47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a large net thrown into the sea. It collected every kind [of fish],
48 and when it was full, they dragged it ashore, sat down, and gathered the good [fish] into containers, but threw out the worthless ones.
49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out, separate the evil people from the righteous,
50 and throw them into the blazing furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus has dismissed the crowds and gone back into Peter’s house. There, he explains to His disciples the parable of the wheat and tares, offers two parables that illustrate the priceless value of the kingdom of heaven, and launches into the parable of the dragnet, also known as the parable of the good and bad fish. Keep in mind how Jesus ties these parables together to deepen His disciples’ understanding of the kingdom of heaven:
- The parable of the sower illustrates that the kingdom can be resisted. The Messiah the Jewish leaders are looking for – political and military – will indeed come one day in power and great glory, but first He must come humbly as the Lamb of God. Many will resist, reject or oppose Him.
- The parable of the wheat and tares teaches that throughout this present, evil age, believers and unbelievers will live side-by-side, to be separated and judged one day.
- The parables of the mustard seed and leaven show that the kingdom already has come – but quietly, almost imperceptibly.
- The parables of the hidden treasure and priceless pearl demonstrate that the kingdom is of immeasurable value.
- And now, the parable of the dragnet teaches the blunt truth that those outside the kingdom will be separated eternally from God in hell.
The central theme of this parable is that in the age to come, God will separate the citizens of the kingdom of heaven from those in Satan’s kingdom. All who reject the King and His kingdom will depart from God and spend eternity in hell. It is a stark teaching, blunt yet simple. And it underscores the fact, taught in the parable of the wheat and tares, that believers and unbelievers will live side by side throughout the present, evil age, until a day of reckoning comes.
Jesus says the kingdom is like a dragnet. This is a large net that fishermen used in Jesus’ day, weighted on one side with lead and buoyed on the opposite edge by wooden floats or corks. The net often is spread between two fishing boats, enabling cooperating fishermen to capture fish across a wide area from the seabed to the surface of the water. Once the net is cast, either the fishermen in both boats work together to haul in the net, or fishermen on the shore, with ropes connected to the net, draw it into the shallow waters. After the catch, the fishermen separate the good fish from the bad.
The dragnet pictures the scope of God’s kingdom during this present evil age (Gal. 1:4) and implies the cooperative effort believers engage in to serve Christ in “bringing many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). The use of a dragnet, since it catches good and bad fish, requires a time of evaluation and separation. This pictures the resurrection and judgment that will come upon all people at the end of this present age. Jesus speaks of this resurrection and final judgment in John 5:28-29. The New Testament writers indicate an undesignated interval of time between the resurrection of the just (“first resurrection” or “rapture” – 1 Cor. 15:51-57; 1 Thess. 4:13-17) and the resurrection of the unjust (“second resurrection” that leads to the “second death” or “the lake of fire” – Rev. 20:11-15). This does not contradict Jesus’ parable. Keep in mind that parables are designed to teach a single truth – in this case, the truth of a future resurrection and judgment for all people.
George Eldon Ladd comments:
When God brings His Kingdom, the society of wicked men will be displaced by the society of those who have submitted themselves to God’s rule who will then enjoy the fullness of the divine blessings freed from all evil. Jesus taught that the redemptive purposes of God had brought His Kingdom to work among men in advance of the Day of Judgment. It is now like a drag-net which gathers within its influence men of various sorts, both good and bad. The separation between the good and the evil is not yet; the Day of Judgment belongs to the end of the age (Matt. 13:49). Meanwhile, there will be within the circle of those who are caught up by the activity of God’s Kingdom in the world not only those who are truly sons of the Kingdom; evil men will also be found in this movement” (The Gospel of the Kingdom, pp. 62-63).
The sea is the world, or the mass of fallen humanity (see Isa. 57:20). The fishermen may be seen in two ways: 1) as believers, who work cooperatively to spread the gospel; and 2) as angels, whom Christ sends out to separate believers from unbelievers (Matt. 13:41, 49; 24:31). The fish are lost people who respond in some way to the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus said some of every kind is taken in, just a John records in Rev. 5:9 that people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” are in heaven. And, of course, the separation of the good and bad fish symbolizes the separation of the just from the unjust in final judgment. Just as some fish caught in the net are cast away, some professors of the faith will be exposed as unbelievers and cast out of the kingdom (see Matt. 7:21-23).
Peter urges believers to “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). At the same time, all professors of Christianity should examine their hearts to see whether they have truly trusted in Christ for their salvation. Are their hearts like good soil (Matt. 13:8)? Is the evidence of their profession like wheat or tares (Matt. 13:24-30)? Finally, all believers, like good fishermen, should cooperate with others to spread the net of the gospel message around the world (Matt. 28:19-20).