What Does Jesus Mean by ‘I Never Knew You’?
We close the week with a good question from Singapore, from a listener name Jia. “Dear Pastor John, I would like to ask a question following up on episode 1304 about the parable of the ten virgins. In Matthew 25:11–12, Jesus says: ‘Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”’ Do these two verses imply to us anything about salvation? Particularly so when the bridegroom said, ‘I do not know you’?”
Ten Virgins and a Bridegroom
Do these verses and the words “I don’t know you” imply anything about salvation? The answer is yes. Yes they do. They imply exclusion from salvation.
“If you treat the Lord like he’s unimportant, you won’t enter the feast. You won’t enter salvation.”
Now, let me step back and give a little reminder. This is a parable, okay? There are ten virgins in this story that Jesus made up. Ten virgins are assigned to welcome the bridegroom when he comes to the feast, to go in and enjoy the bride. So they were to welcome him when he comes.
Five virgins take this seriously and stay ready. Five are careless and don’t have what they need to be ready. At the last minute, they run away to try to do a last-ditch effort to be ready. And it fails. It’s too late.
Here’s what we read:
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:10–13)
The point is, watch. The point is not to stay awake at night looking up into the sky, because all ten slept. They all slept — the wise ones and the foolish ones. So that’s not the point. But stay awake to your Lord and to your calling: Be spiritually alert, awake to your calling, and awake to Jesus, to the way of life in Christ. Stay awake to it. Stay spiritually alert and alive. Because if you treat the Lord like he’s unimportant, you won’t enter the feast. You won’t enter salvation.
Here’s the closest analogy to that language:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven [this is why I talk about exclusion], but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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?” And then will I declare to them [here are the words], “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21–23)
“I never knew you” means “I don’t recognize you as my disciple. I don’t acknowledge you as my follower. You are a spiritual stranger to me.” Judas would be the best example here from Jesus’s life. For three years, he cast out demons and did many mighty works with Jesus. In the end, he was driven by money, not by love for Jesus. We know that from John 12:6. He’s called a thief. He was excluded at the end of all that time with Jesus.
Chosen and Known
So what’s with this odd use of the word know? “I do not know you.” “I never knew you.” Now, there’s a backstory to this. For example, in the Old Testament, it was used almost interchangeably with choose. “I didn’t choose you.”
You see this, for example, in Amos 3:2, when God says to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” That didn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t aware of the other nations. It meant he hadn’t chosen them. They weren’t acknowledged as his. They weren’t recognized as his. He hadn’t chosen them.
Here’s Genesis 18:18–19: “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in [him.] For I have known him, that he may command his children.” Known here is usually translated chosen. But it’s just the plain old word know. “I have known him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord.”
Called to Love God
When we come to the New Testament, we read things like this: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Galatians 4:9). So being known by God is expressing the initiative that God has taken to enable you to know him: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?” (Galatians 4:9).
Here is the same idea again in 1 Corinthians 8:3: “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Wow, that means being known by God is the precondition and enabling of how you come to love God. So loving God is evidence that you’re known by God — that is, chosen by God.
Now, back to our parable. The foolish virgins came too late to the feast of the bridegroom and his bride. They cry out, “Lord, lord, open to us.” And he says, “Truly I say to you, I don’t know you.” That is, “I don’t see in you the marks of faithfulness to me. There’s always a correlation between my choosing people and their belonging to me and the marks of obedient faithfulness.”
We see this is 2 Timothy 2:19: “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’” Those are the two marks of the seal. “I know them — I chose them — and they depart from iniquity.”
Jesus is saying to the five foolish virgins, “I don’t see in you the life, the evidence, of loving my name and departing from evil. You’re not mine. I don’t know you.” And Jesus concludes, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Meaning, “Stay alert spiritually. Keep my greatness, my beauty, my worth always before you. Don’t slip into a greater love for the world. If you do, I won’t know you.”