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Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV):

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

It would be a terrible situation to be in the shoes of someone who gets rejected by the Lord in such a categorical way. However, there is a counterpart to the sentence 'I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness': if those who are damned were never known by Jesus, then it logically follows that those who will be saved will have been personally known by Him. Which leads me to the question:

What does it mean to be personally known by Jesus? How can Jesus personally know each saved person, considering that the number of saved individuals will probably be quite a large number?

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  • He didn't know everyone or everything, but now as leader of the free universe, God has probably brought him up to speed. – user48152 Apr 14 at 10:12
  • if those who are damned were never known by Jesus, then it logically follows that those who will be saved will have been personally known by Him. Can you show this formally? – Tony Chan Apr 14 at 13:07
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    It seems that the question stands on the base that Jesus does not know everyone and that He knows some personally. In my country the idiomatic expression: "do I know you?", is an extremely harsh way to treat someone who you actually know but rejects, period. – snoopy Apr 14 at 13:52
  • Does that mean that the woman who touched him in Luke 8:45 is dammed, because Jesus did not know her? – Alex Balilo Apr 14 at 15:08
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There are different senses in which a person can be “known”. I can know that you exist and I can know something of your theological beliefs due to what you post here, and your responses to me. But I do not know you in the biblical sense of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit know-ing people. I have never met you, never even seen a photo of you, nor do I know where you live and other personal details apart from those you choose to divulge on here. I know OF you, and ABOUT you (to a tiny extent), but I do not actually know you. There would have to be a meeting between us where we were mutually introduced before I could begin to think that I actually knew you.

Jesus made statements about how he knew people to enable us to grasp that, in the text in question, he was not referring to merely knowing of a person’s existence, or even knowing something about them. His ‘knowing’ is so deep that he can base his judgment of eternal damnation of some upon what turns out to be hypocritical deeds that fool others, but not Christ.

Check out what Jesus meant about knowing God and himself in John 16:3. He warned his disciples that they would be persecuted and even put to death: “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.” Yet those persecutors knew full well, and believed in, God. They also knew of Jesus and his claims, to such an extent that they put him to death. The point here is that their knowledge of God and Jesus did not enable them to know God and Jesus, in the biblical sense of being saved by God, through faith in Jesus, which is enacted by the Holy Spirit. This is shown in John 17:3 where Jesus speaks of those who “know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Jesus did not mean a head-knowledge! He did not speak of those full of theology (knowing about God and himself). No, verses 6 and 7 show that those ones have kept God’s word, and have known that they are part of what God gave to the Son, which makes them “of God” – children of God, born of the Spirit, no less.

The Father and the Son know certain ones in an intimate, familial sense, because they have given those ones they know (in that saving sense) adoption into the very family of God (Romans 8:1-30). When a person experiences that miracle of grace, then they start to personally know Jesus even as they are known. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

This pertains to answering your question because in Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus is speaking of the day of judgment (still future) when he demonstrates how he knows all those who belong to him as children of God by enabling them to enter the kingdom of heaven. Conversely, he demonstrates how he knows all those who do NOT belong to him, despite all their outward appearances of being Christians, even doing miracles and suchlike in Jesus’ name. He casts them asunder from his presence. He knows full well who they are, and what they are, but he does not know them as those with saving faith in himself.

While Jesus walked on this Earth, a woman touched the hem of his garment while crowds thronged him. He stopped, asking who had touched him. He knew that power of healing had gone out of him, now he needed to find the person with such faith. (Luke 8:44-48) He wanted to know that person in a personal way, and once she identified herself, he confirmed her faith and blessed her. So it is with all who place initial, active faith in Christ – he makes himself known to them personally, in a saving way. He does not instruct them to study reams of theology books to learn about him. No, he tells those repentant ones to go in peace, for their faith is blessed, and they have begun to personally know Jesus, who personally knows them.

With Nathaniel, it was the other way around. Jesus knew he was sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him to meet Jesus. He also knew that Nathaniel was a man without guile, which astonished Nathaniel, for he exclaimed, “How do you know me?” Jesus’ answer convinced Nathaniel that this was, indeed, the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:43-51). There is demonstrated Jesus’ foreknowledge of an individual whom he called to be his disciple.

Thus those myriads who Jesus calls into the kingdom of heaven are known personally by him before they are called. Romans 8:28-35 shows that they are “called according to his purpose”. Because they were foreknown, they are predestined “to be conformed to the image of his Son”, to become Christ’s brothers.

“Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified, them he also glorified.”

“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1-5).

That is what it means to be personally known by Jesus. But in Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus does not know the ‘workers of lawlessness’ as his beloved brethren; he knows them to be hypocrites. This text is not speaking of the future day of judgment as if Jesus gets to see people he never knew before – knowing them for the first time then. No, he knows all about them even while they live and die on Earth, but he refuses to know them as his brothers, because their father is not God, but the devil, as he pointed out to religious hypocrites of his day, in John 8:31-45.

But how could Jesus NOT know all his brothers, no matter how many of them there are? This Jesus is not finite, limited in ability to understand, have knowledge, or to know people! To be personally known by Jesus requires a personal meeting where the Holy Spirit introduces the person to Christ, who already knew they were to be called to saving faith, just as Nathaniel personally met Jesus, discovering then that Jesus had already decided to call him, because he knew Nathaniel personally beforehand.

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The point of Matthew 7:21-23 is this: If you know Jesus, that does not automatically imply that Jesus knows you.

Matthew 7:21

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Luke 6:46

Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' but not do what I say?

What does it mean to be personally known by Jesus?

It means that you are doing the will of the Father.

How can Jesus personally know each saved person, considering that the number of saved individuals will probably be quite a large number?

John 2:24

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.

In fact, it is more intimate than that as חִידָה pointed out in his comment on Mark 3:35

Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.

If you do the will of God, you are Jesus' brother, sister, and mother. Jesus knows you.

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  • You could add : Mark 3:35. – חִידָה Apr 14 at 14:03
  • This is great! Thanks. – Tony Chan Apr 14 at 14:19
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    @TonyChan. If Jesus knew all people, why did he ask who touched him in Luke 8:45? – Alex Balilo Apr 14 at 15:00
  • Sorry, I don't know. – Tony Chan Apr 14 at 15:02
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What does it mean to be personally known by Jesus? Matthew 7:21-23

Psalm 147:4 NASB

4 He counts the number of the stars; He [a]gives names to all of them.

At the time the Psalmist wrote this, the visible stars in a dark night amounted to about 2- 3 thousand stars, to us today there are billions of galaxies and billions of stars in them, yet God gives a name to them, so does Jesus.

God delegated his vast authority to Jesus, so Jesus knows all, including our names thoughts, emotions, including the resurrection of the dead.

Matthew 28:18 NASB

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.

John 5:28-29 NASB

28 Do not be amazed at this; for [a]a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come out: those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the bad deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

Jesus warned:

Matthew 7:22-23 NET

22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many powerful deeds in your name?’[a] 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’

Why do people who think they are serving Jesus find themselves rejected? Because their " works and deeds" are not based on Bible truths. How can we be sure that Jesus will not one day say to us, ‘Get away from me, you worker of lawlessness? Yes, if our worship is thoroughly grounded in Bible principles. It can be if we closely examine the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus. Jesus did walk on the narrow, cramped road to life​, in fact, he was “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) If we apply his sayings and follow closely in his footsteps, we will be personally be known by Jesus.

John 14:6 NET

6 Jesus replied,[a] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.[b] No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 6:68 NET

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Peter 2:21 NET

21 For to this you were called since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.

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You are looking at two different ‘states’ of ‘man’, and composing a question as if they are the same. One is pre-cross, the other is post-cross. Let’s look at this a little closer

Your quote from Matthew 7 is pre-cross. Matthew 7 is a kingdom message, specifically the Kingdom of Heaven. They couldn’t be “personally known by Jesus”. Well, not in the way believers today are.

The kingdom of heaven operates‘righteously’ - you are ‘judged’ by your righteousness. Hence Jesus rejects those used his ‘name’ to perform works for their own self glory. Workers of ‘anomia” (unrighteousness). The ‘judgement’ here is for what you/man does ‘in the flesh’. The Law is for those in ‘the flesh’. And they are ‘judged’ by it.

But... The way believers ‘today’ are known by Jesus is actually deeper than ‘personally’, more like intimately. But even more ... and this is expressed in Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer ..

JOHN 17: 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us

So, to be personally known by Jesus is/means to be ‘one’ with him. That is how you gain intimacy with Him. The uniqueness we have by being part of this ‘church age’, living ‘post cross’. We can be ‘born again’ into this relationship.

Believers today are ‘one’ with Christ. And this a result of being ‘born again’. Thus there is no ‘fear’ of being rejected - none!

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  • From this perspective, should baptism be the only required action to make oneself "personally known" by Jesus - since that person would spiritually become "one" with Jesus? – חִידָה Apr 14 at 19:42
  • ‎@חִידָה You need to be baptised into Christ - and, believers are - but explaining this aspect of Baptism is in many ways far too difficult to do via comments. So many different understandings, and as well, there are different ‘baptisms’. – Dave Apr 14 at 20:18
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"To know someone" is a quintessential Hebraism found in several places in the NT.

  • 2 Tim 2:19 - Nevertheless, God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
  • 1 Cor 8:3 - But whoever loves God is known by God.

Thus, to truly know God and be known by God is to be a friend of God and to enjoy a saving relationship with God. See appendix below about the word γινώσκω = "to know" from Thayer's lexicon.

Contrast this with the hypocritical attitude of some who claim to know God (Matt 7:21, Luke 6:46) whose knowledge is only a pretense.

APPENDIX - Thayer (in part) on γινώσκω = "to know"

II. In particular γινώσκω, to become acquainted with, to know, is employed in the N. T. of the knowledge of God and Christ, and of the things relating to them or proceeding from them;

a. τόν Θεόν, the one, true God, in contrast with the polytheism of the Gentiles: Romans 1:21; Galatians 4:9; also τόν μόνον ἀληθινόν Θεόν, John 17:3 cf. 1 John 5:20; τόν Θεόν, the nature and will of God, in contrast with the false wisdom of both Jews and Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 1:21; τόν πατέρα, the nature of God the Father, especially the holy will and affection by which he aims to sanctify and redeem men through Christ, John 8:55; John 16:3; 1 John 2:3f, 14 (); ; a peculiar knowledge of God the Father is claimed by Christ for himself, John 10:15; John 17:25; γνῶθι τόν κύριον, the precepts of the Lord, Hebrews 8:11; τό θέλημα (of God), Romans 2:18; νοῦν κυρίου, Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16; τήν σοφίαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, 1 Corinthians 2:8; τάς ὁδούς τοῦ Θεοῦ, Hebrews 3:10 (from Psalm 94:10 ().

b. Χριστόν, his blessings, Philippians 3:10; in Χριστόν ἐγνωκέναι κατά σάρκα, 2 Corinthians 5:16, Paul speaks of that knowledge of Christ which he had before his conversion, and by which he knew him merely in the form of a servant, and therefore had not yet seen in him the Son of God. According to John's usage, γινώσκειν, ἐγνωκέναι Χριστόν denotes to come to know, to know, his Messianic dignity (John 17:3; John 6:69); his divinity (τόν ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, 1 John 2:13f cf. John 1:10), his consummate kindness toward us, and the benefits redounding to us from fellowship with him (in Christ's words γινώσκομαι ὑπό τῶν ἐμῶν, John 10:14 (according to the critical texts γινώσκουσιν με τά ἐμά)); his love of God (John 14:31); his sinless holiness (1 John 3:6). John unites πιστεύειν and γινώσκειν, at one time putting πιστεύειν first: John 6:69 (cf. Schaff's Lange or Meyer at the passage); but at another time γινώσκειν: John 10:38 (according to R G, for which L T Tr WH read ἵνα γνῶτε καί γινώσκητε (R. V. know and understand)); John 17:8 (L brackets καί ἔγνωσαν); 1 John 4:16 (the love of God).

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Since Jesus does not know those who work iniquity (ἀνομία), the corollary is that Jesus does know those who do not work iniquity. That is, Jesus does know those who work righteousness (δικαιοσύνη).1 Those who work righteousness—who do not work iniquity—are those who do the will of the Father who is in Heaven.2 In every nation, he who fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to Him.3 Moreover, he who believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.4 Hence, Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom He has sent.”5

Footnotes

        1 ἀνομία and δικαιοσύνη are placed in antithesis in various scriptures, e.g., 2 Cor. 6:14
        2 Matt. 7:21
        3 Acts 10:35
        4 Rom. 4:5
        5 John 6:29

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