Are Believers Doing Greater Works Than Jesus?
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I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do even
greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
How can believers today do greater things than Jesus did while He was on earth? This verse is difficult to understand for sure and has been subject to more than one interpretation. In the last post on Jesus' divinity while on earth, I touched on this.
WILL BELIEVERS DO GREATER MIRACLES?
Some Bible teachers interpret this verse to mean that believers can do all the miracles Jesus did and more. While this makes little sense to me because it is not a present reality, the ones who say believers will do greater miracles than Jesus did have an explanation. To put it briefly, it has to do with the church not utilizing apostles and prophets after the last New Testament apostle died. These leaders say now that we are restoring them to their rightful place, we will begin to see more miracles and in time, greater than what Jesus did. Things like a child placing his hand on the outside hospital wall and seeing everyone in the hospital get instantly healed. Or people rising from dead on a regular basis. These miracles would be wonderful, but are they greater than what Jesus did?
Think of your own life and Christian experience. Are you seeing or doing greater miracles than Jesus did? Do you think you should be? If believers can do greater miracles, why aren't we able to calm a storm or call off the fires in California? What about diverting hurricanes or other natural disasters? Why is that person in your church still in a wheelchair? Why don't believers miraculously multiply food? We just are not seeing these kinds of miracles on a regular basis. I, personally, have never seen any miracles like these. And these are the kinds of miracles Jesus did.
When you look in Bible history, you see miracles happening at various times, but there were also times when they didn't happen very often, meaning miracles happening has more to do with God's plan than it does people's faith. Steven J. Cole, in his article, "Doing Greater Works than Jesus," says:
In the Bible, miracles occur mostly in clusters, mainly at times when God’s message needed to be authenticated. These include the times surrounding the exodus; the times of Elijah and Elisha; Daniel’s time; and the time of Christ and the apostles. In Acts, we see some pretty spectacular miracles, such as Peter’s shadow falling on the sick and healing them and his raising Dorcas from the dead (Acts 3:1-9; 5:12-16; 9:36-41). Acts 5:16 reports, “Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.” Note, they were all being healed.
Paul also saw some spectacular healings. Acts 19:11-12 reports, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” But later in his ministry, Paul advises Timothy to drink a little wine for his frequent stomach problems, but not to claim healing by faith (1 Tim. 5:23). In his final letter, Paul reports (2 Tim. 4:20), “Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.” Why didn’t Paul heal him if he was still doing the miraculous works of Jesus? And, although it would have freed him for wider ministry, Paul never claimed deliverance from prison or from execution by faith.
God does miraculously heal people today and still do other miracles. When He is about to do something, God may use miracles to accomplish His plan. But I don't know of anywhere that Christians are doing greater wonders than Jesus did. And to claim it is happening does not ring true. Therefore, the "greater works" must not be greater miracles, but something else.
WHAT THE GREATER WORKS ARE AND WHY BELIEVERS WILL DO THEM
Why will we do greater things? Because Jesus is going to the Father. After Jesus went back to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to live inside every believer. We know that as we continue to do the things that Jesus did, we do them through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Jesus did more than miracles. His ministry was comprised of teaching, and announcing the Kingdom of God in addition to wonders. So, is it possible that doing greater works might also include the other things that Jesus did? And that the works believers do are greater in scope?
Later in Cole's article, he says,
D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 496) argues that the greater works are those done on the basis of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The greater works point to the power of the gospel to transform lives as it spread through the apostolic witness. Through Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 were born again, probably more than Jesus saw converted during His entire ministry! The Book of Acts tells how the message kept spreading, first around Jerusalem, and eventually to the Gentiles around the Roman Empire. J. C. Ryle succinctly observes (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], on John 14:12, p. 67), “There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul.”
Thus as the Lord uses us to spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are doing the works that He did and even greater works in the sense that the new covenant is better than the old (Heb. 8:6). And our works collectively are greater in number and greater in geographic extent than Jesus did in three years in one small part of the world. I might add that there have been and continue to be times and places where God’s Spirit works in unusual ways to bring thousands of people to Christ in a relatively short period of time. These are called revivals and it is thrilling to read about them. We should pray that God would do a work of revival here and now. But, there are other times and places where in spite of faithful witnesses and much prayer, few have come to Christ.
Greater works are in connection to God's plan, faith, the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Gospel to transform lives. This may include healing or other types of miracles, but it doesn't have to. Like J. C. Ryle says, "There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul." The miracle of a soul being reborn is greater indeed! And we are seeing a much greater number of converts than Jesus would have seen. Some believers may disagree with the latter interpretation given, but that is okay. Having a right understanding of this verse is not essential to our salvation.