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' ...

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