Summary: No more chilling, nightmarish warning can be found anywhere in Scripture than Jesus' in Matthew 7:21-23--that many will come before Him on Judgment Day assured they're going to heave and will find out differently.
The Paradoxical Sayings of Jesus
Jesus’ Chilling Warning
As paradoxical sayings go, we’ve come to one of the very hardest of all the sayings of Jesus this morning, a saying, which “paradoxically” comes near the very end of what most people regard to be the greatest sermon ever preached.
So, in a sense, it’s hard to imagine why this saying doesn’t get more attention. It absolutely demands our attention if we’re concerned about our eternal destiny; it assaults with grave spiritual realities, and since it comes from Jesus, it lovingly begs for our sobered attention, and so this morning we shall give it just that.
What is that saying? Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (NASB)>
First, you might wonder what is so paradoxical about this statement, which is clearly a prophecy about what will happen on Judgment Day. So let me count the ways for you this morning in which there seem to be apparent contradictions between this and other things either Jesus or the Bible clearly says, and then let me note the sobering realities that it forces us to face, for our own welfare.
The first paradox is this: 1. Romans 10:13 clearly says that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But here Jesus says that not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven. More than that, he says that many will come to Him on Judgment Day and call Him Lord, but will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So what gives?
2. Second, Jesus and the New Testament especially clearly indicate repeatedly that going to heaven, being saved, inheriting salvation comes by faith or belief alone. Jesus said this in everyone’s favorite verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Ephesians 2:8-9 is emphatic that salvation comes not by good works, but by faith: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.” But here Jesus clearly says that only those who do the will of God will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What gives here?
3. Jesus clearly indicated in John 14:11 and other places that His miracles testified to the fact that He was the Messiah, and that if people did not believe for any other reason, they should believe on the basis of His miracles alone when He said, “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.” And yet here He indicates that miracles done in His name are not infallible signs that Jesus is behind them. Because He says many will come to Him on Judgment Day saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in your name cast out demons and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Again, what’s going on here?
4. And then, one of the joys of being a Christian is knowing you’re going to heaven—the joy of absolute assurance you are right with God. Many passages indicate you can know this. One of the favorites is found in I John 5:11-13: And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” But these words of Jesus are clearly designed to make those of us who think we are sure we are saved to think again—to not be so sure. Why is this?
And then there’s the sobering, chilling aspects of this saying. First, the concept that many, not a few, will come before Jesus on Judgment Day who sincerely believe they have known and served Jesus all their lives only to find that they are dead wrong, to their eternal regret, and will be shocked at the outcome. And the very sobering question that Jesus clearly intended each of us here to ask ourselves, “Could I by any chance be one of those people who will face this greatest nightmare of all eternity?” And finally, “how can I avoid this terrible mistake; how can I and all those whom I know and love come to know better?”