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Eternity 125 - The Dragnet

(Matthew 13:47-50 NKJV) "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, {48} "which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. {49} "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, {50} "and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."

(Matthew 7:15-23 NKJV) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' {23} "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

The kingdom of heaven is a two stage redemptive process. The kingdom temporarily permits an invasion of the evil (Matthew 11:11-13), a planting of the tares, the catching of bad fish. This mixture of good and evil is then sorted out by the angels at the end of the age. In this present age the kingdom of heaven is impure. This is the time of growth and harvest, but in the time of reaping, in the time the dragnet will be pulled in, then the kingdom of heaven will be purified.

The image of the dragnet is used in Habakkuk to describe the terrible indiscriminate slaughter of the Babylonians: (Habakkuk 1:14-17 NKJV) Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? {15} They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. {16} Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. {17} Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity?

The dragnet is the indiscriminate catch-all. It treats all alike, rich and poor, slave and free, high and low, they are all caught in the net. The Church catches all nations, all types of people - and this is good and positive, because in the Kingdom being rich or poor, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, is of absolutely no consequence. In the end the whole pile of world-wide humanity (the nations of Habb 1:17) is sorted into just two piles - the righteous - who are gathered up into vessels, and the wicked - who are cast into eternal fire.

Thus Jesus is saying that the church in its present diverse "catch-all" indiscriminate form is the ante-room of eternity, not the final destination. Its the boat where the fish are caught, not the landing stage where they are sorted out. Jesus is also saying that despite the apparent diversity the church is only ultimately composed of two types of people - good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, good fish and bad fish, good fruits or bad fruits, the righteous and the wicked, the sheep and the goats, people who inherit eternal life or people who are tormented forever. Its a stark, eternal, utterly binary division. In the same pew at church are people of eternal glory and people who will become an eternal horror. Many of these will protest their eternal destiny, arrogantly sure of their own salvation while actually being "workers of iniquity". (Matthew 7:15-23)

The good fish are separated from the bad fish on the basis of their manifest behaviour which indicates the kind of life that dwells within them. If a person really possesses eternal life then the good life will show in "good fruit" - good deeds done in righteousness. They will act like the "sheep" in Matthew 25, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, being kind to the poor etc. Their new life, the new creation in them, will shine through in way they live. The good tree - the inner nature, the born-again by grace through faith person, will do good works as a natural result of the life of Christ within them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast. {10} For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

On the other hand, the wicked show their inner nature by producing "bad fruit", working iniquity, neglecting those in need and acting like the stunned "goats" of Matthew 25 who seem to have only lived for themselves. Most wicked people disguise their "wolfish" agenda (Matt 7:15)because it is socially unacceptable. They are frequently hypocrites - literally "actors" who put on a show for others, and such people like to live "on stage". But no matter how good their performance is the fruit tastes funny, its bad fruit and they are bad fish. Underneath people sense that the wicked are selfish and predatory, and though they may fool us they cannot fool God or the angels and in the end they will be utterly rejected.

The mixed-up state of the church is not unknown to God and he will quite literally "sort it out". We won't have to tolerate the wicked in the kingdom of heaven forever. But on this side of things this mixture of good and evil can be very confusing! In the midst of the heresies and confusion in the first century church Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy: (2 Timothy 2:15-19 NKJV) Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. {16} But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. {17} And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, {18} who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. {19} Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity."

While we dwell in this age, "in the dragnet" and the church contains heretics such as Hymenaeus and Philetus and good teachers like Paul and Timothy how are we to react? Paul recommends four things: First teach the truth, rightly dividing the Scriptures. Secondly reject the rubbish, having nothing to do with fables and idle babblings. Thirdly trust God to know those who are His. Don't try and sort people out ourselves, we don't need to tell the Omniscient One who is in and who is out. Lastly we are not to be smug or casual about our salvation but to depart from iniquity ourselves and to live holy lives consistent with the name of Christ. Thus true Christians combine right doctrine and right living with a humble avoidance of error and iniquity.

Finally this parable should put to rest two false ideas of salvation. The first wrong idea is that all church-members are saved, that all who turn up at church also turn up in heaven. It is quite clear from this parable that more are in the dragnet, the present form of kingdom, than will end up with God in heaven. In fact many church members will be cast out. In Matthew 7:21-23 many professing Christians who claim to do miracles in Christ's name will be cast out. Church membership, even active church membership is no guarantee of salvation. You need to be righteous - with the righteousness of Christ. Secondly it puts paid to the idea of universal salvation - that everyone gets in, even unbelievers, because all were saved by Christ's death on the cross. If this was so then who are those Jesus speaks of "at the end of the age"- the wicked, the hypocrites and those cast into eternal hellfire? Who are those that weep and wail and gnash their teeth at their terrible fate? Jesus is not speaking of an abstract principle here. It is real men and women who will face judgment. The dragnet may be indiscriminate but the angels will be careful in their sorting out. The unrepentant wicked do not make it into the final and eternal kingdom of God.