THEME: A Warning
Jesus’ parable tells us that the final separation of the saved from the unsaved is awning.
Matthew 13:47-50
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away 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 fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Having yesterday looked at the repetition of this parable with several earlier ones, we now have a problem. What does the seventh parable teach that has not already been taught by the second? That is, why (in view of the earlier parable) is this one included? It is true, as we have indicated, that the others also involve repetition. But each, nevertheless, adds something new. The first two speak of sowing, but the first focuses on the kind of soil into which the seed falls, whereas the second focuses on the devil’s work in sowing harmful seed. Similarly, the devil is described as active in parables two, three, and four, but in each case he is doing something different. Is there anything new in this last parable? Is there anything we would lose if it were not included?
The only element that might possibly be conceived of as new is the image of fishing, and it is tempting to think here of how Christ called fishermen to be his disciples: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). We would like to think that the new element is our role in drawing men and women into the gospel net. But that is not the way Jesus interprets the parable. He compares the fishermen to angels, not to his earthly messengers. And the setting is not the time in which the church carries the gospel throughout the world, but the final judgment.
So what is new about the seventh parable? The mixture of fish in the gospel net? That is in the parable of the wheat and the tares. The angels’ work? The separation? The terrible end of the wicked? Those elements are in the earlier parable as well.
As we make the comparisons, there is a point at which the repetition itself becomes the “new” thing, and the unique emphasis of the parable begins to be seen not only in what is repeated but in what is left out. Think of the elements of the other parables that are not present. There is no explanation of how the fish got into the water in the first place. There is no emphasis upon their growth or lack of it. There are no human workers, not even a devil. The only thing we have is the separation of the good fish from the bad, the wicked from the righteous, and the suffering of those who are cast into the fiery furnace. Therefore, I believe that the “new” element is the warning to the wicked. Their fate has already been described, but it was mixed in with other elements. Here it stands out for the simple reason that it is conspicuously alone.
It is as though Jesus is saying with all possible emphasis: “There is a coming judgment, a separation, and the fate of the ungodly will be terrible in that day.”
Jesus’ picture of the final judgment as a separation of good from bad fish (or a separation of wheat from tares) hits upon the essential nature of judgment, for the word “judgment” means to separate. In Hebrew, as in English, judgment refers chiefly to the work of a judge or lawgiver. But one meaning of the Hebrew word is “to discriminate” or make distinctions, and in Greek “judgment” (krisis) literally means “to divide.” A crisis is something that confronts you with a choice; you must respond by going in one direction or another.
Jesus talked about judgment in that way. In later parables there is a separation between the five wise and five foolish virgins, the faithful and unfaithful servants, the sheep and the goats. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the point is made explicitly: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26).


What is the problem in understanding the seventh parable?
Identify the new element in the parable. Why does it stand out?
What does the word “judgment” mean in Hebrew and in Greek? How does Jesus use the word?


It is as though Jesus is saying with all possible emphasis: “There is a coming judgment, a separation, and the fate of the ungodly will be terrible in that day.”

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