(Speech delivered Aug. 29, 1945 to the Federation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies).
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in My Name, I will do it.”
Christ’s departure from His brethren was to them a tremendous mystery. They believed in Him as the Messiah. Their conception of the Messiah was earthly, however, and they could not understand that their Lord must depart from them through suffering and death. This explains their troubled hearts whereof the Savior speaks in verse one. And this also explains why Jesus comforts them in the chapters 14-16 of this gospel according to St. John.
According to the immediate context of our text, Jesus is the revelation of the Father, and whosoever hath seen and known Jesus hath seen and known the Father. Inasmuch as Christ Himself is Immanuel He is God in the flesh and therefore God revealed. And because He is God revealed He speaks and does the words and works of God. God worked in and through Him. He spoke the words of the Father because His words were words of life. His works, too, were works of life. He gave life to the dead, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute. His works, which were works of life, were works of the Father because the Father is life and there is no darkness in Him. He that hath seen the Christ hath therefore seen the Father. His disciples, however, and all God’s people shall do the same works; yea, they shall do greater works than these, inasmuch as Christ goes unto His Father.
What does Jesus mean when He tells us that we shall do the same, yea, greater works than His? It must be self-evident what is meant with Jesus’ works. Jesus’ works are His miracles. We read in verse 9: “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” It must be conceded that He had been with them only three years. However, these years had been so full that, if the apostles had narrated all the happenings, the world would not be able to contain all the books. What a multitude of works Jesus had wrought! We need but recall the host of miracles recorded for us on the pages of Holy Writ. Besides, these works were works of the Father. Satan does not perform these works. He does not give life, appease hunger, give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. The devil works destructively. God’s works are works of life. And we must bear in mind that the emphasis here must not be laid on the quantity of the Savior’s works but on their character. They were works which manifested the Father, as the Father of light. Only God makes alive, gives sight to the blind, enables the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. The works of the Savior were therefore those works or miracles which revealed God because all these works operated directly against the curse of sin and manifested the Father as life and light.
But what does Jesus mean when He teaches us that we shall do the same works, yea, greater works than His? Must we seek the fulfillment of these words among those who believe in divine healing? They profess to accomplish miracles. They would regard divine healing as an earmark of the true Church and pride themselves in their giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, etc. Does not this word of God teach us that we shall perform the same works? However, it must be evident that this explanation of Jesus’ words is utterly impossible. It is true that the apostles performed miracles after Jesus’ departure. However, we may note, in the first place, that the apostles certainly never exceeded the Lord in this working of miracles. Christ certainly performed more wonderful works than they. But, in the second place, this text does not refer to the apostles alone but to the entire church. The expression, “He that believeth in Me” is too general to be limited merely to the apostles. All the believers are meant here. And they shall not only do what Jesus did, but they shall exceed Him, do more. What, then, does the Lord mean in this text?
To understand this saying of our Lord we must bear in mind the character and significance of Jesus’ works. His works were fundamentally signs and therefore transitory in character. This does not mean, of course, that they were not real. But it does mean that the miracles of Christ, performed in this earthly, physical sphere, were not the reality but merely signs, symbolic forms. It was not the purpose of the Savior, e.g., merely to cure the earthly sick. His miracles were a transitory form and direct us to His real, spiritual significance.
Christ’s miracles were earthly symbols of the wonder of divine grace. Scripture itself leads or directs us to His real, spiritual significance.
Christ’s miracles were earthly symbols of the wonder of divine grace. Scripture itself leads or directs us to this thought. Do we not read that the Kingdom of Heaven occurs through miracles and parables? This Kingdom is heavenly. These miracles are earthly. Hence, they are but earthly symbols of their spiritual reality. Whenever Jesus performs a miracle He gives us a picture of that which actually takes place in the real, spiritual-heavenly Kingdom of Heaven. Only in light can we understand the miracles of our Lord. God’s grace, we know, is that divine wonder, whereby the Lord delivers this accursed creation, through sin and death, into the eternal, heavenly glory. God’s grace is that wonderful power of God whereby the Lord, through sin and darkness, realizes? His eternal and heavenly tabernacle. Jesus Christ Himself is centrally this wonder of divine grace. In Him God makes dwelling among us, descends into our midst, realizes His own Kingdom, so that it is literally true that, in Christ, God, through our sin and death, establishes our eternal glory. This Jesus is exalted at the right hand of power. And it is He who, by His Spirit, causes spiritually the dead to live, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the dumb to speak. Of this actual power of the grace of God, the wonder of grace, Christ’s miracles are but signs and symbols.
This enables us to understand why we shall not only do what Jesus did but perform greater works than His. What works shall we perform? The wonder of grace has been poured out into our hearts. We, who are spiritually dead and blind and deaf and dumb and lame, are enabled by this power of grace to live an see and hear and speak and walk. We are enabled to fight the good fight of faith against sin and unrighteousness. These are the works which characterize the people of God. And they are works of God also because they testify of and manifest Him. These works glorify God, our Father, who is in heaven.
It is for this reason that we hear Christ say that we shall perform greater works. Indeed, we shall do the same works, not because we shall perform earthly miracles, but in the sense that we shall perform actually and spiritually what Jesus did symbolically. For this reason our works shall be greater. In the measure that the reality is greater than its symbol, its shadow, our works are greater than Christ’s. His works were symbols. Our works are their corresponding reality.
The assurance that we will perform these greater works is, first of all, expressed in this text in the words: “Because I go unto My Father.” These words must not be understood as merely conveying to us a temporal thought. The implication, then, would be, that, inasmuch as Jesus is going to His Father and His disciples remain behind, Christ’s time to perform miracles will be cut short but they will be able to continue. In the light of what we read in this chapter we can definitely assume that this cannot possibly be the meaning of these words of the Lord.
Jesus goes unto His Father. Jesus here is the Mediator, who, according to His human nature, is the head of His people, who came to suffer and die that we might live. Neither need we be in doubt how He goes unto His Father. The entire context in John 14 throws light on this point. Jesus goes unto His Father in the way of the cross. For He is the head of the elect who by nature lie in the midst of death. Without that people He cannot conceivably be glorified. Our glory and that of Christ are inseparable. And whereas He is the head of a guilty people He can go to the Father only in the way of the cross, in the way of the perfect and complete satisfaction of the justice of God. That Jesus goes to His Father implies therefore that He will suffer and die for us, completely satisfy God’s justice, and consequently be seated in the right hand of power and glory.
This explains why Christ’s going to His Father is the basis for the assurance that we will do these greater works. Fact is, at the right hand of God He will receive glory and honor and be exalted as Zion’s head, having merited that glory through His suffering and death. And He will therefore be able, as our life-giving head, to call us out of darkness into light and enable us to work the works of God through the power of His grace.
Secondly, we may be assured that we will perform these works because thereby the Father will be glorified in the Son. This is the divine purpose of our good works and therefore constitute a sure guarantee for our performance of them. God is glorified in the Son. This occurs within the Trinity inasmuch as the Son, being the Image of the Father, manifests the Father. This also applies to Christ as Mediator. Christ manifested the Father in all His words and works. But then it is also true that the Father is glorified in the Son in and through the Church. This not only implies that the glory of the Father has been poured out into the Church through the Son. But the Church will also glorify the Father through the Son, inasmuch as the Son is eternally for us the revelation of the Father. And inasmuch as the Father will be glorified in us, through the Son, because our works will reveal Him, being works of light and life, we may be assured that, upon Christ’s going to His Father, we will perform these greater works, because the heavenly Father will glorify Himself.
Finally, how shall we be able to do these greater works? The text directs us to this thought, in the first place, in the words: “He that believeth on Me.” This needs little explanation. We must believe into (thus literally the text) the Christ. Faith into Christ is that operation by grace whereby we spiritually reach out unto the Savior and thus live out of Him. We must live out of Christ to be able to perform the good. We have no life in ourselves.
Secondly, the possibility for the doing of these works is expressed in the words: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name that will I do. . . . If ye shall ask anything in My Name, I will do it.” To ask, or pray, in Jesus’ Name implies, firstly, that we ourselves must be in Him. It implies, secondly, that we consciously, in all our thinking and willing, move about in His Name, His revelation, and that therefore the content of bur prayer be in harmony with that revelation. Then we shall desire the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, thirdly, this implies that that Name, that revelation of Christ, His cross and resurrection, is the ground of our prayer. If we believe in Him, seek God in prayer in the Name of Christ, seek His Kingdom and the glory of His Name, God will work through us, for thereby He will be glorified and this divine purpose is always realized.