The Parable of the Fishing Net

The Parable of the Fishing Net

The Parable of the Fishing Net.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked  people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50).

CONTEXT

(a.) Jesus decided to sit on the shore of Lake Gennesaret and teach the people. A huge crowd assembled there on the shore, so He chooses to climb into a boat and sit there off shore so He could teach the multitude. More people could hear Him this way, since the water naturally magnifies the human voice.

(b.) Lake Gennesaret is known as “the lake,” or the Sea of Galilee, or the Sea of Tiberius. Fishing is an important industry and source of living in that Galilee area. The lake was an expansion of the Jordan River, 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and at most about 150 feet deep.

(c.) He taught many parables during that time in the boat, including the stories of the Four Soils, the Weeds and the Wheat, the Mustard Seed, and the Yeast. After some explanation in His house later with His disciples, Jesus tells them the parables of the Hidden Treasure, the Pearl Merchant, and the Fishing Net.

(d.) Chapter 13 closes with His hometown of Nazareth refusing to believe in Him. They were offended that someone they knew so well would claim to be such an authority on the truth and such an effective miracle worker. “And so He did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.” (13:58).

THE PARABLE

(a.) The fishermen threw their drag net into the lake to catch some fish. These particular nets were huge, very long, weighted with lead, and dropped to the bottom of the lake. The drag net was either dragged between two boats or laid out by a single boat and drawn to land with long ropes.

(b.) Because the net was dragged along the bottom, the fishermen were sure to catch a huge number and variety of fish, with many species among them. Generally, the fishermen would separate this large haul into three groupings when they got to shore: the kosher, edible fish; the unkosher, inedible fish (for example the eel, which had neither scales nor fins); and the worthless part of the catch, which would include creatures like crabs or crayfish. In the parable, the net contained some of every type of fish. There were about 24 species of fish in the lake during that time.

(c.) In Jesus’ story, the task of judgment was left to the angels. They executed the Lord’s punishment, separating the righteous from the unrighteous, the real believers from the pretenders and unbelievers. The fishermen were not allowed to do the final sorting. People don’t know how to sort the good from the bad by looking at the catch, they are not equipped to discern the hearts of others. Just as in the parable of the weeds and the wheat, the Kingdom on earth is mixed company, and it is difficult to distinguish between the good and the bad. The gospel net is to be cast broadly, and the Kingdom is to be spread far and wide, gathering every type of person imaginable. The final judgment is left to God in faith.

(d.) The drag net represents the Kingdom of God, which collects all kinds of people… some who believe, some who don’t believe, some who pretend to believe, and some neither here nor there. How can the Kingdom collect the good with the bad? Referring to Jesus’ earlier parable of the four soils may be helpful here. In that story, the words of God, the pieces of the kingdom, the seeds of truth, are broadcast widely over several types of soil. One plot of land, but many types of soil. These good Kingdom seeds can indeed be planted in these differing soils, but then a lot can happen. One seed didn’t penetrate the hardened soil, the hardened heart, and the seed was snatched up by the evil one. Another seed didn’t grow any roots in the stony soil, so it fell away at the first sign of storms and trouble. The third seed was thrown amidst the thorns of earthly worry and the choking brambles of wealth. So no growth there. Finally, the last seed was planted on fertile soil, a fertile heart, and grew to the extent of producing a great harvest. Some good seeds grew, and some good seeds didn’t grow. Yet the seeds were all Kingdom seeds and were broadcast together. Some fish in the lake convert, some do not convert. Yet they are all together in one big net.

FINAL THOUGHTS

(a.) A word about angels in scripture: Angels are mighty spiritual ambassadors created by God to serve His purposes on earth and in heaven. In this parable, God sends angels to separate the good from the bad at the end of the age, much as they did in the earlier story of the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:39-43). They are executing God’s judgment. We see them in that role many times, including the judgment of Herod in Acts 13:23, and the judgment of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3. But angels do much more that deliver God’s punishment.

Angels serve believers (Hebrews 1:14). We see this role demonstrated many times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. They fed Elijah (1 Kings 19), they stopped the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:11), and they intervened at many important moments in biblical history. God orders His angels to protect us wherever we go (Ps. 91:11 and Ps. 34:7), and to patrol the earth (Zech. 1).

Angels protected and served Jesus. They spoke personally and powerfully to Mary, to Joseph, and to the wise men in order to protect Him in His vulnerable state. They announced Him to the shepherds in a mind-boggling way. They ministered to Him at critical times, including during the wilderness temptations (Matthew 4:11) and the agony of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43). It is implied in scripture that they were always with Him during His life and ministry, ready to serve.

Angels protect the helpless. Jesus made a special point that God has appointed guardian angels over children. “In heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:10). It’s interesting that an angel guided the beleaguered and vulnerable Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 14:19). Angels are definitely a major aspect of the heavenly support system of people here on earth.

Angels carry God’s special messages to people on earth. This is seen countless times in scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. One fascinating example is when three angels bring vital messages to the world at large in Revelation 14. It’s very interesting that the common perception among the Jews is that the Lord used His angels to deliver the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. That fact is mentioned in Galatians 3:19, Hebrews 2:2, and Acts 7:38 and 53. God may have written the Law on the stone with His finger, but He undoubtedly used angels as mediators to deliver the Law to His people.

Angels worship God without ceasing. “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. They sang: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.'”

(b.) In many ways this is a tragic story. Jesus seems clear and unequivocal that there will be a final judgment, a separation unto eternity.The “good fish” though should not feel especially smug or self-righteous or judgmental against what they consider the “bad fish.” We are assured it won’t get all sorted out till the end. Spread the net and pray for mercy for others and for yourself in the separation process. It’s hard to miss that the angels seemed intent and eternally tough in their display of divine justice. Somehow, Lord, may your judgment throne be a mercy seat. “So let us come boldly to the throne of grace. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16). Let’s pray that verse for everyone, even the “bad fish.” Maybe somehow, after the angels are done sorting things out, Jesus, who has the Last Word, will say, “Father, forgive them, for they didn’t know what they were doing.” Maybe, somehow, the Lord will give the bad fish a final opportunity to flop into paradise.

GOING FURTHER

(a.) Are we tempted at times to be like those in Jesus’ hometown, that we think we know everything there is to know about Jesus? When was the last time you were surprised by something about Jesus? Were you offended, like the people of Nazareth?

(b.) Does it mean anything that the net Jesus was talking about was the drag net, which will collect mostly bottom feeders?

(c.) Why are we so prone to judge another’s relationship with Jesus, or level of spiritual maturity, or spiritual destination?

(d.) It is certain that God created angels before He created the earth. What was their function before creation?

(e.) Have you or someone you know ever seen an angel? Describe.

(f.) Is it possible that the judgment throne can be the mercy seat? What would be your reaction if the doomed were given one last chance to bow the knee?

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