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Having posted some thoughts on Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room (as recorded for us by John in chapter 14-16) I thought about filling in the picture a bit. I wanted to think out loud about the three times, in the upper room, Jesus spoke to his disciples saying “Truly, truly, I say to you . . .” Jesus’ way of verbally “bolding” his words has called me to try to think particularly well about these words.

The first time he uses this introductory phrase is in 14:12.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to the Father.”

He wants his disciples (and, presumably, that would include us . . . the disciples of those disciples!) to understand that they are to do the kinds of things that he himself was doing.

I know that there is a fair amount of debate about what the “greater works” might be that Jesus refers to. But resolving that debate (if possible!) doesn’t lessen the impact of the first part of the statement: Those who believe in Jesus are supposed to do the works he did. We don’t even have to get to the “greater works;” we first have to wrestle with the “plain” works!

Some insist this reference to “works” must be a reference to things like sharing the Gospel, starting churches, loving others. Those aren’t bad things, but I don’t think Jesus had those things specifically in mind. The immediate context suggests otherwise.

Jesus tells those friends gathered with him in the upper room that he was “going to the Father” (John 14:1-7). This prompts Philip to ask Jesus to just show them the Father (14:8). Jesus explains that in seeing him they are seeing the Father; they can know the Father because of Jesus (14:9). And then Jesus says that if they find it hard to take his word for it–to believe his words that he and the Father share this intimate kind of life–they should believe “because of the works themselves” (14:11). In saying that, Jesus is referring to the kinds of things the disciples had witnessed Jesus doing that could serve as evidence that the Father was doing “his works” through Jesus (14:10). As Jesus has explained this, it is clear he must want them to think about the kinds of things he had been doing–miracles, healings, deliverance, life-altering proclamation.

In other words, Jesus is inviting them to look at the evidence that the divine Father was working in and through him by taking note of the divine nature of the works they had witnessed.

In this context, the “works” must refer to the kinds of things that Jesus had been doing that gave evidence to the reality of the Father’s presence in his life. This is what Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, had picked up on. When meeting Jesus, Nicodemus said, “We know that you have come from God, for no one could do these things that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

And this then causes me to wonder.

Jesus appears to expect his followers to do the kinds of things he had been doing. When he appointed the twelve, he chose them so he could send them out to do the things he was doing (Mark 3:14-15). When Jesus selected seventy others, he intended for them to do the kinds of things he had been doing (Luke 10:1-17). When Jesus commissioned his followers to go and “make disciples,” the call included teaching others to do all that Jesus had taught them to do (Matthew 28:18-20). And it seemed to happen. In Acts, we meet second generation followers of Jesus (like Philip and Stephen) who end up doing the kinds of things that Jesus had been doing (Acts 6:1-10; 8:1-8).

So, do we have any expectation that the followers of Jesus are to participate in at least some small way in the kinds of things that Jesus had been doing? Truly, truly, do we?


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