Bible Question:

Can you explain what went wrong in Matthew 7:21?

Bible Answer:

According to Matthew 7:21-23, at the Great White Throne judgment Christ will refuse to allow  some very religious people into heaven. Therefore, our question is,  “Why will this happen? What was wrong with these people?”

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. 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?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.” (NASB) Matt. 7:21-23

I Never Knew You

Depart From Me!

Verse 23 tells us that at the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11),  Christ will tell some individuals who claim to be Christians that they are not Christians. They will be going to hell. This is the starting point that will help us understand what happened to the individuals in Matthew 7:21-23.

Most of us would assume that anyone who had prophesied in Christ’s name, cast out demons, and performed miracles would be a believer (v. 22). But we know that the Jewish sons of the Pharisees had cast out demons (Matthew 12:27; Luke 11:19; Acts 19:13) and they were not Christians. Since prophecy means “to tell forth,” this does not necessarily mean that they made prophesies of future things that would occur. Most likely they are just saying they had preached. Even false teachers preach.

Exodus 7:8-13 states that pharaoh’s magicians caused their staffs to become snakes. In Exodus 7:20-25 and 8:1-7, the magicians were able to turn water into blood and to cause frogs to appear on the land. These magicians were not Christians. They were part of the occult. It is reported that healings occur at times among those in the occult. Therefore, not all healings and seeming miracles are done in the power of Almighty God.

I Never Knew You

Whether they lied or did these things, it is important to realize Jesus teaches us that these professing Christians in Matthew 7:21 were never Christians. Notice Jesus’ words in verse 23. He said,


The Greek word “never” is  oudepote. This is a very strong Greek word meaning “not ever, not even ever.” It is an absolute and objective denial.1 The Greek word is a compound word of oude which means “not” or “not even” and pote which means “at any time.”2 That is, oudepote means never at any time.3 Davies and Allison comments,

“I never knew you” is a formula of renunciation and means, “I never recognized you as one of my own . . .”4
This means that Jesus said to these individuals that they were never, ever believers. They were never, ever Christians. Yes, they were religious and they may have been faithful in performing their religious activities, but they never had true faith in Jesus Christ. They will be going to hell for eternity.


This passage reveals that church attendance, giving money, being a leader in a church, leading or participating in a ministry or doing something else in a church or ministry does not mean that a person is going to heaven. When Jesus said that only those who do the Father’s will are the ones who will go heaven, He does not mean that doing good works or deeds are necessary in order to go to heaven. The message of the gospels and the rest of the New Testament is that those who are going to heaven will produce good works after they become believers. Listen to Ephesians 2:8-9,

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, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB)

Notice that men and women are not saved by works but by faith in Christ. Faith that saves trusts that Christ has done everything necessary for a person to have his or her sins forgiven so that they can go to heaven. When a person seriously understands that he or she has sinned (Romans 3:23) and as a result they are going to hell, (Romans 6:23) he or she will be humbled and fear hell. Then when they believe that Christ will forgive their sins and they ask His forgiveness, that faith will also be joined with repentance and submission to Christ as Lord.

. . . that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” Romans 10:9-11 (NASB)

Are you a true believer in Jesus Christ who is going to heaven? Or, will Christ say, “I never, ever knew you at anytime”? Here is the will of the Father.

This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. 1 John 3:23-24 (NASB)



1. Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Christian Copyrights. 1983, 462.
2. W. E. Vine. Vine’s Complete Expository Diciontary of Old and New Testament Words. Thomas Nelson. 1970. p. 430.
3. R. C. H. Lenski. Matthew. Commentary on the New Testament. Hendrickson Publishers. 1961. p. 307.
4. Davies and Allison. Matthew. The International Critical Commentary. T&T Clark. 1991. vol. 1., pp. 717.

Suggested Links:

What is the will of the Father in Matthew 7:21?
What does “he who does the will of My Father” mean in Matthew 7:21?
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Does 1 Timothy 4:16 teach that Christians can lose their salvation?
Must we confess Jesus as Lord with our mouth to be saved?
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