What did Jesus mean, when He said in Matthew 7:23 “I never knew you; depart from me”?
What Jesus is referring to here is not an intellectual knowledge but a relationship.
To understand a verse, we always have start with the context. Jesus is wrapping up His Sermon on the Mount with a final warning. Jesus foresees that false prophets will be coming as wolves in sheep’s clothing. (Matthew 7:15) They may appear to have religious authority, but they will not belong to the Lord.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
The phrase “In that day” is used throughout the Bible to refer to a future time of judgment. A day when people – but not all – will stand before God and be judged. I say, not all – because this judgment will not include those who have been saved through their belief on Jesus Christ. The judgment for those believer’s eternal destiny was done on the cross. Their sins were laid upon Jesus who paid the penalty for them. When we repent and trust in Him – we receive forgiveness of our sins and His righteousness is imputed to us. (2 Corinthians 5:21). We also receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16) and the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. (John 16:13) We are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30).
So, this judgment spoken of in Matthew 7 is the Great White Throne Judgment written about in Revelation 20:11?
That’s right, Elder. It is a judgment of non-believers – AND it’s a judgment of works. Those who think their good works will merit salvation – who place their faith in the “many wonderful works” of their flesh – will be judged according to those works.
But for the believers who trust that it is by Jesus’s work – not ours – they will have been made worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
When Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 7:21-23, he had just finished talking about how we can judge false prophets by their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20) The passage is very clear. It speaks of wolves that look like sheep, thorns that look like grapes, and thistles that look like figs. Jesus spoke of the contrast of good or fruitful trees and corrupt trees with bad fruit.
Man’s fruits are his works. We cannot judge the heart of man, but we can judge his works. Both the profession of faith in Christ and the evidence of the fruits of faith and love should be apparent in every believer’s life.
It seems that those in the Matthew 7 passage have evidence of good fruit – but are denied by Jesus. That seems confusing.
Let me clarify it for you. Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the WILL of my Father which is in heaven.” We have to ask – What is the will of the Father?
Since Jesus was obedient to the Father’s will – by living a perfect life and atoning for our sins on the cross – couldn’t we say that salvation is the will of God the Father?
Exactly! Only, those who do the Father’s will – by accepting Jesus’ work – will be known by God and be allowed to enter heaven.
The people spoken of in Matthew 7:22 are those who are numbered in the group Jesus spoke of in verse 21. They will not enter the kingdom of heaven because they have not done the Father’s will. They have not trusted in Christ. Therefore, God does not know them.
It says in verse 22 that Jesus will judge them by their words and their works. So, in that day of judgment they will call upon Jesus as Lord. But on what basis do they know, Him? They spoke of the worthiness of their good works – not the work Jesus did to secure salvation for mankind.
So, your saying they were being self-righteous by boasting about their works?
That’s right! They have not understood that salvation can’t be earned. When Jesus saves us, we enter into a relationship with Him. We know Him and He knows us!
Jesus makes it even more clear when, after saying in verse 23 “depart from me” He adds, “you that work iniquity.” Meaning, works done for our own self-centered reasons do not glorify our Father in Heaven. If these people truly knew Jesus, they would be praising His works, not their own works.
Aren’t we supposed to do good works?
Jesus was asked by some men in John 6:28 “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Here’s His response in verse 29 “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”
Paul describes how those who are born again by faith in Christ will produce good works of love – to the glory of God. Would you please read Ephesians 2:8-10
“For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
When Jesus said, “I never knew you,” He meant that He never recognized them as His true disciples or His friends. There never was a relationship established. They had no intimacy with Christ.
So, your saying it’s all about a relationship with Jesus?