These words of Jesus are often misrepresented because we don’t consider the context in which they were spoken.
By this time Jesus had spent nearly three years with His disciples – years marked by miracles as part of introducing the upcoming Kingdom of God. It would be a spiritual kingdom on earth, located in the hearts of men and women who received eternal life through Jesus.
Man’s reconciliation to God was the sole purpose for Jesus coming to earth. Everything He said and did was focused toward that end, but up to this point His ministry, even with all its miracles, could not provide the eternal life of John 3:16.
Jesus’ audience was men who had left all to follow Him. His agenda became their agenda and He intended to launch the Church through them.
Jesus spoke these words right after their Communion service, to console them about His impending death. He had previously commissioned them to do miracles, as in Luke 10, and was now encouraging them by saying “hang in there guys, you haven’t seen anything yet!”
I say confidently that Jesus was speaking of the reconciliation of man to God through the proclamation of the Gospel – something inestimably greater than any miracle (or 1,000,000 of them) in the physical realm.
One must read the whole chapter, to understand “greater works.” Check your Bible. In vv2-3 Jesus sets the tone for what is to come, i.e. that He is going back to Heaven to prepare a place for us and that He would return for us. This is about our relationship with God, and the theme is repeated in v6. Then we have vv12-14 and “greater works.”
Consider what follows. Note v15; If you love me, keep my commands. And the focus on obeying Him in verses 21, 23, and 24, with the promise of the Spirit spoken into that context.
All of this followed John 13:34-35, which is part of the same conversation: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. This is in such contrast to the many today who want to be marked by signs and wonders and displays of spiritual fireworks.
Jesus is introducing something wonderfully new in His short time between the Upper Room and the cross. He is transitioning from a focus on the natural, to the spiritual. He was going to the cross, and then to the Father (note “because” in v12), and then He would pour out the Holy Spirit and launch the new program.
Because of that, Satan’s compulsory power would be broken and man could be reconciled to God. While on earth he could know the intimate relationship with God that he was created for; he could spend eternity in heaven; and he would escape the eternal fire of hell. The disciples would get to experience that; to proclaim it; and to serve God in establishing His Kingdom in the hearts of others. This, would be so much greater than anything that Jesus or they had done to this point!
Love would be the new hallmark, and Jesus Himself, the entrance way. Lives transformed by truth would be the vessel; and the Holy Spirit, the power by which life would be imparted to hearts.
Let me ask, “Which represents the greatest miracle – someone being healed of cancer for their few remaining years on this earth, or the sinner who is separated from God and destined to an eternal hell, being reconciled to God and given eternal life?”
Certainly there are supernatural events today, and they can draw hearts toward God. But they are only to be tools in the hands of those who are about our Father’s business. Those who have been with Jesus, as in Acts 4:13. Those who care more about His name, then their own.
Many scriptures in both the Gospels and Epistles confirm the effect of attesting miracles. But let’s not forget the words of Luke 10:17-20, ending with; However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” When the disciples got all excited about the spectacular, Jesus pulled them back into the greater purpose for His coming.
Let’s remember the main focus of Acts. It isn’t about spiritual gifts or miracles. It is about the results of the proclamation of salvation through Jesus the Christ, by men and women who were dedicated to that mission even to the point of “selling all.” The power of their ministry flowed from the depth of their surrender to God and the richness of His ruling presence in them.
It is repulsive to me, to hear a man declare himself qualified to do greater works than Jesus, speaking of signs and wonders. It is not those who declare it who are authentic, but those who quietly lay down their lives for Him. Those who more passionately seek to love, and to point people toward Jesus, than to have miracle power. They don’t seek to do greater works, they simply serve the living God and He does His work through them. Men and women receive eternal life, and sometimes miracles in the natural realm are part of the process.
Men will do anything but surrender, in their pursuit of more of God. We are fascinated by the supernatural, and in both the church and the world there is an emphasis on the spectacular. Any such emphasis which does not insist on the prerequisite life and message of Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26, John 13 and 14, Acts, and I Cor. 1, is suspect
We know that Satan does the spectacular too. Matt. 7:21-23 and 24:24-25 are as true now as the day Jesus spoke them. Christians who are drawn to the sensational are terribly vulnerable to deception and many are already deceived. Woe to those who foster such deception.