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What did Jesus mean when He said, “Depart from Me”?

Quick Answer: In Matthew 7, Jesus is not addressing Christians who lose their salvation. He is talking about people at the final judgment who never knew Him. They’re seeking entrance into the kingdom because of their religious works instead of by the finished work of Christ. They have missed the Gospel entirely, and they are unbelievers. For this reason, Jesus says to them, “Depart from Me.”

Diving Deeper: Matthew 7:21-23 records Jesus’ words, “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. 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.’”

Many Christians have worried they’re in danger of hearing these words at the final judgment. But, if we look closely at the passage, we see that could never be the case. Jesus is talking about people He never knew – not born-again believers whom He fully knows (1 Corinthians 8:3). Galatians 4:9 says we believers are known by the Lord, and Hebrews 8:11 says all believers know Him. In contrast, those mentioned in Matthew 7 never had any relationship with Jesus.

Notice their focus is on their own religious works, not the finished work of Christ. People can be so caught up in their own religious feats that they never see what Jesus accomplished through the cross. They focus on what they have done and forget about what He has done.

Authentic believers have placed their trust in Christ alone. Paul said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians. 6:14). It has never been about us. It’s all about Jesus, and at the end of time, we will be bragging – not on our own accomplishments – but on all that Jesus Christ did on our behalf.

Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. In the past, how have you interpreted Jesus’ words, “Depart from Me”?
2. How does the fact that Jesus knows you help you navigate this challenging passage?
3. What words will be on your lips on Judgment Day? And what do you expect God to say to you?

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