12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.
Jesus has admonished us to bring our petitions before God in His name. The pronouncing of the words “in Jesus’ name” at the end of our prayers has become a proper and common ending. Though I want us to rethink what these beautiful words mean, I will not at all argue for the removal of them from our prayers. There is no doubt that they are used carelessly, maybe even most of the time. But that is a matter of inattentiveness, not profanity. I love to hear my young grandchildren pray their prayers as they rise to the final crescendo, “In Jesus’ name, Amen!”
The words, no doubt, are sometimes used as a sort of “abracadabra” as if, in just repeating the sacred line, our prayers must be answered in just the way we want. Others may look at it as a blank check from the Savior Who, evidently, was asking us to fill in the blank because He had already signed the bottom line. Even though we often pronounce the words without thinking, we are aware that such is not the meaning of our Lord.
I believe all of our prayers are answered because they are always heard (1 Jn. 5:15). However, few of them are answered in the way we ask because our prayers are usually selfish. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (Jas. 4:3). I believe God even hears the profanity of the lost as they ask God to “damn” this or that because Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). Yet Peter reminds us from the Psalms that “the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Pet. 3:12); and James also says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas. 5:16). A lost man cannot pray in Jesus’ name because the Holy Spirit is not his Advocate, but any believer can and should.
Jesus reminded His disciples of the great miracles which He had done (vs. 12). These apostles would also do miracles, albeit lesser than those of their Lord. What were the “greater works” (lit. “things”) they would do specifically “because” Jesus would return to the Father? These must be related to the Holy Spirit Who would come to the believers (at Pentecost) in exchange for Jesus returning to heaven and His place at the Father’s right hand. That is why the subject in the remaining of this chapter is the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in believers. When Jesus is gone, He cannot do works on earth except through others. The vine does not bear fruit but the branch. The head does not do work but the body. The disciples are left to do Jesus’ work on the earth in His absence. But, oh, what a daunting task! How can they do such a thing? They will do it by asking the Father to do it through them for Jesus “that the Father may be glorified in the Son” though He will be in heaven. And, in addition, Jesus will leave the believers with a double Advocacy: Jesus in heaven, at the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit (“another Comforter”) on earth, actually indwelling the believer. A “near” and a “far” Advocate. The gospel era would see souls saved that could not have happened unless Jesus ascended back to heaven to intercede with His blood and the Holy Spirit descended to earth to convict the world of sin and judgment. And in addition, these souls would not be saved without a preacher who will work with both Advocates.
Greater Works? “What St. Peter did at Pentecost, and St. Paul did throughout the world,—what a simple preacher, a simple believer effects in causing the Spirit to descend into a heart—Jesus could not do during His sojourn on earth.”1 Yet these greater things are precipitated on the possessor of the Holy Spirit asking them to be done “in Jesus’ name.” If this is not a simple polite closing on a prayer, then what is it? The answer may have many facets.
In His Place
The first way in which we ask in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is that we simply ask from earth where Jesus no longer dwells. We ask in His place. But Jesus is also where we cannot yet be—in heaven. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us . . . Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14, 16). In the same way, Paul said that “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
We are now the ones doing the work of Christ on the earth. God still intends this work to go on even in Christ’s absence and He is eager to help us since we are doing it in the place of Christ. I once attended a meeting for my father-in-law and introduced myself as coming in his place. I was welcomed by all and was accepted as if my father-in-law had been there himself. I would not say I did as good a job as he would have, but that was my lack of expertise, not his.
By His Merits
The second way in which we ask in Jesus’ name is to ask that the merit or moral authority of Jesus be applied to our prayers. When Jesus gave the disciples the great commission, He said that “all power” (lit. “authority”) had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18-20). He then instructed them to disciple, baptize, and teach under that authority. Baptism was to be done, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This authority to baptize was carried on in the name of Jesus throughout the book of Acts.2
Answered prayer isn’t my reward for proper living. Prayer is the proper appeal that the righteousness of Jesus Christ be allowed to work through me. Yes, He lives forever to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25), but this is so that His holy work will continue. “For such an high priest became us (was becoming of us, magnified to us) who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). As in my justification where God looks beyond me and sees the righteousness of Christ, and on THAT basis treats me as “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6), so when I pray in Jesus’ name, God looks beyond me and my faults and hears me by the merits of Christ’s own righteousness. How sad, then, to pray by my own merits rather than by His glorious grace and peace.
For His Benefit
The third way in which we pray in Jesus’ name is what Jesus emphasized in verse 13, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” How can prayers be answered that are prayed for the glory or recognition of the one praying? Why pray at all if that is the motive? But notice that God will be glorified through the Son when we pray in the Son’s name. These kinds of prayers are done for the glory of God alone. God is glorified through the continued testimony of Jesus Christ, which is carried on in this age through the believer possessed by the Holy Spirit. Every work that we do ought to be designed as part of Christ’s work. If it is, God will be glorified because the Son is magnified.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began and ended the model prayer with glory to God. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. . . . And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9, 13). In Paul’s appeal to the Philippians to pray for his release, he reminded them, “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phil. 1:19-20). How often we pray for our own benefit without thinking of what would glorify God if He answered our prayer the way we prayed it.
Not what I wish, but what I want,
O let Thy grace supply;
The good unasked, in mercy grant,
The ill, though asked, deny.
With His Knowledge
The fourth way in which we can pray in Jesus’ name is to pray as one who loves to keep His commandments. Doesn’t it seem odd that Jesus would include that 15th verse at that point? It is almost as if the verse was lost from some other context. But a moment’s thought may restore it properly in our minds (which is the only place verses can get lost). We are to be the mouth and feet and hands of Jesus while we live on this earth. His work must be done through us. And how can this be done except by obedience?
We have two great motivations in keeping His commandments. The first is that we love Him. “If ye love me,” Jesus offers, then you will keep his commandments. “He acknowledges no love which does not find its expression in the observance of His laws. These cannot be separated from the person.”3 The second motivation is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is “the Spirit of truth” (vs 17). “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (vs. 26).
How could we petition the Father to answer our prayers in Jesus’ name and disobey the same Lord Jesus Christ? John repeats this same imperative in his epistle, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 Jn. 3:22). “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 Jn. 5:14-15).
The Word of God will tell us what pleases the Lord and what is in His will. Knowledge always follows purity in the Scripture (2 Pet. 1:5; Jas. 3:17). When we love the Lord we will want to know what pleases Him. We add to our virtue, knowledge, and to our knowledge, perseverance. Even our meals are “sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:5) because the Scripture has informed us that we can eat without condemnation and therefore we give thanks.
And So . . .
We ought to keep saying “in Jesus’ name” when we pray, but we ought to really mean it! We rush in and out of our prayers without thinking of the great work we are doing. Whether in a great Christian gathering or at a simple meal, let us invoke that name which is above every name and come boldly before the throne of grace!
Notes: 1. F. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of John , vol. II (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1886) 276. 2. The formula for triune immersion remained the same, the authority to carry it out was done by the merits of Jesus Christ. 3. E.W. Hengstenberg, Commentary on the Gospel of John , vol. II (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1865) 209-210.
Approach my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.
Thy promise is my only plea;
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to thee,
And such, O Lord, am I!
Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.
Be Thou my shield and hiding place,
That, sheltered near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died.
O wondrous love! To bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name!