‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind’ (Matt. 13:47).
In this last parable the kingdom is again presented as comprehending the whole of Christendom, not as in the parables of the tares, the tree, and the leaven; but as it is in its effects and purpose in the eye of God. We know it is His purpose to gather out of the world a people for Himself, and the means used for this is likened unto a net cast into the sea. The net is evidently the preaching of the cross of Christ — to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Greeks foolishness. The world’s religion, Pharisaism, has ever stumbled at the cross of Christ. The world’s wisdom and philosophy have ever deemed it folly. But to the simple, humble believer it is the power and wisdom of God. The sea is the symbol of the inhabitants of the earth in a state of tumult and lawlessness. And such is eminently the state of the world. And it is into such a world, into such a sea casting up mire and dirt, that the gospel net has been cast, and fishes of every kind are enclosed. Within the bounds of Christendom, and under the name of Christian, are to be found, not the greatest good only, but the greatest wickedness in the earth. There are real and false disciples of Christ.
This parable and that of the tare-field bear this resemblance, that they both present to us the mixed character of the kingdom; but they differ in that the earlier parable brings more prominently to view the kingdom during the continuance of the present age while this parable most discloses that which takes place at the end. The one is the final separation and the other the co-existence of the two characters found in the world which owns Christ externally. In the explanation of the earlier parable given by our Lord to the disciples, the issue in blessing and misery of the wheat and the tares is made known (vs. 39–43); but in the parable itself the principal thought is, ‘let both grow together’. But in the parable of the net, the great thought is seen in the act of the fishermen selecting the good and putting them into vessels and rejecting the bad. The fishermen are not represented as being the active agents in punishing the bad: they simply leave them, casting them away. The angels here, as in the parable of the tares, are the executors of God’s vengeance. We have not the true saints considered distinct from the mass of professors, as in the hidden treasure and in the pearl, nor is it an external view of the kingdom as presented in those parables spoken outside to the multitude; but a picture of the whole as it appears to God, and as He would have His saints view it, and the means He has adopted in calling out His people from the world. It is the winding up of the present age. The great net which was let down into the sea, when Christ was first proclaimed, is now drawn to the land. The sowing and ripening of the field are at an end, and the sifting time is come. The floor will be thoroughly purged, the wheat gathered into the garner, the chaff burnt with unquenchable fire.
The good are first taken care of and put into vessels by those fit for that work; after that selection (how long is not said), the angels do their work. The parable gives only the putting of the good into vessels; nor is this confined to one act, but rather, we apprehend, gives the character of the time (so far as the good are concerned) which will elapse from the first separation to the establishment of the millennial kingdom. And we know that the rapture of the church will take place before judgment descends upon the wicked. For when the Son of man is revealed in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon them that know not God, the heavenly saints will appear with Him, and, consequently, must have been gathered to Him before (Col. 3). Be the interval then between that rapture and the revelation of the Lord Jesus with these saints in flaming fire, long or short, the two events cannot be at the same moment. The dead saints will be raised and the living saints changed, and both shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4). This is a very different scene from the time when He and His armies shall be revealed to His enemies. It is a great mistake to confound these distinct parts of His coming or presence. The church of God is ever directed to expect the coming of the Lord Jesus at any moment. His disciples are always to be waiting, always expecting. This is the true position of the church of God. There is no event given which must precede His coming to receive us in the air. There are many prophecies which must be fulfilled before His and our appearing can take place. We know that the restraining thing must be taken away and the lawless one revealed, whom the Lord will destroy with the breath of His mouth, and with the appearing, or shining forth, of His presence (2 Thess. 2). There are signs given which shall usher in the great and terrible day of the Lord. There are times and dates given, days, and months, and years, which must pass before that event (see Daniel and Revelation).
We do not enter into the questions as to whether the days be symbolical or natural, whether we can compute and fix the precise date of their commencement or not, etc. We simply say that the giving of any time to elapse previously, or of any sign to precede, is incompatible with the position of waiting for Christ continually. When the Lord descends in the air to meet His church, this peculiar phase of the kingdom (which we may call its church aspect) ceases. It is the kingdom of heaven as a whole which we have here. There are other saints, outside the church, which have a share in the kingdom and in the first resurrection. The heavenly saints, symbolised by the 24 elders, are in heaven before that tremendous drama of the apocalyptic judgments begins; and, while we see them in heaven, there are saints, Gentiles, as well as Jews, on the earth, passing through great tribulation, whom afterwards, yet previous to the great catastrophe, the prophet John sees with white robes (Rev. 6, 7, 14). But during that terrible time, the kingdom takes again the same character it had before the day of Pentecost (that is, it is not strictly the church character).
The gathering of the good fish into vessels by the fishermen is, evidently, a distinct act from the separation of the wicked from among the just, which last term is a very common designation of Old Testament saints and seldom applied to the saints since Pentecost, except when the Holy Ghost applies Old Testament Scripture to them, as for instance: ‘the just shall live by faith’. But again, the action of the angels differs in character. The fishermen gather the good into vessels, to take care of and preserve them — an act of interest and value. The angels sever the wicked from among the just. It is the contrast of those who sought out the good; these seek out the bad for punishment, and ‘cast them into the furnace of fire’ — an act of vengeance and wrath. The ‘just’, then, we think, comprehend more saints than those standing in full Pentecostal privilege; some of them slain and having a share in the first resurrection, and some, perhaps, who are not slain but preserved to form the living nucleus of the millennial kingdom. At the very end of the trouble, when antichrist is judged, the angels come forth, and sever the wicked from the just. The honour and glory of the victory is the Lord’s; it is His arm which strikes down the usurper. The beast and the false prophet are cast alive into the pit. Then the angels come forth, and go through the length and breadth of the kingdom, and gather out all things that offend. Then will the floor of the kingdom be purged; earthly associations will be unheeded by these messengers. Two men shall be in the field, and two women at the mill: the one shall be taken and the other left. Whether abroad or at home, the angels shall sever the wicked from the just.
One remark more, in comparing the two parables (namely, tares and net), which bring before us the end of the age. The former is spoken to the multitude outside, and accordingly it is the doom of the tares which is made prominent in the parable, visible and felt by the world: ‘Bind [the tares] in bundles to burn them’. The explanation gives the glory (Matt. 13:43), and is given to the disciples. The parable of the net gives the care for the good as the prominent thought. The explanation (vs. 49, 50) reveals the doom of the bad.
 We take it the author means that the action of the angels in severing the wicked will take place after the church is taken and therefore the reference to ‘the just’ not only refers to saints in the present day of grace but also those who will believe during the tribulation period (eds.).
 Adapted from The Bible Treasury (1857) vol. 1 p. 304.