This article is a Bible study on Matthew 13:47-50.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2011. 3 pages.

The Parable of the Net

Read Matthew 13:47-52

The Scenery🔗

The Parable of the Net is the seventh parable in Matthew 13. It paints a picture of a dragnet that catches all kinds of fish. The net is then unloaded on the shore and the fish are sorted. The good are stored in vessels while the bad are thrown away.

Fishing in Bible times – as today – could be done in dif­ferent ways. When Christ instructed Peter to catch a fish and look in its mouth for a coin, he referred to the kind of fishing that would be done with a line and a hook (Matt. 17:27). A second way used a casting net – a circular net with a cord that would close the opening and trap the fish. This was the method Peter and Andrew were using when Christ called them to follow Him (Matt. 4:18). The dragnet referred to in our text is known today as a trawl net. In Christ’s time, these long and wide nets could reach up to half a mile wide. They would be attached behind one or more boats. The top of the net would have floats attached to it, while the bottom would have weights. As the boats moved through the water, the dragnet would catch everything in its way. Silently, almost imperceptibly, the net passes through the water and gathers fish. Most of the time, these nets are there one moment and gone the next. They move at the determination of the vessel’s captain. The net travels first through one part of the sea, then through another. It may be here today and somewhere else tomorrow. Such a net could bring in any size or kind of fish, unclean or clean, living or dead fish (v. 47).

Next, Christ pictures the net coming to shore and the fishermen sorting the good fish into containers while the bad are discarded. This scene would have been very familiar to those listening to these parables. Even children regularly watched fishermen of their village sit down next to their catch, sorting out the fish.

The Substance🔗

What is the main message that Christ wants to teach us by this parable? Its opening makes clear that Christ is giving us a picture of one aspect of the “kingdom of heaven” (v. 47). We could define His kingdom as the realm where He gath­ers people in order to rule them graciously by His Word and Spirit. However, this realm contains a mixture of those who profess to belong to the kingdom but in their hearts do not truly belong there. Just as the first parable in this chapter shows that only one of the four soils produced good fruit, so this parable shows that there are “good fish” and “bad fish” in how the kingdom of heaven appears.

At the Lord’s behest, the kingdom of heaven moves rather interceptibly through the world. It gathers within it not only true subjects of the kingdom but also others like Judas, Ana­nias and Sapphira, Demas, and many others who were indeed in the kingdom but the kingdom is not in them. There are essentially two separations in this parable: the first is by the net and the second is on the shore.

Christ explicitly explains what the separation on the shore refers to.

So shall it be in the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.Matthew 13:49

Notice that He unpacks the difference between the good and bad fish as between “the wicked” and “the just.” This is not simply a division between the good and the bad, for then there would be only one good – Jesus Christ – and everyone else would be cast away. On the basis of the rest of Scripture we can say that the just are those who have been justified by a true and living faith (see Rom. 5:9). These just were just as wicked as the rest by nature; however, they have been acquitted before the court of God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, offered on their behalf. After all, the parable is ultimately focused on the judgment. The Lord is speaking about a separation that will take place at the end of the world (v. 49). At the final judgment, it will clearly appear who Christ has redeemed from the curse of the law.

Christ specifically mentions the angels. Among the vari­ous tasks that angels have been given there is that of divid­ing between believers and unbelievers at the judgment (see Matt. 13:41, Matt. 25:31-32). As faithful, holy, and spiritual beings, they will discharge their duty swiftly and exactly. They will separate according to God’s standard. What a per­fect separation that will be! Not one wicked person will make it into heaven; not one of God’s saved people will accidentally be lost in hell. No person will plead his own case. All that matters is what orders the Lord has given to the angels, and Christ is revealing that to us here.

This is the substance of what Christ was teaching in this parable.

The Searchlight🔗

There are a number of ways in which the parable searches our hearts. It puts to us the following questions:

1. Are we content merely to be among the professing peo­ple of God?🔗

There are untold numbers of people who are content to be in the net. They look at those outside the professing church and pride themselves that they are comfortably heading into the future. They think all is well simply because there are other professing Christians nearby and believe that they are heading to the same place. Paul warned the Corinthians,

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not ... that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?2 Cor. 13:5

This is what Christ is warning us of in this parable.

2. Do we see ourselves as God sees us?🔗

The great dividing line between the two groups of fish was between good and bad (literally, clean and unclean). God is not concerned about what we tend to be concerned about – size and beauty. His eye sees the slightest trace of defilement. By nature, we are dead, spiritually, and God looks at us as we would look at dead and rotting fish, and even worse. While still in this life, we need to begin to see ourselves as God sees us and we need to value what He val­ues. The Bible makes clear that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

When God works in our lives by His Spirit, He gives us to see something of the fountain of uncleanness within our hearts and we turn away in horror. We begin to question: “Is that how I truly am?” But then He shows us His dear Son, who was “holy, harmless and undefiled” (Heb. 7:26), and we begin to understand what God’s standard is. He then also begins to show us that, through faith in His well-beloved Son, we can receive all we need in order to be justified and sanctified. He does something that never happens in the world of fish: an unclean, defiled, dead sinner is renewed and remade after the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ went through death and the judgment of God in order that He would forever remove His people from the wrath and judgment of God. Do we value God’s Son? Do we value His righteousness and holiness?

3. Do we reckon with the truth of hell?🔗

Hell is a doctrine that many have tried to eliminate from the Bible. More people say they believe in heaven than in hell, and most people who believe in hell think they are not going there. However, Christ is teaching the doctrine of hell in this parable:

And shall cast them into the fur­nace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.Matthew 13:50

Here and elsewhere, Christ is very graphic while describing hell as a place of torment for both body and soul. There will be darkness and fire, suffering and screaming, gnashing of teeth and endless torment. If you have never before reckoned with this reality of hell, Christ is bringing it before you in this parable. Unless we flee from the wrath to come, it will come upon us without mitigation, relief, or remedy – forever!

The Savior🔗

If we truly reckon with the truth of hell and that we all deserve it by nature, what then? We need to flee for mercy to the One telling this parable. The righteous in the parable will avoid hell because of the perfect righteousness of Christ, who has endured hell for them. Many think the doctrine of hell goes against the idea of the love of God and the compassion of the Savior. However, the Lord Jesus Himself spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. He addressed it in the day of grace, urging us to flee to Him. What parent would never warn his children of fire – how hot it is and how fatal it can be? Christ warns us as the One who would suffer hell for each one of His people.

Some people think that we should not seek the Lord merely out of fear of hell. But if the Lord sanctifies the doc­trine of hell to us so that we flee from the wrath to come, let it be the first step away from the precipice of hell and into the arms of Him who gives His people heaven with Him forever (Luke 3:7).


  1. Compare and contrast the first (the Sower) and last parable (the Net) of this chapter. What do you observe?
  2. Mention five points of correspondence between how things work with the dragnet and the kingdom of heaven.
  3. This parable mentions the angels. What are some of the other works of angels in the Bible and what significance does it have that God uses the angels in the judgment?
  4. Examine how often and graphically Christ spoke about hell. Why did He do this? How can so many deny or push aside what He taught?
  5. What comfort is there for believers in this parable? Mention three things.

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