“And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” Matthew 7:23
The context of this verse is the latter part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and it is a solemn warning for us to be very careful and very sure that we are doing the will of the Father (v 21). The people Jesus is excluding from His Kingdom will be astonished to discover that when they “prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders (miracles) in Your name” that they were totally in error. Very likely we have all at some time or other done things for which we have thought Jesus would be grateful but such will not be the case. The reason for the exclusion from the kingdom is not what they did but where their heart lay. They were doing it to gain favour with the King but they were not subject to His will.
In 2 Samuel 1 there is the record of an Amalekite who claimed to have killed King Saul. His claim was false (cf. 1 Samuel 31 & 1 Chronicles 10). The reason he lied was that he thought he could gain David’s favour by making the false claim. David didn’t know he was lying at the time and had him executed for killing the Lord’s anointed.
In chapter four of the same book there is the account of the death of Saul’s son, Ishbosheth. Ishbosheth had been at war with David for two years about who would rule Israel. Seeing that they could not win, two of Ishbosheth’s own men came into his room and killed him while he was in bed. They removed his head and took it to David expecting favour for the betrayal of their leader. Like the Amalekite, they were gravely mistaken and were executed.
In both incidents the men thought they were going to please King David. In the ways of men this would usually be an act that would gain favour with a king but they totally lacked God’s perspective. They were not in a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord as David was.
Jesus declares in His Sermon on the Mount that many people throughout the ages, including the church age, will perform many actions that they sincerely believe will gain favour with Him but will in reality be a cause for His wrath.
Jesus said that “He never knew them.” This does not mean that He is ignorant of who they are or what they have done. It means that they were acting out of their own heart and not in obedience to His will. Given the opportunity they might argue that they were acting in accordance with God’s word. After all, what is wrong with preaching the Bible, casting out demons and performing miracles? The problem is not found in what they were doing but why they were doing it. They were not subject to the will of or in obedience to Jesus Christ. They were acting by their own volition in their own authority with a view to gaining favour with Jesus Christ their way.
If we start thinking along the lines of what we can do for Jesus without consulting Him and waiting for an answer we may fall into the same trap. Jesus Christ is Head of His church and it is He alone who chooses how we fit into His church and ministry.