47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
I once heard of an elderly man and his grandson walking through an open air market. They passed a fish stall. The elderly man said, “Those fish are Baptist fish.” His grandson asked him how he knew. “Because,” he answered, “they spoil so quickly once you get them out of the water.”
Well now! That may be fair or unfair, I do not know. But this much is clear: Jesus did indeed liken the kingdom to a fishing net that had to be sorted through and sorted out. It is a fascinating image, and one with powerful implications for how we understand the Kingdom and the world.
Kingdom sorting will come in the fullness of time.
The first things we notice is that the sorting at the end of the age will occur in God’s perfect timing.
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.
The imagery of the parable is clear enough. It is an image that would have been easily understood in the original context in which Jesus spoke, especially among some of his own disciples who were fishermen by trade. Jesus likens the kingdom to “a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” The ESV Study Bible observes:
The net, shaped like a long wall, was dragged toward shore by both ends, trapping fish of every kind. sorted. Fish without scales and fins, e.g., were considered bad and unclean (cf. Lev. 11:9–12).
We may think of smaller nets cast from boats, but this is obviously a picture of a much larger net. Another point of interest is the phrase “fish of every kind” in reference to what was found in the net. Craig Blomberg points out that “fish of every kind” “is, more literally, all races, a strange way of speaking of fish but a natural way of emphasizing the universality of God’s judgment of people.” That this parable is about the people’s of the earth will be made clear in verse 49.
What is interesting is to see when the dragnet will be brought to shore. Verse 48 tells us it will happen “[w]hen the net is full.” In other words, it will happen at just the right time, at the precise moment when God knows the time is right. We are speaking here of the idea of “the fullness of time,” a concept mentioned by Paul Galatians 4
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…
There “the fullness of time” refers to coming of Jesus, but the fullness of time applies to final judgment as well: “When it was full…”
We must be ever mindful of this. The Lord is not like Indiana Jones, making it up as He goes. He has meticulous knowledge of when the fullness of time will be, when the net will be full. The sorting that will happen will happen in God’s perfect timing.
Kingdom sorting will reveal.
And Kingdom sorting will be revelatory in nature.
48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
The imagery of the parable is powerful. The net, submerged in water, will be drawn “ashore.” Not only that, the contents will be examined. Then the contents will be sorted, with a separation of “the evil from the righteous.”
What is telling is that the drawing of the net ashore is necessary for the final sorting of the evil and the righteous, for, until that happens, the deeds of men appear all alike beneath the murky waterline. They are not hidden from God, of course, but human beings, to some extent, can disguise their true natures from one another.
And yet, there will be a revelation one day of our true deeds, our true natures. All will be brought to light. Patrick Henry Reardon, commenting on this passage, writes:
As long as the net is concealed under the water, the bad and good fish are mixed together, like the wheat and the weeds, and the sheep and the goats. The Day of Judgment comes, however, when the net is dragged up onto the shore, and its contents are made perfectly clear.
In Christ we are covered and shielded by His blood and rendered justified before God on the basis of Christ’s work and intercession. Even so, we must ask ourselves this painful question: would I want to the true content of my character to be drug ashore and examined by angelic hosts in the full piercing light of the glory of God.
We speak of some light being “unflattering.” We might buy that we can hide our imperfections in some kinds of light. The glory of God, in terms of human sinfulness, is the most “unflattering” of all. It reveals, painfully, the reality of our hearts. It is piercing in what it shows.
Again I ask: how does the thought of the reality of your life being made manifest on the shores of the Kingdom in the hot light of God’s glory make you feel? Is anything hidden that you do not want revealed? There will be a sorting, but, first, there will be a revealing.
Kingdom sorting will separate.
There will be a revealing. There will be a sorting. Then there will be a separating.
49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
My goodness what a picture! Who does the separating in final judgment? “The angels.” And what will be the nature of this separation? “The evil” will be cast “into the fiery furnace.” “The good” are “sorted…into containers” (v.48). This is essentially the same image of final judgment we find in Matthew 25.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
It is also the same image used earlier in Matthew 13 of the wheat and the weeds.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
I am concerned about the current drift in evangelicalism away from the idea of this final separation of the saved and unsaved. Under the influence of theologians like David Bentley Hart there has been an increase in adherents to universalism, the idea that all will be saved. The question is not whether or not one likes the doctrine of hell. I do not like the doctrine of hell. Who does? The question is whether or not hell is real, whether or not Jesus believed in it, and whether or not Jesus warned us about it. And, clearly, Jesus does.
But notice that time and time again Jesus warns of this final, eschatological separation: of the lost and the saved, the clean and the unclean fish, the wheat and the weeds, the sheep and the goats, those on the narrow road to salvation and those on the broad path to destruction, etc.
In the parable of the dragnet, those who are “evil” are cast into “the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The imagery is powerful and chilling.
In Umberto Eco’s novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the character Yambo, in a coma, tries to ascertain whether or not he is dead and in hell. He reflects on hell and concludes, “Being flayed in boiling pitch is not hell. You reflect on the evil you have done, you can never again free yourself from it, and you know it.” That is not a bad way of approaching the doctrine of hell.
And notice the note of finality about this final separation. Jesus communicates no hope of the evil escaping this fiery furnace. B.H. Carroll once said, “The lost are forever lost, and hell admits of no evangelism.” Tragically this appears to be the case.
A final comment on the last words of our text:
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Michael Card points out that these words are unique to Matthew and constitute a rare positive statement by Jesus about scribes. Notice that this statement follows Jesus’ question about their understanding of what He said as well as their affirmative answer (no matter how genuine one might think their answer to be!). Then Jesus speaks of the scribe who has been “trained for the kingdom” as being “like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
These words following fast on the heels of the disciples’ confession that they understand the words of Jesus leads us to the conclusion that the “scribes” to whom Jesus is referring are all of His followers who hear and receive His words and grow in their understanding of the Kingdom and the King. This, then, is an encouragement to study, to growth, to sitting long at the feet of Jesus and to listening well and receptively to His teachings. Be that scribe of the Kingdom that Jesus commends! Then you too will be able to bring forth the treasures of Kingdom truth for others.
 Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 118276-118278). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
 Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew (The New American Commentary) (p. 224). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Umberto Eco. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (New York: Harcourt Inc., 2004, p.308.
 B.H. Carroll. Ecclesia. The Baptist Distinctives Series, Number 38 (Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2006), p.61.
 Michael Card. Matthew. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), p.131.