of the Holy Spirit also will be “greater” to match this expanded ministry. Same Holy Spirit, greater manifestation. But remember, the greatest miracle of all is a new life given to unworthy sinners! (which also couldn’t happen until after Jesus died, was resurrected, and went to the Father).
My paraphrase of what He’s saying in John 14:12-14 – “You can do the kinds of things I do (like miracles, etc.), and other miracles, as well, that will match a greater mission–by the power of the same Holy Spirit that I have.”
Not that we possess God in some way to do magic with Him (e.g. Acts 8 – “Simon the Sorcerer”), but that God possesses us in a new way, and gives us new access to Him, because Jesus goes to the Father.