Jesus used the picture of a dragnet in a parable explaining the mystery of the kingdom of God.
To a Midwestern boy raised in the fifties, “Dragnet” was a TV show recounting the day-to-day work of a dead-pan cop named Joe Friday. In police language, a dragnet is a sweep of a neighborhood or an area in which a group of people is brought in for questioning. The picture of the dragnet comes from the fishing industry. In Jesus’ day the dragnet was a large fishing net, the lower part, when sunk, touched the bottom while the upper part floated on top of the water. This net was dragged toward the shore or the boat. Of course, the net would catch all kinds of fish — some to be kept and some to be thrown back.
The Dragnet, like the other parables, was a picture out of the daily life of the people of Jesus’ day. Some of Jesus’ own disciples were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee who used this kind of net in their work (Luke 5). Jesus told His disciples that the kingdom of heaven is like a large dragnet that is lowered into the sea. When it was drawn to shore, the net was full of all kinds of fish. The fishermen sorted the good, marketable fish into containers and threw the bad away.
Jesus used parables (earthly stories with heavenly meanings) to reveal to His people the mysteries of the kingdom and God’s gracious rule through the Gospel. When the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to them in parables, He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Mt. 13:11).
Jesus, through these parables, gives the believers an eye for the hidden — and an understanding of the paradoxical–greatness of the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven. The Jews were looking for an earthly kingdom and a Messiah who would restore the political kingdom to the nation of Israel. The disciples had to learn that God’s great beginnings involve humble and unspectacular events.
The previous parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (Mt. 13:31-34) reveal the small beginnings and hidden nature of God’s rule in the hearts of men. The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price reveal the value of this hidden treasure of the Gospel.
The paradox of the Gospel and the mystery of the kingdom of heaven are summed up at the cross where God’s Son and Israel’s promised Messiah was revealed in lowliness and weakness. The parables reveal that “the lowly Messiah and the unspectacular Kingdom are no more ‘unnatural’ than the nature of God’s creation” (Follow Me, p. 124).
God’s Gracious Rule
The parable of the dragnet reveals the climax of God’s rule. A series of articles by Prof. John Schaller in the Jouranal of Theology (Vol. I, 1961, Prof. Egbert Schaller, translator) brought out the fact that the kingdom of God or heaven is the gracious rule of God in the hearts of men in connection with the Gospel.
This parable centers on the results of God’s Gospel and the preaching of the cross viewed from the cosmic point of God’s saving activity.
The Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth. God will fill His banquet hall with unworthy guests even after the invited guests refuse to come. As Luther said in his explanation of the second petition: “God’s kingdom certainly comes all by itself, even without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it also come to us.”
This parable gives us a picture of the mystery of the result of God’s kingdom activity. It should be noted that this parable (consistent with all Scripture) does NOT speak of judgment day and Jesus’ second coming in terms of a millennium, (an earthly kingdom) or a rapture, or any such thing.
We are assured that the angels will be sent forth to gather all nations before Jesus’ judgment throne (Mt. 25:31). Then in the familiar terms of Matthew 25, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats–the believers from the unbelievers. So in our parable, the climax of God’s kingdom activity will be separation. “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” (Mt. 13:49-50).
Finally, in that day, all the mysteries and paradoxes of the kingdom of God will be revealed. You, by the grace of God, will hear Jesus say “to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'” (Mt. 25:34).
When Jesus asked His disciples whether they now understood these things, they could reply, “Yes.” The parables would be a continuing revelation to them of the mystery of the cross and the kingdom of God.
Jesus comments on the blessedness of the disciples who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven. This parable, as well as the other parables, gives the disciple a treasure to draw from in telling others about the kingdom of heaven.
In these parables you will find treasures both new and old to share with others (Mt. 13:51-52). At the cross Jesus has revealed to you the key to the mysteries of God hidden from the ages. Blessed are you that these things have been revealed to you.
–Pastor John Schierenbeck