“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The final parable in this set of three teaches us a similar lesson to the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43), and seen in the context of the 3 parables put together, we see God’s final act after the redemption of Israel (depicted as hidden treasure) and the Gentiles (depicted as pearls). This act is the separation of the evil from the righteous. The symbolism here is obvious, the net represents the gospel, the sea as the world and the fish as the souls of men.
Once again, a few things are noted here:
All kinds of fish were caught
This develops the evidence that the gospel goes out not just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles (Matthew 15:22,28:19). It could also be a picture of the various forms of “salvation” as depicted by the farmer who sows the seed (Matthew 13:1-23). In the light of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds, where the variety is seen as “people of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38) and “people of the evil one” (Matthew 13:39), it would be a closer fit to view this passage as talking about the variety of believers and non-believers who hear the message. For hearing is not necessarily understanding and understanding the gospel is crucial (Matthew 13:14-17; 19-23).
The nets are brought in only when they are full – at the end of the age
Similar to Matthew 13:28-30, the judgement of all things belong to Christ when He comes again. We do not separate the evil from the good now, instead we live together on this earth. We are not to judge others as unelect or unsaved, but to leave that judgement to Christ. We do not remove ourselves from the world or try to remove ourselves from the presence of so called “wicked” people. In fact, the inverse is needed; we should be amongst them to reconcile them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).
The nets were pulled ashore and the fishermen sat down
Where in previous parables there was only one sole protagonist, it seems that there are many here. The common interpretation of fishermen in the New Testament are believers or “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), but this parable offers a distinctly different view that the fishermen are symbolic of angels. Sitting down is a picture of rest and judgement – kings sat down when they judged over matters in their kingdom. Christ and his fishermen will complete the fishing in entirety, with the nets pulled ashore, and sit down to judge the quality of the fish (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
The fiery furnace of weeping and gnashing of teeth
The words here mirror Matthew 13:42 exactly. While the Parable of the weeds was delivered to the public, the Parable of the Nets is delivered only to the disciples. The disciples were very familiar with the symbolism since at least four of them were fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22). They easily understood the gravity of the parable (Matthew 13:43, “He who has ears, let him hear”). If they didn’t get any of the other parables, at least get this: that the end will not be sweet for the wicked.
This is a sobering message to believers and non-believers alike. For believers, bring the gospel to those family and friends who are not yet saved with urgency for we know their final destiny. For non-believers, I plead with you to be found in Christ, to be placed in the container marked “safe” (Genesis 7:1-10; 2 Peter 3:2-7).