The Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-52)

The seventh parable in this seven-fold description of his kingdom by Jesus is different from the other six in that it focusses on what will happen at the close of this age when he returns. The previous six had described different aspects of the kingdom between his first and his second comings. Parable one about the sower and his seed illustrates different responses to the message of the kingdom. In parable two, about the weeds in a field, Jesus tells his disciples that expressions of evil will exist in his kingdom until the second coming – they were put there by the devil. Parables three and four tell us that despite the attempts of the devil to damage the kingdom it will continue to grow until it is very large. In parables five and six, Jesus mentions that his followers will not be converted in the same way, but they all will prize above all else the salvation found in him.

Jesus informs his disciples about the meaning of his seventh parable, which he had not done with regard to parables 3, 4, 5 and 6. The action of throwing the net illustrates the activity of the angels in gathering in people to attend the Day of Judgement. The Saviour compresses into a short description the events that will take place on that Day. So what does he say?

A full net
The first item to observe is that Jesus says that this net will be full. In order to see the significance of this aspect we need to ask how big the net is. The answer is that it is big enough to hold every one that ever lived. Moreover, we should observe that the net is full, which is another way of saying that no one will escape being gathered into it. So here we have a description of an experience that each of us will yet be involved in. Nobody can avoid taking part in this incredible meeting.

Two kinds of fish
The second detail to observe in the illustration is that basically there are two kinds of fish in the net. Jesus does say that the net gathers fish of every kind, which means that gathered by the angels will be the people from the different races, classes, religions, periods, and activities that marked human life. Yet Jesus defines the catch as ultimately made up of two kinds of fish – good and bad.

The third detail that we can observe is that Jesus explains what it is that marks each of the two kinds of fish. One kind, he says, are righteous and the other kind, he says, are evil. Since both these words are used in different ways we need to ask what Jesus means by them. The good people are those who are righteous. How did they become so? Did they bring this about through what they did when they lived on earth?

The righteous
The gospel tells us how we can become righteous. First, we need to realise that by nature we are unrighteous. What makes us unrighteous is our estrangement from God because of our sins. In the gospel we discover the wonderful truth that Jesus lived and died for unrighteous sinners in order for them to become righteous. God requires two things of his sinful creatures: one is that they live a righteous life and the other is that they pay the penalty for their sins. They could not do either, but Jesus did both for them when he lived a perfect life and when he suffered the penalty on the cross demanded because of their sins.

Does it mean we have to do nothing since Jesus did all that for sinners? We have to do something in order to obtain those benefits and that is we must believe in Jesus. This is more than believing about Jesus – a person can believe what the Bible says about Jesus and yet remain a bad fish according to this parable. So we need to ask what faith in Jesus is? Here are some details.

First, we can say that faith in Jesus is a conscious act. By this I mean that the person understands what he is doing. This understanding may be small to begin with, but eventually the person realises what he or she believes. They realise who Jesus is and what he has done for sinners. They are conscious that he is the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners. They also know that now he is the resurrected, ascended, enthroned Lord. This knowledge marks them as conscious believers. They don’t have a meaningless faith.

Second, faith in Jesus is a contrite faith. By this I mean that each believer understands why he has faith in Jesus, and one aspect of this understanding is that each believer is aware that he or she is a sinner. In addition, when they believe in Jesus they are sorrowful sinners. They grieve that they have sinned against God and regret all the sins that they have committed. The faith that lays hold of Jesus comes from a heart broken for its sins. Of course, this mourning for sin will become more intelligent as the believer develops in his faith. But in this life no one draws near to God without recalling that he or she is a sinner, and therefore they are contrite.

Third, faith in Jesus is a confident faith. Such believers are convinced that Jesus will keep all his promises. They don’t have any confidence in themselves, but they do have strong confidence in the Saviour. In a spiritual sense, they lean upon him, knowing that he is faithful and true.

Fourth, faith in Jesus is consecrated faith in the sense that they give themselves to Jesus. In the gospel he invites them to come to him, and since he is the divine Saviour it means that when sinners respond by giving themselves to him it is inevitably an attitude of consecration. It is not perfect consecration, but it is true consecration.

A sinner who exercises such faith in Jesus is regarded as righteous by God. That is the divine response to the first act of faith in Jesus by a sinner. God the Father reckons to the account of such a sinner the righteousness of Jesus and that sinner can be described as righteous. It is true that such a sinner will become experientially righteous as time goes on, but his sanctification occurs because he already has been declared righteous by God. His sanctification is the evidence that he has real faith in Jesus, but it is not the basis of his faith. The basis of his faith is the gospel.

The evil
Jesus says that the bad fish represent those who are evil. Today we use the word ‘evil’ to describe people who perform terrible actions. In the Bible, evil is the opposite of good. It can be used absolutely or it can be used comparatively. Sometimes it refers to our thoughts, at other times to our actions. In comparison to God, all of us are evil because we are sinners. As far as this parable is concerned, the evil are those who are estranged from God.

What is going to happen to them on this awesome day? Jesus in his illustration says that they will be thrown away into a fiery furnace. Perhaps the basic idea here is that of being useless – throwing away is what people do with items that have no usefulness anymore. The sad thing is that they could have been useful if they had listened to the gospel. In addition, we have to note that they are not merely being discarded because in addition they are also punished by the Judge because of their sins. The punishment they will face will be distressing beyond words and full of despair.

Future of the righteous
Jesus does not say a great deal about this aspect in this parable. Yet we can see a reference to their future when he says that the good fish were put in containers. They were put there in order to be taken somewhere where they would prove useful as food. And when we think of the future of the righteous we can say that each of them will be found useful by God throughout eternity. Jesus teaches this in his parable and other messages about the world of glory. Heaven is a place of sanctified service from perfected saints. In this world, they often wished they could be more useful, but they will be useful in the eternal world.

Freshness required
Having come to the end of giving these seven parables Jesus then asked the disciples if they understood what he had just taught them. They all said that they did, which is surprising, and probably amusing for most readers, but they may have assumed that they did, because often those being taught give a similar response. It surely was a shallow response suggesting that they did not fully appreciate the seriousness of what Jesus had taught. But who are we to throw stones at them?

Whatever their level of understanding of what he had just taught them, Jesus provided them with a way of knowing what they, as future teachers in his kingdom, would do. He did so by using the illustration of a householder who shows people what he has in his home. It is obviously a wealthy home, full of pleasant surprises. We can imagine surprises in different rooms in his house – from the kitchen would come meals the like of which they had never tasted before; in the sitting-room, there would be incredibly comfortable chairs; in the library, there would be works of beauty; and in his treasury there would be an endless amount of money to share with the needy who came to him for help.

The disciples were informed that in the house (God’s kingdom) they would have a treasure store (their knowledge of the kingdom) to share with others at suitable times. This knowledge that they would possess would be twofold – they would state what they knew already about the kingdom and they would also explain the new discoveries they would make about the kingdom, and of course they had just been told some new things about it by Jesus on this occasion. Perhaps we can say that for them the old was found in the Old Testament and the new would yet be recorded in the New Testament. Or we could say that the new could describe greater appreciations and understandings of what they thought the Old Testament had said about the kingdom of the Messiah.

Of course, there are lessons here for pastors and other teachers in that what they teach to their congregations should be both old and new. Studying the Bible usually, if not always, has that effect on those who prepare messages – they see aspects of truth in a passage that they did not see there before – what they may have thought was only old also becomes new. After all, no one knows everything about a Bible passage.

Yet I would also suggest that old and new should mark what every Christian should find in the Bible. Christian experience is about being fresh as well as being accurate. After all, we are teaching or sharing what a book says about Jesus and his kingdom, and because he is the focus of what it says we should expect to find what is old (be reminded) and what is new (discoveries of his grace and plans).

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