“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. 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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Dragnet is one of the most well-known and endearing TV shows and radio programs in American history. Jack Webb (who also produced the program) was the star from start to finish as the very straight-laced and no-nonsense Sgt. Joe Friday. Webb’s character was so endearing and cast such a positive light on the Los Angeles Police Department that when he died of a sudden heart attack in 1982, the L.A.P.D. retired his badge number 714 and city offices flew their flags at half-staff. You may not know this but a dragnet is an actual police term. It is “any system of coordinated measures for apprehending criminals or suspects. Examples are road barricades, traffic stops, DNA tests, and general increased police alertness.”* It seems that Sgt Friday wanted to cast his dragnet over the entire city of Los Angeles and (using whatever legal means possible) haul in all the criminals, suspects and vagrants and sort out just what justice demanded for them later. The parable of the dragnet shares more than just a phrase with the TV show. It tells of a time when God will cast His dragnet over not merely Los Angeles but over all of creation and haul everyone in. And at that time he will sort them all out according to what His justice demands be done for each one.
Jesus refers to a type of fishing that was very familiar to his disciples many of whom were fisherman. This type of fishing used a net which might have been stretched between two boats and then drug through the water and up onto the shore. As the net was dragged through the water it gathered any and every fish in its path. The fishermen would then pull the net to shore and sort out their catch.** The Old Testament Jewish law had very specific ways of classifying fish as either clean (fish which the Jews could eat) (cf. Lev. 11:9) or unclean (fish which they could not eat) (cf. Lev. 11:10-12). The good fish were gathered in baskets while the bad fish were either thrown back in the water or cast onto the beach to rot and die. Jesus says that this is a picture of the final judgment. God’s angels will cast His dragnet over all creation and pull in the good with the bad. Then the wicked will be separated from the righteous to go to their just destination, a place Jesus calls the fiery furnace, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place we call Hell.
In the wake of the bombing of the Boston Marathon earlier this week, this parable is a reminder for patience. Now in this world we must remember that we are not separate from the wicked. Evil has overrun this world and for now God has chosen in His goodness to cause his sun to rise on the righteous and the wicked alike (Matthew 5:43-48). There are times when like the psalmist Asaph we want to cry out and ask God why the wicked prosper (Psalm 73). Evil (whether it be impersonal forces or very personal people) will not be dealt with decisively until the judgment day. But even now as we suffer at the hands of wicked men and women and an imperfect world, we must remember that there will come a day when justice will be done. Until then we suffer patiently.
It also reminds us that it is only the Lord who has the right to sort or judge men. The parable presents God's angels performing this at His bidding, other places in Scripture clarify that Jesus Himself will sit in judgment. (Matt 25:31-46, Rom. 2:16, & II Tim. 4:1) The question the parable begs is this, "Will you be found to be wicked or righteous?" Most of us consider ourselves to be good, but then we think that God is going to rate us as good or wicked based on a comparison to other people. He is not. God will judge us based on how we compare to His own righteousness and goodness. If we are less righteous than He is then we will be cast into that place which was prepared for the devil and his demons (Matt 25:41). But the Bible also tells us that we all, everyone one of us without exception, are wicked (Romans 3:10 and 23). Only those who look to Jesus for salvation and who have been clothed in his righteousness are considered good. So what are you? If you haven’t surrendered your life to Jesus then you will be found to be wicked and will be cast into Hell. If this is you, then repent and believe in Jesus today!
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** I read about this in a number of biblical commentaries. All of which agreed on the basic details.