Lessons from a Dragnet

Intro: It can be a challenge to find things to entertain your grandkids. I am always on the lookout for new experiences for them. Sometimes we get ideas from the past. This past week I hit a homerun, as they would say in baseball lingo. I found a seine net at the thrift store, attached a couple of poles and took the grandkids to the sandbar. They learned how to drag a net and sort out the catch. It was intriguing to them because they did not know what they might come across – a mixed bag of good and bad.

Matt 13:47-50 – “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

This parable is one of 7 related parables found in Matthew 13. The theme of these stories is the kingdom of God (heaven). All except the parable of the sower (soils) begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

Jesus told the disciples that his parables were designed to make known to them the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (13:11). The stories were not mysteries that needed unraveling or solving, but rather they taught principles about the kingdom that were being revealed at the proper time, as the kingdom was about to come on the scene.

  • The kingdom would come through the sowing of a seed (the word of God).
  • This seed would not be the only seed being sown (tares) and the kingdom of God would exist alongside the kingdom of Satan for a period of time.
  • The kingdom would be like a small mustard seed that would grow large and accommodate many.
  • The kingdom would be a powerful influence in the world (as leaven in a bowl of meal)
  • The Kingdom would be found by those who would value it above all else. Many would sacrifice all they had to acquire it. (pearl of great price; hidden treasure)
  • The last parable pictures the kingdom in a scene of final judgment.

I. “Gathered Some of Every Kind”: The dragnet was a very large fishing net, weighted on one side and floated on the other which, when dragged from the deep water to the shore brought up in its meshes every creature in the water. The dragnet is indiscriminate. It gathers all that make its way into it. Obviously, all would not be useful for food, especially among the Jews. So the owner of the net had to sort out and cull out that which was unsuitable. This familiar scene made an effective image of judgment. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet.

A. What is the lesson of the dragnet?

1. Judgment in the kingdom: Tares and dragnets – This last parable is often linked with the parable of the tares (13:24-30) in that it is also a story about a later judgment against evil. Some suggest that these parables teach against the exercise of any discipline or judgment against unruly disciples.” It is not our job to judge before the final judgment”. This is especially true with the parable of the Tares. But this interpretation ignores the fact that the field in the parable of the Tares is the world, not the church (13:38), and that the judgment is not corrective discipline, but a final ultimate judgment that only God can render.

a. Many point to Jesus’ statement in the parable of the Tares that the angels will “gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling…” (Matt 13:41). But the meaning of His kingdom must be understood in its context. The kingdom does often speak of the church, but at times it takes in the total sphere of the Lord’s sovereign rule, even those who are in rebellion such as in Luke 19:14-1514 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ 15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading… v. 27 – 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.'”

b. The parable of the Tares presented a real encouragement to those who would suffer persecution and tribulation at the coming of the kingdom. By this parable, citizens of the kingdom are urged to wait patiently for God would vindicate them in a final, flawless judgment by God. It is a parable of comfort and encouragement to rejected and suffering saints.

2. A Kingdom of “every kind…” But that is not the case with the parable of the Dragnet. This is a dark and dreadful parable, a parable of judgment and rejection. Chrysostom called it “a terrible parable.”

a. As opposed to the parable of the tares, this parable does address the character of the church, rather than the world at large. It speaks to the final purification of the fellowship of the saints.

b. Those taken by the dragnet in this parable do not represent all men but those specifically drawn in by the gospel. Not all who come will be suitable. Until God acts in final judgment, the kingdom on earth will be a kingdom of “every kind” – both wicked and good.

c. The charge of hypocrisy in the church is not without merit. But it will not always be this way. There is coming a day when inward evil will not be able to conceal itself.

The cast-away fish of the parable are the “wicked,”

and those who remove them are “angels,”

and the time is “the end of the world.”

• The purpose of the purging of the net is not redemptive.

• The rejection is final.

• The judgment is divine.

d. This is a difficult message to accept. Is Jesus teaching that local churches cannot completely exclude the unfaithful and unrighteous from their fellowship? Is the church destined to live with heresy and immorality?

II. A Kingdom pure at last! The mysteries of the kingdom revealed in these parables are interconnected. We can see the kingdom from several different perspectives.

A. The ideal image of the heavenly kingdom is seen in the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price. The kingdom is seen for its intrinsic value and those who come to it come with full devotion and are willing to make the greatest of sacrifices. All things are yielded to the rule of Christ.

B. A realist image of the kingdom can be seen in the parable of the sower. Not everyone comes to God with the same commitment and devotion. Many attach themselves to the kingdom who are not fully committed. Not all seed falls on good ground. Some who receive the gospel are shallow or half-hearted, or otherwise occupied in heart.

1. There are several illustrations of this truth in the New Testament.

the church at Corinth with its immorality and carnal divisiveness.

the churches of Galatia with their Judaizing teachers of righteousness by the law,

the churches to whom John wrote his epistles with their Gnostic prophets of a new and improved gospel,

 and five of the seven churches of Asia plagued variously with idolatry, immorality, false teaching, lovelessness, and smug complacency.

Things are not different today. We are still troubled with moral weaknesses and entrenched worldliness and pride, and corrupt teaching.

C. We can also easily recognize that corruption and wickedness was not accepted with resignation in the N.T. churches.

1. Paul urged the church in Corinth to get its spiritual house in order. (1 Corinthians 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.1 Corinthians 5:11-1311 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”In fact, he uses the same word used by Matthew in the parable of the dragnet; the “wicked” (ponerous) when he says “put away from yourselves the evil person” [poneron].”

2. The Judaizing teachers troubling the churches of Galatia were to be considered as anathema (accursed) (Gal 1.6-9)

3. John called on Christians to give no sanctuary to false prophets (1 John 4.1-3; 2 John 9.11).

4. The Lord Himself warned the five troubled churches of Asia to repent (Rev 2-3).

5. Other passages indicate that churches and individual saints were not to endure corrupt and faithless Christians among them (Rom 16.17; 1 Tim 1.3-4; 6.3-5; Tit 1.9-13; 3.9-11).

6. From this we judge that the Lord intends His people, as best they can, to keep themselves from evil and not allow evil to corrupt the local fellowship. We are to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world,” bringing glory to our Father through our good lives (Matt 5.13-16). We should be seen as “lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil 2.15-16). This demands that churches and individual Christians discipline themselves.

D. Despite the efforts to keep ourselves pure, absolute purity is only accomplished by God, in a final judgment against evil.

1. As Paul observed to Timothy, “Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later” (1 Tim 5.24). NIV says… The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. The same limitations that make it impossible for us to bring final judgment against others make it equally impossible for us to rid the church absolutely of all its pretenders. We can and should act upon that sinfulness of attitude and conduct that is open but, unlike God, we are not omniscient. Men can hide their shame from our eyes. Their sins trail behind, but they WILL catch up!

2. Therefore, the final cleansing of the church is left for the One who knows all things. In speaking of ultimate judgment, Paul warns that we should “… judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor. 4.5). The perfect purity of the kingdom is God’s, not ours, to accomplish.

3. We should not ignore the comprehensiveness nor the finality of God judgment. Matt 13:48-50 – which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

a. We are tempted to throw the unsuitable fish back into the water. But this is not the image. The kingdom of God is not like that because God is holy above all else. The kingdom of “all sorts” does not remain a kingdom of all sorts. Evil that is not redeemed is judged.

• Eph 5:1-7 Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. 3 But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.

• Eph 5:25-27Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

Material for this lesson and my previous lessons on the parables of Jesus taken from Paul Earnhart’s book, “Glimpses of Eternity”