As with any Biblical text that has suffered a negative overuse, we are demanded to look into it with a certain amount of depth to actually see and understand what it says. By God’s grace and with His Spirit’s illumination, we venture into a 3-part study of a widely misused text: John 14:12-14.
Main Points and Context
Too often have these words of Christ been used to prooftext a common strain within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Proponents of said movement have gone around the world making vociferous claims of having raised the dead, healed paraplegics, give sight to the blind, prosperity to the poor, and many more outlandish claims. Famous among which are well-known charlatans such as Benny Hinn and his good friend, Reinhard Bonnke.
Do the words Jesus said in John 14:12-14 truly mean that Christ’s disciples would do grater signs and wonders that Christ Himself did? Are we to honestly believe that signs and wonders greater than Christ’s–the raising of Lazarus, walking on water, feeding over 9,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, the cleansing of lepers, the immediate recovery of tetraplegics, opening the eyes of people who were born blind–were to be surpassed by His followers? Did the Master’s reputation as the Greatest sign Performer suddenly get trumped by His very slaves?
“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
What we should first notice in this text is what we should notice before trying to grasp any text of the Scriptures: historical and grammatical context. Who is the original audience? 21st century Charismatics or any other denominational Christian? Certainly not! We must notice:
- The people who heard these words were in a room with Jesus (Upper Room). The ones who heard them were 10 in total (Judas had already departed in the previous chapter).
- The disciples heard this in a moment of great turmoil. Jesus was about to be betrayed, the sheep would be scattered, they could not follow Jesus to where He was departing, and His very traitor was one of them, the identity of whom was a secret until now.
- Verses 10-11 give us the backdrop for 12-14. Philip had shown unbelief by telling Jesus their desire to see the Father. We could very well assume that they expected an indestructible peace if they could just see God the Father for one tiny second. They could withstand any trial and obstacle that would come their way. Jesus kindly rebuked Philip by telling him that seeing Jesus is equivalent to seeing the Father, for the Son is the utmost expression of the Father. He further backs up His statement by telling Philip and the others to believe on behalf of the WORKS that Jesus performs.
Given the points made above we can extract that the main thrust of all that Jesus has said is about Himself, not about His disciples. In their moment of greatest distress, it was them that needed to be comforted, even though Jesus was about to take on the wrath of the Father, His attention was always on His weak disciples. This text is about what Jesus does, not about what we or the original disciples could do.
So, what are the “greater works”? We have already established how ridiculous it would be to affirm that anyone has done greater miracles than Christ. That would be both a supreme act of arrogance and self-deceit.
The Greek here sheds immense light over the English translation. The word “ἔργα” means:
- Business, employment, that with which anyone is occupied: Mark 13:34; Acts 14:26; 1 Timothy 3:1; the work of salvation committed by God to Christ, John 17:4; of the work to be done by the apostles and other Christian teachers, as well as by the presiding officers of the religious assemblies, Acts 13:2; Acts 15:38; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Philippians 1:22; Ephesians 4:12, which means either to the work in which the ministry consists, the work performed in undertaking the ministry, or to the execution of the ministry. of that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking: Acts 5:38 (Deuteronomy 15:10).
- Any product whatever, anything accomplished by hand, art, industry, mind: 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, Acts 7:41; of the works of God visible in the created world, Hebrews 1:10.
- An act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasized in opposed to that which is less than work, James 1:25; Titus 1:16.
We see here that “work” refers to what Christ came to do, not mainly His signs and wonders. The word “miracle” does not exist in the Greek New Testament. It is only found in the English translations. The Greek words for “signs” and “wonders” are the following.
- “τέρας” (téras, sign) – a miraculous wonder, done to elicit a reaction from onlookers; an extraordinary event with its supernatural effect left on all witnessing it, i.e. a portent from heaven to earth.
- “σημεῖον” (sēmeíon, wonder, token) – a sign (typically miraculous), given especially to confirm, corroborate or authenticate. Therefore, sēmeíon (“sign”) emphasizes the end-purpose which exalts the one from whom the sign proceeds. Accordingly, it is used dozens of times in the NT for what authenticates the Lord and His Apostles, especially by doing what mere man cannot replicate of take credit for (in the case of the Apostles they were used as instruments).
Join us for part 2, to be published Monday, February 4th.
Written by Paul Tkaczuk, @reformed.wrecth