The Parable of the Net
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which 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 vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (Mt. 13:47-50)
I imagine that the Lord Jesus might have taught this parable by the Sea of Galilee, where the people might have just been watching the fishermen drawing in the nets. What is the picture that they see? Well, let me try to paint the picture for you. This type of fishing is called seine fishing, that is, fishing with seine nets, although the word “seine” does not appear in your English translation. Seine fishing is done by a very long net with one or two boats. One end of the net is fixed by the shore, and the other end is drawn by a boat that sweeps out towards the lake, then it sweeps in again, and so encloses the fish against the shore. Or else two boats would go out together and then circle in closing the gap, therefore trapping the fish inside. Then the two boats would come to shore together, towing all the fish that got trapped in the net. This method of fishing is not used in the middle of the lake where the water is very deep. It is always used fairly close to shore. Now the top end of the net would have floats like corks or empty containers that will hold up the top of the net to float on the surface. The net is then dropped downward until it touches the bottom of the lake. Weights would hold the bottom of the net down, so that it sweeps along the bottom of the lake, or at least fairly close to the bottom of the lake, so that not all the fish go underneath the net and get away. In this way, this very long net being towed by the boats, spreads out in the water and sweeps towards the shore. Now you can imagine how this process traps all the fish within that net.
Even to this day, this way of fishing is still being used in commercial fishing in the Sea of Galilee. These very long nets are drawn by modern trawler fishing boats. Thus when the ships come to shore, fishermen haul the nets ashore, and draw in the big and small, good and bad fish, all trapped inside. Once on dry land, they are sorted out. Fishermen do not want fish which died in the nets; fish which are simply too weak, not in a healthy state, already turning onto their stomachs; and those which are too small, for they have little commercial value. That is the picture of fishing with these nets. Once you see that picture in your mind, you can see the parable the Lord Jesus uses to speak about the Kingdom of God.
These different kinds of fish might portray the different nations, the different types of people in the world, and there are an awful lot of varieties of fish. Then there are some fish which are big, some which are small; there are some with very sharp teeth that are always biting others; and there are others which are very peaceful, and just feed on insects, or crabs and small lobsters. There are all kinds of fish, like different people with different appearances and different characteristics. For example, in Habakkuk 1 : 14-15, – “You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad.”
When is the net being brought in? The net is brought to shore when it is full. This reminds us of Romans 11:25, where the apostle Paul says, when “the fullness of the Gentiles has come,” then the end of the age will take place. “Why is the end of the age not already taking place?” It is because the net is not yet full. When the net is full, when God’s purpose is complete, the end will come, and the net will be taken ashore.
Now the Greek word translated as “to gather” in Matthew 13:47, is translated as “to welcome” in Matthew 25 : 35, 38 , 43—“When I was sick…, I was in prison…, I was hungry…, you did not welcome me.” Or to the righteous ones the Lord Jesus says, “you welcomed me”—in the English Bibles. This means that the kingdom of God stretches out a welcoming hand to everybody. It is not exclusive in its invitation. Everybody is invited to enter the kingdom of God. If you are not a Christian, you are also invited today, to enter the kingdom of God. That is more than can be said right now for most countries, which have very strict immigration laws. You are only welcome if you are a certain type of person, and you meet the immigration requirements of that particular country. But the kingdom of God welcomes everybody! It is not that this welcome is unconditional, but it is a welcome. The point is, God so loved the world that whosoever wills may come!
We conclude bearing in mind this important point. What does the Lord Jesus say at the close in Mt. 13:49? It is the righteous which are separated from the evil. He doesn’t speak about believers and unbelievers but about evildoers and the righteous. Who shall be saved? It is the righteous who will be saved. And on this point, we shall expound more fully what the Lord Jesus means by the righteous.
One thing he makes plain in this parable is: “Be careful lest the light in you become darkness. And if the light in you become darkness, how great is that darkness. If Christians, the salt of the world has lost its taste—then like the fish, they are no longer fit for anything, but are thrown out and trodden under foot by men.” Remember these powerful and frightening words that the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5 : 13-14, 6: 22-23).