“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. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (verses 47-50)
Here's a scene from the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen are hard at work, using a dragnet, hoping for a great catch of fish. Typically, the net would be dragged between two boats. Alternatively, one end would be anchored on shore and the other end taken out into the water and then pulled to shore with ropes. Either way, the rich abundance of Galilee would indiscriminately be caught up in the net, including fish of all kinds, some good for eating and some not. The further work, then, would happen on shore, sorting through the catch, keeping the good and throwing out the bad.
This is what will happen at the end of the age, Jesus says. The righteous will be brought into the kingdom, while the wicked will be thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The message of the parable is pointed and decisive. Perhaps more so than we might like. Judgement is certainly coming. There will be a definitive separation that takes place within humanity. Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. Not everyone will receive eternal life. Some, instead, will experience the agony of eternal separation from God.
What Jesus touches on here is the doctrine of Hell, using language that is used throughout the scriptures to describe that awful reality.
Do we take this seriously? If so, this is a parable that should grieve our hearts – grieving for any who will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It also calls each of us to question our own status – are we good fish or bad, righteous or wicked, those destined for the kingdom or those destined for the fiery furnace. Weighty questions indeed.
The rest of Scripture helps to clarify the answer. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), so we won’t make it on our own steam. All “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), so we can’t be good enough in our own right. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), so unless sin is dealt with, the fiery furnace is guaranteed.
“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is the Good News. Oh, so good. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to die on the cross as a substitute for us. He offers salvation purely and simply through faith in him. “There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
This, then, is the determining factor when the fishing net gets sorted. It is only by faith in Jesus that we can be counted as good fish, righteous, ready for the kingdom.
So, take the parable seriously. Embrace faith in Jesus.
And share the Good News in every way you can. Life depends on it.
Lord Jesus, I take you at your word. The situation is dire. Judgement is coming. Salvation only comes through faith in you. It is in you alone I have placed my trust – so with all my heart, I give you thanks for saving me. Use me to share this saving news with those around me. For your name’s sake. Amen.
Pause: If you know Jesus as Saviour, give thanks from your heart. If not, will you accept him now? And who else yet needs to know him? Name some. Pray for their salvation.
Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash