Exposing the "Depart From Me" Myth of Matthew 7:21-23

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!’ (Matthew 7)

This has to be one of the most confusing, fearful passages in the New Testament. It is used to scare the "hell" out of saints, and used as a threat against charismatics of all kinds. Some have gone so far to say that any gifts of the Spirit today would actually be demonic and rejected by God. But what does it really mean? Is Jesus talking about going to heaven? Is he saying that only those who perfectly do God's will, are permitted go to heaven? Is this a works salvation after all?

This article will expose the modern myth that this is a passage about hell or conditional work's salvation. So call all your friends, grab the popcorn, put on your 3D imagination and let's get started...

The Myth of Entering Heaven:

I discussed this in my free Bible study download (look for the red arrow), but in case you missed it, Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. It is packed with quotes from the Hebrew Bible and the genealogy of Jesus is tied to Abraham and David. More importantly for this discussion, it uses the term kingdom of "heaven" instead of kingdom of "God" which is found in the very same parallel verses of other Gospels. It was Matthew's way of honoring Jewish thought in which they feared that saying the name of God might violate the commandment to not take the name of the Lord in vain. Hence, kingdom of heaven. 

Because of that confusion about one word, many uneducated hell-fire preachers taught this verse from a very unbiblical and erroneous perspective, thereby making "going to heaven" conditional upon our perfectly doing the will of God.

Jesus said, "only he who does the will of my Father in heaven." So what was the will of God? "Jesus answered, 'What God wants you to do is to believe in the one he sent'” (John 6:29-GNT).

So what did the Jews expect? What was the kingdom of God? It would be the time in history that God would rule through his king Jesus from his throne forever. As the Christmas song says, "he rules the world with truth and grace". It would be a never ending, always increasing kingdom (Is. 9:7). Yes, it was already present in the person of Christ, but according to Jesus it would be rooted at the same time the earthly kingdom of Judah was removed (Genesis 49), after the cross, and yet while some of the disciples were still alive (AD 70- see Matthew 16:27-28).

So depart from me, has nothing to do with heaven or hell. It has everything to do with the day of judgment in AD 70. Some would enter the age of the kingdom, while those who rejected Christ would stay in the city of Jerusalem, ignore the words of Jesus, refuse to trust him, and end up in that horrible destruction. 

The truth is that heaven is not your home (yes we are citizens of heaven), but home is in a family, where you were brought to sit in Christ among Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yes there is a heavenly realm, but the gospel was never about going to heaven when we die. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life... no one comes to the FATHER except through me. It has always been he is the way to the Father and that relationship. Entering the kingdom was always about entering the kingdom age, which was unique to that era before AD 70, not about "heaven".

Who is Jesus Speaking To?

Here is the major controversy in the NT. It runs through just about every page. Who were the true sons of God... those under the Law covenant or those under this New Covenant of grace? That is the real issue because those under the Law who were without faith claimed that covenant was the only true one, while Jesus was saying seek first the kingdom of God and HIS righteousness. During that 40 year overlap between the end of the old and the establishment of the kingdom in AD 70 was an invitation to separate themselves from a covenant in which God was bringing to its final destination. 

Jesus called those who were not trusting in what the Law pointed to (Jesus) as the sons of the devil (John 8:44). Paul calls them "sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6). And in Revelation 3:9-10 Jesus says, "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie- indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you." They say they are Jews but are not. They are part of what Jesus now calls synagogues of Satan. And Jesus was going to reveal who the true Jews were.

Who were the true Jews? Here is what Paul said, 

Romans 4:12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

Galatians 3:7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

Israel claimed to be the exclusive people of God, appealing to the covenant, the promises, circumcision, Jerusalem the holy city, and Moses. While Jesus comes along and includes everyone, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female in Christ. Paul said the true Jews were those who were of faith... they were true to the faith of Abraham, whose city was the Jerusalem above, whose circumcision was of the heart. Many Jews were clinging to being sons of the Law instead of true sons of God by faith in Christ. 

It was Jesus who said, "The sons of the kingdom will be cast out" and "the kingdom will be given to another nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." (Mat. 8:11f; 21:43)

That is why 1 Peter 4:17 said, "For the time HAS COME for THE (Greek) judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" Notice it is time for THE judgment to begin in the house of God. The word judgment means separation or distinguishing between the house of God. The house of God wasn't a church building, but which covenant was the "family"... the Law or Grace, the sons of flesh, or the work of Christ in the Spirit. 

Paul, in fact, was waiting for the remnant to be revealed. Those would be the promised remnant that God would save before the destruction of the city. Paul said, "For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed" (Rom. 8:19). (For more on the new creation)

So while the work of Christ brought them ALL into the family... the Jews had to decide if they would remain as sons of the Law and be ruined by the destruction of Jerusalem and its old covenant. Or would the remnant Jews by faith manifest their sonship in the New. 

Lawless Miracle Workers?

Those who practice lawlessness also operated in miracles, but ... this can never be future because the Law ceased to exist by AD 70. Lawlessness is a technical term that can only apply to those under the covenant of Law (Israel-Judah). (We Gentiles were never even a part of that covenant). When the Law covenant met its demise in AD 70, there has not technically been a lawless person regarding covenant since that time. 

But did you know that there were Jews who did miracles, and prophesied before the coming of Christ? There are many recorded stories, but let me just quickly point to a few. When we read the opening chapters of Luke 2:36-38 we find a woman named Anna, who was already known as a prophetess BEFORE the Christ was born (The whole idea of there being no miracles in the inter-testamental period isn't true.) 

Then, "John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:49-50)

And of course there was this incident in Acts 19:

3 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

While I don't have the space to deal with this particular one, remember Jesus said, "If you deny me before men, I will deny you." That means they were already accepted first. The inevitable truth is that ALL were included in the work of the cross. In fact, how could their names be blotted out, if they weren't there to begin with. Yet, he says he never knew them... seems like quite the paradox right? That generation of Law-Jews were given for 40 years to believe in their identity and let go of the Law, but many continued to "practice lawlessness". 

Therefore, nothing about this passage applies to us today. He was warning THEM that a storm was coming and if they built their house on the rock of what he was teaching them about himself, then the storm of AD 70 would not destroy their lives. 

My friends, DO NOT FEAR. The will of God is for you to believe in the Son, in the age of the increasing kingdom that we live in, in hope for the world, and the good news of the gospel. 

If you haven't read any of my other articles, I encourage you to check these out in particular:

Men Who Stare at Sheep (and Goats): Is This Judgment Past?

You Were Born Into Grace

Why "It is Finished" was Finished in AD 70

How the Law Created God in Our Image

Spiritual MythBusters: Separation from God?




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