This great question got buried in my Inbox:
“Hey GES! I was wondering, in John 14:12, it seems that Christ is saying that work is a direct result of faith. I’m not concerned with the “greater works” part, just the fact that it looks like He’s saying “he who believes WILL do” instead of “should do.” I appreciate you taking the time to respond.
The question is what the Lord means by “The one who believes in Me” in this context. Remember that Judas has already left (John 13:30). Only the eleven were left. All of them, of course, were believers (cf. John 13:10-11; 15:3).
But is the Lord saying that the eleven would do greater works than Jesus Himself did? Or was he saying that all believers will do greater works?
Though the questioner is not concerned about the greater works, he should be. It is not possible to interpret a verse without interpreting all the words in the verse.
It seems clear, at least to me, that the Lord is speaking prophetically here of what will happen after He dies, rises from the dead, and ascends to heaven. When He is gone from the scene, even greater works will occur.
I would say that the Lord is talking about the ministries of the twelve, with Matthias taking Judas’s place, and the ministries of Paul and Barnabas. Acts 5:15-16 seems to suggest that if the shadow of Peter fell on someone, then that person was healed. That never happened during the Lord Jesus’ ministry. Peter led over 3,000 people to faith in Christ on the day of Pentecost, which is likely far more than Jesus led to faith in Himself in His three years of ministry. The Apostles ministered longer than the Lord Jesus did, hence having more opportunity to do more. Plus they were benefiting from His prior ministry and from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
But was Jesus saying that all believers will do greater works? No.
Here is what a few commentators say:
“There was another reference to ‘greater works’ in John 5:20 (compare also John 1:50) in a context referring to judging and giving life, and perhaps a share in these two works is included in what the disciples are now being promised” (Raymond Brown, John, Vol. 2, p. 633, emphasis added).
“Jesus’ disciples will perform greater works because he is going to the Father” (D. A. Carson, John, p. 496, emphasis added).
“The works of the apostles after the resurrection were not greater in kind than those of Jesus, but greater in the sphere of their influence” (R. V. G. Tasker, John, p. 172, emphasis added).
I did not find a single commentator that said that the Lord Jesus was promising that every born-again person in Church history would do greater works than He Himself did.
In whatever way we interpret John 14:12, we must harmonize that understanding with our interpretation of 1 Cor 11:30; Gal 5:4; Col 1:21-23; 1 Thess 5:10; 2 Tim 2:11-13; 4:10; Heb 5:12-15; 6:4-8; 10:26-31; Jas 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16-17. The NT does not teach that perseverance in holiness is guaranteed for believers. It does not even teach the lesser idea that every believer will at least do some works greater than what Jesus did.
I have no problem with saying that all believers do good works. In my understanding of the NT even all unbelievers do good works since unbelievers still have the image of God (marred, but not destroyed). But doing some good works is a far cry from doing works greater than Jesus did or persevering in good works.
Jesus was speaking to the eleven in John 14:12. He was talking to and about them. They did greater works. But that is no general promise about the quality or amount of good works that all believers will do.