In John 14:12, Jesus makes an amazing statement: “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” (emphasis added). Jesus performed many amazing and wonderful works—raising the dead, walking on water, and feeding thousands come to mind—how can it be true that those who have faith in Him will perform “even greater” works than those?
In saying that those who believe in Him would do the works that He did, Jesus was not saying that every Christian would walk on water and raise the dead. The apostles in the book of Acts performed some miracles that were similar to Jesus’ works, but even they did not walk on water or feed multitudes, as far as we know. The Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people as He sees fit (1 Corinthians 12:4). Not everyone has the same set of gifts. Some believers have more public gifts, and others have quieter, more private gifts.
Jesus said that not only would His followers do the same works, but they would do “greater” works than He. Again, this is not a reference to the works’ being greater in power. Jesus had raised Lazarus, who had been four days in the tomb (John 11); humanly speaking, not even the apostles did a greater work than that. No one has ever exceeded the power or majesty of Jesus’ miracles.
So, what did Jesus mean that His faithful followers would do “greater” works than He? Without a doubt, the works of Jesus’ followers would be greater in extent. Jesus’ earthly ministry had been largely limited to Galilee and Judea; His disciples, however, were going to extend His ministry to the uttermost parts of the earth. When Jesus ascended to heaven, His followers numbered in the hundreds; forty days later, in response to the preaching of the apostles, that number leaped into the thousands (Acts 2:41). By the end of Acts, the gospel had made its way to Rome.
Jesus links the works of His followers with the fact of His return to heaven. In fact, He says His absence is the cause of their greater works: “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” (John 14:12, emphasis added). Jesus later told His disciples that the gift of the Holy Spirit depended on Jesus’ return to heaven (John 16:7). It was through the Spirit that the church is enabled to do the work of God.
Jesus also links the greater works His followers will do to the promise of answered prayer. His very next words: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14).
The words of Jesus in John 14 were of great comfort to His eleven disciples. He was about to be arrested and suffer a cruel and unjust death. The disciples themselves would be scattered that night. But Jesus assures them that, no matter what happens, God’s work will continue in the world. Even after Jesus’ earthly ministry ended, His work would go on. The followers of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would continue to help and heal people. The gospel would have a worldwide impact. As God’s people pray in Jesus’ name, answers would come, and the greatest miracle of all—the spiritual transformation of a sinful heart through faith in Christ—would become commonplace, to the glory of God.