© 02.07.09 By D. Eric Williams
When we approach the Bible in order to understand its doctrine, we cannot begin with an agenda - a preconceived notion or an attempt to force the text to prove what we already believe. In other words, we cannot impose our theology or our pet doctrinal paradigm on the Scripture. We must let the Bible speak for itself. Our job is to attempt to understand it as the original audience would have understood it and then make application. We often want to make an application according to our preferred interpretive model and then force the text to fit.
The first step in allowing the Bible to speak for itself is to recognize the context. Context includes (at least), the historical setting (especially in light of the cross of Christ), the cultural situation (including the socio-political, the religious, the economic circumstances and so on), and the ministry of the speaker or writer (meaning the target audience; this may be the countrymen of the speaker or writer, it may be a future audience, an audience foreign to the culture of the speaker and so forth.). These considerations are crucial to a proper understanding of the Bible, including the parables of Jesus Christ - and perhaps especially important to our current selection.
In this article we are looking at the parable of the Dragnet:
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:47-50)
A threefold approach to this parable is obvious. We have the net, the catch and the sort.
The parable of the wheat and tares informed us that the sower is Jesus himself, the field is the world, the good seed represents the subjects of the kingdom and the tares sown by the adversary are subjects of the kingdom of darkness. In that parable the kingdom was portrayed as a passive thing which endured an invasion and the attempt to subvert the authority of the master.
In the parable concerning the dragnet the kingdom of God is presented as an aggressive entity in that it is shown to actually gather (by force in a sense), both good and bad.
Allow me to pause to remind you that the Church or the assembly of God is not the same as the kingdom of God.
The Church came into being as a fellowship of the covenant community in society, a witness to the kingdom. But the movement of the kingdom is larger than the fellowship of believers. The dragnet is the total impact of the kingdom in society, in the world, influencing people for God. Many will benefit from the grace of God and his kingdom action the world who do not identify with him by faith and partake of the fellowship of his people. (Augsburger, The Communicator's Commentary: Matthew, 180).
It is easy to make the mistake of assuming that Christ has the church or the community of God in mind when he delivers his parable. The community of God always has some unconverted people in it. But in this parable we are looking at something greater than the Church.
Another point we need to keep before us as we study this parable is the time frame. The time frame makes it easier to understand the idea of the kingdom of God as it is conceived by Jesus Christ in his parable. As we shall see this parable is concerned with first century events - with application of the principles contained therein to our day and age and indeed the final judgment. I'm going to wait until the end to flesh out that idea so don't get hung up on it right now. Don't let that distract you; we will deal with it in due time. Moreover we will look at the application of these principles to the final judgment because they do in fact apply to that event as well.
But in order to understand this parable properly we need to place in its proper context. Thus, Christ came preaching the kingdom and indeed he is the sower in the parable of the field. This means he is the one who brings the word of the kingdom and brings into being the kingdom as he "plants" the subjects of the kingdom in this world. Therefore we know that Jesus Christ has in focus here his own ministry. Truly all else in our system of belief depends upon the ministry of Jesus Christ. Therefore if we hope to understand Chrit's rule in this age we must come to grips with His ministry at the end of the old covenant age.
In Matthew 10:6 we read Christ's instructions to His disciples as they prepared to go out and preach the kingdom:
Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-6)
And again, His reply to the woman of Canaan who begged Him to cast a demon out of her daughter:
But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Matthew 15:24)
We too often overlook this center of the ministry of Jesus Christ. What we tend to ignore is that Jesus did not have in mind a world wide ministry while he was here on earth. He knew of course that the kingdom of God - the reign of the Messiah - was intended to be world wide. Christ acknowledges this fact just prior to his ascension when he said to his disciples that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to him (Matthew 28:18). But at the time that this parable was given Jesus had not accomplished the things that he had come to earth to do. And if we want to understand what it is that Jesus hoped to accomplish we need to recognize that he had a very specific for Ross to his ministry. That emphasis was to fulfill the law and the prophets - indeed to fulfill all the things concerning the covenant. His ministry was to fulfill the promises given to Abraham concerning the land. His ministry was to fulfill the promises given to David concerning the kingdom. His ministry was to fill the promises given to Israel concerning a ministry as a nation of priests unto God. You see, Jesus Christ came to fulfill all of the promises and covenant realities that had been given to the people of God over the course of centuries.
We often lose sight of the fact that the promises given to the people of God under the old covenant administration all found a fulfillment in a type. For instance the promise of an everlasting kingdom was fulfilled in David and his descendants. But because David and his progeny were merely types and the fulfillment was likewise a type and therefore not complete. If it were complete that it would no longer be a type. In the same fashion the promise concerning the land was fulfilled in the days of Joshua and perhaps we might say more so in the days of Solomon. But again, because that fulfillment was a type it was not complete. The complete fulfillment concerning the Promised Land extends beyond the area known as Palestine. The complete fulfillment of the Davidic promise of kingship extends beyond the 12 tribes of Israel and is a world wide kingship. Likewise the land promised to the world wide promise.
According to Matthew Jesus was also the antitype of Israel itself. Out of Egypt God called his son and that prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus leaving Egypt with Joseph and Mary, having fled to that land to avoid detection by Herod the Great. Hence, Jesus fulfills Israel. And part of the fulfillment of Israel is to be that priest before God.
Israel was called by God to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6). God intended to draw people into himself through the ministration of his priestly people Israel. Likewise Jesus was given the ministry of drying a people unto himself out of humanity he would be caught up in that fulfillment of the priestly promise.
Thus when we read about the life of Jesus Christ we must keep in mind that his was not a ministry to us. He was ministering in the first century to Jews "exclusively." It is very important for us to understand this so that we can see what it is that Jesus was all about. If we recognize that his ministry was to the Jewish people it is easier for us to understand that he fulfilled all the hopes and aspirations of Israel. We see in the subsequent theological development of the New Testament that the completion of that work opens the door to the Gentiles as well. But that door could not open without a completion and fulfillment of the old covenant administration. In other words, God wrapped up all the loose ends of the old covenant administration in the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. Once that had been accomplished, then the salvific character of Christ's ministry could be applied to all of mankind.
Therefore we have Israel called to be the priest of God to the nations (Exodus 19:5-6, Exodus 15:27, Deuteronomy 4:6-7), and something of a fulfillment in Solomon as the nations recognize the wisdom of God's king and his people (1 Kings 4:34 see also Daniel 1:20-21, 2:48-49). It was Christ that had to fulfill Israel - to be all that Israel was supposed to be. And this had to take place before the Gospel was presented to the Gentile nations.
You see, Israel was no kind of a priest at all. Instead they were a people who continually apostatized, a people who disobeyed, at people who were self-seeking and sinful. Because of this Israel never really was a kingdom of priests.
What I want you to see here is that Jesus earthly ministry was to Israel and all about Israel. We Gentile Christians came later and were grafted into the Israel that Christ brought into being when he fulfilled all the covenant stipulations. In a word Israel was greatly enlarged once Christ had brought together all the loose ends of the old covenant administration and accomplished all of the many things that God had intended for his people. This is why Paul can say that all of God's promises are yes and Jesus Christ (two Corinthians 1:20). Nowhere does Paul say that all of God's promises are yes in Israel or yes in Abraham or yes in David. That is because Israel, Abraham and David are all brought to fulfillment and completion in the true seed of Abraham the true Israel and the true Davidic reign.
Hence this parable (and everything else Jesus did while on earth), is focused on first century Jews. Indeed this emphasis on Jewish evangelism (I suppose we could say), continued until the old covenant age had completely wound down. Even the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles recognized this and said:
Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46).
So the kingdom of God, the dragnet, the rule of the Messiah is cast into the sea of the Jews. That is the emphasis or the focus that Jesus has in mind here.
Yet, isn't the "sea" a metaphor for the Gentile world? Often this is true. But as we saw last week we must not pressed every detail into an allegorical mold when we interpret a parable. Since the net corresponds to the field we know that we should not look for an allegorical relationship where none exists. Certainly this parable has an application beyond the first century and therefore the sea represents the world; we'll be looking at that before were done. But, as it is with the field sown by the Son of Man we need to first understand the original intent in order to make proper application.
Therefore we understand that the "sea" is merely a vehicle (just as cosmos" refers to the Jewish world of the first century in the parable of the wheat field), for making use of the net metaphor.
And so, we see that Christ is claiming that the reign of the Messiah is going forth into the sea of the Jewish world. Jesus (and John before him), cast far and wide with the net by proclaiming that "the kingdom of God is at hand." He proclaimed the kingdom by performing miracles. He proclaimed the kingdom in teaching how it was that he fulfilled the law and the prophets. He proclaimed the kingdom to anyone who would listen. Neither he nor John cared to "check identification at the door." The result is a full catch. There are many who responded to the teaching of Jesus Christ or who were impressed by his miracles and so became a follower of the carpenter from Nazareth.
In a sense every Jew in the first century was captured in the net of the kingdom. This is true because every Jewish man who possessed the covenant sign of circumcision was liable to the stipulations of the covenant. And because a circumcised Jewish man with a family brought his household into the covenant along with him, the vast majority of the people living in the land of Palestine in the first century were liable to the covenant stipulations. We need to realize that if a man who was a direct descendent of Abraham was not circumcised then he was not a Jew. At the same time, a man of any ethnic origin who was circumcised and obedient to the Mosaic ritual was a Jew. That's how it was understood in the first century. Indeed, that's how it had been understood for hundreds of years. Think of what happened when Esther was the queen of the Medo-Persian Empire. Once the fortunes of the Jews improved under the leadership of Esther and Mordecai "many people of the land became Jews, because the fear of the Jews fell upon them" (Esther 8:17). In fact, that's how it is understood today. It's not ethnic origin that makes a man a Jew it is the covenant sign - or birth under that mark.
Therefore the rule of Jesus Christ cast a wide net in Israel in that he was there to fulfill everything that they were about. All who had the covenant sign or were part of a covenant household would be liable to the stipulations of the covenant and many would be drawn to a more specific participation or a more conscious embrace of the messianic rule through the ministry of Jesus Christ and by virtue of the grace of the covenant sign they bore.
Eventually the net was full. The idea here is that in the fullness of time the net would be "pulled to shore" so to speak because the time had come to take care of business. This time came before the generation that had witnessed the ministry of Christ had passed away. Again, we must not allegorize every detail. It is simply that it is natural to pull the net to shore when it is full. It merely means that when the old age came to an end and the focus on the Jewish nation was complete then the special ministry to the Jews would be drawn in.
Once again we see the understanding of this fact displayed in subsequent New Testament development. In the book of Hebrews it says:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
In that He says, "A NEW COVENANT," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13)
He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
This letter to the Hebrews (the Jews), was written (by the apostle Paul I believe), as time was running out on the special emphasis on the Jewish nation. Paul is seeking to persuade his countrymen who have made a statement of faith in Jesus Christ to remain true to that confession. He is telling them that because the old covenant administration is about to end any special favor shown to Israel will likewise in. He is telling them that the time is short that the end of the old covenant age is upon them and that one was becoming obsolete and growing old was ready to vanish away.
Paul is telling his countrymen in this letter that they should not think that the old administration is better than the new. He is telling them that they should not think that because they have experienced hardship after receiving the covenant sign of baptism that it would be better to deny that sign and return to the perceived benefit they received as those who lived under the old covenant sign of circumcision. In truth, during the first century there seemed to be little practical benefit in a life lived under the authority of Jesus Christ. And so Paul is working to bring your focus to the fulfillment of all of Israel's folks and dreams in Jesus. He is calling them to stick with it even as the old covenant ends - an event which will reveal once and for all that it is only in Christ that God's special favor may be experienced.
The details of the old covenant administration were passing away, the net was almost full and time was almost up.
There's another idea that Christ might have in mind here. In Genesis 15:16 it we read about God's promise to Abraham and the reason for its delay. He says:
But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. (Genesis 15:16)
Christ draws upon this principle when he says:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:29-36)
In other words the net is considered full when the generation of Jews living during the ministry of Jesus Christ filled up their measure of rebellion and sin. The net would be full when the rule of Christ as expressed to those Jews living at the conclusion of the old covenant had endured the maximum sin and rebellion that God had intended - then the net would be drawn to shore. If the Jews of the first century were unwilling to submit to the Messiah then the net would be drawn in and judgment would be meted out upon them. And remember, the Jewish people - those who lived under the covenant sign - would be liable to the sanctions of the covenant and liable to judgment for rejecting the fulfillment of their national identity as expressed in Jesus the Messiah.
So the net is drawn in and then there is an examination of the catch.
The catch of fish is varied and not all of the fish found in the net are good. But what is a "good fish" and what is a "bad fish?" Clearly it requires more than the covenant sign to be considered a good fish.
In the third chapter of John's Gospel we read about Nicodemus who came to Jesus in an attempt to bring him under the influence of the Pharisees. Nicodemus came to Christ as one who was a leader in Israel. He had received the covenant sign and eight days of age. He was legalistically and ritualistically righteous. But he still needed a new birth. In John 3:3 Jesus tells them "you must be born again." In other words, even though he was a Jew based upon his receiving the covenant sign he was not a true Jew because he had not been born again. The apostle Paul is another example of one who lived under the covenant sign, had all the trappings of a righteous life and yet was lost without the new birth.
Therefore the good fish are those who come under the authority of Jesus Christ via the new birth. The covenant sign made them liable to the covenant stipulations and in a sense they are under the authority of the Messiah because of that sign; yet unless there were a new creation they were not good fish. Unless they had the law written upon their heart rather than as an external crutch to their religion they were not good fish. Unless they had been made the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), then they were not good fish. In other words, the good fish are those who have been remade and illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
This is not something that they could do in their own strength. A first century Jew could be "perfect" according to the law, be a member of the covenant community of God but still end up a bad fish. Paul makes his argument concerning Abraham's salvation by faith during the time period in which the old covenant was coming to this conclusion. He states emphatically that we are saved by grace through faith even while the old covenant was still winding down (Ephesians 2:8-10). It has always been true that mankind enjoys a relationship with God based upon the grace of God and the faith which he gives to his people. There has never been a time in the history of this universe when mankind has been expected to work his way to salvation.
The Jewish people were expected to receive the covenant sign and to live a life of obedience to the ceremonial law but that was not designed to save them. The covenant sign and the ceremonial law are replicated in baptism and the Lord's Supper in this covenant age. Baptism and communion do not save us in this age anymore than circumcision and sacrifice saved the people of the old covenant administration. Those sacraments were designed to turn the attention of God's people to the Messiah just as the new covenant sacraments are to do in this age.
It is God who shows mercy on whom ever he will show mercy. No one can work their way to salvation and so not all who are called Israel are truly Israel. There were many members of the covenant household of God in the first century who were members by virtue of the covenant sign and their adherence to the ceremonial law. They may even have responded to the ministry of Jesus Christ in a nominal way. Nevertheless they were not part of true Israel. We read from Romans chapter 9 this morning and we need to look at Romans chapter 2 as well.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)
So again, all the Jews with the covenant sign were liable to the kingdom sanctions and many of those would be on the fringes of the kingdom as "camp followers" of Jesus Christ and His inner circle. However, without the new birth they would remain "bad fish." Without the new birth they were not chosen and put into vessels for safekeeping but were thrown away.
We must not forget that the bad fish are bad by choice. A failure to come under the authority of Jesus Christ is a matter of willful rebellion not misunderstanding. It's not as if God makes people reject him. He does not. A rejection of the authority of Jesus Christ is simply an expression of the character of the natural man.
Yet how is it that the good and bad alike are caught up in the kingdom of God? Well, to quote Myron Augsburger again,
The dragnet is the total impact of the kingdom in society, in the world, influencing people for God. Many will benefit from the grace of God and his kingdom action the world who do not identify with him by faith and partake of the fellowship of his people. (Augsburger,The Communicator's Commentary: Matthew, 180).
There were many who associated themselves with the Kingdom of God and were not a new creation. There are many who are in harmony (to some degree), with the Universal House of Abraham but were not born again. They were willing to follow the Messiah to some degree but they were never converted and therefore were not part of true Israel. And as we have already seen every Jew who had the covenant sign of circumcision would be caught in the net of the kingdom after a fashion.
Therefore a bad fish in the net would include Jews who had been in sympathy with Christ and his message and those who were vehemently opposed to him. Anyone who was a Jew because of their covenant sign and yet unconverted would be a bad fish.
Thus there were both good and bad fish in the net which resulted in the need for a short period
Isn't this description of the sorting of the fish by the Angels with the bad fish passed into a furnace of fire a death blow to any interpretation of this parable with a first century application? No: we must interpret Scripture with Scripture and we see a similar situation elsewhere in the Bible.
Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, "Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand." And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer's inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, "Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!" And they went out and killed in the city. So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?" Then He said to me, "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!' And as for Me also, My eye will neither spare, nor will I have pity, but I will recompense their deeds on their own head." Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, "I have done as You commanded me." (Ezekiel 9:1-11)
In the Bible Angels are symbols of God's activity. To say that an angel does something you say that God is getting it done. This isn't to say that God does not use Angels in any literal sense to accomplish his ends. He certainly does. But as we see in this example from the prophecy of easy deal angels doing the work of God symbolize that were to be accomplished by some other physical means. In the case of this particular prophecy the Angels were present the invasion of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. Adam Clarke comments on this passage, saying,
By those six men with destroying weapons the Chaldeans are represented, who had received commission to destroy the city; and when the north is mentioned in such cases, Chaldea and the Chaldean armies are generally intended. There appears to have been six men with a sort of slaughter-bills, and one man with an inkhorn. These may represent the seven counsellors of the eastern monarchs, who always saw the king's face, and knew all the secrets of the government. One of them was that minister who had the office of reporting concerning criminals, who carried the book of death and the book of life into the presence of the king, where the names were entered of criminals who were destined to suffer, and of those who were either considered as innocent or recommended to mercy; those of the former in the book of death, those of the latter in the book of life. This person with the inkhorn might be termed, in our phrase, the recorder.
So we understand the Angels in the prophecy of Ezekiel do not literally carry out this sorting and this slaughter. Instead they represent the human means by which God is going to sort through Judah and rid the land of the "bad fish." In other words no one literally and physically sorted through the population of Jerusalem, marked those who were good and killed those without an identifying mark.
It is also significant that in this passage from Ezekiel and in our parable in Matthew 13 it is angels who are represented as having charge over the human population in each case. In Ezekiel's prophecy the Angels have charge of the city and in Jesus' parable concerning the dragnet the Angels have charge over the activity of sorting out the good from the bad. This reminds us that in the old covenant administration it was the angel like host who had charged over mankind. In other words, before Christ accomplished his work angels were the mediators and representatives of man before God. We see this portrayed in the fact that the law was given by an angel. We see this in that it was the angel of God who led the children of Israel into the land. He was the angel of God who came to the rebellious second-generation as recorded in the book of Judges. It was the angel of God who brought judgment because of David's sin of numbering the fighting men and stood over Jerusalem with a drawn sword ready to destroy the city. When ever we see angels in a position of authority over man we need to recognize that it is portraying the old covenant administration. We do not live in the age of angels and animals. We live in the age of the Son of Man. There is now no mediator between God and man except the man Jesus Christ.
Likewise in Matthew 13 we should understand that it is not angels who literally made this sort but that they represent an old covenant activity that was carried out by other physical means. In this case I think it is safe to say that this angel sort points to the invasion of Palestine by Rome and her auxiliary armies in the first generation after Jesus Christ. This would be in keeping with the clear meaning of Ezekiel Chapter 9. And, because we must first look to the Bible in order to understand the Bible there is no reason to interpret this Matthew 13 parable in any other fashion.
Yet, what of the furnace of fire? Well, this typically points to an earthbound judgment or refining my God. For instance, in Deuteronomy 4:20 God says that he brought his people out of the "iron furnace of Egypt." This terminology is used in 1 Kings 8:51 and Jeremiah 11:4 as well. Indeed throughout the Old Testament we see that the symbol of the furnace is used to describe either judgment or refining in the temporal realm. In Isaiah 30 1:8-9 in says:
Then Assyria shall fall by a sword not of man, And a sword not of mankind shall devour him. But he shall flee from the sword, And his young men shall become forced labor. He shall cross over to his stronghold for fear, And his princes shall be afraid of the banner," Says the LORD, Whose fire is in Zion And whose furnace is in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 31:8-9)
In other words God uses the furnace of Jerusalem to bring vengeance upon the Assyrians. This is the place win there were 185,000 killed (he's by the angel of God), in the army of Assyria. Because of that judgment which took place in the furnace of Jerusalem a series withdrew and their power was permanently broken.
There are a number of other places where the furnace represents judgment or refining in this temporal realm; we won't take time to look at all of them at this point. I encourage you to get your concordance and look them up yourself.
Therefore this furnace of fire that the bad fish are thrown into in Matthew 13 is the judgment of God brought by the Roman Empire in A.D. 66 to 70, ending with the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed it could be that this furnace of fire represents a refining and purifying of Israel so that the true Israel comes forth pure and without dross. Indeed I will go so far to say that this is Christ's intention in referencing the furnace of fire. Yes there is a judgment upon Israel for their rejection of their Messiah but that judgment results in a blessing as Israel is purified and redefined in Jesus Christ.
There is one other thing I want to point out before we conclude our look at this parable. Jesus says that when the bad fish are cast into the furnace of fire "there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." That is never associated with the lake of fire or hell but always with the furnace of fire. In other words we don't see wailing and gnashing of teeth at the final judgment when sinners are cast into hell. Instead we see this lamenting and anger - a despairing rage and grinding of teeth - associated with temporal judgment. This is a reaction to their exclusion from the kingdom of God even though they had been called to it as members of the covenant community of God. If you'd like to look up the references you'll find them in Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, and Luke 13:28.
Hence what we have here is figurative language used to describe the judgment and purification in Israel at the closure of the old covenant age. And that is exactly what Jesus says here. So it will be at the end of the "age" that these things will take place. The authorized King James Version translates that word as "world." However the Greek word is simply aeon and means a period of time especially a period of time with some particular significance that is noteworthy in its passing.
What this means is that at the end of the old covenant age when the Jewish focus for evangelism came to this conclusion then the society wide impact of Christ's rule was sorted out. Those who were not a new creation would be swept away in a conflagration of the thundering close of the old covenant administration. I suppose we can conclude our examination of this parable by quoting Christ yet again: "many are called but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14).
In this day and age there are many people who are caught up in the net of the kingdom of God. There are many people who have received the covenant sign of baptism and even participate in the covenant meal commemorating the death of Christ on their behalf who have never experienced the new birth. There are those who to one degree or another are in harmony with the kingdom of God. They admired the teaching of Jesus Christ and our nominal followers of his doctrine. Again, they may have received the covenant sign or they may not have but they are not born again.
They have been caught up in the net of the kingdom - they have been influenced in one way or another by those who are a new creation and have worked to bring their sphere of influence under the authority of Jesus Christ, but they have not been willing to come under the authority of the Messiah themselves. Therefore we may make application of this parable to our day and age quite easily. The kingdom of God is advancing and many people are impacted by its growth. It may be as simple as the service they receive from a Christian neighbor. It may be as profound as a life lived in the church, having received the covenant sign of baptism and participated in the covenant sacraments of communion. Yet these people do not embrace the truth.
Thus at the end of this current age when the net is drawn into the shore there will be a catch with both good and bad fish. Just as it was in the first century there were Jewish people - people who were members of the church but who were not followers of Jesus Christ - likewise there will be people who have lived their entire lives under the influence of the kingdom of God who are not born again. Many of them will have lived their life in the church. Many of them will have been baptized and participated in the covenant meal. Because they have done those things they will be liable to the stipulations of the covenant. Because they have been baptized and yet have not experienced the new birth their baptism will be a curse for them rather than a blessing. What I mean is that because they have been baptized they are considered "Christian" in the sense that they are beholden to the covenant stipulations. Did he baptized to say that yes I am a follower of Jesus Christ and yes I am under his authority and yes I will do the things that a new creation is supposed to do.
You see, baptism is a grace. It is something that is given to us to strengthen as the task of Joaquin even as Jesus walked. When we look to that sign of baptism we are supposed to be reminded that we are part of the household of God and therefore have a responsibility to our Messiah Jesus. It is a lot like the covenant meal. When we take the covenant meal we are reminded that we have pressed our sin upon Jesus Christ or more accurately that God has pressed our sin upon Jesus Christ. And that he has been nailed to the cross for our sins. That is sin is the nailed there with him and we have been made free - free to obey our Lord and Master Jesus.
Thus those who received the covenant signs are liable to the covenant stipulations and if they are not born again then their "Christianity" becomes a curse rather than a blessing. Yes we can call them Christian because they have been willing to place themselves under the protection of the covenant. But because they are not born again, the covenant is no protection at all but is a curse. It is a curse because they have received the covenant signs and have been instructed in the truth but failed to embrace it. Thus,
...if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29)
The result is that at the end of this current age they will be sorted out from among the good fish and cast into the fire. However, the application of this parable to our age means that they will be cast into the lake of fire for eternity. And that is not a temporal judgement designed to refine. It is the final judgement from which there is no escape.
I urge you: do not be comfortable in the net unless you have received Christ as your Savior. Additionally, I encourage you to make sure that your friends and relatives who are comfortable in the net but have not embraced the Gospel are aware of the danger they are in. They may have been baptized and they may attend church and take communion; but if they reject Christ as the only way to salvation then they will be found out as bad fish in the final judgement. (And it doesn't matter when you receive the sacrament of baptism; you are liable to the stipulations of the covenant just the same.)
I'm not recommending that you automatically consider all your friends and relatives to be unregenerate. I am suggesting that you probably have a pretty good idea who among your circle of influence is born again and who is not. If they cannot articulate a sound confession of faith then you should be concerned. If you are not sure, then discovering the answer will require you to ask questions that might make you a little uncomfortable. The slight personal discomfort is worth it.
Don't be comfortable in the net if you're a bad fish. Examine yourself and see if there is evidence of faith in your life. Don't let your friends and relatives be comfortable in the net if they're bad fish. Inquire of them and see if there is evidence of faith in their life. Al of us will one day be subject to the final sorting of the catch. Now is the time to prepare.