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Lesson 77: How to Do Greater Works than Jesus (John 14:15-20)

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December 28, 2014

In John 14:12, Jesus makes the amazing promise that whoever believes in Him will do not only the works that He did, but even greater works. As we saw in our last study of John 14, this could not refer to greater miracles, since no one including the apostles has done greater miracles than Jesus did. Besides, to heal a body that is going to die in a few years anyway is not a greater work than to save an eternal soul. Thus, I conclude that these greater works must refer to works that we do on the basis of Jesus’ finished work, especially the proclamation of the gospel to all the nations.

But, the huge question then is, how do we accomplish this overwhelming task? How do we do greater works than Jesus? We saw in our last study that a major way that we do those greater works is by prayer in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14). Prayer is how we wage spiritual warfare to conquer the enemy (Eph. 6:10-20).

In our text, I understand Jesus to be continuing His explanation of how we can do greater works than He did. In addition to prayer, He gives us three more essential tools that we must utilize if we want to see the Lord use us in His kingdom purposes: obedience (v. 15); dependence on the Holy Spirit (vv. 16-17); and, living in union with our risen Savior (vv. 18-20).

We can do greater works than Jesus as we obey His commandments, depend on the Holy Spirit, and live in union with our risen Lord.

You may be thinking, “If ‘the greater works’ refers to evangelism, sorry, but that’s not my gift! So this message doesn’t relate to me!” But not many of us are gifted evangelists. I’m certainly not! But however God has gifted you, your aim in life should be that Christ would be exalted or glorified through you in everything that you do. As Paul says (1 Cor. 10:31), “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” In Philippians 1:20, as Paul faced possible execution, he wrote that whether he was released or killed, his aim was “that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” That should be the aim of every Christian: to exalt Christ. As you live to exalt Him you will be a vital part of His worldwide body in doing these greater works. These three factors will help you in that lifelong process.

1. We can do greater works than Jesus as we obey His commandments out of love (John 14:15).

John 14:15: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This is so important that Jesus repeats it in verses 21 & 23, and states the negative side of it in verse 24. Love for Christ will result in a life of obedience to Him. If you claim to love Him, but do not keep His commandments, you’re either lying or self-deceived. All who love Jesus seek constantly to obey Jesus.

Verse 15, as I said, is closely linked to verses 13 & 14. If you are not living in obedience to Christ, you cannot pray properly for His work to spread. You can’t be disobeying Christ and at the same time rightly pray, “Lord, use me to do the greater work of spreading Your gospel to those around me.” People will see the disconnect in your life and think, “If this guy is a Christian, thanks, but no thanks!” Your hypocrisy will turn others away from Christ. So obedience to Christ is essential to having your prayers answered.

Note also that the fact that Jesus can refer to these commandments as “My commandments” shows that He is God (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], p. 72). He has the authority to command how we should live. Also note that all three persons of the Trinity are in the context here: the Father and the Son (John 14:13); and, the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).

But, what are Jesus’ commandments? They include everything that He taught. He summed up all the commandments of the Law with the two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor. In John 13:34 Jesus applied the second great commandment to His disciples as His “new commandment”: “that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” As He goes on to explain, our obedience to that commandment will impact the world (John 13:35): “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” If the greater works center on the spread of the gospel, then our relationships with one another in the body of Christ are crucial.

If you’re married and have children, you have a built-in laboratory where you can practice obeying Jesus’ commandments every day. Husbands: Do you selflessly love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her? Wives: Do you love your husband? Parents: Do you show your children the love of Christ through your kindness, patience, and gentleness with them?

The same applies to our relationships in the local church. When someone at church offends you or gossips about you or hurts your feelings, do you work at reconciliation and mutual understanding, or do you go find another church? If you claim to love Jesus, whom you have not seen, then you must love your brother in Christ, whom you have seen (1 John 4:20). To do the works of Jesus, which includes seeing the gospel spread through us, we must obey His commandments because we love Him.

2. We can do greater works than Jesus as we depend on the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).

John 14:16-17: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”

In John’s Gospel, we first encountered the Holy Spirit in John 1:32, where John the Baptist testified, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.” (See, also John 3:34.) Jesus referred to the Spirit several times in His conversation with Nicodemus, leading off with (John 3:5), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Jesus told some superficial “disciples” (John 6:63), “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing ….” But now, in this farewell discourse, Jesus puts a major emphasis on the ministry that the Holy Spirit will have in our lives and in the world after He is gone (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-11, 13-15). Our text teaches us several vital truths:

First, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Helper” (some versions have “Counselor”; the KJV used “Comforter”; Greek = Paraklete). Scholars recognize that it’s a difficult word to translate. It occurs only in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, with reference to the Holy Spirit; and in 1 John 2:2 with reference to Christ.

The Greek word is a compound word meaning literally, “to call alongside.” In extra-biblical Greek, it refers to an attorney who was called alongside the accused to defend his case. In the 1 John 2:2 reference, this meaning seems to fit Christ’s role of advocating for us when we have sinned. If we understand “counselor” to mean “legal counsel,” then that word captures part of the meaning (but not if you think of a therapist who offers advice). For the King James translators, “Comforter” did not mean what it means now, someone to console you when you need cheering up. Rather, it meant someone to come alongside to give you strength.

In the Upper Room Discourse, the function of the Helper is to sustain and strengthen the disciples after Jesus’ departure (John 14:16-17); to teach them and bring to their remembrance all that Jesus said (John 15:26); to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11); and, to guide the disciples into all the truth, disclose to them the things to come, and to glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14). Jesus calls the Holy Spirit another Helper. Jesus was the first Helper; the Spirit will continue Jesus’ work in, to, and through His disciples.

The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, but rather a divine person. In Acts, Peter confronted Ananias by asking why he had lied to the Holy Spirit. Then he added (Acts 5:4), “You have not lied to men but to God.” You can’t lie to an impersonal force! The New Testament writers attribute the inspiration of the Old Testament to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25; Heb. 10:15; 2 Pet. 1:21). They ascribe divine attributes to Him, such as omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10); the power to effect the new birth (John 3:5-8); the power to cast out demons (Matt. 12:28); the ability to baptize believers into the body of Christ and to bestow spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-13); and the power to sanctify believers (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2). Also, the Spirit is linked with the Father and the Son in trinitarian texts (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Cor. 12:4-6; Eph. 1:3-14).

Here, Jesus promises the disciples that the Spirit (“the Helper”) will be with them forever. They would not lose Him when they sinned. We are never commanded to be baptized by the Spirit or to receive the Spirit as a second work of grace, because all believers have been baptized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13): “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” But we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), or to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Both of those metaphors mean that we are to depend constantly on the Holy Spirit so that He controls or governs our lives.

Jesus repeatedly refers to the Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13). God is the God of truth (Ps. 31:5; Isa. 65:16). This means that He is the ultimate reality, because He created all that exists. It means that He speaks the truth and cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6) and came into the world to testify to the truth (John 18:37), the Spirit of truth continues His work by testifying of Him (John 15:26). This also means, contrary to the prevailing view of our day, that there is such a thing as absolute, knowable truth in the spiritual realm (John 8:32) and that truth is found only in Jesus (Eph. 4:21), who is revealed in the Spirit-inspired written Word of God, which is truth (John 17:17). When people turn away from God, they turn away from the only source of truth to the lie (Rom. 1:25).

Paul says that we cannot know spiritual truth unless the Spirit of God reveals it to us (1 Cor. 2:10-14). Thus we need to ask the Spirit to teach us when we read and study the Word. We need to ask His insight in applying the Word, so that we can rightly evaluate the philosophies and events going on in this world. But the primary source for the Spirit’s revelation of God’s truth is in His written Word. Some argue that God’s revelation through the natural world, which we learn through science, is equal to His revelation through His written Word. But the problem is, science is subject to error and always changing. So the insights of science have to be evaluated by the clear teaching of the written Word.

Also, the Spirit never leads believers contrary to the Word of God. I’ve had young women tell me that the Spirit was leading them to marry an unbeliever. My response is, “No, the Spirit-inspired Word of God is clear that you should not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14).” They will protest, “But I’ve prayed about it and I feel peace about it.” But, their inner peace is not from the Spirit of God. He doesn’t contradict Himself. He has spoken in His Word.

Also, note in our text that Jesus contrasts the disciples’ reception of the Spirit with the world (John 14:17). He promises to send the Spirit to the disciples, but then He explains, “whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him.” Of course, no one can see the Spirit physically. Jesus means that the world cannot perceive or understand the Spirit because the world operates on a materialistic basis. The world is in spiritual darkness due to sin, and thus not able to comprehend spiritual truth (John 3:19-21; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 4:18).

But why does Jesus even mention the world in this context? He has just promised that the disciples would do greater works than He did and that whatever they ask in prayer, He will do it. So they may have been thinking, “Let’s go! We’re going to go out and win the world for Jesus!” But Jesus is warning them here, as He specifically states later (John 15:20), “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” Don’t expect a warm welcome when you take the gospel to the world! Not everyone will respond favorably!

Then Jesus adds that in contrast to the world, which cannot receive the Spirit because it does not know Him (John 14:17b), “but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” Jesus seems to be drawing a contrast between the Spirit’s present abiding with the disciples, but in the future being in them. In John 7:38, Jesus promised that those who believe in Him would have rivers of living water flowing from their innermost being. Then John (7:39) explained, “But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

That great change in spiritual history took place on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the early church. Although it is not totally clear, apparently the saints in the Old Testament did not enjoy the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He would come on them and empower them for specific tasks, but it seems that He did not dwell in them as He dwells in believers since Pentecost. Since then, as we saw (1 Cor. 12:13), all believers are baptized by the Spirit into the one body of Christ. Paul further affirms (Rom. 8:9), However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” We receive the Spirit when we hear the gospel and respond in faith to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:2, 5).

Jesus tells the disciples (John 14:17) that they knew the Spirit. This raises the questions, “Do you know the Holy Spirit? Do you know that He indwells you? How do you know that you know Him?” In John 3:8, Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind: You can’t see it, but you hear its sound and you see its effects. So we don’t know the Spirit by subjective inner feelings alone. There is no way to judge whether your inner feelings stem from your hormones or the weather! You can only judge the reality of the Spirit’s presence in your life by His effects.

These would include: The Spirit has changed your heart and your desires. You used to hate God and His truth and either fight Him or ignore Him. But now you love God and His truth. You seek Him. He is life and light to your soul. You used to be confused or bored by the Bible, if you bothered to read it at all. But now you delight in God’s Word. It nourishes your soul. You used to hate it when the Bible confronted your sins. Now you welcome that confrontation, because you realize that sin destroys you and your relationships. You now welcome the healing that comes through God’s Word. You used to be indifferent to Christ and to His death on the cross. But now you love Christ because He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sins. You used to yield often to sin and even to revel in it. But now you hate your sins and as you grow in Christ, you experience increasing victory over it.

Your life used to be marked by hatred, depression, anxiety, frustration, indifference to others, selfishness, unreliability, insensitivity, and yielding to any temptation. These are opposite to the fruit of the Spirit, which now are growing in you: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). You used to live for the things of this world. But now your focus is on eternal rewards in heaven. These and many other evidences in your life show that you know the Holy Spirit and that He is dwelling in your heart. He empowers us to do even greater works than Jesus did.

Thus we do the greater works than Jesus by obeying His commandments and by relying on the indwelling Holy Spirit. Last,

3. We can do greater works than Jesus as we live in union with our risen Savior (John 14:18-20).

John 14:18-20: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”

Commentators hold differing views of what Jesus meant by, “I will come to you.” Some say it refers to coming to the disciples after His resurrection, since in the next phrase He tells them that in contrast to the world they will see Him. Others argue that it refers to coming to them in the person of the Holy Spirit, because He promises not to leave them as orphans. He did leave them physically when He ascended into heaven, but they weren’t left as orphans because He sent the Spirit to be with them forever. A few take it to refer to the second coming in light of John 14:3. I think that there may be a double reference to Jesus’ coming to the disciples after the resurrection along with His promise to send the Spirit to remain with them after His ascension.

Jesus promises, “Because I live, you will live also.” His resurrection guarantees our eternal life. It secured both the continuance of our spiritual life in that it obtained our forgiveness of sins once for all; and the certainty of our future resurrection on the last day.

Commentators also differ on the meaning of “in that day” (John 14:20). It probably refers to the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came upon the church. The Spirit would reveal what the disciples still didn’t yet seem to know (John 14:10-11), that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Him.

The Spirit would also reveal the union that we have with Christ: “you in Me, and I in you.” Jesus will further explain this great truth in the metaphor of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-6). This truth is central to Paul’s understanding of the Christian life (Col. 1:27-28). We have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). God chose us “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph. 1:7). “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance” (Eph. 1:10-11). In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We have been made complete in Him (Col. 2:3, 10). The list goes on and on. As we learn to live in the reality of all these wonderful treasures that we enjoy in union with our risen Savior, we can do the greater works that Jesus promised we would do.


So join me in praying that the New Year be one in which both corporately and individually we all see the Lord do His greater works through us as we obey Him out of love, depend on the indwelling Holy Spirit, and live in union with our risen Savior!

Application Questions

  1. Some think that if you love someone, you shouldn’t need any commandments. Why is this fallacious?
  2. Does the Holy Spirit lead us by inner feelings? Is lack of peace a valid basis for guidance (see 2 Cor. 2:12-13)?
  3. What does it mean to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16)? Is it the same or different than being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18)? What are the results (in each context)?
  4. What are some practical benefits of the truth that we are “in Christ” and He is “in us”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life, Evangelism

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