Scripture lesson: Matthew 7:21-23.
Matthew 7:21–23 (NKJV) — 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Is it possible for a Christian to be in front of God at the judgment and be told they were going to hell? Imagine if you were in front of Jesus, and he said he never knew you and to leave his presence. Could that situation actually happen?
In this lesson, I will explain Matthew 7:21-23 and how it applies to Christians being cast into heaven.
The first thing you should do when reading the Bible is to determine the context of the passage you are reading. That will help you to interpret it more accurately. So, what is the context of our lesson passage?
Let’s look at Matthew 7:15-20.
Matthew 7:15–20 (NKJV) — 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Jesus made a distinction between true and false prophets. False prophets deceive people like a wolf disguised as a sheep. They produce bad fruit.
So, if we follow the flow of the scriptures from verses seven to twenty-three, we could say that Jesus focuses on false prophets.
False Prophet’s Actions
We said previously that false prophets deceive. They pretend to be one thing to trick you into doing something, believing something, following them, etc.
Let me make a distinction between the Kingdom of God and Heaven. Many think they are the same thing.
The Kingdom of God is the realm over which God rules. It includes his laws, principles, and way. Jesus taught much about the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t teaching about the afterlife in heaven per se. At one point, he said that the Kingdom of heaven is among you (Luke 17:21), implying that He brought the Kingdom of God on earth.
Recall that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, You will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). My point here is that the Kingdom of God is more than heaven, though heaven is part of God’s Kingdom.
Another important point about the “kingdom of heaven” is that Matthew used it to refer to the Kingdom of God. He used the word heaven because he wrote to Jews who might take offense to him using the word ‘God.’
See my study on The Kingdom of God
Okay. Back to Matthew 7:21. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of God will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Two questions to consider.
- What is God’s will?
- How does one enter the Kingdom of heaven?
What is God’s will in this context?
What does God ultimately want? What does the scope of the Bible point to? God wants us to be saved because He wants to have a relationship with us (1 Timothy 2:4). Another clue is the creation. God created the earth and everything in it and then told humans to have dominion over it. God intended for us to connect to Him and rule over the earth.
That dominion was lost when Adam and Eve sinned against God. God then established a plan to get humans back in right relations with Him. The Bible tells the story of God that leads to Jesus Christ and him crucified and resurrected. It tells the story of God getting us back to right relations with Him through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we can confidently conclude that God’s will is for us to be saved. God wants us to enter His Kingdom.
How does one enter the Kingdom of heaven?
Remember, Jesus is talking about false prophets in the subject scripture passage and how they will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. We also know that God wants us to enter His Kingdom. How do we do it?
John 3:3 (NKJV) — 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 3:5 (NKJV) — 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
We enter the Kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit of God. We enter God’s Kingdom by being saved. We are saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8–9 (NKJV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
See Matthew 7:22 – The people here rely on their good works, not faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that someone could appear to be doing God’s will but really are not. Putting on a front does not get you to heaven. Doing good deeds does not get you to heaven.
Who Goes to Hell?
Matthew 7:22 (NKJV) — 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’
The “many” are false prophets, and “that day” refers to the judgment. Many false prophets will tell Jesus about the things they did, i.e., prophesied in Jesus’ name, cast out demons, and many miracles.
We established that you enter the Kingdom of God by believing in Jesus Christ. However, the false prophets make their case for entering the Kingdom of heaven by the things they did, i.e., works. We do not earn our way to God’s Kingdom. We enter it by faith, not works.
Matthew 7:23 (NKJV) — 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Jesus will tell the false prophets that he never knew them, i.e., they never had a relationship with him. Therefore, they were told to go away.
I think it is important to realize that those who are saved become part of God’s Kingdom before they die and go to heaven. Therefore, when Jesus said to depart, He was sending them to where they belong, “hell.”
Who goes to hell? Those who are not saved, who did not put their faith in Jesus Christ. We could also say that those who are not part of the Kingdom of God will go to hell.
Christians do not go to hell. By Christian, I mean those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, for reconciliation with God. There will be many who rely on their works to impress God and earn their way into God’s Kingdom. However, they will be judged accordingly. If your name is not written in the Lambs book of Life, you will go to “hell.” See Revelation 20:15.
Therefore, Christians should not think that they can get before God in the judgment and discover that they did not do enough to get to heaven. The only thing we need to do to be with God for eternity is to have eternal life instead of eternal death (Revelation 20:14). We get eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 (NKJV) — 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.