As we mentioned in our first installment, the most frightening statement Jesus ever made for those who believe in Him is found in Matthew 7:21-23. There He stated that many will come before Him on Judgment Day thinking they are headed for heaven only to hear Jesus’ shocking declaration “I never knew you; depart from Me you who practice lawlessness” (NASB).
We have asked ourselves what clues Jesus gave us concerning why many will experience such a shocking fate.
The major clues are found in verses 21-23 themselves.
First, in verse 21, Jesus flatly states that the issue is that those who come to Him on that day acknowledging Him as their Lord were not among those who did “the will of My Father” (v. 21). In other words, though they called Christ their Lord, they did not actually treat Him as their Lord by doing what He taught them to do. In another version of the Sermon on the Mount, at the conclusion of the sermon, Jesus, in fact, asked his hearers, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not the things that I say?” (Luke 6:46).
The same issue is mentioned in verse 23 in which Jesus identifies those whom He commands to depart from Him as “You who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23b).
So, clearly, disobedience to Jesus’ words and the Word of God, in general, appears to be the major issue.
A second clue is found in Jesus statement, “I never knew you.” So, there has been the issue of a mistaken identity. These people thought they knew Jesus, but Jesus Himself did not know them. Therefore, we must ask ourselves who it was that they had sincerely and mistakenly believed in during their earthly lives. Could it have been someone who posed as Jesus, but was not the real Jesus? Could it have been a bogus Jesus, an impostor of some sort?
A third critical clue in the over-all context of Matthew 7:21-23 is the issue of the influence of false prophets. After Jesus warned the multitude before Him on that great day that “the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it,” but “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it,” He immediately brings up the subject of false prophets. He warned us, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:13-20).
Putting all these factors together, it would appear that these tragic scenarios have been created by false prophets who look like true believers (i.e., “sheep”), but lead people astray by teaching them to follow some false or bogus version of Jesus. These false prophets can be identified by their evil deeds, and they apparently teach their followers to practice their same evil deeds, which is why Jesus can justly declare that the reason they are being sent to eternal damnation is that He never knew them, and that they had not done the will of His Father who is in Heaven.
These conclusions appear to match up with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 24:4-5: “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,” and will mislead many.”
It’s all a matter of Biblical discernment.
So how can we know when we have been misled? How can we discover whether we have been duped into following a false or bogus Jesus?
We’ll explore that issue in my next installment.
–Jim Wallace, Th.M., Dallas Seminary