“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50). We come to last parable in Matthew 13, beginning again with this word again. Perhaps Jesus is trying to tell us that He’s saying the same thing in different ways: kingdom of heaven is like a seed, like a seed planter, like yeast, like a merchant, and now…like a net. Similar to the wheat growing up with weeds, the kingdom of heaven as a net brings in a full catch; the good will be separated from the bad but not until the end.
We’ve seen this before: we are not the ones that sort out the good from the bad. Just as Jesus explains in regard to the wheat and the weeds (in Matthew 13: 41-43), angels come to separate wheat from weed, good fish from bad fish and toss the bad into the furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This phrase comes up seven times in the New Testament, six in Matthew, once in Luke. Some have suggested that the phrase connotes regret or remorse; others argue that this phrase, particularly the ‘gnashing of teeth’ part, is indicative of anger, rage or pain. Either way, it seems that the ‘bad fish’, like the weeds – that is, those who do not belong to Christ – will be plucked from the kingdom of heaven. The point, though, is not to scare people into the kingdom but that right now, the kingdom of heaven is open to everyone. The net catches all fish; all seeds are given a chance to grow. And though Jesus’ parable series in this chapter ends with a dire warning, it is in the context of Him having searched high and low for pearls of great price (us) and then giving up all He had, including His life, to get them.
And Jesus closes His teaching time, which began with a parable about scattered seeds, with a reference to His enemies: He asks His disciples if they’ve understood ‘all this’ and they answer in the affirmative, seemingly without a second thought, and He responds” “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52, emphasis mine). The scribes, in Jesus’ time, are His enemies, like the Pharisees; but the biblical ‘office,’ if you will, of scribe started out as good – one of the first great men of God to follow the last prophets, Ezra, was also called Ezra the scribe, and he was followed by Nehemiah. What starts out good, just as what appears to be good, can go bad, whether it’s a seed, some bread, a fish or an office like that of scribe. But the reverse is also true – that which appears or starts out bad can ‘go good.’ It is in God’s longsuffering mercy that the bad will not be sorted from the good until the very end of the age.