Matthew 13:47-50 NIV“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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It was the most natural thing in the world that Jesus should use illustrations from fishing when he was speaking to fishermen. It was as if he said to them: “Look how your daffy work speaks to you of the things of heaven.”

In Palestine there were two main ways of fishing. One was with the casting-net, the amphiblestron. It was a hand-net which was cast from the shore. The second way of fishing was with the drag-net, the sagene, what we would call the seine net or the trawl. This is the way referred to in this parable. The seine net was a great square net with cords at each corner, and weighted so that, at rest, it hung, as it were, upright in the water. When the boat began to move, the net was drawn into the shape of a great cone and into the cone all kinds of fish were swept.

The net was then drawn to land, and the catch was separated. The useless material was flung away; the good was put into containers. It is interesting to note that sometimes the fish were put alive into containers rifled with water. There was no other way to transport them in freshness over any time or any distance.

1. Here is the parable itself. Where note,

(1.) The world is a vast sea, and the children of men are things creeping innumerable, both small and great, in that sea, Ps. 104:25. Men in their natural state are like the fishes of the sea that have no ruler over them, Hab. 1:14.

(2.) The preaching of the gospel is the casting of a net into this sea, to catch something out of it, for his glory who has the sovereignty of the sea. Ministers are fishers of men, employed in casting and drawing this net; and then they speed, when at Christ’s word they let down the net; otherwise, they toil and catch nothing.

(3.) This net gathers of every kind, as large dragnets do. In the visible church there is a deal of trash and rubbish, dirt and weeds and vermin, as well as fish.

(4.) There is a time coming when this net will be full, and drawn to the shore; a set time when the gospel shall have fulfilled that for which it was sent, and we are sure it shall not return void, Isa. 55:10, 11. The net is now filling; sometimes it fills faster than at other times, but still it fills, and will be drawn to shore, when the mystery of God shall be finished.

(5.) When the net is full and drawn to the shore, there shall be a separation between the good and bad that were gathered in it. Hypocrites and true Christians shall then be parted; the good shall be gathered into vessels, as valuable, and therefore to be carefully kept, but the bad shall be cast away, as vile and unprofitable; and miserable is the condition of those who are cast away in that day.

While the net is in the sea, it is not known what is in it, the fishermen themselves cannot distinguish; but they carefully draw it, and all that is in it, to the shore, for the sake of the good that is in it. Such is God’s care for the visible church, and such should ministers? concern be for those under their charge, though they are mixed.

2. Here is the explanation of the latter part of the parable, the former is obvious and plain enough: we see gathered in the visible church, some of every kind: but the latter part refers to that which is yet to come, and is therefore more particularly explained, Matt. 13:49-50. So shall it be at the end of the world; then, and not till then, will the dividing, discovering day be. We must not look for the net full of all good fish; the vessels will be so, but in the net they are mixed. See here,

(1.) The distinguishing of the wicked from the righteous. The angels of heaven shall come forth to do that which the angels of the churches could never do; they shall sever the wicked from among the just; and we need not ask how they will distinguish them when they have both their commission and their instructions from him that knows all men, and particularly knows them that are his, and them that are not, and we may be sure there shall be no mistake or blunder either way.

(2.) The doom of the wicked when they are thus severed. They shall be cast into the furnace, Note, Everlasting misery and sorrow will certainly be the portion of those who live among sanctified ones, but themselves die unsanctified. This is the same with what we had before, Matt. 13:42. Note, Christ himself preached often of hell-torments, as the everlasting punishment of hypocrites; and it is good for us to be often reminded of this awakening, quickening truth.

Matthew Henry’s Complete CommentaryWilliam Barclay’s Daily Study Bible