In the September-October 2013 issue of Grace in Focus, Bob Wilkin argued that in Matt 7:21-23 unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment will call Jesus “Lord” and will point to their works in an effort to justify themselves before Him. They will point to works they did in Jesus’ name (e.g., prophesying, casting out demons, doing many wonders) as the reason why they deserve to enter the kingdom.
It occurred to me that unbelievers also called Jesus “Lord” and also pointed to their works at the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats mentioned in Matt 25:31-46. Verses 41-46 are especially relevant:
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:41–46).
Of course in Matt 25:41-46 they are attempting to dispute Jesus’ claim that they failed to do works for Him. Unlike Matt 7:21-23, they are not asserting directly what they did do. But they are essentially doing the same thing, for they are denying that they failed to do good deeds when the opportunity arose. And they clearly are hoping that their good works are sufficient to grant them entrance to Jesus’ kingdom.
Calling Jesus “Lord” is not enough to get into His kingdom. Neither is doing good works. The only way to gain access to Jesus’ kingdom is by believing in Him. Why then did Jesus point to the good works of the sheep and the lack of good works of the goats at this judgment? The answer is found in the start of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matt 24:13 the Lord said, “he who endures to the end shall be saved.” In verse 22, the only other use of the word save in the Sermon, the issue is surviving the seven years of the Tribulation: “And unless those days [i.e., the Tribulation] were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake [i.e., Israel’s sake] those days will be shortened.” Only those who endure in their walks with Christ will survive the Tribulation. Unfaithful believers will die before the end. Some unbelievers, however, will survive.
Thus when the Lord speaks with Gentile survivors, He is on solid ground to say that those who failed to love the Jewish people in the Tribulation show they never believed in Him for everlasting life.
This is not the judgment that determines their eternal destiny. Revelation 20:11-15 shows that all the unregenerate of all time will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. Hence this judgment is merely their arraignment. The evidence is sufficient to hold them until their trial, which will occur after the Millennium.