by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter 7-2 (contd.)


Let us continue now with Matthew 7:22-23. After portraying the general judgment scene with two classes of persons saying "Lord, Lord" in verse 21, Christ reveals a more specific case in the next two verses. He states that many will confess "Lord, Lord" in that day and present to Him their works. Jesus rejects these persons by not only saying "I never knew you", but also by giving His criticism of their doings, characterizing them as lawlessness.

It is crucial that we really think about and come to a correct understanding of Jesus’ words "I never knew you." Please take careful note of what He does not say. He does not say to them, "You never knew Me". If this faulty one appeared before Christ in the day of judgment as merely a "professor" (a person professing Christ, but with no genuine relationship with Him), it would seem the Lord would judge him by saying something like, "you claim to know Me by calling Me ‘Lord, Lord’, but you never really knew Me. You never had a genuine relationship with Me. Depart from Me, you unbeliever." But the Lord did not say this. Instead, He said "I never knew you". The Lord spoke from His perspective, His "knowing" of the person, rather than the person’s knowing of the Lord. Yet, actually speaking, doesn’t the Lord know everyone thoroughly? Of course, He does know everyone, even the secrets of their hearts (Jn. 2:24; 1 Cor. 4:5), but He doesn’t have a vital spiritual union with all people.

The answer to the puzzle lies in our understanding of the word "know" in this passage. Every sound Bible interpreter knows that a word must be interpreted according to its context. If you look up a word in the dictionary, it will usually have from two to five meanings. How does one know which meaning is intended in any instance? One must look at the context where the word is used.

The word for know in this verse is the Greek word ginosko. Of course, it can carry the usual meaning of "know", meaning to have knowledge of or to be acquainted with. However, this word can also mean to acknowledge or recognize in a certain sense. A standard Greek lexicon comments on the use of this word in Matthew 7:23 as follows: "acknowledge, recognize as that which one is or claims to be...I have never recognized you. Mt. 7:23."[1]

Thinking of the word in this way we can easily understand the passage. The Lord has told us in verse 21 that many will come to Him calling Him Lord, but He will deny them entry to the Kingdom because they are not those who do the will of the Father. So we see the scene again in verse 22 as those coming to Jesus, calling Him Lord and presenting their works as evidence of doing the Father’s will. At that point, Christ will respond to them something like this: "You come to Me calling Me ‘Lord’ and claiming to be persons doing the will of the Father. I have never acknowledged you as such persons. Depart from Me; you are those who practice lawlessness."

Jesus disapproves them because He does not recognize them as doers of the Father’s will. Rather, He calls them doers of "lawlessness". Then, based upon this forecast of future judgment, He tells His disciples in the next verse, "Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man..." (Matt. 7:24).

The problem with the disapproved ones was that their works were not in accordance with the righteous principles of God, as expressed in the words of Christ. Yes, they may have prophesied, they may have cast out demons and even did some works of power. But they did these things in a way disregarding the words of Christ (or the will of God).

Perhaps they did these things to be noticed by men in violation of Matthew 6:1. Maybe they were greedy and did them for financial gain contrary to the teaching in Matthew 6:24. Some ministers love the "wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15) and some suppose that "godliness is a means of gain" (1 Tim. 6:5). Perhaps some did their works for the Lord Jesus with an attitude of pride ("I’m God’s man"), rather than being poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). Perhaps they simply did things for the Lord, using His name, but what they did was just according to their natural energy and talent ("wood, hay and straw"; 1 Cor. 3:12).

It is possible for those who supposedly serve God to be deceived into thinking that they are doing God’s will (Jas. 1:22). It is even possible for believers to be genuinely endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet they themselves may be fleshly in their walk and use the gifts in a fleshly way. The church in Corinth is a proof of this (1 Cor. 1:7; 3:1-3; 6:7-8; 11:17-22; 13:1-3; 14:9-16; 20-28).

Watchman Nee comments on these crucial verses in Matthew 7:21-23:

The reward of the kingdom of the heavens is based on the obedience of man. If one is not faithful while living on the earth, though he will not lose eternal life, he will lose the kingdom of the heavens. . . . First the Lord mentioned this matter in verse 21. Following this, in verses 22 and 23, He explained the matter to us in the way of a prophesy. There will be many, not only one or two, who will not do the will of God. . . . Here the Lord Jesus tells us what will happen before the judgment seat. He says, ‘In that day.’ Hence, this does not refer to today, but to the future. There are many who work hard but do not see the light of God in their lives. When the time of judgment comes, and when Christ begins to judge from the house of God, those Christians will have light for the first time. They will see that they are off in their standing and in their living.[2]

Verse 23: The Greek word for knew is the same as the word for acknowledge in Romans 7:15. There, in Romans 7:15, I do not acknowledge means "I do not consider [it] right." Here, I never knew you may be translated "I never approved of you"; that is, "I never considered what you are doing as right."[3]

Why did the Lord say, "I never knew you"? The next sentence explains: "Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." Please remember that the Lord did not tell them to depart from eternal life. In the original Greek the meaning of workers of lawlessness is people who do not follow the rules, keep the law, or abide by the regulations. In the eyes of God, to do evil does not mean only to do bad things. It does not matter how much one has done; as long as he has not hearkened to God’s demand, His judgment, and His sovereign arrangements, it is evil in God’s eyes. If this word "lawlessness" were translated as "evil", as some versions have done, many would have the ground to argue. The problem here is not a matter of doing evil, but a matter of being unprincipled. What are the principles? The principles are God’s word. But what is God’s word? God’s word is God’s will. If you are not doing the will of God, no matter what you do, the Lord Jesus would say that you are lawless. Those who do things according to their own self will have no part in the kingdom of the heavens.[4]

A great deal of space has been devoted to this "enter the kingdom" portion in the seventh chapter of Matthew because it is possibly the most commonly misunderstood portion in the Gospels. As a final confirmation as to the real truth presented here, here is one more lexicon’s definition of ginosko and two translations of Christ’s word "I never knew you". Ginosko: "In the sense of to know, as being what one is or professes to be, to acknowledge, with the acc. (Matt. 7:23)."[5] "Never have I acknowledged you" (Matt. 7:23, The Emphasized New Testament: A New Translation, J. B. Rotherham). "At no time did I recognize you" (Matt. 7:23, The Four Gospels, E. V. Rieu).

Enter the Kingdom in Matt. 18:3

The third New Testament mention of "enter the kingdom" occurs in Matthew 18:3.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:1-4, NIV).

There is an interesting relevant background to the disciples’ question to Jesus. If one reads the parallel passages in Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 9:46-48, it will be seen that the disciples had just been having an argument among themselves concerning which one of them was the greatest! In light of this, Jesus used the opportunity to show them the character and holiness issues related to entering the future Kingdom. Robert Govett, the great teacher of the Kingdom truths in the nineteenth century, comments as follows:

The apostles inquire of Jesus, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" There had been a strife among them which of them should be the greatest. Jesus replies, "Except ye turn (Greek) and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven:" xviii, 3. Is not that clear and startling? That to apostles! "You are inquiring which of you will get the chief place in the kingdom? I tell you, you will not enter it at all, unless you put away from you these ambitious jostlings, these bitter strifes with one another!" Here, methinks, is the exclusion which I teach.[6]

Govett’s comment on exclusion is in respect to a believer’s exclusion from participation in the blessed realm of Christ’s 1,000 year Kingdom. All of us who do not let the Holy Spirit put to death the prideful and ambitious contentions within will find ourselves rejected by the Lord Jesus Christ for entry into His Kingdom on the day of judgment.

Enter the Kingdom in Matt. 19:23, 24

The fourth and fifth instances of the phrase "enter the kingdom" are found in the story of the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:23-24; parallels: Mk. 10:23-25; Lk. 18:24-25). Of course, the reader is now thoroughly familiar with the emphasis of this story. The entire context of the story concerns the call to absolute discipleship. The lesson Jesus presented to His followers was that unless one is willing to sell all (give up the enjoyment of the self in this age) and follow Him, there would be no entry into the coming Kingdom. The coming Kingdom was presented as a conditional reward for those who would leave all to follow Him.

Enter the Kingdom in Mark 9:47

The sixth mention of "enter the kingdom" is found in Mark 9:47.

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to ENTER INTO LIFE maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell [literally., Gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched--where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to ENTER LIFE lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell [literally, Gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched--where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire--where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another" (Mk. 9:43-50, NKJV, emphasis added).

This fearful and amazing passage is one that I suspect most teachers of eternal security prefer to avoid! Why? Because escape from the fire is linked to dealing with sin (works), not faith in Christ. And how can unbelievers be expected to deal with sin in their lives? They can not be expected to since they are slaves of sin (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:16-20). So, this is a word to disciples, not unbelievers (Mk. 9:31,33,38). It is a word to those who already have a relationship with Christ and have the potential power to deal with sin.

This portion of God’s Word warns us that believers who are unrepentant and do not deal with sin in this life will not enter the future Kingdom of God (Mk. 9:47). This is in perfect accord with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, and Ephesians 5:5. The fire that these unrepentant believers undergo is not "hell", which is a mistranslation. It is Gehenna, which will be discussed in the next chapter. Again we see that obedience, not grace, is the condition laid down for entry into the coming Kingdom. Dealing with sin is a serious matter with God. Where are you with the Lord on this issue?

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Christian Literature. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p.160.

[2] Watchman Nee, The Gospel of God. (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), Vol. III, p. 405.

[3] Watchman Nee, Study on Matthew (from The Collected Works of Watchman Nee ) (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1992), p. 63.

[4] Watchman Nee, The Gospel of God (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1990), Vol. iii, p.408.

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Dictionary - New Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992), p. 373.

[6] Robert Govett, Reward According to Works (Hayesville, N. C.: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1989), article entitled "Entrance Into the Millennial Kingdom", p. 35.