Forgive me for using such a dramatic title, but I could not think of anything else better. This series on the kingdom parables of Matthew thirteen nears its conclusion. There is one more post after this one, and then I head back to the mainland. I have been navigating the deep, lexical waters of Matthew thirteen for quite sometime. Let me say that the ocean is really deep and the sun is really hot. There is a weight to acquiring even a partial understanding of the Messiah’s truths contained in these parables. I remember hearing someone say on the radio years ago that once you see truth, you can’t unsee it. Each new layer of knowledge, understanding and wisdom into God and his word brings with it more responsibility. The truths conveyed in these kingdom parables have eternal significance, and today’s is a perfect example. Here is the passage:
“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).
For starters, I want to express one observation, but I will go the long way around the barn to make my point. In my previous post, I covered the immensely encouraging twin parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price. Those illustrate the central truth that the Messiah knows those who are his. He seeks them out and redeems them with his own blood. The redeemed constitute the people in his kingdom. They will be with him where he is for eternity (John 14:3, ESV). It is wonderful news that sustains the redeemed throughout the course of this age. On the heels of this good news, Jesus interjects the above parable of the net or dragnet. The truth contained in it is quite sobering. He brings up the issue of eschatology once again by invoking the phrase, the end of the age, and by referencing the final judgment as the fiery furnace.
In the parable of the weeds, Jesus uses those same phrases and metaphors to depict the eschatological consequences for the just and the unjust (Matt. 13:40-42, ESV). Even though the symbols are different in the parable of the dragnet, the same event is in view: the final judgment. The sea represents the world while the dragnet is the gospel witness of the church being extended throughout the nations. This net gathers into it all kinds of fish much like the church: a diversity of tribes, peoples, tongues, and languages. From each of those groups, there will be good and bad fish. The angels do the separating at the command of the Son of Man (Matt. 13:49-50, ESV). This is the same truth depicted in the parable of the weeds (Matt. 13:41, ESV). There is a future day coming when a final separation takes place for eternity. I call it the point of no return.
Throughout the course of this age, there is common grace extended toward the just and the unjust. The sun rises and sets, the rains come and go, and the breath of life enters those to live another day. On and on it will go until the coming of the Messiah. This means that there is still an opportunity to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. It also means that ministry and evangelism and discipleship all have value until the end of the age. In fact, I believe that Jesus closes out his teaching with the parable of the dragnet in order to emphasize the certainty and severity of the final judgment. Two realities bring this ever closer for all human beings throughout the world: one’s death and the Lord’s coming. Some believe erroneously that there is still hope of redemption after death. Jesus never teaches this and neither did any of the Old Testament prophets or the writers of the New Testament.
During this present age, it will be difficult to tell the difference between those who are in the kingdom and those who are outside of it. Thankfully, the Lord exhorts his people to focus on sowing the seed and making disciples rather than figuring out who is on the inside or the outside (Matt. 28:18-20, ESV). There is a sense of urgency on the Lord’s part about the mission that he gave his people and the church (Luke 10:1-2, ESV). It fuels his teaching on these kingdom parables, and it explains why two of the seven focus on the final judgment. One day Jesus will make a sharp distinction between the just and the unjust. All will witness this in its fullest manifestation at the end of the age. Until then, the redeemed of the Lord must be stewarding his resources for the kingdom.