Charismatics And The “Greater Works” Of John 14:12

By Allan Turner

In trying to teach the gospel to those caught up in the charismatic movement, John 14:12 has frequently been used as a proof-text for their claim that miraculous gifts are still in use by “true” believers in Christ. In this passage, the Lord was speaking to His apostles and said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (NKJV).

According to the charismatics, the “greater works” are the “signs and wonders” being performed in their so-called “miracle services.” Of course, a careful examination of this passage will only serve to demonstrate how the charismatics have completely misunderstood the teaching of the Lord on this subject.

Even a cursory examination demonstrates that their erroneous interpretation of this passage actually works against them in the strongest way. Let's just think about it for a moment. The quality of “miracles” performed by these people does not even come close to that of Bible miracles. The Lord's miracles were undeniable and spectacular. He changed water into wine and multiplied loaves and fishes. He healed hopeless lepers, cripples, and blind people. And we must not forget that He raised from the dead one who had been dead for four days!

Furthermore, the apostles were able to perform miracles just as Jesus had done—even raising the dead. Although these charismatics claim to be doing the “greater works” mentioned by Jesus, it is obvious that their alleged miracles are not even thirty-second cousins to those performed by Jesus and His apostles.

While Jesus, the apostles, and others performed signs, wonders, and miracles which could not be imitated or equaled, those being performed by charismatics are no different than those exhibited by various religions around the world that have nothing at all to do with Christianity. For example, modern-day “tongue-speaking” (i.e., ecstatic utterance) is engaged in regularly by Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Shintoists, Voodooists and others. In reality, Bible “tongue-speaking” is not being duplicated anywhere today—even among charismatics—because no one today is being given direct power from God to speak foreign languages they've never learned.

A reading of Acts 2:1-12 convinces us that the New Testament gift of tongues was the ability to speak in an unlearned foreign language. It is true that charismatics sometime claim to know someone who knows that somewhere someone once spoke an actual foreign language, but these cases are clearly unsubstantiated. It is interesting that not one charismatic I have ever spoken with has ever claimed to be able to speak an unlearned foreign language.

How then could the questionable and somewhat less than spectacular “miracles” performed by modern-day pentecostals be the “greater works” spoken of by Jesus? Remember, not even one of these folks has ever been so bold as to claim to have resurrected one who had been dead for four days. Consequently, these charismatics are wrong in their interpretation of the passage under consideration. Let's use the space that remains to determine if we can learn what the Lord was referring to when He said, “and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).

It is clear that the Lord made a distinction between miracles and a greater work that would be done by His followers. This greater work was dependent upon Jesus going to the Father. In John 16, the Lord said it was expedient for the apostles that He go away because when He did so the Holy Spirit would come and guide them into all truth. In I Peter 1:12, we learn that the gospel was preached with the “Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:12, 13).

In his message on the first Pentecost after the Lord's resurrection and ascension into heaven, the apostle Peter said: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being highly exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.... Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32,33,36). Through the preaching of the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, men were able to be saved (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Although the raising of the physically dead was a wonderful miracle, greater still is the preaching of the gospel which has the power to raise the spiritually dead. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus taught that a man's soul is more important than the whole world. If this is true—and Jesus said it is—then the preaching, teaching, and living of the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest work that can be done by His followers. There is nothing more important that this!

What a truly great experience it is to be “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (I Peter 1:23).