What does Jesus mean by “I never knew you”?


By BibleAsk Team

The statement “I never knew you” uttered by Jesus Christ in the New Testament is a striking and sobering declaration that has captivated the minds and hearts of believers for centuries. Found in Matthew 7:23, the phrase “I never knew you” emerges within the context of Jesus’ teaching on the importance of genuine faith and discipleship. To unravel the depth of its meaning, one must delve into the biblical passages surrounding this declaration, analyze its theological implications, and explore its relevance for contemporary Christian life. This essay seeks to elucidate the significance of Jesus’ words “I never knew you,” drawing insights from the authoritative text of the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

“I Never Knew You”

The phrase “I never knew you” is situated within Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, specifically in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage, Jesus warns against the deception of false prophets and emphasizes the necessity of genuine discipleship:

“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. 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?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV)

This sobering declaration is preceded by Jesus’ admonition to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15-20). Jesus then contrasts the outward profession of faith with the inward reality of obedience to the Father’s will.


  1. Recognition of Lordship: The individuals addressed by Jesus in Matthew 7:21 acknowledge Him as “Lord, Lord,” indicating a verbal acknowledgment of His authority and lordship. However, Jesus makes it clear that mere verbal profession is insufficient for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. True discipleship entails more than lip service; it requires obedience to the will of the Father.
  2. Deeds of Power: The individuals who address Jesus cite their impressive deeds performed in His name, including prophesying, casting out demons, and performing wonders. These actions might appear miraculous and spiritually significant on the surface, yet Jesus exposes a fundamental discrepancy between outward actions and inward allegiance. Despite their outward manifestations of spiritual power, their hearts remain estranged from God’s will.
  3. Divine Knowledge: The pivotal phrase “I never knew you” uttered by Jesus encapsulates a profound truth about the nature of authentic relationship with God. The word “knew” here conveys more than mere cognitive awareness; it signifies intimate, relational knowledge akin to the deep intimacy experienced between spouses (Genesis 4:1). Jesus’ declaration implies that despite their religious activities and demonstrations of power, these individuals lack a genuine, intimate relationship with Him.
  4. Depart from Me: The culmination of Jesus’ declaration is the command to “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” This pronouncement underscores the severity of the consequences for those who profess faith superficially while living lives characterized by disobedience to God’s commands. Despite their outward demonstrations of religious fervor, their lives are marked by lawlessness, indicating a lack of true discipleship.

Theological Implications

  1. Genuine Relationship vs. Religious Performance: Jesus’ words “I never knew you” highlight the crucial distinction between outward religious observance and inward transformation. Mere religious activities and charismatic demonstrations are insufficient indicators of genuine discipleship. True discipleship involves a deep, intimate relationship with Christ, characterized by obedience to His commands and alignment with the will of the Father.
  2. Authenticity of Profession: The passage in Matthew 7:21-23 serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of authenticity in one’s profession of faith. Verbal acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord must be accompanied by genuine surrender and obedience to His lordship. Professing faith without corresponding obedience amounts to empty words devoid of transformative power.
  3. The Sovereignty of Christ: Jesus’ authority to declare “I never knew you” underscores His sovereignty as the righteous judge who discerns the hearts and motives of individuals. As the omniscient Son of God, Jesus possesses perfect knowledge of the authenticity of one’s faith and the sincerity of one’s devotion. He alone has the authority to admit or exclude individuals from the kingdom based on the genuineness of their relationship with Him.
  4. The Peril of Self-Deception: The warning issued by Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23 serves as a cautionary message against self-deception and spiritual complacency. Many who profess faith may deceive themselves into believing that their religious activities and spiritual experiences guarantee their acceptance into the kingdom. However, Jesus exposes the danger of relying on outward appearances while neglecting the inward reality of a transformed heart.

Practical Applications

  1. Examination of Heart: Jesus’ words “I never knew you” compel believers to engage in introspection and examine the authenticity of their relationship with Christ. Rather than relying solely on religious activities or spiritual experiences, believers are called to cultivate a deep, intimate relationship with Christ characterized by obedience and surrender to His lordship.
  2. Fruitful Obedience: True discipleship involves more than verbal profession; it entails a life marked by obedience to God’s commands and alignment with His will. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Believers are called to bear fruit that reflects genuine transformation and conformity to the image of Christ. The evidence of true discipleship is found in a life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  3. Vigilance Against Deception: Believers are exhorted to remain vigilant against the deception of false prophets and the allure of superficial spirituality (Matthew 26:41). Discernment is essential in distinguishing between genuine expressions of faith and counterfeit imitations. By grounding themselves in the truth of God’s Word and relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, believers can guard against deception and remain steadfast in their devotion to Christ.
  4. Pursuit of Intimacy with Christ: Above all, believers are called to pursue intimacy with Christ, desiring to know Him deeply and to be known by Him. True fulfillment and meaning are found in a vibrant, personal relationship with the Savior, characterized by love, communion, and fellowship. As believers abide in Christ and allow His Word to dwell richly within them, they experience the transformative power of His presence and the assurance of His unfailing love (John 15:4).


In conclusion, Jesus’ declaration “I never knew you” in Matthew 7:23 encapsulates profound truths about the nature of authentic discipleship and the criteria for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The phrase “I never knew you” serves as a sobering reminder of the importance of genuine relationship with Christ, characterized by obedience, surrender, and intimacy.

As believers grapple with the implications of Jesus’ words, they are compelled to examine the authenticity of their faith, cultivate a life marked by fruitful obedience, remain vigilant against deception, and pursue intimate communion with the Savior. Ultimately, the assurance of salvation is found not in religious performances or charismatic demonstrations but in the transformative power of a surrendered heart and a life surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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