Scripture: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:47-50 ESV
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Observation: Having emphasized the priceless nature of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus transitions to a parable about judgment at the end of the age. And like the two previous parables (Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl), The Parable of the Net is found only in Matthew’s Gospel. Structurally, as theologian D. A. Carson observes, it follows a parallel chiastic outline to The Parable of the Weeds. (To learn more about chiasms, click here to read my March 1 Daily Focus that explains the form and intent of a biblical chiasm.)
Of note, the Greek word sagēnē, translated as “net,” is specifically a “dragnet” and is found only here in the New Testament. Fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John would work together and draw the dragnet through the Sea of Galilee between two boats. And if fishing with one craft, they would secure one end of the net on shore, tow the other end out by the sailing vessel, and then draw it to land by ropes. These first-century dragnets were massive. They extended as long as 1000 feet and reached as high as 25 feet at their center, with sinker-weighted foot ropes and floating head-ropes buoyed by corks. Thus, fishermen could catch a large number of fish efficiently. Once dragged to land, following Levitical law, Israeli fishermen would separate and discard the unclean fish (without fins and scales) from the kosher catch (see Leviticus 11:9-12).
Of further interest, the Greek word translated as “bad” is sapron, which can also mean “decayed,” but, as Carson notes, it means “worthless” in the context of this parable.
Takeaway: As mentioned above, Jesus uses the metaphor of the dragnet to describe eschatological (end-of-age) judgment when he will return and separate the evil from the righteous—similar to The Parable of the Weeds (click here to read this March 2 Daily Focus). Notably, we may deduce three aspects regarding his return:
- Jesus will come with power and consummate the establishment of his kingdom.
- He will send his angels to initiate judgment by separating the wicked (those who deny Christ and his Gospel) from the righteous (those who, by grace through faith, embrace his Gospel and thereby enter the kingdom of heaven, see Matthew 5:20).
- He will cast the wicked into hell—described as a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (verbatim to the outcome of the weeds in the former parable).
Furthermore, the breadth of Scripture attests that final judgment is worldwide and non-discriminatory, and no one escapes it. As theologian Craig Blomberg succinctly articulates, “no race or category of person will escape the final judgment. All will be sorted into one of two groups, those God accepts and those he rejects” (Interpreting the Parables, p.202). Indeed, even the righteous stand before God guilty of sin, but we have an Advocate who has paid the penalty for us.
Our takeaway? Two points. First, the negative: We must not water down final judgment. It is tempting to soften its reality to avoid offending others. Still, we do them a disservice by taking away their only hope of salvation in Christ (by repenting and receiving his forgiveness) if we bypass those parts of his Gospel that stir discomfort. Still, we need not lead with, park on, nor be heavy-handed about judgment. It is just one element of our Gospel.
The positive is that we do not save ourselves. If it were up to any of us, we would fail miserably to obtain righteousness before our Judge. But in Christ, we confess his worthiness and our unworthiness. And we receive his forgiveness and imputed righteousness through his grace which we embrace by faith. He initiates, and we respond. We hear the truth of Scripture through the attestation of his Holy Spirit, who woos us into a saving relationship with Christ. And as we mature in our faith, our love for our Lord and Savior will assuage our fear of judgment.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who incarnated to pay the penalty for our sins and will return in glory to rid us of sin’s presence by eternally separating us from evil. So would you please help us to express our gratitude for his priceless gift of salvation by cooperating with your Holy Spirit to mature in our love and affection for him and share his whole Gospel with the least, the last, and the lost? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling