Matthew 7:21-23 by Robert Dean
Hey, don't miss out on eternal rewards. Sure, it's great to know you've accepted Christ as your Savior and are on your way to heaven but remember, salvation is free but rewards are earned. Listen to this lesson to learn that after salvation our life should be built on obedience to God's Word and practicing the spiritual skills in order to experience the fullness of blessing in the Millennial Kingdom. See the distinction between the judging of Church Age believers and Old Testament believers. Accept we all have daily choices to make whether we're going to live for ourselves or going to live for the Lord.
Series:Matthew (2013)
Duration:56 mins 24 secs

Matthew 7:21-23
Matthew Lesson #045
August 3, 2014

Jesus has been talking to a mixed group that includes believers and unbelievers, and the primary purpose is to show that the works righteousness of the Pharisees is inadequate to have a relationship with God. What is needed is an absolute righteousness that far surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). But is this talking about the righteousness we get at salvation or is it talking about the experiential righteousness of the believer after salvation. If we look at Matthew 5-7 from the viewpoint that Jesus is talking about justification or how to get to heaven when we die then we can find certain things that sound like that. Matthew 7:13 certainly does sound like that. Jesus says there are two ways, the narrow way and the broad way. The broad way leads to destruction and the narrow way leads to life.

We pointed out last time that it is clear from Scripture that there is only one way to eternal life, i.e. to be justified, so that we are guaranteed that at the point of physical death we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. The context of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is giving His viewpoint, God's viewpoint, the divine viewpoint on the Mosaic Law and how it should be applied. The Mosaic Law wasn't given to be justified. It wasn't a means of determining our eternal destiny. The Mosaic Law was given to Israel viewing them as a justified people or saved people, telling them how a saved people were to live.

There are two problems in life in terms of the full blessing in terms of the Mosaic Law. They had to possess imputed righteousness, and they also had to possess experiential righteousness in order to experience the full blessing of God in the land. If they had imputed righteousness but didn't have experiential righteousness God said He would kick them out of the land. So they had to have both. Jesus indicates both but He is talking about the experiential end, which presupposes having imputed righteousness.

How do we know that people in the Old Testament knew about or understood imputed righteousness? From Genesis 15:6, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted [imputed or reckoned] to him as righteousness." That is the kind of righteousness that the unbeliever receives as a gift from God at the instant of faith in Jesus Christ. God credits or imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ, and when God the Father looks at that perfect righteousness He declares us to be just, righteous before Him. That is the doctrine known as justification by faith alone.

Deuteronomy is Moses' sermon, his parting words, his last address to the Israelites before he is going to go up on to Mount Nebo and be taken to be with the Lord. He is telling them what they must do and how they should live in order to experience all the blessing and fullness in the land. It is so important to understand that if this is the frame of reference for the Sermon on the Mount then we can see easily that Jesus isn't talking about how to get into heaven, but how to live in such a way that when the kingdom of God comes those He is talking to experience the fullness of blessing in the kingdom, and by application or implication to us as church age believers we too will experience the fullness of the blessing that God has for us in the future kingdom.

The Jews of His day would be understood as Old Testament saints. It is important to keep this in mind when we look at these passages related to false prophets and false miracle workers. He is talking to Jews at a specific point in time at the early part of first century about circumstances and situations that are realities in their environment. He is not talking to church age believers; He is talking to Old Testament saints under the Mosaic Law. When I talk about application or implication we have to understand that what we have in common with them is that Jesus is preparing them for the coming of the kingdom. Old Testament saints will be resurrected at the time Jesus returns and they go into the kingdom in resurrection bodies to rule and reign over Israel. In a similar way you and I as members of the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, will be resurrected and raptured before the Tribulation. We are going to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him forever. Immediately after the Rapture we go through an evaluation known as the judgment seat of Christ. At that point rewards will be given out. Some who have not lived the Christian way of life will lose rewards (1 Cor. 3) but they won't lose their salvation. They will not be full participants in the ruling and reigning privileges in the kingdom.

Let me put a little caveat in here for those who a little more knowledgeable about what is going on in the world today. In the so-called free grace movement there is a branch that is teaching that not only do you lose rewards but that believers who are disobedient and carnal in their life on the earth will end up going through some sort of period of torment, a sort of a Christian purgatory during the Millennial kingdom; they won't be in the kingdom; they won't be present. I do not believe that is biblical at all.

We are all saved, but there will be differences between those who are saved and have rewards and those who don't. Someone has described this as cups. Some will have large cups that are full, some will have small cups that are full, but we will all have cups. There are believers who will be completely off base because of their Christian life today, and they will lose.

In Deuteronomy Moses set before them a decision: "I have set before you today life and good, death and evil." They had a choice to make. We all have choices to make. Are we going to live for the Lord today or are we going live for ourselves today?   

Deuteronomy 30:16 NASB "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it."

Walking in His ways, keeping His commandments and His statutes and His judgments" is just a way of talking about experiential righteousness, walking in obedience to the Lord.

In contrast, in Deuteronomy 30:17 NASB "But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, [18] I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong {your} days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it." So the issue is: If you obey you will be blessed, if you disobey you will perish. If you obey there is fullness of life in the land, if you disobey there will be a loss of life, loss of blessing in the land.   

Looking at the structure in Matthew chapter seven, in vv. 15-20 the topic is false prophets and that you know them by their fruits. In vv. 21-23 there is a shift to those who are working false miracles. At the end Jesus will declare to them: "Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." In both cases there is an assumption the judgment is coming upon unbelievers. The false prophets are actually unbelievers and the false miracle workers are also unbelievers. That doesn't work within the structure of the Greek, which clearly shows a distinction between those in vv. 15-20 and those in vv. 21-23.

Those whom we talked about last time in terms of false prophets are depicted as those who come in sheep's clothing. They are not sheep; they are wolves who are putting on a disguise. A wolf is not depicted as someone who is a believer. The picture here is of those who are coming from without. They come "to you", Jesus says, "in sheep's clothing. So they are coming from outside, where as those in vv. 21-23 are on the inside. So again this indicates a distinction between the first group and the second group.

Another caveat: Jesus is not saying that false prophets are unbelievers. In context He is talking to His original audience about false prophets who are unbelievers. What we see from subsequent references to false prophets in, for example, 1 Peter and other places, is that false prophets can also arise from within the church who are carnal believers. But contextually here He is drawing this distinction between false prophets who are unbelievers and the false miracle workers who have come up from within the ranks of the church.

Last time we looked at this we saw that He talks about the fact that we know them by their fruits. "Fruits" is not a term that refers to lifestyle, although in a couple of places it can have that implication. It primarily refers to the product of their ministry, which was their false prophecies or their words. This takes us back to Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18, two passages that describe how to tell a false prophet from a true prophet. Here we see a connection between the false prophet and the worker of signs and wonders. He is not determined to be a false prophet because he has counterfeit miracles, he is assumed to be performing some kind of legitimate miracle.

Moses said: "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and he gives you a sign or a wonder and the sign or wonder comes to pass …" This is a question that is always hard for people to address. People who live on the basis of experiential truth will often get deceived because they will go to some assembly and there will be a miracle worker, a faith healer, and they may experience healing which is legitimate. And then they get sucked into the false teaching of this particular group.

At a church I pastured about 25 years ago the mother of the lady who was hosting the Bible class there had gone to a healing revival and claimed to have been healed from cancer. That shaped everything. So often when our experience seems so real, that is the test. Are we going to listen to the Word of God or are we going to listen to our experience. When our experience is more real than the Word of God we have failed the test. That is what Moses is saying. When the Word of God is more real to you than your experience then you are walking by the Word.

Moses recognizes this—"sign or wonder when it comes to pass"—and then there is a message. The message is in direct contradiction to revelation. The false prophet is saying, "Let's go after other gods, and let's serve them". That violates the Law that clearly states, "You shall have no other gods before me".

Deuteronomy 13:3 NASB "you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

That is the test. Are you going to rely on experience, or are you going to rely on the Word?

I ran into another interesting situation on this the other day. And this is where it gets really tough for people. I was talking with a pastor who is Hispanic. I asked him what he thought about the immigration issue. What was interesting was that he in fact was the product of illegal immigration. His mother had brought him across the border when he was very young and he is now a US citizen and works at his own business. He is a lay pastor for a group of Hispanic families, about 40 per cent of which are here illegally. I raised the question: "How do you handle this as a pastor?" His answer was: "I don't know, I just ignore it".

All of the other pastors chipped in and it was interesting, because the question was: How do you handle this in terms of Romans 13? We have an experience, and he was telling us that he grew up in a small village in Mexico that has been wiped out by almost a 40-year drought. There is no work, nothing there. Your heart goes out to people like this. You put a face on the immigration issue and it is really difficult because some of these people are wonderful. They have horrible circumstances and they have escaped horrible circumstances in order to feed their families. But on the other hand what happens is, because of our emotion, because of compassion, because of experience, we slip from the absolute standards of God's Word, which says we are to obey the law of the land. Yes, there are unjust laws. But the unjust laws that we study in Scripture, when there is a justified reason to disobey them, all have to do with the government telling the individual Christian to do something that is a contradiction to what the Word of God says. And this doesn't fit that pattern. 

There are a lot of people who do have jobs and manage to make a living in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. It is not great, but does that justify breaking the laws of the land you are going to in order to feed your family, to survive, in order to be able to make it?

The experience is hard. If you really want to honor the Lord and stay here in the United States, you can't do it illegally; you are breaking the law. That is a violation of Romans 13 and everything the Scripture says. If you cave into that, then you are making a decision based on your experience, not on the black and white absolutes of the Word of God. And we live in a world today where people do not have the moral courage to make the hard, tough decisions in life when they come up against these kinds of ethical challenges. The Scriptures are very clear and we can't back off of those things. Yes, there is grace. Yes, there are ways in which we ought to help and work out ways to try to keep somebody here by working through the system to see what can be done. Those are all great, but you just can't turn a blind eye to it and act as if it doesn't exist. You and I are going to go through times in life when our experience screams at us to be more real than what the Word of God says. And that is the test. Are we going to trust in God, or are we going to trust in our experience?

Deuteronomy 18 is also a test of whether what the prophet speaks is true. The penalty for the false prophet is death, so God is very serious about this.   

Matthew 7:21 NASB "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.}

Matthew 7:22 NASB "Many will say to Me on that day …"

"On that day" is a term that was even used in rabbinical literature of this time to refer to the messianic era, the time when the Messiah was on the earth. This would be the time when Jesus comes to establish His kingdom and He is the judge. "…  'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?'" That fits that category back in Deuteronomy 13 of the one who comes and claims to be a prophet and seems to validate it through legitimate miracles, signs and wonders, healings, that you can't explain. 

He declares to them:

Matthew 7:23 NASB "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS'."

Many times I have taken this, for the most part—until I have gotten into this detailed study of the Sermon on the Mount—that Jesus was talking to unbelievers who were practicing counterfeit signs and wonders—counterfeit not because they weren't really a miracle but because they weren't from God. The Antichrist, according to 2 Thessalonians 2, is going to produce healings and signs and wonders that are counterfeit. They are real but they are not from God. This will cause a great deception and many will follow him. So there is a knee-jerk reaction, even among a lot of free grace teachers. What I am teaching you is not a common view, but I think it is the consistent view, based on our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is addressing believers. This is not talking about "Depart and go to the lake of fire". It is talking about something else.

The issue: Is Jesus talking to unbelievers about how to believers? Is He talking about justification? Or is He talking about post-salvation sanctification?

First of all we notice that He is addressing His disciples who are already saved. Second, He taught them to pray to "Our Father". There are many other things that He said in the prayer that He gave them, that we call the Lord's Prayer, that relate to believers—assuming that His audience was believers. The thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is on how the righteous should live, not on how the unsaved become righteous. It wasn't just a matter of the fact that Israel at the time that Jesus came needed to receive imputed righteousness. They needed to also live a righteous life so that the kingdom would come in. They needed to fully turn to God, not just in terms of justification but in terms of their whole life. So we conclude that the focus here is not on the unsaved but on the saved who have not lived in obedience to the Lord.

So in Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven …" Now there is a passage where people say, "Entering the kingdom of heaven. Isn't it obvious that that means getting into heaven when you die?" Not necessarily. Acts 14:22 is a verse describing Paul's return trip to Lystra, Iconium and Derbe. After he has already led many to the Lord and has established churches in those three locales in south central Turkey he returns, and Luke tells us "He was strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith." And he says, "We must continue through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God". If entering the kingdom of God means getting saved then Paul is saying the only way to get into heaven is to go through a lot of adversity. But that contradicts the rest of Scripture, which says that salvation is based on a free gift and simply believing in Jesus Christ.

So entering the kingdom of God clearly means more than just getting into heaven. Sometimes it means just getting into heaven, as Jesus uses it in John chapter three when He is talking to Nicodemus. Second, it is talking about entering the kingdom in terms of experiencing the fullness and richness of that kingdom, which is how it is used here.

This is taking us back to the beginning. We have a sermon here. There is an introduction in the beatitudes. Then there is the main body, which is introduced by vv. 17-20, and from 5:21-7:12 we have the main body of the Sermon on the Mount, and now Jesus is in the conclusion. In the introduction He indicated that there were two kinds of people that He was addressing within the sermon. He was not talking about unbelievers versus believers because both of these kinds of people in verse 19 are in the kingdom. There is one who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so, and he will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But he is still in the kingdom of heaven. Then the other applies the word, teaches the commandments, teaches them, and he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.   

Verse 20 is often said to be a complete break from verse 19, but verse 20 grammatically begins with the word "for", which means it is an explanation of what was said in the previous verse. So you can't separate these two verses and say they are talking about different things. Jesus says, "For I say unto you", i.e. Let me explain this a little further. What He says is, "Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees …" The scribes and the Pharisees are finding loopholes and are redefining commands in the Mosaic Law, and they are teaching a superficial righteousness that includes a lack of a full obedience to the Law as their standard for the spiritual life and for the life of believers in Israel. Jesus is not talking about imputed righteousness. Could you make this in some way apply to imputed righteousness? Sure you can, but it doesn't fit the context. Just because it could mean that doesn't mean it does mean that.

Then Jesus says that if you don't do this then you won't enter into the kingdom of heaven. What He means by that is the same thing Luke meant by it in Acts 14:22, that we have to enter the kingdom through adversity. We have to grow and mature in order to fully experience the blessing of the kingdom when we get into the kingdom.  

So the conclusion is that entering the kingdom means not only getting into the kingdom in terms of justification but also experiencing of the richness and the blessing of the kingdom that God has for us when we are in heaven. So if you don't possess the surpassing righteousness that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:20 then you are basically the kind of Christian that has lost its saltiness—Matthew 5:13. The meaning of the metaphor isn't to make people thirst for the Word of God but rather to be truthful in the Christian life, because salt wasn't just used to create thirst in something or for seasoning or flavoring, it was also used in the ancient world to make soil productive. What Jesus is talking about here is that if we are not producing this kind of righteousness we are like this non-productive, non-fruitful believer referred to back in Matthew 5:13. That is what we call a life-long carnal believer who has not grown, not matured, not bearing any kind of fruit in the life which is rewardable.

There are those who disagree with me and they would go to passages like when Jesus said: "This is the will of God that you believe in me". Well, that is true. That is part of God's will that we believe in Him, but we can't go over to the Gospel of John to try to clarify a passage like this in Matthew 7 when we clearly have a statement related to believers. 

Matthew 7:22 NASB "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?'"  This is clearly talking about those who are believers. The first group was talking about unbelieving false prophets, but these are believers who are also false prophets. They claimed to have prophesied "in Your name". When we get into Matthew 8-10 there are a number of episodes where Jesus casts out demons and we will see these when we get into those passages. But casting out demons is really the biblical term, not exorcism. But here they are claiming that they have cast out demons and since it was done in Jesus' name He must be the power behind it. That is what they are claiming.     

But the question I want to address first is the question of "in that day". Remember Jesus is teaching before the cross, in the time of the age of Israel. He is under the Mosaic Law. There are two options for that "in day". One is the judgment seat of Christ. That is what applies for us because we are church age believers. We are not Old Testament saints, which is the audience He is talking to. Their judgment comes at the end of the Tribulation when there is the sheep and the goat judgment, which is a judgment on the surviving Gentiles from the Tribulation, the surviving Jews from the Tribulation. Old Testament saints are resurrected and the Tribulation saints are resurrected. Those judgments occur at the end of the Tribulation when Christ returns in preparation for the millennial kingdom. So when Jesus is talking to them that is the judgment He is talking about. "In that day" is the day in which the Old Testament saints will be judged, because the church wasn't announced yet. The church was a mystery in the Old Testament; it wasn't anticipated.   

For us as church age believers, because we are not part of Israel, we have a different judgment. We have a judgment called the judgment seat of Christ and this occurs immediately following the Rapture of the church. The Rapture of the church is what ends the present church age.

So there will be a time of accountability. He is talking to believers. Whether they are Old Testament believers and the judgment is at the end of the Tribulation or whether it is church age believers at the judgment seat of Christ there is an application.

Jesus is recognizing in this episode that there are those who will claim prophecy, and they will claim casting out demons and doing signs and wonders in Jesus' name.

We live in a world today where there are a lot of people making these kinds of claims. There are a lot of Christians who have been deceived and distracted by various movements from the Charismatic-Pentecostal movement, and in its traditional early 20th century form compared to what is happening now and what developed from that by the end of the 20th century it was pretty mild at the beginning. By the post-World War 2 period this whole idea of building theology on experience just exploded within the Pentecostal movement and it became known as the prophetic healing and deliverance ministries. It gave birth to several subsequent movements. One of these was known as the Signs and Wonders movement or the Vineyard Movement that came out of a church called the Vineyard Church in southern California in the mid-seventies. It was pastored by a man by the name of John Wember. He let a man come into his church and take the pulpit, and he performed some sort of sign and said: "Everybody is going to receive the Holy Spirit now". And boom! Everybody fell down on the ground—so-called slain in the Spirit. This changed Wember's theology. Experience trumped the Bible. This gave rise to the Vineyard movement and the churches just grew. They had huge mega-churches.     

What we see on the surface sometimes isn't what we think it is. We always have to explore, investigate, and come to understand what is behind these things. Just because they say they are Christian and say, let's have a huge day of prayer for the nation, doesn't mean everything is what it appears to be on the surface.

We have the judgment seat of Christ but there will be those there who will be ashamed at His coming. 1 John 2:28 NASB "Now, little children, abide in Him [stay in fellowship], so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming."

Romans 14:12 NASB "So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God." That will be at the judgment seat of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."   

Scripture teaches that this judgment seat of Christ is going to be an evaluation for believers. According to 1 Corinthians 3:12 our life is something, after salvation, that we build on the foundation of Christ. Some of what we produce in life is of no more value than wood, hay, and straw. It will disappear; it has no lasting benefit spiritually. Some of what we use to build with is gold, silver and precious stones. These just establish something that won't burn in fire. In fact, the way you purify these things is through fire, and it burns up the impurities. Fire also destroys wood, hay and straw.

So we build with our lives, and we build something on the foundation of Christ (it is our life) but we can't tell which has enduring value and what doesn't. At the judgment seat of Christ Paul uses a metaphor to describe this. There will be a fire applied to our works, as it were. It is not a literal fire; this is not talking about hell, it is just art of the metaphor recognizing purification. And what is revealed by this fire is that which has value. Notice that the purpose of the value is not to reveal our failures. It is to reveal that which has been produced in our life through the walk by the Holy Spirit, that has eternal value. The fire tests. The word for test is the Greek verb DOKIMAZO [DOKIMOS is the noun] and it is demonstrating something of value—testing for approval, not for disapproval.

There are two results. Some of that work will endure; it is gold, silver and precious stones. For that which has been produced in our lives by the Holy Spirit there will be something left over and will receive a reward for that. But for others who don't know anything about walking by the Spirit, don't know anything about the spiritual life, have trusted in Christ but that is as far as it went, everything gets burned up. They suffer loss. They don't have any rewards because there is nothing to reward. They will be saved, yet as through fire.

When we apply that to our passage in Matthew chapter seven what we see is that these describe those false prophets and false miracle workers who have been totally distracted by experience, and they have distracted and deceived many other believers and convinced them that they are right. But when they appear before the judgment seat of Christ they will be told to depart. This departure isn't to the lake of fire, this is the departure of those who have suffered loss. They are not going to be entering into the kingdom to rule and reign with Christ. They will not experience the greatness of the blessings of the kingdom in their life, but they will still be there. They will still be in the kingdom and will still be saved.

Salvation is available to all mankind but rewards are for believers. Salvation is given to a few; rewards are given to a few as well. Not all who are saved are rewarded. In salvation Christ does the work; for rewards the believer does the work. Salvation is a free gift but rewards are earned by our obedience to the Lord. Salvation is permanent; rewards may be lost. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone but rewards come by walking by faith, walking by the Holy Spirit. At salvation we are given an equal opportunity to pursue greatness in the kingdom. Rewards are based upon how well we pursue greatness, our use of that opportunity that the Lord gives us.

2 Timothy 2:11-13 NASB "It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."

Romans 6:3 and Galatians 2:20 both tell us that at the instant of salvation we are crucified with Christ and we die with Him. If you have trusted in Christ then you died with Him and you will live with Him.

1 Thessalonians 5:10 NASB "who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him." All believers will live eternally with Christ.

If we endure, persevere, we shall reign with Him—the rewards of greatness in the kingdom. But in contrast, if we deny Him, if we turn away from Christ in this life, if we do not walk with Him, then at the judgment seat of Christ He will deny us. He will deny us rewards. He will deny us a role in sharing the kingdom with Him and as one who rules and reigns with Him. But even if we are faithless…