The parable of the net
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The Parable of the Net. The last talk I gave was on a whole book of the Bible, you may remember: Ruth. I found it contained almost a whole message of the Bible within it. This time, I’ve been asked to talk on a parable of just three verses. I’ve even been asked to ignore the last verse because it’s not suitable for persons of a nervous disposition. I’ll just read the parable again.
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age.”
Matthew 13:47–49 (NIVUK)
This parable teaches us one aspect of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s just one part of the full picture. Jesus said he’d come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven and he was king. There was already a king in Israel and an emperor in Rome. Jesus told Pilate later that his kingdom was not of this world, it was altogether different. It was a kingdom that would bring fruitfulness and joy eternally to all who welcomed it. As Jesus said,
‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But no, my kingdom is from another place.»
John 18:36 (NIVUK)
God was giving people an opportunity to declare allegiance to the Kingdom. He wanted everyone to do so. He would give them as much time as possible to do it. It says in 2 Peter,
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understands slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIVUK)
It’s up to us, as a church, to tell people of Jesus and give them opportunity to repent. Jesus used fishing as a metaphor when he told the disciples they would be doing this. He said, “I will make you fishers of men.” It says here, “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him when he called them.” Eventually, God would say he’d given everyone enough time. He would usher in a final reckoning. This would be, I think, in two stages. This Parable of the Net is about the first stage. It concerns the church or all who claim to follow Jesus as risen Lord or expected Messiah. The net in this parable is a different Greek word to the one used elsewhere in the New Testament. Remember, when Peter and the disciples were described as using a net, as in those two miraculous captures of fish, that net is a smallish one, thrown over the side of the boat and pulled back in. This net, however, is a dragnet. It’s much bigger which is fixed to the shore of the lake and pulled out a long way with a boat or boats. When it’s pulled back onto the shore, as we can see in this picture, it catches everything in that area of the lake. The picture we have here is of everything being caught, not just a sample of fish in the lake with the smaller nets from the boat.
The parable is saying that everyone in the whole wider church community will be rescued from the world at the end of time. There’s then a selection, when those that generally follow Jesus will be acknowledged by him. Those who claim to follow Jesus but haven’t done so in their hearts, and those who’ve taught false doctrines about him will be treated differently. It says in Matthew 7,
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’
Matthew 7:21–23 (NIVUK)
What positive messages can we learn from this parable? Well,
- there is a Kingdom of Heaven, and
- God’s in charge of it, even if he doesn’t seem to be sometimes. We’re going to be eventually rescued from the world. God is never going to forsake us. As Rachel read to us in Psalm 121, he’s going to protect us through that time, isn’t he?
- Number three, it’s going to be a bumper catch, I’m sure. Whenever Jesus was involved with fishing, that was the case, wasn’t it? Remember the nets bursting and all the rest of it. I wonder if the proportion of bad fish is going to be relatively small, because otherwise it’s going to be rather inefficient fishing. Then we talk about a bumper catch. Remember, a third of the world is Christian, who are connected to the church, however loosely. It is a big catch. It’s not so good for those who mislead or don’t really know Jesus, as we’re just thinking before.
Another factor I think is important is, of course, there’s all those who are not connected with the church. It’s a different evaluation for those who never knew of Jesus. We see they’re two different categories: those who haven’t given their lives to Jesus, those who are caught in the net along with the true church and those in the wider world. We shouldn’t try and speculate who’s in each of those categories, thinking about other people because even God won’t know that until the end of the age. What about the rest of humanity and those not in the wider church in the net? Well, I think we should look at the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. This is another piece of the picture that helps us visualize the Kingdom of Heaven and what will happen. To get the best understanding, we do need to study all the Bible and put as many pieces together as we can. People shouldn’t build doctrines out of just one passage. That’s how doctrines get started. I won’t say much about the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, because that maybe someone else’s task in the future of this series. However, in that parable, in Matthew 25, Jesus says the son of man will have all the nations gathered before him. That’s everybody. As a selection based on how each individual has acted in their life. Remember what the Lord says to the sheep,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:44 (NIVUK)
These sheep have served Jesus without knowing it. They’ve shown their selfless love, and they’re able to join those that know Jesus in heaven. If we put together the two parables that we’ve looked at today, I think we can confidently trust the judge of all the world to do right on that last day. That’s what Abraham said to God, isn’t it, “Shall not the judge of all the Earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 (AV)
Let’s finish by thanking God for the rescue that Jesus has run for us and look forward to the blessings that await us on that last day. I’m going to leave you with an appropriate early Christian symbol: a fish. As it says at the side there, it’s “Jesus Christ or Messiah, God’s son, saviour.” Excuse the American spelling of saviour. Shall we just pray to finish?
Lord, we thank you that only because of Jesus, his ministry and sacrifice there can be a great capture of fish at all. Help us all to be fishers of men through our words and our lives. Amen.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.