What did Jesus mean when he said that we would do greater things than he did?
An initial reading of John 14:12 leaves one startled: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these." How is it possible to do greater works than Jesus did? Consider just a few of his miracles. He healed the blind. He made the lame walk. He raised the dead. He exorcized demons. He made the deaf hear. He made the mute talk. He cleansed leprosy and cured fever. He walked on water. He calmed the storm and multiplied food for crowds of 4,000 and 5,000, not including women and children. In other words, Jesus exercised power over nature, demons, disease, and death. (Mark 4:35-5:43 recounts these four categories of miracles one after another.)
So how could Jesus say that his followers would do greater things?
A New Era Some suggest that he was promising his disciples the greater missionary success that Acts recounts, with the spread of the gospel to thousands of individuals across many lands and peoples. In this interpretation, the words "greater works" point to the extent of the impact—in terms of numbers and geographic breadth—that Jesus' followers had. Though historically true, this is probably not the best way to understand the verse.
A look at the context of Jesus' statement is helpful. During the Upper Room discourse, Jesus explains that he must go so that the Holy Spirit may come. He is looking to a time beyond the Cross, when he will distribute the Spirit to enable his entire community to live and witness for him in a new way.
All the signs and miracles that Jesus performed were preliminary to his central act of redemption. The gift of God's Spirit and the forgiveness of sins both come about because of Jesus' work on the Cross. After the Cross, Jesus' followers are indwelt by the Spirit and get to participate in the fulfillment of God's saving purposes. In fact, the works these believers "perform," which are the fruit of the salvation that Jesus bestows (John 15:5, 13, 16), guide others into the new life that Jesus died to provide (John 5:21-25).
Thus, the works of Jesus' followers are of a greater quality, since they belong to the era of God's promises fulfilled. These works also reflect God's power in a special way, since every good work is made possible by what Jesus did both for the Twelve and for everyone who chooses to follow him.
Other Gospel texts support this understanding. In Luke 7:28, Jesus says of John the Baptist, "There is none born of women greater than John, but the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he." John is the greatest person of the old era (a prophet was pretty high on the ministerial vocational ladder!). But all believers in the new era are greater than he was, because their works are empowered by the Spirit.
The eras of God's working are that different. Imagine, for instance, if the Associated Press's number-one ranked college basketball team played against even the worst NBA team. The college team couldn't begin to compete. In the same way, the least gifted person of our era has access to far greater benefits and experience than the most gifted person of the past era.
I often wonder what it would have been like to be with Moses and witness the miracles of his lifetime. Yet Jesus says that our deeds, done after his work on the Cross, are greater than any that came before—even greater than his own deeds. That's because our deeds are what the entire setup was all about.
In Luke 10:24, Jesus said, "I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." God's work has moved into a new stage and a new level of reconciliation. The greater things of which Jesus spoke are greater because of the era our works belong to, not because of what they are in and of themselves. They point to the fact that God, in his grace, has forgiven us and given us his Spirit.
Jesus' words are not meant to swell our heads or increase our pride. Instead, they remind us how much we should appreciate the benefits of God's grace and the receiving of his promises, even as we share in the realization of this new era of salvation history.
Darrell Bock is research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Being Had Another Look at the Death of Terri Schiavo
Recently, I told you about Michael Schiavo's new book, Terri: The Truth. I compared reading the book to "falling down Alice 's rabbit hole and ending up in a new and bizarre world." This world is "a scary place" where "survival of the fittest" is taken to a whole new level—a world that Christians must never stop fighting against.
Now, I stand by everything that I said about Michael Schiavo's book, but there's something that I said about his late wife that I need to take back. I'm embarrassed, not only because of the mistake I made, but also because I was had and should have known better.
In the earlier commentary I said that "the autopsy showed that [Terri] had been brain-dead." This "finding" did not affect my belief that it was wrong to take her life. My concern from the beginning was with the process we followed and its implications for the sanctity of human life.
My calling Terri "brain-dead" was based on what the media said about the autopsy. For instance, MSNBC began its report this way: "an autopsy on Terri Schiavo backed her husband's contention that she was in a persistent vegetative state . . ."
Well, I should have known better than to take the media's word. Terri's brother, Michael Schindler, thanked me for the commentary but drew my attention to what the autopsy report actually said.
That report said that there was no evidence that Terri suffered, as had been widely reported, from an eating disorder. The medical examiners were unable to determine what caused the heart attack that left her brain-damaged.
Damaged , not dead. In fact, the autopsy report referred to her receiving morphine, which would not have been necessary if she were brain-dead or in a persistent vegetative state. The report, while it noted "severe brain damage," said nothing about Terri being in a persistent vegetative state.
What's more, persistent vegetative state is a clinical diagnosis, made through observation and, as such, is a matter of interpretation. So reports like MSNBC's were, at best, highly misleading. If she had not been deliberately starved, Terri, in the estimate of the medical examiner, "could have lived easily for another decade . . ."
As bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell puts it, the autopsy confirmed "our worst fears." Terri didn't die from any illness but "at the hands of her husband and his lawyers."
As I said, I'm embarrassed about this mistake, but more than that I am angry. It's not enough that the legal process sentenced her to death, but the media deliberately or negligently got the circumstances of both her life and her death wrong.
As a result, the "culture of death" has taken several steps forward. Instead of giving life the benefit of the doubt, we are all-too-ready to choose death. As Mitchell said, "Terri Schiavo should be alive today and in the loving embrace of her parents." Instead, she has become a symbol of the "scary place" our culture is headed: a place where everybody is on the lookout for signs of death, not life. And as for those who defended Terri Schiavo and have been pilloried in the media, well, in the cold light of day, we now know we were right after all.
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How is the Christian to combat the thinking of the world, which glorifies the self and places self at the center as the be-all and end-all of existence? How is the Christian to be faithful to our Lord's command to be in the world, but not of the world? Can he adopt and adapt the popular philosophy/psychology of his culture, or must he stand apart as one who has been set apart by God and view his culture by the light of the Word? Jesus said:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Here is a call to give up one's own way and to come under the yoke of humility and service - an emphasis on yoking - on a teaching and living relationship. Jesus described His call for followers in different words, but to the same relationship and with the same intent, when He said:
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:24-25).
No Self-Love Commandment
Jesus does not command self-love, but rather love for God and love for one another. The Bible presents an entirely different basis for love than humanistic psychology preaches. Rather than promoting self-love as the basis for loving others, the Bible says that God's love is the true source. Human love is mixed with self-love and may be ultimately self-serving. But God's love is self-giving. Therefore, when Jesus calls His disciples to deny self and to take up His yoke and His cross, He is calling them to a self-giving love, not a self-satisfying love. Until the advent of humanistic psychology and its heavy influence in the church, Christians generally thought of self-esteem as a sinful attitude.