Greater Works than the Son?
Some Bible passages are perplexing. That may be an understatement. We wonder about some of them. Like unruly children who cannot be harnessed and corralled these passages too are hard to handle. When we have finished our daily chores and obligations we ponder them. Better than the illustration of unruly children we might think of them like a diamond we turn this way and that. We study them to understand them. But sometimes these passages leave us with more questions than answers…a lot more. John 14:12 is like that. Think about it, what does Jesus mean when he says, “[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.” We will do greater works than Jesus? Is that what the Lord is saying?
Passages like this one wait for us at the end of the day. They beckon us to ponder them after our daily duties. They encourage us to probe and ponder. So, what does it mean? Well, we first must ask, what does it say? So, what does it say? Our pondering must take in the context. Context is a word made up of two Latin words. “Con” doesn’t mean a shady character on the street corner but is an assimilated form of com meaning “together” or “with.” And text is texere meaning “to weave.” The context asks what is texts are woven together with the text under consideration? And the answer to that is what took place on the evening of the Passover meal reported in John 13-17.
One important thing that has been told us by Jesus is that He is going to the Father’s house in order to prepare a room for us (John 14:2), which is to say, Christ, who is from the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), is returning to the Father and preparing a room for us in Him. The word “room” also has the idea of remain or abide. And so, Jesus is preparing a place for us to abide. But strikingly, in John 14:24, Jesus says that He and the Father will come to us and make their home (or room) in us. What is Jesus saying? He is talking about our union with Him. Thus, the context of our verses is to be set in our understanding of union with Christ.
So, when Jesus says we will do greater works than “these” because “I am going to the Father” he means that the greater works will be done by virtue of His being united to us. Once we understand that we begin to realize that this text is not a comparison between Jesus’ earthly works and our earthly works. No! This is a comparison between Jesus’ pre-glory work in the incarnation and His post-glory activity through union with His body the church. Thus understood, the prayers that we pray (v. 13-14) are not for the purpose of seeking our own good but that Christ might “do” in answer to them and in so doing the “Father may be gloried in the Son” and in His doing.
Consequently, when Jesus says to the Disciples in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” what He is saying is, if you are united to Me, then you will do greater works. But not only that, Jesus has not left us orphans but has provided us another Helper, the Holy Spirit, that we might engage in these greater post-glory works that will bring glory to the Father and Son. That is certainly a lot to ponder.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He has recently been appointed Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.