What Do the Dragnet and Fish Mean for You?
“To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens.”—MATTHEW 13:11.
1, 2. Why might we be interested in Jesus’ illustrations?
DO YOU enjoy knowing a secret or solving a puzzle? What if doing so would help you to see more clearly your part in God’s purpose? Happily, you can gain such privileged insight by means of an illustration that Jesus gave. It confounded many who heard it and has puzzled countless others since, but you can understand it.
2 Note what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 13 about his use of illustrations. His disciples asked: “Why is it you speak to them by the use of illustrations?” (Matthew 13:10) Yes, why did Jesus use illustrations that most people would not understand? He replied in Mt 13 verses 11 to 13: “To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted. . . . This is why I speak to them by the use of illustrations, because, looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it.”
3. How can understanding Jesus’ illustrations bring us benefits?
3 Jesus then applied Isaiah 6:9, 10, which described a people who were spiritually deaf and blind. We, though, need not be like that. If we understand and act on his illustrations, we can be very happy—now and into the endless future. Jesus offers us this warm assurance: “Happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear.” (Matthew 13:16) That assurance covers all of Jesus’ illustrations, but let us focus on the brief parable of the dragnet, recorded at Matthew 13:47-50.
An Illustration With Deep Meaning
4. What did Jesus relate by way of illustration, as recorded at Matthew 13:47-50?
4 “The kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet let down into the sea and gathering up fish of every kind. When it got full they hauled it up onto the beach and, sitting down, they collected the fine ones into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away. That is how it will be in the conclusion of the system of things: the angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the righteous and will cast them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.”
5. What sort of questions arise as to the meaning of the dragnet parable?
5 You have probably seen men fishing with a net, at least on film or on television, so Jesus’ parable is not difficult to envision. But what about the details and the meaning? For example, Jesus said that this illustration is about “the kingdom of the heavens.” Yet, surely he did not mean that “every kind” of person, the fine and the unsuitable, or wicked, will be in the Kingdom. Also, who do the fishing? Did this fishing and separating occur in Jesus’ day, or might it be confined to our time, “the conclusion of the system of things”? Do you see yourself in this parable? How can you avoid ending up among those who weep and gnash their teeth?
6. (a) Why should we be keenly interested in understanding the dragnet parable? (b) What is a key to its understanding?
6 Such questions show that this illustration is not simple after all. Do not forget, though: “Happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear.” Let us see if we can delve into its meaning so that our ears are not unresponsive and our eyes are not shut as to its import. Actually, we already have a vital key to unlocking its meaning. The preceding article told of Jesus’ inviting Galilean fishermen to leave that occupation and take up a spiritual work as “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17) He told them: “From now on you will be catching men alive.”—Luke 5:10.
7. What was Jesus illustrating when he spoke of fish?
7 In line with that, the fish in this parable stand for humans. Hence, when Mt 13 verse 49 speaks of separating the wicked from the righteous, it refers, not to righteous or wicked marine life, but to righteous or wicked people. Similarly, Mt 13 verse 50 should not make us think of sea animals that weep or gnash their teeth. No. This parable is about the gathering of humans and their later separation, which is very serious, as the outcome shows.
8. (a) What can we learn as to the outcome for the unsuitable fish? (b) In view of what was said about unsuitable fish, what can we conclude regarding the Kingdom?
8 Note that the unsuitable fish, that is, the wicked, will be cast into the fiery furnace, where they will have to weep and gnash their teeth. Elsewhere Jesus linked such weeping and gnashing to being outside the Kingdom. (Matthew 8:12; 13:41, 42) At Matthew 5:22 and Mt 18:9, he even mentioned “fiery Gehenna,” referring to permanent destruction. Does that not show how vital it is to get the meaning of this illustration and to act accordingly? All of us know that there neither are nor will be wicked ones in God’s Kingdom. Hence, when Jesus said that “the kingdom of the heavens is like a dragnet,” he must have meant that in connection with God’s Kingdom, there is a feature like a net let down to collect various sorts of fish.
9. How are angels involved in the dragnet illustration?
9 After the dragnet was let down and the fish collected, there would be a separating work. Who did Jesus say were involved? Matthew 13:49 identified these fishermen-separators as angels. So Jesus was telling us about angelic oversight of an instrument on earth that is used to identify men—some fine and suitable for the Kingdom of heaven, others proving unsuitable for that calling.
10. By what reasoning can we determine that the fishing extended over a considerable period of time?
10 The context helps us to find out when this applies. Just before this, Jesus gave an illustration about the sowing of fine seed, but then weeds were oversown in the field, which pictures the world. He explained at Matthew 13:38 that the fine seed represented “the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one.” These grew up side by side for many centuries, until the harvest in the conclusion of the system of things. Then the weeds were separated and afterward burned up. Paralleling this with the illustration of the dragnet, we see that the drawing of creatures into the net was to extend over a long period of time.—Matthew 13:36-43.
11. How did an international fishing operation get under way in the first century?
11 According to Jesus’ parable, fish would be gathered indiscriminately, that is, the dragnet took in both fine fish and unsuitable fish. While the apostles were alive, the angels guiding the fishing operation used God’s Christian organization to catch “fish” who became anointed Christians. You might say that before Pentecost 33 C.E., Jesus’ fishing for men netted about 120 disciples. (Acts 1:15) But once the congregation of anointed Christians was established, the fishing with the dragnet instrument began, and thousands of fine fish were caught. From 36 C.E., the fishing spread widely into international waters, as Gentiles were drawn to Christianity and became members of Christ’s anointed congregation.—Acts 10:1, 2, 23-48.
12. What developed after the death of the apostles?
12 In the centuries after the apostles left the scene, there continued to be some Christians striving to find and hold to divine truth. At least some of these had God’s approval, and he anointed them with holy spirit. Still, the death of the apostles removed a restraining influence, allowing a widespread apostasy to develop. (2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8) An organization grew up that unworthily professed to be God’s congregation. It falsely claimed to be the holy nation anointed with God’s spirit to rule with Jesus.
13. Why can it be said that Christendom had a role in the dragnet operation?
13 Do you think that unfaithful professors of Christianity had any part in the illustration of the dragnet? Well, there is reason to answer, yes, they did. The symbolic dragnet included Christendom. True, for ages the Catholic Church tried to keep the Bible from the common people. Nevertheless, over the centuries members of Christendom played a key role in translating, copying, and distributing God’s Word. Churches later formed or supported Bible societies, which rendered the Bible into the languages of remote lands. They also sent out medical missionaries and teachers, who made rice Christians. This gathered vast numbers of unsuitable fish, who did not have God’s approval. But at least it exposed millions of non-Christians to the Bible and to a form of Christianity, although corrupted.
14. How was fishing for fine fish aided by some work done by the churches of Christendom?
14 All the while, the scattered faithful ones adhering to God’s Word exerted themselves as best they could. At any given time, they constituted God’s true anointed congregation on earth. And we may be sure that they too were catching fish, or men, many of whom God would view as fine and whom he would anoint with his spirit. (Romans 8:14-17) These fine professors of Christianity were able to bring Bible truth to many who had become rice Christians or who had gained limited Biblical knowledge from the Scriptures translated into their tongues by Christendom’s Bible societies. True, the collecting of fine fish was going on, even though most being gathered by Christendom were unsuitable from God’s standpoint.
15. Pointedly, what is represented by the dragnet of the parable?
15 So the dragnet represents an earthly instrument that professes to be God’s congregation and that gathers in fish. It has included both Christendom and the congregation of anointed Christians, the latter having continued to collect fine fish, under the invisible guidance of the angels, in line with Matthew 13:49.
Our Time Is Special
16, 17. Why is the time we live in so important in the outworking of Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet?
16 Let us now consider the time element. For centuries the dragnet instrument gathered fine fish as well as many unsuitable, or wicked, ones. Then the time came when the angels got involved in doing a crucial separating work. When? Well, Mt 13 verse 49 clearly says that it is during “the conclusion of the system of things.” This matches what Jesus said in the illustration of the sheep and the goats: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”—Matthew 25:31, 32.
17 Hence, in accord with Matthew 13:47-50, a crucial separating work under angelic guidance has been in progress since “the conclusion of the system of things” began in 1914. This became particularly evident after 1919, when the remnant of anointed ones were freed from temporary spiritual bondage, or captivity, and became a more effective instrument for accomplishing the fishing work.
18. How have the fine fish been gathered into vessels?
18 What was to happen to the separated fine fish? Mt 13 Verse 48 says that the angelic fishermen-separators “collected the fine [fish] into vessels, but the unsuitable they threw away.” The vessels are protective containers into which fine fish are put. Has this occurred in our time? Definitely. As symbolic fine fish have been caught alive, they have been gathered into congregations of true Christians. These vessellike congregations have helped to protect and to reserve them for divine service, do you not agree? Still, someone could think, ‘This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with my present life and my future?’
19, 20. (a) Why is it vital today to get the sense of this parable? (b) What important fishing work has been done since 1919?
19 The outworking of what was here illustrated was not limited to the centuries between the apostles’ time and 1914. During that period, the dragnet instrument came to gather both false and true professors of Christianity. Yes, it was gathering in both unsuitable fish and fine fish. Furthermore, the separating work done by angels did not end back around 1919. No, indeed. In some aspects this illustration of the dragnet is applicable right down to our time. We are involved and so is our immediate future. It is imperative for us to understand how and why that is so if we want these words to describe us: “Happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear” with understanding.—Matthew 13:16.
20 You likely know that after 1919 the anointed remnant got busy in the preaching work in cooperation with the angels, who continued to use the symbolic dragnet to haul fish onto the beach, to separate the fine ones from the unsuitable ones. Statistics from that period show that the catch of fine fish for anointing with God’s spirit continued as the last ones of the 144,000 were gathered by the symbolic net. (Revelation 7:1-4) But by the mid-1930’s, the collecting of fine fish for anointing with holy spirit basically ended. Was the congregation of the anointed remnant then to discard the net, as it were, and simply sit idle, waiting for their heavenly reward? Not at all!
Your Involvement in the Fishing
21. What other fishing has occurred in our time? (Luke 23:43)
21 Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet focused on fine fish who would be rewarded with a place in the Kingdom of the heavens. Yet, aside from that illustration, there is other symbolic fishing occurring on a vast scale, even as was illustrated in the preceding article. This fishing is, not for the fine anointed fish mentioned in Jesus’ illustration, but for symbolic fish to be caught alive and given the marvelous hope of life on a paradise earth.—Revelation 7:9, 10; compare Matthew 25:31-46.
22. What happy outcome can we experience, and what is the alternative?
22 If you entertain that hope, then you can rejoice that Jehovah has allowed a lifesaving fishing work to continue till now. This has made it possible for you to gain a marvelous prospect. Prospect? Yes, that is the fitting word to use, since the outcome will be in accord with our continued faithfulness to the One who is directing the ongoing fishing effort. (Zephaniah 2:3) Recall from the illustration that not all fish drawn up by the dragnet experience a favorable outcome. Jesus said that the unsuitable, or wicked, ones will be separated from the righteous ones. To what end? At Matthew 13:50, Jesus described the serious consequence for the unsuitable, or wicked, fish. These will be cast into the fiery furnace, meaning eternal destruction.—Revelation 21:8.
23. What makes the fishing work today so important?
23 For the fine anointed fish, as well as for the symbolic fish who may live forever on earth, there is a glorious future. With good reason, then, the angels are seeing to it that right now a successful fishing operation is being carried on around the globe. And what a catch is being made! You would be right in saying that in its own way, it is just as miraculous a catch as that of the literal fish that the apostles enjoyed when they let down their nets at Jesus’ direction.
24. What should we want to do respecting the spiritual fishing?
24 Are you having as active a share as possible in this lifesaving work of spiritual fishing? No matter how extensive our individual share has been up to this time, each of us can beneficially look at what is being accomplished globally in the grand fishing and lifesaving work now in progress. Doing so should stimulate us to even greater zeal in letting down the nets for a catch in the days right ahead!—Compare Matthew 13:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:1.
Do You Recall These Points?
□ What is represented by the two types of fish in Jesus’ parable of the dragnet?
□ In what sense have the churches of Christendom been involved in the dragnet operation?
□ Why is the fishing occurring in our time so critical?
□ The parable of the dragnet should lead each of us to make what sort of self-analysis?
[Picture on page 18]
Fishing operations have taken place on the Sea of Galilee for centuries
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.