1. Isaiah 35
It is widely argued that the description in Isa. 35 is of conditions that will prevail in the Messianic age to come. Premillennialists place the fulfillment of this text in the 1,000 year reign of Christ upon the earth following his second coming. Amillennialists believe it will be fulfilled in the New Heaven and New Earth of Rev. 21-22.
What is important to note, however, is that Jesus appealed to this passage as proof that He was the Messiah and that the Kingdom of God had come in his ministry.
In Matthew 11 we read about the doubt that entered the mind of John the Baptist following his arrest and imprisonment. He sent word to Jesus with one question: "Are you the expected one or should we look for someone else?" (v. 3). Jesus answered by appealing to both Isa. 35 and 61. The fact that now, through the ministry of Jesus, the blind receive sight and the lame walk and lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised, is proof positive that Jesus is indeed the expected one.
Note well: it is the present reality of these miraculous deeds that attests both to the identity of Jesus and the advent of his kingdom. Whereas these promises (Isa. 35) may well await the consummation for their complete fulfillment, the powers of that future age have already broken in to the present. Jesus' point is this: "My identity is established by the fact that those miracles traditionally associated with the future Messianic age are characteristic of my ministry and kingdom in the present age." Thus, we need not wait for the consummation to experience its power. Whereas the fullness of healing and restoration are not yet ours, we may already enter into a measure of their fulfillment in the present age.
2. John 14:12
Virtually everyone is confused, to some degree, by this text. The question is: How do you respond to your confusion? There are only three options:
First, some simply reject the text and figure out how to live with a Bible that contains error.
Second, the majority of evangelicals reinterpret the text in the light of their inability to explain how their experience does not measure up to its claims.
Third, one can receive the text and trust God to sort out the confusion as we seek to pray for its fulfillment.
Many have attempted to explain the text as referring to something other than miraculous deeds and physical healing. For example:
The works Jesus' followers do are "greater" in number than those he did (due to the fact that the church is a multitude whereas Jesus is but one). But this is so patently obvious that it hardly seems necessary for Jesus to assert it.
The works Jesus' followers do are "greater" in quality than those he did (being in particular a reference to evangelistic success in the number of souls saved).
One variation of this interpretation is that which appeals to Matt. 11:11 where Jesus says that "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [i.e., greater than John the Baptist]." As great as John was, he never experienced the fullness of the blessings of the kingdom of heaven which came through the death and especially the resurrection of Jesus. John's ministry came too early in redemptive history to permit him to participate in the glory of the new age, which Jesus inaugurated. Thus, the works performed after Jesus ascends and sends the Spirit are "greater" since they will occur in a different and more advanced phase of God's plan of salvation, being based on Jesus' finished work of redemption.
There are three problems with both of the preceding interpretations:
(1) Those who perform these works are described as "the one who believes in Me." This particular Greek phrase in John's gospel always refers to all believers, to any person who trusts in Christ, whether apostle or average follower. See John 3:15,16,18,36; 6:35,40,47; 7:38; 11:25,26; 12:44,46; 14:12.
This descriptive phrase never refers to a select group within the larger body of Christ. It never refers solely to the apostles.
(2) The "works" believers are said to perform may well be more than miraculous deeds and physical healings, but they are certainly not less than miraculous deeds and healings.
Two things lead to the conclusion that Jesus was referring to miracles:
First, the immediately preceding verse (v. 11) says: "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves." If one is to believe in Jesus "on account of" certain "works" that He does, that is to say, if certain "works" are to serve as a basis or ground for faith, they must be visible and unavoidable. Those "works" on account of which Jesus consistently calls people to believe are the miracles he performs.
Second, the word translated "works" (erga) is frequently used (esp. in John) to describe the miraculous deeds of Jesus. See John 5:20,36(2); 7:21 (a reference to the miracle of 5:2ff.); 9:3,4; 10:25,32(2),33,37,38 [other occurrences of "work/s" in John which refer either to the "works" of men or the general/overall activity of God include 3:19,20,21; 4:34; 6:28,29; 7:3,7; 8:39,41; 15:24; 17:4]. The other three references to "works" are those in John 14:10,11,12.
(3) Most people focus on the "greater works" in the second half of v. 12 and fail to address the "equivalent works" in the first half of the verse. Even if one were able to explain away the "greater works" as something other than miracles (such as evangelistic success), one must still explain the fact that Jesus promises that those who believe him will do the same works He does.
Two concluding observations:
First, Jesus attributes the ability of his followers to do his works to the fact that he is going "to the Father". In the context of the Upper Room discourse (John 13-17) this clearly points us to the gift of the Holy Spirit that was dependent on his ascension to the Father's right hand. See John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7.
Second, if the "works" Jesus did, and promised that believers would do, is a reference to miraculous deeds and physical healings, how are we to understand its fulfillment?