The Dragnet and the Householder
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13:47-52)
Matthew 13 contains the parables of the kingdom. Each parable is intended to convey a single specific spiritual truth. They are earthly illustrations of spiritual things, of things relating to the kingdom of heaven, that kingdom into which sinners are born when they are born again by God the Holy Spirit.
· The parable of the leaven hidden in meal (v. 33) portrays the gradual spread and influence of the gospel, both in the hearts and lives of God’s elect and in the world.
The last two of the eight parables of the kingdom given in this chapter illustrate the separation and judgment of unbelievers from the saints of God and the responsibility of God’s servants in the work of the gospel ministry.
First, in verses 47-50 our Lord declares the parable of the dragnet.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:47-50)
In this parable, our Savior warns us that things will not always continue as they now are. Soon the kingdom of heaven will be full, the church of God will be complete, and there will be a day of judgment in which God will forever separate the righteous from the wicked. This parable is intended to be a warning to all men of the certainty of God’s wrath and of the day of judgment.
To illustrate God’s judgment our Lord used an activity which all who heard him would surely understand – Fishing. It was a common, everyday activity around the Sea of Galilee. There were three basic methods of fishing employed in that day, just as there are today. A line and a hook were used to catch one fish at a time. That is the kind of fishing the Lord sent Peter to do when money was needed to pay taxes (Matt. 17:24-27). One man fishing by himself might use a one-man casting net. Peter and his brother Andrew were taking turns casting this kind of net when the Lord Jesus called them to be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:18-19). These small nets were used in shallow water. A man would wade out in the water. When a school of fish came near, he would cast the net upon the water. As the net’s weights carried it down over the fish, he would draw it together and hall his catch to shore.
The third type of fishing was done by the use of a huge dragnet. A dragnet might be stretched out to cover as much as one half square mile. It required the labor of a team of fishermen. The dragnet was pulled in a giant circle by two boats, or by one boat if one end could be anchored to the shore. Floats were attached to the top of the net and weights to the sides, so that when it was cast, the dragnet formed a huge wall around everything it encompassed. Because the net permitted nothing to escape, it swept everything in its path to shore, fish of every kind, both good and bad. When the net was full, it would be drug to shore by a huge team of men. At the end of the day, they gathered the good fish into containers to carry home or to the market. And the bad fish, they simply discarded with all the useless trash that had been caught in their net. When our Lord said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net,” the word that he used specifically means dragnet.
The fishermen in the parable are gospel preachers. The sea is the world. The net is the gospel we preach. The ship into which the fish are gathered is the church of God. The good fish are true believers. The bad fish are the false professors. The time of separation is the end of the world.
“The preaching of the gospel is the means of gathering souls to Christ, and into his churches. Those that are gathered into a visible gospel church are of every kind, of all nations in the world, Jews and Gentiles, all ranks and degrees of men, high and low, rich and poor, bond and free, all sorts of sinners, men good and bad. Some have the truth of grace in them. Others, that are only hypocrites,…have nothing but a form of godliness, and a name to live, and are dead.” (John Gill)
We are to preach the gospel freely and indiscriminately to all men, as God gives us opportunity (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:15-16; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). As long as we are in this world the visible church of God will be like the ark that Noah built, containing all kinds of creatures, both clean and unclean.
Three times, in the parable of the sower, in the parable of the wheat and the tares, and again in this parable, our Lord tells us that his church in this world is a mixed congregation. He intends for us to learn and remember this lesson.
There is a day of separation coming! (v. 49-50). When the fullness of the Gentiles has been brought in, when the last chosen, redeemed sinner has been saved, the Lord Jesus Christ will come again in judgment. In that day he will separate the bad fish from the good (Rom. 11:25-26; Rev. 20:11-15; John 5:28-29; Acts 17:31).
Nothing in the Bible is more difficult to accept than the fact of hell. Nothing more difficult to talk or write about. But we cannot ignore it. We must not ignore it. It is clearly and constantly set before us in the Word of God. It was spoken of more often by the Lord Jesus than any other subject. He talked much more about hell and divine judgment than he did about the love of God (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 8:12; 11:23; 18:8-9; 23:33; Mark 3:29; 9:43; Luke 10:15; 12:9, 10, 46; 16:33, John 5:29; 15:6).
Hell is not merely the state of forever being separated from all that is good. It is not merely going out into nothingness. I do not pretend to know what hell is. The human mind simply cannot conceive the horrors of hell. Even the biblical representations of hell are only suggestive. Men argue about literal fire in hell. But the fire of God’s wrath is infinitely more horrible than any inferno we ever imagined! No words can describe and no mind can imagine the pain, the agony, the torment of that “furnace of fire” where there is both “weeping and gnashing of teeth forever.”
This much is certain. — Hell is a place of constant torment, misery, and pain (Matt. 22:13; Mk. 9:43). The torments of hell will involve both body and soul. It is a place “where the worm dieth not” (Mk. 9:44 Matt. 11:22-23; Heb. 10:28-29; Lk. 12:47-48). John Gerstner wrote, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be but one less!” And hell is forever! It is a state of total, eternal hopelessness (Matt. 25:46). John Bunyan wrote, “Forever!” will be the most tormenting word known in hell!” And C. H. Spurgeon said…
“In hell thou shalt have none but a company of damned souls with an innumerable company of devils to keep company with thee. While thou art in this world the very thought of the devil’s appearing to thee makes thy flesh to tremble and thine hair ready to stand upright on thy head… Oh, what wilt thou do when all the devils of hell be with thee – howling, roaring, and screeching in such a hideous manner that thou wilt be even at thy wit’s end and ready to run stark mad again for anguish and torment? If after ten thousand years an end should come, there would be comfort. But here is thy misery: here thou must be forever!”
The parable of the householder portrays the great worth and importance of the gospel ministry.
“Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” (Mt 13:51-52)
The question of verse 52 was put directly to our Lord’s disciples – “Have ye understood all these things?” While the reference may include all that he had spoken in parables, I think it is best to see this question as referring to what he had spoken immediately before in verses 47-50 regarding the preaching of the gospel, the gathering of sinners to Christ, and the judgment to come.
Understanding these things, a great weight of responsibility is upon the shoulders of every believer and particularly upon the shoulders of all who are “scribes” in the kingdom, those men who are gifted and called by God as preachers of the gospel (2 Cor. 5:1-21). They are men who have been instructed into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, the gospel of the grace of God. These men, God’s servants, gospel pastors and preachers, are householders under Christ. They are responsible for the feeding of the family (Acts 20:28; Jer. 3:15), the rule of the family (Heb. 13:7, 17), and the care and protection of the family of God (2 Tim. 4:12-16).
“Gospel ministers are deputies and stewards under him, and under him preside over the household, and have the government of it, provide food for it, and protect and defend it; all which require large gifts and abilities, great love and affection, both to Christ and his people; much wisdom, prudence, and knowledge; and great faithfulness and integrity, courage and firmness of mind.” (John Gill)
Like a faithful husband and father, who is a good provider for his family, lays up stores for his household, and brings them forth as needed, so the faithful pastor, by diligent labor in study and prayer, lays up good things for the family of God and brings them out as needed for their souls good, comfort, and edification. The treasury from which we bring forth things old and new as they are needed is the Word of God. Every faithful gospel preacher knows that he carries the treasure of the gospel in an earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7), and is humbled by the realization of that fact (Eph. 3:8). Yet, like Elihu, he is full of the matter (Job 32:19). Like Jeremiah, he cannot forbear (Jer. 20:9). Like David, his tongue is the pen of a ready writer (Ps. 45:1).
But what does our Lord mean by “things new and old”? He certainly is not suggesting that the gospel preacher brings forth old doctrines and new. Someone once accurately stated, with regard to doctrine, “If it is new it is not true; and if it is true it is not new.” By “things new and old”, our Lord is referring to truths that are old in themselves, but newly made known to and experienced by his servants as they study the Scriptures. To cite Gill again, this refers to “every new acquisition of knowledge and experience, added to the former stock and fund. The phrase seems to denote the plenty and variety of Gospel provisions, which the ministers of it are to bring forth, suited to the various cases of such who are under their care.”
Some things are laid up to ripen in our hearts to be brought out in due season. Other things, like fresh vegetables gathered from the garden, are best served up immediately. But the faithful man keeps nothing back. He does not confine his provision for the family of God to a single aspect of gospel truth, but sets forth Christ crucified by declaring all the counsel of God. He is neither weary of the old, nor afraid of the new. Old truth is made new by a living experience; and the faithful man brings forth the old, old truths of Holy Scripture as new things, because he has experienced them new in his own soul.
The word “new” means “fresh.” Faithful preachers do not serve up leftovers. They diligently seek God’s message for his people, that they might feed them with knowledge and understanding. C. H. Spurgeon’s comments on verse 52, in my opinion, precisely convey our Lord’s intent.
“We must in our instruction of others cultivate variety, but we must not aim at it by poisoning the children with deadly drugs for the sake of giving them novel dishes. Only things worth putting into a treasury are worth bringing forth to the household. That scribe had need be well instructed who has to keep on handing out a variety of precious truth throughout a long life.
Lord, make us sufficient for these things. Instruct as, that we may instruct our household. May we make no reserve for self, but bring out for thy people all that which thou hast put in our charge. Oh, to be accepted of thee in the day of thy return, because found faithful to our trust!”