WHO GETS IN?
“Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens, but the one who does the will of My Father, Who is in the Heavens.
Many will say to Me in that day ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’
And then I will declare to them ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’”
This passage raises a number of serious questions and has frightened a number of people. In fact, it has often been used to frighten people. The main questions that are raised in people’s minds have to do with their eternal destiny. Is this a warning that my behavior determines whether I’m saved or not?
I’ve looked at a number of commentaries and most seem to lean in that direction. Often James 2:14-19 is referred to (“Faith without works is dead”). So the claim is that Jesus is telling His hearers that unless they can produce works as evidence of their faith, then their faith is unreal and they can’t be saved.
A few comments on the phrases used in the text. First, the phrase “enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens” (or as used elsewhere “enter into the Kingdom of God”) is used frequently by Jesus and is synonymous with “have eternal life” or “enter into life” or “be saved’. See Matthew 19:16-25, where all four expressions are used in parallel. It is apparently what Jesus was talking about when He told His hearers “enter in through the narrow gate.” It speaks of that future time when we enter into Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.
In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says “Amen, I tell you, unless you turn and become as the little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the new birth is the requirement for one to “enter the Kingdom of God.”
Then the phrase, “The will of My Father.” This is another expression that Jesus uses frequently. In John 6:40 Jesus says “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes on Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
So, if I may boil this down, Jesus is not coming up with multiple requirements for salvation. There is one requirement: faith in Him. Whether we think of it as child-like faith or the new birth, it is the one great desire of the Father.
Jesus is still dealing with the warning against false prophets (verses 15-20). His warnings there were in the second person (“watch out,” “know”) but here He switches to the third person. It is those false prophets who are speaking here. As He said in that warning, the test of a prophet is fruits. Now He adds that it is not simply addressing Him by the title “Lord” that makes one a true prophet. One can even acknowledge the lordship of Christ without saving faith.
There will be those who profess their miraculous deeds as qualifications for entrance to the Kingdom. The works mentioned in verse 23, are the works one would expect a prophet to do. Jesus doesn’t question the validity of the prophecies, exorcisms and miracles, which would seem to indicate that they were genuine. Nor does He question the assertion that they were done in His name. All of this is irrelevant.
The real issue, the requirement for entering the Kingdom is a relationship with Jesus. Only those He knows will enter. Does He know us? Jesus gives this warning at least two other times (Matthew 25:12; Luke 13:27). Familiarity with Him, good works done in His name, do not count. It is only genuine faith in Him.