How is it possible to believe Jesus’ solemn promise in John 14:12 that believers will do the miraculous works that he did, and even greater works? We provide biblical understanding of his promise.
John 14:12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
This very solemn promise by the Lord Jesus Christ (“Very truly I tell you”) would appear to stretch credulity, even among those who believe Scripture to be absolutely inerrant, authoritative, and inspired. In line with this dilemma, various interpretations have been offered. The “works” believers will be doing are the works of feeding the poor and showing compassion to the lost and suffering. On that point there should of course be no debate.
But an examination of the context of John 14 shows different understanding. In verse 6 Jesus claims to be the way, the life, and the truth—the only way to the Father in heaven. In verse 9 he claims that if you have seen him, you have in effect seen the Father. In verse 11 he says that the evidence that he is in the Father and the Father is in him are the “works” that he has done—referring of course to the miraculous works that he performed. He performed miracles that only the One True God in heaven could perform as evidence that the Father was in fact living in him (v. 10), and that he was the only way to the Father.
John 14:11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
Therefore the works which Jesus solemnly promised that believers would be doing are not merely humanitarian works of compassion, but rather miraculous works providing indisputable evidence to the world that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. The purpose of the works focuses on providing compelling evidence to a non-believing world that Jesus is the Son of God, encouraging the lost to believe on him for eternal life.
John 20:30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 30 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
We ought therefore to keep in mind this crucial context within which Jesus made his solemn declaration. Believers would be doing the works that he did not simply in church on a Sunday morning when ministering to sick church members. Rather they were to do the miraculous works outside of the context of Church—as paramount evidence to the world that Jesus Christ has authority to forgive sin and grant eternal life through his death and resurrection.
John 4:48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
Understanding this context provides essential framework for understanding John 14:12. Believers therefore would be doing the miraculous works primarily in the the context of sharing the gospel to those who never heard. Acts records that Gentiles in Judea, Samaria, and at the ends of the known world believed on Jesus Christ following powerful miracles done through the early disciples—in regions where the gospel had never been heard.
Then the question arises: which miraculous works among the many which Jesus performed should believers be doing? Luke 9 and 10 teach us that Jesus gave supernatural power and authority to his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons.
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. ….6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ …17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Therefore the miraculous works which believers are to do are primarily healing the sick and casting out demons as confirmation and evidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.
Mark 16:20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
The Lord has given to believers a measure of his supernatural power and authority over disease and demons to be used in proclaiming the kingdom of God effectively and fruitfully in regions where the gospel has never been heard. This power and authority are separate and distinct from the gift of healing as listed in 1 Corinthians 12 as one of the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit. First of all, the power and authority were given to the disciples well before Pentecost when the gift was made available through the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the power and authority are primarily to be used when proclaiming the kingdom of God to the lost, while the gift of healing is primarily for building up the body of Christ by ministering healing to infirm believers in the body. Finally, while every disciple is given a measure of the Lord’s supernatural power and authority over demons and diseases, not all have the gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:30).
Moreover, while the operation of the gift of healing is not well described in the New Testament, clear instructions on the effective use of the Lord’s supernatural power and authority when proclaiming the kingdom of God are provided. When present-day disciples are trained according to those instructions, they will begin to fulfill John 14:12 taken in its proper context of sharing the gospel with the lost. We have it fulfilled in the ministries of some of the servants of God we have trained in 45 countries around the world.
But what about even “greater works” than Jesus did? How can that even be possible?
We believe there are instances of “the greater works” in the ministries of some we have trained. In a single huge evangelistic event, one servant of God who trained under us in India has seen roughly a half million people raise their hands signifying that they were physically touched or miraculously healed by the Lord after he ministered to them with authority at a distance from the pulpit—in addition to about one million people accepting Christ. He has witnessed this on three separate occasions. As far as we know from the gospels, Jesus healed only one person at a time from a distance. One servant of God we trained in Southeast Asia has raised the dead in a manner even more spectacular than Jesus did, prompting us to declare that it can be classified as a “greater work.”
But it’s clear that it is the Risen Christ dwelling in these servants of God through the Holy Spirit who is doing these greater works through them.
Therefore John 14:12 is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first. When properly understood according to Scripture, it is eminently reasonable and is in fact now being fulfilled on the mission field during these Last Days for the Great Commission to be fulfilled, especially in gospel-resistant regions of the world where the gospel is yet to be preached. The majority of such resistant people groups live in neglected rural and village regions outside the major cities of the Third World. In such a context are we now seeing John 14:12 beginning to be fulfilled.