We have just read a lengthy portion of Scripture. Sometimes we can get lost in the details of a passage, especially a lengthy one. But there is definitely something special happening in this exchange between Jesus and his disciples in the upper room. The goal of Jesus from the very first words he spoke after Judas Iscariot left the room was to bring comfort and encouragement to his followers. But v. 12 communicates a truth that bears our examination. In doing so, we will be led into the very heart of this passage.
As we look at verse 12 we must be careful. Obviously, Jesus was pointing to the future. In fact, it was necessary for Jesus to go to the Father in order for this promise of remarkable works and answered prayer to be available. We will need to qualify what Jesus was saying. But at the same time, we must be careful to not say less than what Jesus was saying! Clearly, Jesus was drawing his disciples into a special understanding about his works and their future works. By extension, all believers would be participants in these works. This conversation has bearing directly on our lives today!
What did Jesus mean when he said, “Greater works than these will he do”? Did he mean that our works would exceed his works in the form of the miraculous? Would the disciples, or future believers, do greater miracles than the ones Jesus did? I’ve heard that preached in the past. I’ve heard zealous pastors and evangelists call on God’s people to be ready to do the big things for God! “After all, Jesus said that we would do greater miracles than these. These what? Obviously the miracles that Jesus had done. Jesus wants us to do things even he could not do!” Hummmm. Is that really what Jesus was saying? Let’s test that idea. Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the grave. The dead brought back to life! They don’t come much more miraculous than that! Was Jesus saying that his disciples would do things even greater than that? When you think about it, that doesn’t make much sense. So, what was Jesus saying? What would make our works great in comparison with his?
First, we need to remember that Jesus did more than just miraculous works. He also did works of humility and selfless service. The image of Jesus washing their feet was still fresh in the minds of his disciples. Even on the day of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus did not command the adoration of a conquering hero. He came riding on a lowly donkey. Many of the works of Jesus were works of humility, service, and love. Second, we must also see that two promises would soon be realized in the community of faith. Great works would accompany those who believe (v. 12), and the prayers of the followers of Jesus would be answered (v. 13). What is “greater” in all of this is that regular people in whom the power of Christ will have taken up residence would do these future works. Common people like the disciples. Common people like you and me. How would it be possible that even in our day works of power as well as works of humility will be done? It is to be the direct result of the presence of the power of God through his Spirit. God dwelling in men…the same men who would one day dwell with him. Given the complexity and emotion of Jesus’ teaching it is important that we give attention to two characteristics of this passage: 1) its structure and 2) its application. Through his words Jesus called their attention to the future. He had a plan for them. He also had an assurance for them…he would not leave them to be like orphans. What a powerful analogy! What was the explanation and assurance of these teachings? The promised coming of the Holy Spirit.
I. The Structure of the Passage
- Whenever we come to a passage in God’s Word that covers such a vast array of concepts, analogies, and promises we do well to spend time identifying its structure. Structure is how the author helps us cut through the complex landscape of the passage and understand the main idea of the text and the direction the author is seeking to take us. There is always a reason why an author of Scripture writes what he writes and does so in a structured way. One of the typical ways in which we identify structure in a passage is to look for repeated words, phrases, or concepts. This text is rich with such repetitions.
- When we were young we were daredevils! We loved to figure out ways to practice making our bicycles to things they weren’t designed to do! This was long before motocross and X Games. One thing we enjoyed was the construction of a ramp from which to launch our bikes for a ride through the air. We would find a sturdy piece of plywood and put the necessary supports underneath so that we could get a running start, ride our bikes up the ramp at the fastest speed possible, and fly through the air. It was a blast! Once we got comfortable jumping our bikes we would begin to look for obstacles to jump over. If my little sister weren’t available we would sometimes line up our bikes cross ways and try to get high enough to clear them before landing. Sometimes we were successful. Often, not! As I look at the structure of this passage I see a ramp that is perfect for jumping and two pinnacles to clear once we are airborne. Between the two peaks…a valley to explore. We have already commented on the ramp. In vv. 12-14 we read of Jesus’ future plans for his followers. That beginning will lead to the consideration of two pinnacles between which lies the valley.
- One of the first features of the structure of this passage is the presence of a repeated command. Although there are some very significant promises made by Jesus here, there is a condition emphasized for all believers. In v. 15, Jesus commanded his disciples to love him. We know that the word “love” is a frequently used word in the writings of the Apostle John. He called himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” he emphasized the love of God for us, and he emphasized the love that believers are to have for one another. But here, for the very first time, Jesus commanded his followers to love him! That is very significant. So much so, that this new command is repeated in vv. 21, 23, 24, and 28. The disciples had no doubt about the love of Jesus for them. He had declared and demonstrated it many times. But now he was calling on them to love him. The life to which Jesus was calling them, this life of abiding in him and he with them, this life empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, was a life of love. It is important to remember that his command to love him was not a condition of his love. His love is guaranteed. He does not say here, “If you obey me I will love you.” No, what he declares here is, “If you truly love me you will obey my commands.” Obedience is not a legalistic requirement. It is the outgrowth of our love. It is our love that he wants more than anything else. And it is our love that is rightfully demonstrated through obedience to him.
- The means by which the followers of Jesus would do what he had commanded is the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Even this command to love him is best understood as an outgrowth of the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us. It is very significant that we have in the structure before us two separate promises of the Spirit’s coming. These are the first two of what are eventually five promises of his coming. The references to the Holy Spirit in this text serve as an inclusio, or, bracketing bookends. No sooner does the author introduce Jesus’ promise of “greater works” and “answered prayer” than he immediately communicates the coming of one who would empower and enable. In the structure we see the “Spirit” promised in vv. 16-7 and v. 26.
- As we consider these promises of the gift of the Holy Spirit we must understand the wording that Jesus used. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another ‘paraclete’.” This word has been translated in various ways down through the centuries. We have read it translated as a “helper, counselor, comforter, or, advocate.” Probably, the best of these is “advocate.” The others tend to take us in a direction that Jesus would not have intended as he described the Holy Spirit. Literally, the root of the word means, “to call alongside.” It was descriptive of the legal aid provided by defense counsel who would stand beside the accused before the judgment bar. The other words used in translation only take us part way in understanding what Jesus said. The word has nothing to do with “comfort” or “help” except the concept of someone coming alongside to strengthen. “Counselor” used to be a natural expression of this word depicting legal counsel but with today’s marriage counselors, camp counselors, financial counselors, etc., the word looses its impact. So, “advocate” seems to be the best translation. We remember that this has long been the accepted view of 1 John 2:1, “And if any man does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.”
- It is also interesting that Jesus called him “another paraclete.” That begs the question (one that seminarians love to debate!), “Who was the first paraclete? If the Father was going to send another it only stands to reason that there was a former. Based on the truth of 1 John 2:1 we can say that Jesus was the first paraclete. The promised Holy Spirit would come to continue what Jesus had already set in motion. The disciples would not be left deserted. They would not be left orphaned. They would have the person of the Holy Spirit in place of the person of Jesus Christ. Their works in the lives of the disciples (and ours) would be complimentary.
- The upward trajectory of the “greater works” and “answered prayer” promises, along with the pinnacle truths of love and the coming Holy Spirit, leaves us with a valley with which to contend. The problem of Jesus’ departure was still hanging heavy in the air. And the means of his departure, death on a cross, made it even harder for them to bear. It is fine for Jesus to promise them a future and the presence of the Spirit but what about him? It was Jesus whom they loved. It was to Jesus that they were attached. How were they to make peace with these realities?
1. He promised them they would not be orphaned. They did not need to fear abandonment.
2. He promised them that even when the world could no longer see him, they would still see him. His departure from them would only be temporary. He would come again for them and take them to the Father’s home where he and they and we will dwell forever!
3. He revealed to them the permanent union that they shared with him and with the Father. Although the debates over the concept of the Trinity will never end this side of Heaven, there is no question that Jesus was teaching here that the more you know about him the more you will understand the nature of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. To know Jesus more is to know how much he loved the Father and longed to be with him. To know the Spirit more is to know the Father and the Son more. It is impossible to escape the Trinitarian threads of this passage.
4. The end of Jesus’ plan is peace. Not a negotiated peace. Not a peace of compromise. But the gift of peace. God’s peace. A peace unlike any other known to man. The evidence of this peace is a heart delivered from a troubled spirit. In a beautiful way, v. 28 concludes the admonition of v. 1.
5. Finally, Jesus admonished the disciples to rejoice with him that he was going to the Father. This required faith! Although they were confused and fearful about his impending death and departure he assured them of two powerful truths. First, he was going to be with the Father. What could be better for him? Second, he was certainly coming back for them. What could be better for them? Yes, faith sometimes has to act in the face of fears and doubt. Some of you know all too well about that. You have been fearful about things over which you have no control. Some of you have been fearful about things that haven’t even happened yet. In fact, they may never happen! And yet we fear. What should we do? Step out on faith and believe the Lord. What he has promised, he will do. To this end Jesus invited them to enter into his peace and to enter into his joy. We are invited to the party, too.
II. The Application of the Passage
- Because I live, you also will live.
1. We have already noted several reasons to be joyful in light of our Lord’s teachings. But there is something special given to us in the way of an application that we need to heed. Look carefully at the end of v. 19. Jesus was calling on his disciples to make a very personal application based on something that they knew to be true about him. All through this Gospel we have been reminded that life comes through Jesus. Knowing him is the way to eternal life. This very concept was at the heart of Jesus’ words of encouragement to his disciples. Jesus is the life! Through knowing him we can have life.
2. Jesus was facing death. Not just any death…death on a cross. He was facing the most dramatic crisis of his eternal existence and it was our sin that required the dreaded solution. His life was perfect. But the life that he would establish through his death on the cross would become our life as well. Jesus, on the same evening that he would be betrayed and arrested, on the night before he would die a painful and shameful death on the cross, declared to his disciples, “I live!” He is the greatest example of an overcomer that has ever existed. In his eternal wisdom he saw beyond the cross, beyond the tomb, to his promised life. “Because I live, you also will live.”
- Because I love, you also will love
1. The previous statement is found in v. 19. This statement, while not explicit in the text, is certainly inferred. Jesus repeatedly declared his love for the Father. The final statement of the passage brings us back to this central truth. In chapter 15, Jesus would build on this concept but he was clearly using his example to challenge us. We are to love just like Jesus loves. That means we are to love the Father with all of our hearts (the great commandment) and love others as ourselves (the great commission). Our love for others should be a reflection of our love for the Lord.
2. Knowing Jesus will always bring us closer to the Father. Just as Jesus was one with the Father, so we too are in union with the Father because of Jesus. What does this teach us? That we are to love in the same distinct way in which the Father loves. God…love.
Conclusion: This text is one of the most important “Union with Christ” passages in all of Scripture. Although Jesus was explaining to his disciples why he had to leave them, he was also explaining to them that he would never leave them. He was a part of them organically and ethically. Today we thank God for the indwelling Holy Spirit. Because he makes us alive in Christ we truly live. Because a part of his fruit in us is love, we love with Christ’s love. And with that life and love we represent our risen Savior to a fallen and needy world.