“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)
To describe the kingdom of heaven, Jesus draws from a familiar practice of the fishermen in his day. To catch large amounts of fish at once a large dragnet with heavy weights was placed between two boats and lowered into the water. Fish of every kind was caught into the net and fishermen would have to sort the good fish from the bad fish once they were drawn ashore.
It seems that in the casting of the net into the sea, Jesus is referring to the gospel or kingdom message being preached to the nations; various people groups. Many people hear the gospel message but not all respond by believing in Christ for salvation. Jesus also presents this truth in the parable of the sower.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:3-9 (ESV)
As the net is cast, so the seed is sown. And of those who do respond to the gospel message there seems to be a group who become Christians in name only, but do not have an enduring relationship with Christ. In Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower he describes a person who hears the gospel and receives it with joy, “yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” Matthew 13:20-21 (ESV)
Hebrews 3:14 reads, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” We understand from this verse that those who do not hold to their confession of faith to the end even though they considered themselves a Christian, indeed never came to share in Christ. In the words of Jesus, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22 (ESV)
Jesus also said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:21-23 (ESV) Even though they had done works in his name, Jesus said he “NEVER” knew them. In other words they were never the “good fish.”
Certainly many of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day fit into this category. Jesus said to them, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:26). Notice he didn’t say, “Because you don’t believe you are not among my sheep.” They didn’t believe because they were not sheep and never were. The master knows his sheep and they hear his voice and follow him (John 10:28).
The parable of the dragnet is very much comparable to the parable of the wheat and tares. Both convey the message that at the end of the age there will be a separation of the evil from the good (Matthew 13:41-42). The evil (bad fish) will be thrown into an eternal fire of torment (fiery furnace). The righteous (good fish) will inherit the fullness of the kingdom and the joy of their master (Matthew 13:43; 25:21).
That’s why we praise him!