“Jesus said, ‘Greater works you will do!’ We are called to raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out devils, and make heaven come down to earth! You can do it! just step out in faith and walk in the power He has given to you.” So says the apostolic revivalist or televised faith healer as he or she revs up the crowd into a frenzy of self-confidence. 

This sort of rallying cry begs the question: What did Jesus mean in passages like John 14:12 and John 5:20 when He refers to “greater works?” Are we mandated to raise the dead? How can we do “greater” works than Jesus if He was God and we are not? Is something wrong with our faith if we can’t clear a hospital with healing powers?  

When the interpretation of this passage is twisted to imply that you must raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out devils, and be known for your rampant signs and wonders, many people are led into confusion when these things don’t happen. Of course, most who prefer this view are not referring to the “sign and wonder” of salvation when they claim that you must do “greater works.” They are most often referring to sensational miracles. 

Then what did Jesus mean when He referred to “greater works?” Let me give you three logical considerations, then boil everything down to one simple and biblical answer based on the Greek word for greater that is used in the New Testament.

“Greater” can logically mean location (place)

This does not need to be confusing. Jesus did ministry in a geographical area that was approximately the size of Manhattan. After commissioning His disciples in light of His death and resurrection, they went out as His witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). “Greater works” are seen today as disciples of Jesus spread the gospel message to places Jesus never physically went. 

“Greater” can logically mean duration (time)

From His baptism until His death, Jesus was on the earth for a span of 3 ½ years — 1260 days to be exact. Is it not easy to see that “greater works” could certainly include the duration of our gospel-proclaiming ministries today? People spread the gospel and equip the church for decades, including non-vocational Christians who share the gospel well into their 90’s everywhere they go! No, you are probably not going to raise a more ‘dead’ dead person as part of the greater works you do. But countless believers have the opportunity to declare the power of salvation for decades longer than their Savior who commissioned them. 

“Greater” can logically mean summation (reach)

Logically speaking, if you declare the gospel in many more places than Jesus, for longer lengths of time than Jesus, you will directly reach more people than Jesus. Of course, He is omnipresent and active in saving people, but you get the point. People today can enjoy the opportunity of preaching the gospel to hundreds of thousands — even, millions — of people. Now, compound that with a dual effort of making disciples of those around you, and using technology like blogs, YouTube, television, radio, and social media to share the gospel. You and I can reach numerically greater amounts of people today than Jesus did in His day. 

The Biblical Answer

Logic helps explore truths and concepts, but the Greek word used for “greater” in John 14:12 and John 5:20 is what provides our ultimate, biblical answer. 

Meizona (greater) is the word used in John 5:20 and 14:12. It is a form of the word megas (referring to greatness in quantity), but meizona is used to emphasize quality. John is saying that the “greater works” done by Jesus’ followers are not merely about quantity, but quality. In other words, Jesus’ followers will be marked by works that are exceedingly more excellent than the time that Jesus walked the earth. Why is this a major key to understanding what His statement means? Because we know that no one can perform a more exceedingly awesome miracle than Jesus. He performed miracles that no one has even come close to duplicating today, including having turned water into wine (John 2:7-11), walked on water (John 6:19), raised multiple people from the dead including Lazarus after three days (John 11:43-44), and don’t forget the fact that He too rose from the dead (Matthew 28:6). Most of all, no one has ever since (or ever will) perform the miracle of atoning for sin! 

So what can we do that is “greater” than Jesus? 

Answer: By proclaiming His finished work we are performing a greater work! 

If “greater” refers to quality (and it does) then it makes perfect sense that we would do greater works than Jesus since we preach His message in light of His finished work. When Jesus made this statement the cross was not yet complete, but He was going to the Father and would therefore inaugurate a new era during which His followers would proclaim His gospel message and people would be saved! 

Signs and wonders do not save anybody, the gospel message does! When Jesus healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda and referenced “greater works” (John 5:20) He did so within the context of salvation and followed up the statement saying, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will” (5:22). His entire point was that giving eternal life was far greater than providing temporary healing. That is precisely what believers are doing every time they declare the finished work of Christ, leading souls to salvation through the power of God. 

Gerald L. Borchert rightly explains, 

The meaning of the statement must therefore arise out of the context of the discussion involving the fact that Jesus is speaking of his departure to the Father, namely, his death and resurrection. If that is the case, then, the basis for the “greater” is rooted in the expansive implications of Jesus’ mission in light of his “glorification” (cf. 17:1–2). Jesus’ departure is in effect the work of the “Lamb of God” in taking away the “sin of the world” (1:29) or the fact that he is the “Savior of the World” (4:42). Accordingly, his death and subsequent resurrection are to be seen as drawing all people to himself (12:32). But strategically this work would also require the work of those who believe because their task would be to communicate to the world the forgiveness of sins (20:23). The works founded upon the “going” of Jesus to the Father (14:12) can, therefore, only involve the post-Easter mission of the church. [1]

D.A. Carson, along with countless scholars from varying theological backgrounds agrees saying, 

The ‘signs’ and ‘works’ Jesus performed during his ministry could not fully accomplish their true end until after Jesus had risen from the dead and been exalted. Only at that point could they be seen for what they were. By contrast, the works believers are given to do through the power of the eschatological Spirit, after Jesus’ glorification, will be set in the framework of Jesus’ death and triumph, and will therefore more immediately and truly reveal the Son. Thus greater things is constrained by salvation-historical realities. [2]

To perform greater works than Christ you do not need to run around trying to raise the dead, shout “FIRE!” from a stage, knock people over, or scream at cancer to “be gone, in Jesus’ name!” None of that is greater anyways. 

To perform greater works than Christ, you need to preach Christ. Preach His finished work after the cross. Preach His provision of eternal life. Preach His kingdom come, His will be done. Then, watch the miracles of salvation take place as lives are changed by the power of the gospel. 

That is the greatest work of all.

[1] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12–21, vol. 25B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 115–116.

[2] D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 496.

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