The illustration that Jesus used in this parable called to mind the popular vocation of fishing. Jesus uttered The Dragnet in Capernaum, a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first four parables in this series were spoken by Jesus, as he stood in a boat, to a crowd on the shore of the lake. Our Lord presented The Dragnet to his apostles, many of whom were professional fishermen (Luke 5:1-11). When Jesus called them from their ships and nets, he told them: " . . . from henceforth thou shalt catch men" (Luke 5:10).
The net to which Jesus referred was a seine net. It was weighted at the bottom so it would drag the bottom of the lake. The net had floats at the top to keep it at the surface of the water. Perhaps a half mile long, after the net was stretched to its full length, its ends were brought together to trap the fish. All kinds of fish were caught and consequently, after the net was brought to shore, usable fish were sorted from the rest that were discarded.
The Parable of the Dragnet bears similarities to The Parable of the Tares in the same series of Matthew 13 parables.
Tares: "The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:39-42).
Dragnet: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:47-50).
Not only are they both kingdom parables, but they are also judgment parables. As in The Tares, "[i]n this parable Jesus places the emphasis on the wicked and their eternal destiny. The mission of the angels in each of these parables pertains to the wicked." (Harry Darrow, "The Parable of the Net," The Parables of Our Saviour, Garfield Heights church of Christ, p. 165.)
Notice that in the parables for which Jesus gave some insight as to their meaning, he did not emphasize every detail. Instead, Jesus emphasized the thrust or purpose for which the parable was given. We should largely do the same.
The Dragnet involves a separation into two categories -- good and bad. There was no in-between. A two-tier separation appears in several of our Lord's parables.
In The Parable of the Tares the separation is between wheat and tares. In The Parable of the Dragnet, the separation is between good and bad fish. In The Parable of the Marriage Feast, the separation is between guests with and without a wedding garment. In The Parable of the Householder, the separation is between good and evil servants. In The Parable of the Ten Virgins, the separation is between wise and foolish virgins. In The Parable of the Talents, the separation is between profitable and unprofitable servants. In The Parable of the Sheep and Goats the separation is between them. (Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 208.)
The Parable of the Dragnet is especially similar to The Parable of the MarriageFeast.
As the servants told of in Matt. xxii. 10, "gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good," so here the fishers take fish of all kinds within the folds of the net; men of all shades of moral character have the Gospel preached to them, and find themselves within the limits of the visible Church. ( R.C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1990, p. 51.)
The good and bad fish are good and bad members of the church of our Lord. The fish are comparable to the wheat versus the tares and sundry contrasts involving separation in other parables to which allusion has already been made above.
The sea, then, corresponds to the lost world. The net represents the church or kingdom of heaven. The fish are good and bad Christians. The fishermen drawing the net of fish are Christians who "catch men." The beach is comparable to the judgment. The angels are represented by the persons sorting the fish. The vessels into which the good fish are placed stand for heaven. The discarding of useless fish represents consignment to hell.
The Dragnet suggests that evangelism involves human participation. Historically, The Book of Acts records human involvement in the growth of the church. God did not choose direct operation without preachers and teachers to acquaint mankind with divine messages (Romans 10:13-18; 2 Peter 1:20-21). The "they" in the parable, the fishermen, are Christians who "catch men."
All who have been forgiven should be fishers. Soul-winners are God's fishers. (Lockyer, p. 206.)
As the net does not discriminate regarding the kind of fish it catches, we must not discriminate concerning to whom we declare the Gospel. The church on earth will be comprised of righteous and unfaithful souls. "God will purge evil from his kingdom." (Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile, Star Bible & Tract Corp., p. 28.)
Yes, there are hypocrites in the church. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to sin so as to be lost. Those whose evil conduct we can discern in contrast to the Scriptures, the church is obligated to discipline (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14). The rest God will detect and remove at the great judgment.
The 'sitting down' to sort the fish indicates deliberation and not hasty decisions. God will not make any mistakes in judgment, objections notwithstanding (Matthew 7:21-23).
Whereas here and in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 vessels can represent heaven or heaven bound Christians, other familiar figures also portray heaven as: a barn (Matthew 13:30), many mansions (John 14:2), everlasting habitations (Luke 16:9), a city (Hebrews 11:10; 12:22; Revelation 3:12; 21:22).
Likewise, there are several figures used in Scripture to portray hell: furnace of fire (Matthew 13:50), eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), eternal fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 21:8), a place where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48), outer darkness (Matthew 25:30), everlasting shame (Daniel 12:2), a place of eternal separation (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), a place prepared of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). (W. Gaddys Roy, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, W. Gaddys Roy, c. 1974, pp. 36-37.)
Parables do not teach new doctrine. They, however, illustrate and re-enforce biblical teaching found elsewhere. This parable is filled with lessons to help us better understand the nature of the Lord's kingdom. The Gospel and hence the kingdom is for all mankind. Comparatively few people amidst a much larger world population will come into the kingdom. Members of the kingdom must draw others into it. A judgment is coming in which the angels will participate. Some Christians will be lost whereas others will enjoy eternal redemption. Hell and heaven certainly exist. Finally, The Dragnet is informative, poses a warning, offers consolation for faithful Christians and is interesting.