In the Gospel of John Jesus tells His disciples that they will go on to perform works even greater than His. Is Jesus telling His followers that they will perform miracles that will surpass His own?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. (John 14:12)
Critics object to this verse by noting that there have not been Christians who have performed greater miracles than Jesus. No one has ever replicated the feeding of the 5000, turned water into wine, or rose from the dead. Indeed, this is a verse even Christians get caught up on. The problem many of us have when we approach this verse is that our interpretation often carries the assumption that Jesus is talking specifically about miracles such as those described above. The word translated “works” in this verse is ergon and is not a word typically used to describe miraculous works. Here are a few examples of ergon in the NT:
- Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
- But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments. (Matthew 23:5)
- And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. (Acts 7:41)
- Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
Whenever the word ergon is used in the NT it is typically used in reference to the work of the hands (i.e. toil or labour) and not to miracles. Although there are cases where ergon does refer to miracles (as in John 6:28) it is the context alone that allows us to understand it as such for the word itself carries no miraculous connotation.
So if our verse in John does not refer to miracles then clearly, Jesus meant another kind of work. If we were to take a look back through the history of Christianity we would see that Jesus’ claim has most definitely come to pass. Indeed, what is quite possibly the most notable act is the translation and spreading of the Gospel to every corner of the Earth, something that could not have been done by Jesus alone by but the Holy Spirit working through those who follow Him.
What does this mean for us today? Some of us might wake up every Sunday and watch our favourite preacher on TV perform some kind of miracle. Maybe he claims to heal a person in a wheelchair. Maybe he says he has cured the deaf and the blind. When we see these people on TV it can be easy to idolize them or make their works the “spiritual standard.” We might tell ourselves that if we’re aren’t performing miracles as great as those can we really say we’re doing our best for the Kingdom of God? Maybe we read John 14:12 and think that we have barely even managed to love as Jesus loved let alone perform miracles ever greater than our Lord did. If this is how you’ve been thinking I want to offer this encouragement. Any work you do for the Kingdom of God is treasured in God’s sight, no matter how big or small it may seem to others. Maybe all you’ve done is helped pack away the chairs at church! Or maybe you’ve done nothing more than say hello to the person who often goes ignored. Sometimes a simple hug can be just as big a miracle for someone as walking on water.