Greater Works Than Jesus (John 14:12-14)

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Bookends. Let not your heart be troubled. The purpose of the whole chapter is to encourage the disciples. This must be remembered especially as we consider the ideas of obedience and love.

The encouragement throughout the chapter:

  1. Be encouraged. I’m going to prepare a place for you (14:1-11).
  2. Be encouraged. Those who believe will do amazing works (14:12-14).
  3. Be encouraged. Your obedience evidences your love of Jesus (14:15-17).
  4. Be encouraged. Your love results in Christ manifesting himself (14:18-24).
  5. Be encouraged. If you don’t understand, the Spirit will explain (14:25-26).

Purpose Statement. When we believe in Jesus and pray in his name, we will do greater works than He did.

These greater works involve the transformation of hearts.

These works are still Jesus’ works. Three statements point to the fact that these works are truly Jesus’ works: (1) “the works that I do” (14:12), (2) “this will I do” (14:13), and (3) “I will do it” (14:14). Therefore, whatever these “greater works” entail, they are ultimately Jesus’ works.

These works are enabled by Jesus going to the Father. This implies a couple of things. (1) His going to the Father involved his death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, these works are made greater because of His saving work. (2) His departure allowed for the coming of the Spirit which then empowers believers to do the works.

Greater works! In what way are these works greater? I’m hard pressed to consider how anything any one of us could do would amount to something more significant than what Christ did. Regardless or whether you determine that these great works are physical in nature, such as miracles, or spiritual in nature, I cannot wrap my head around how we could do something greater than what Christ has already done. We read of no apostle (or following believer) that walked on water, that fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, that raised someone from the dead after four days. And as to any greater spiritual work? Hardly! He successfully paid for the sins of mankind and offered redemption to lost people. There is no spiritual work that we can do that would be greater than this.

The use of “works” in John’s Gospel. John would have served us well if he had used the word for work to always refer to the same idea throughout his Gospel. He does not, however. On a few occasions John (or Jesus) reference works in the clear context of miracles he had just performed (John 5:20, 36; 7:3, 21; 10:25, 32-38). But John also uses the word for works as he refers to spiritual works (John 6:28-29, 17:4).

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29).

So then, works may refer to either miraculous events or spiritual transformation.

Primarily physical works. Some have concluded that these greater works involve physical miracles. Even Matthew Henry argues that these greater works involve the miracles performed by the apostles.

Henry. No miracle is little, but some to our apprehension seem greater than others. Christ had healed with the hem of his garment, but Peter with his shadow (Acts 5:15), Paul by the handkerchief that had touched him, Acts 19:12. Christ wrought miracles for two or three years in one country, but his followers wrought miracles in his name for many ages in divers countries.[1]

Others go further and conclude that the primary, if not only, meaning for these greater works are miracles. George Beasley-Murray writes, in his commentary on John, “the works that I do, in v 12a are clearly his miraculous works, the “signs” of the ministry which have featured so largely in the so-called “Book of Signs.”[2]

The modern-day charismatic movement definitively concludes that these greater works are miracles and should be the norm for believers today. Michael Brown, a modern charismatic theologian, wrote a book titled Authentic Fire as a response to John MacArthur’s book and conference opposing the charismatic movement. Brown wrote, “[I]t is difficult to escape from the conclusion that whoever believes in the Son will also perform miraculous signs, based on . . . the immediate context . . . with the emphasis on miracles as the works done by Jesus.”[3]

Brown is not alone in his argument. Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA, addresses this passage in his book When Heaven Invades Earth. After arguing that many believers have looked for an “abstract meaning to this very simple statement,” Johnson goes on to write, “Jesus’ statement is not that hard to understand. Greater means ‘greater.’ And the works he referred to are signs and wonders.”[4]

While John’s use of works throughout his gospel and the immediate context allow for these greater works to refer to supernatural miracles, I would argue that these greater works refer to something spiritual instead of physical. [5] Two reasons. (1) Although arguably experiential, the history of the church does not seem to indicate that greater miracles have occurred by believers throughout time that could be considered greater than the miracles of Christ. (2) More importantly, concluding that these greater works refer to physical miracles way undervalues the supernatural and tremendous greater work of spiritual heart transformation. After having acknowledged the challenges in the passage, John Piper offers the following suggestion, “what’s new and greater is that never before in the history of the world had anyone ever been forgiven by faith in the already crucified, already risen, already reigning, already indwelling Christ.”[6] J.C. Ryle offers an even more concise summation. “There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul.” He goes on to write the following:

What our Lord has in view seems to be the far greater number of conversions, the far wider spread of the Gospel, which would take place under the ministry of the Apostles, than under his own teaching. This was the case, we know from the Acts of the Apostles. We read of no sermon preached by Christ, under which three thousand were converted in one day, as they were on the day of Pentecost.[7]

These works are dependent upon prayer.

In Jesus name. Jesus offers only one condition in this verse. Pray “in my name.” Hardly is this a promise for any believer to receive whatever they want as long as they add on to the end of their prayer, “in Jesus name, Amen.” Jesus’ statement must be understood in light of the other similar passages. Jesus says, in John 15:7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Again, John writes, in his first epistle, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). Jesus as well said, in Mark, “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:24).

So then, we can’t ignore all those other commands and simply see the phrase “in Jesus name” as a free pass to all our desires. Instead we understand that the effectiveness of our prayers rest in ongoing obedient walks with Christ, and then motivated by his will – specifically that people come to a saving faith in Christ – we pray; and our prayers are heard and answered.

This prayer resides in the context of greater works. Jesus doesn’t discuss greater works only to skip to prayer that has nothing to do with these greater works. These prayers are tied to the greater works. Therefore, if the greater works consist of believers being used to draw unregenerate people to Christ, then the accompanying prayers are specifically for the conversion of souls.  

Of course, there is a proper place for us to pray for our needs. But this text, and the rest of Scripture, indicate that our prayers should far more often be about people coming to Christ and their ongoing spiritual growth than they are to be about our own felt needs or desires.

The center of all that we pray should be, “Lord, do Your work through Your people! Bring sinners to genuine conversion! Sanctify Your people so that we will be faithful representatives of Jesus on earth![8]

Our prayers will be received. We can know, with surety, that when we pray in accordance with the will of God our prayers are received and answered. When we ask God to use us in a mighty way, He answers us. We can be assured of that and be encouraged by it.


We are part of this incredible plan – to build the church.  The Lord uses us to accomplish some amazing things.  When the gospel is presented and accepted, a great miracle is realized.

  1. God does not always work in the time we expect. We may need to wait.
  2. God does not always work in a manner we expect. He may use suffering and trials.
  3. While faith + prayer = greater works . . .  we need to be careful that we don’t conclude someone doesn’t have faith or is praying improperly if their prayers aren’t being “answered.”


[1] Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, 2014.

[2] Beasley-Murray, John, 36:254.

[3] Brown, Michael L.. Authentic Fire (p. 189). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.

[4] Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2003) 185.

[5] Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 297.  “we might say that the disciples’ works were greater than his because they had the privilege of testifying by word and deed to the finished work of Christ, and the fuller coming of the kingdom that it ushered in, whereas Jesus’ ministry prior to his death and resurrection only foreshadowed these things.”

  1. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 780–781.

“If there is a prime candidate for one of these “greater” works, it is the forgiveness of sins, possibly because it could only come by virtue of the actual shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross, just as the gift of the Spirit could only come by virtue of Jesus’ glorification (see 7:39).”

Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 115.

“It should be noted at the outset, however, that “greater” can hardly here mean that believers will do more dramatic works than the raising of Lazarus (11:43–44), the changing of water to wine (2:7–11), the walking on the Sea of Galilee (6:19), the multiplying of loaves and fish (6:9–14), or any of the other amazing acts of Jesus.”

[6] John Piper. “Doing the Works of Jesus and Greater Works.” (Desiring God Ministries, April 21, 2012). Accessed April 29, 2020.

[7] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Logos Edition, vol. 3 (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1880), 67.

[8] John Piper. “Doing the Works of Jesus and Greater Works.”