Separation of the Wicked from the Righteous
47"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When 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. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Jesus tells one more parable about the kingdom of heaven: "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" (vss. 47-48). Jesus also gives an interpretation of the last part of this parable: "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 fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vss. 49-50). This parable keeps with the theme of all of the parables in this chapter, that is, the intermingling of the righteous and wicked in this world. In the last part of the parable, Jesus speaks of the divisional judgment of these men, when the wicked are thrown into the "fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Note that when Jesus speaks of the "fiery furnace", this is the interpretation of the parable. The "fiery furnace" is not part of the parable, but part of reality. The punishment of the wicked is real, and horrid. The Lord of the Universe has stated that it is real. "Those who would have us think lightly of the punishment of the ungodly have no countenance in the teachings of the Lord Jesus" [Spurgeon, on vss. 49,50].
Jesus tells us that the final separation of the wicked from the righteous will take place "at the end of the age." Until then, of course, the wicked and righteous share this world. The "righteous" are not righteous by their own merits, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Rather, they are those who have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, through faith in His atoning sacrifice on the cross. The "wicked" are those who have not accepted the divine forgiveness offered freely to them, and so, they will be judged on their own merits; and on those merits, they will come up short.
Jesus does not give us an interpretation of the first part of the parable, where the gathering of the fish into the net takes place. We will assume that the gathering into the net is the preaching of the Gospel, in an attempt to draw people into the fellowship of believers. Note that the gathering into the net seemed successful, for the net was full. However, the success was not as great as it seemed, for there were many bad fish that were gathered in. In the same way, churches often mistakenly count success in terms of attendance. But the success of a church should be measured by the quality of believers, not the quantity of attendees.
Understanding Jesus’ Teachings
51"Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked.
"Yes," they replied. 52He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."
After He finished telling His disciples the parables, Jesus asked them: "Have you understood these things?" The disciples replied: "Yes." Hmm. If the disciples truly understood all of the parables correctly, I sure wish they had given us an interpretation of all of them! As we have pointed out in our discussion of the parables in this chapter, there are many disputes as to the proper way to interpret them.
A possible motive for Jesus asking this question was to impress upon us the importance of understanding His teachings, beyond merely hearing His teachings. "The mere form of hearing a sermon can profit no man, unless he comprehends what it means… His intellect must be set in motion, and his heart impressed: ideas must be received into his mind; he must carry off the seeds of new thoughts. Without this he hears in vain… There are thousands who go regularly to places of worship, and think they have done their religious duty, but never carry away an idea, or receive an impression… Let us take with us to church, not only our bodies, but our minds, our reason, our hearts, and our consciences" [Ryle, 155]. And then, once we have understood the teachings of our Lord, we are to go beyond understanding and apply His teaching to our lives.
In addition, we are to share our understanding with others: "He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old’" (vs. 52). Having understood, we are to be hospitable with our knowledge, and give it freely to others. "Fresh knowledge, Christ is saying, carries fresh responsibility" [Thomas, on vs. 52].
Actually, Jesus, in this case, is speaking to the "teachers of the law" who are instructed in the teachings of the Old Testament. Having heard and understood Jesus’ teachings, they were to bring out "new treasures as well as old." They were to still teach the truths of the Old Testament, as well as teach the truths of the Gospel.
Jesus in His Hometown
53When Jesus had finished these parables, He moved on from there. 54Coming to His hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?" they asked. 55"Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56Aren’t all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57And they took offense at Him.
But Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor."
58And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
"When Jesus had finished these parables, He moved on from there" (vs. 53). Jesus was always on the move, making the most of His short time on earth.
"Coming to His hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all His sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’ And they took offense at Him" (vss. 54-57). Here we have a classic case of familiarity breeding contempt. Despite the wisdom of His teachings, and despite His astonishing miraculous powers, both of which the people acknowledged, rather than worshipping Him, they took "offense at Him." "This episode shows how easily men are made willing to oppose truth if it happens to go contrary to their own preconceived ideas and inclinations" [Thomas, 210]. They weren’t expecting the Messiah to come from their hometown Nazareth, and so Jesus (in their eyes) could not be worthy of respect.
Jesus responded to His treatment in Nazareth: "But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor’" (vs. 57). There seems to be a bit jealousy in the townspeople’s reaction to Jesus. They took offense, thinking, "Well, I’m from Nazareth. Why wasn’t I given such powers, such wisdom?" We should learn from this not to despise God’s work on those who are close to us, not to be jealous of God’s anointing upon our family members or close friends. We should rather rejoice in the work of God in those around us, and support them in their service to our Lord.
The offense they took was only to their detriment: "And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith" (vs. 58). "The despising of Christ turns to the disadvantage of the despiser. Despising of the ministers prejudges men of the blessing of the ministry, and misbelief is punished by the Lord’s hiding His power from the misbeliever" [Dickson, on vs. 58]. "Unbelief bound His hands. Why should He spend His sacred energy among a people who would not be profited thereby?" [Spurgeon, 185].