When God had determined to exile the southern kingdom of Judah, He sent them prophets to warn of the pending destruction. Zephaniah was one of those prophets and he spoke these words:
This was a scathing rebuke of the false religion occurring in Judah. Priests and laity were worshipping Baal. They were swearing by Milcom and swearing by the name of the Lord. They exchanged God’s truth for their own religious lies. They were syncretistic and polytheistic in their worship.
This phenomenon of false religion that perverts the Lord’s truth is not unique to the days of the exile. It is not as if people worshipped God falsely only in that day, but now things are fine. Rather, Jesus spoke some words that paint a picture similar to the one that Zephaniah painted with his words.
Jesus is speaking about the final judgment. People who on the surface claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, many of whom hold the office of pastor or missionary or servant of the church, but many who are just normal congregants, will be condemned by Christ on the day of judgment.
Because when they say “Lord, Lord,’ and acknowledge with their lips that Jesus is Lord, they are at the same time in the secret tunnels of their heart repudiating His truth. For they attempt, on the day of judgment and in the presence of Jesus, to boast of their works as a means of entrance into heaven. They boast in the great things they did – prophecies, exorcisms, miracles – rather than boasting in Jesus Christ and His atoning death and resurrection.
Therefore, because the claim they present to God is someone other than Jesus Christ, their religion is syncretistic and polytheistic, just like the Jews in the days of Zephaniah. But they are not calling on the name of Baal or Milcom – they are calling their own name. They have deified themselves, so to speak, by thinking that they are adding to the work of Christ, and have a right to enter heaven apart from Jesus. If Jesus is God, and His power is not enough for salvation, then certainly these people are exalting themselves up to the level of a god greater than Jesus, if they think their work is enough for salvation.
To boast of works in the presence of Jesus Christ, especially as a means of salvation, is the surest way to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and faith in the Jesus of Scripture. And this is why Jesus says “I never knew you…”, prior to exiling the false Christians for eternity.
Jesus Himself was asked what the work of God is. He was asked to explain that great thing that people ought to do. And He did not say “Prophesy! Cast out demons! Perform miracles!” He said this:
God does not ask us to prophesy in His name, He does not ask us to cast out demons in His name, He does not ask us to perform miracles in His name, in order to inherit eternal life. No – He doesn’t ask us to do anything. He asks us to believe in Jesus the Messiah.
For those of us who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we take great comfort in the words that Zephaniah offered to the remnant of Israel. For they are words that apply to the return of Christ and the establishment of His eternal rule, and therefore they apply also to us: