INHERIT THE KINGDOM OR JUST IN IT?
QUESTION: I have always understood that the “outer darkness” will be a place for the unbelieving. I never heard the teaching that it would be a place where the unfaithful believer would be sent where they would experience the weeping and gnashing of teeth until after the millennium until I was reading a book written by a well known minister and bible teacher. And there is another TV preacher who teaches that those believers who practice the acts of the sinful nature will not inherit the Kingdom based on Galatians 5:16-21. What is the difference between not inheriting the Kingdom and not being in the Kingdom? If you will not inherit the Kingdom, how can you be in it?
ANSWER: Every believer has repeatedly committed one or more of the sins mentioned in Gal 5:16-21. It was not Paul’s intent to condemn all believers who do so. The operative term is “practice the acts of the sinful nature” or as the NIV puts it “live like this”. This implies a lifestyle, not an occasional slip. Paul’s warning that people who maintain this kind of lifestyle won’t inherit the Kingdom was to say that by doing so they identify themselves as unbelievers, because it’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can avoid such a life, and even then the sinful nature can overpower us from time to time. (Gal. 5:17)
That said, there is no Biblical basis for distinguishing between being in the Kingdom and inheriting it. Earlier in the letter to the Galatians Paul wrote,
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because we are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Gal. 4:4-7)
If in chapter 4 He said that God has already made us heirs, how could he say in chapter 5 that some of us will not inherit? That preacher misinterpreted the passage.
CAN WE ENTER THE KINGDOM BUT NOT INHERET IT?
QUESTION: Lately, I am hearing more and more about entering the Kingdom vs. inheriting the Kingdom. It’s being said that all Christians will enter the Kingdom, but not all Christians will inherit the Kingdom. The reason given is that many people get saved and do nothing for the Lord, while others give all to the Lord. Based on the enter/inherit idea, how do we know if we’re just entering the Kingdom, or are we also inheriting the Kingdom?
ANSWER: In Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul said the Holy Spirit was sealed within us as a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance, not just our entrance. This happened as soon as we believed the gospel of our salvation, before we had done anything to deserve it. In other words our inheritance is guaranteed right from the beginning, and we receive it just for believing.
It is true that after we receive our inheritance, we may also be given additional rewards based on what we did for the Lord during our life as believers (1 Cor. 3:10-15)
But the enter/inherit idea is is another one of the false teachings currently going around, claiming that even after we’re saved we still have to earn our place in the kingdom.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
DANIELS FIFTH KINGDOM AND THE KINGDOM PARABLES:
QUESTION: I am currently researching the question if the Kingdom of Heaven and the Church are one and the same. Most Commentaries I read say so. Somehow this does not gel with me.
Reading Daniel 2:43-44 it appears to me that the things revealed to him are incredibly precise up to the first coming of Christ. Then the vision appears to leap to the time of the end. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom…”
Could it be that the terrible beast, the fourth empire, encompasses all the time and empires from Rome on until today, peaking in the ‘Anti-Christ’s’ empire. If so, then the Kingdom of Heaven would be set up when Christ comes to destroy this last chapter of the great and terrible beast.
If this scenario has any validity then the Church cannot be the Kingdom, for the Kingdom of Heaven has not as yet arrived on earth, and the ‘kingdom’ parables in Matthew 13 do not address the Church directly, although some of the lessons learned from them apply also to the Church. Can you please shed light on this?
ANSWER: You’ve asked a complex question. In the first part Yes, the fourth beast (the Roman Empire) reigns in one form or another until the Lord returns and No, Daniel wasn’t shown the Church in this vision.
In the strictest sense, Daniel’s 5th Kingdom, as he described it in chapter 2, is not the Church. It’s the Messianic Kingdom on Earth where Israel is God’s center piece again. From our perspective it might be called phase 2 of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Church will dwell in the New Jerusalem during this time, and is not in view here.
The Kingdom Parables of Matt. 13:1-52 describe Phase 1, the time between the 1st and 2nd comings that Daniel and other prophets didn’t see. It includes the time of the Church but extends beyond the Rapture to the end of Daniel’s 70th Week.
Correctly understood these parables describe Phase 1 of the Kingdom as becoming something it was never intended to be (the Mustard Seed) and infested with sin (the Yeast). It will consist of both Jews (the Treasure) and Gentiles (the Pearl) who although saved by grace will look and often act just like their unsaved counterparts. The saved and unsaved will be allowed to dwell together until the Lord returns to initiate Phase 2 when the Kingdom will be purified in a great judgment. (Wheat & Tares and Net)
These Parables present Phase 1 of the Kingdom in overview form only and make no distinction between the Church and Tribulation believers. As such, they can’t can be used to build Rapture doctrine. The parable of the Wheat and Tares simply says that a purifying judgment will precede the coming of Phase 2 of the Kingdom (Matt. 13:30) while the Parable of the Net explains that surviving believers from that judgment will be ushered into Phase 2 while any surviving unbelievers will be taken away. (Matt. 13:49-50) It points to the Sheep and Goat Judgment.
THE KINGDOM PARABLES…MATTHEW 13 (PART 1-4)
It occurred to me after reviewing last week’s article that although I have led numerous studies on the subject, some of which have been recorded, I’ve never published a commentary on the Kingdom Parables. Therefore my references to them last week may have confused some, so herewith I present my view of the Lord’s description of His Kingdom on Earth.
The Kingdom Parables are found in Matthew 13. In the previous chapter of Matthew, the Jewish leadership had attacked Jesus, denouncing His teachings and finally attributing His miracles to the power of Beelzebub (Satan). This prompted the Lord’s statement that their sins of unbelief were unpardonable. Actually the attribution of any of God’s work to any other source, whether it be another god, or chance as in the theory of evolution, or the current favorite, self, is blasphemy and therefore a sin (Isaiah 42:8). What makes sin unpardonable is the refusal to accept the remedy God has provided in His Son, which is what they were doing.
Matthew 13 opens with the “time stamp” that places this teaching later that same day so we’ll expect to find some expansion of his statement about unpardonable sin. And although they’re sometimes called the 7 Kingdom Parables, there are really only 6 that begin with the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven is like … ” The first parable describes the world in general. A parable, you know, is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in the parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding. Some think of parables simply as marvelous teaching tools but when the disciples asked Jesus why He taught in parables, He told them that His purpose was two fold; to enlighten believers while at the same time confusing unbelievers (Matt 13:11-15), and in fact there has been much confusion among commentators in correctly interpreting the symbols of the Kingdom Parables, as we’ll see.
To begin with Matthew’s use of the word “heaven” in the parables has led some gentile theologians off the track. I believe Matthew wrote His gospel to Jews to convince them that Jesus was their Messiah. The use of the word God is avoided in Judaism to preclude breaking a commandment and even today Jewish writers will often leave out the vowel, writing G-d to avoid offending Him. I think Matthew substituted the word Heaven for God in consideration of his Jewish readers. Some have also equated the phrase Kingdom of Heaven with the Church, which I believe is another error we’ll discover.
One Final Note
Keep in mind that Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel engaged in an agrarian economy and so it’s logical that we should try and replicate their perspective in understanding the symbols He used. Since His listeners were only familiar with their Scriptures we’ll rely on the Old Testament as our theological guide and since most worked the land we’ll use our knowledge of agriculture to give us the proper context.
1) The Parable Of The Sower
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering his seed some fell along the path and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow but when the sun came up the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still others fell on good soil where it produced a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears let him hear. (Matt 13:3-9)
In this first parable in the farmer’s field symbolizes the world, and the seed is His Word sown through out the Age of Man. The four kinds of soil describe mankind’s various responses to His Word and the birds represent Satan. We know this because the Lord Himself interpreted this parable for us in Matt. 13:18-23.
“Listen to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” This tells us some people who hear the word do not become believers .
“The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root it lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” Some people hold the word in their mind but never allow it into their heart. The fact that they fall away proves it was only an intellectual understanding, not an emotional commitment. To people like this the Lord may be a great teacher with an important message, but He’s not their Lord and He’s not their Savior.
“The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it making it unfruitful.” Since salvation is not a fruit bearing event, the Lord was speaking here of the vast majority of Christians. They believe the gospel and are saved, but their lives cannot be distinguished from those of the non believers around them. They’re totally immersed in the things of the world and bear no fruit for the kingdom.
“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop yielding a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was sown.” This is the believer who exemplifies Romans 12:1-2 and no longer conforms to the pattern of this world, but is transformed by the renewing of his or her mind and bears much fruit.
His explanation is critical to us because of a principle of interpretation called “expositional constancy” which holds that symbolism tends to be consistent in Scripture. And so the Lord’s explanation of His symbolism in the first parable helps us understand the others. You’ll find that some commentators violate this principle in interpreting the Kingdom Parables because they don’t like what it tells them. We’ll avoid that trap.
2) The Parable Of The Weeds
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?” “An enemy did this,” he replied. The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” “No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling up the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together till the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned. Then gather the wheat and put it in my barn.” (Matt. 13:24-30)
The Lord also interpreted this parable for us in vs. 37-43. Here again the Farmer is the Lord, and the field the world. This time the good seed is further clarified as the effect His Word has had on some men (sons of the Kingdom), while the bad seed describes the effect Satan has had on others (sons of the evil one). This is additional proof that the Lord is describing the Age of Man where good and evil dwell side by side, and where the battle still continues for men’s souls. Please note that there are only two kinds of seed in the field indicating that there have only been two kinds of people on Earth, sons of the Kingdom and sons of the evil one. We’re all one or the other. At the end of the age, the Lord will send out his angels to “weed out of His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.” (Matt. 13:41-43)
That Was Your First Mistake
Some Christians use this parable to defend a post-tribulation rapture position for the Church, but the description of events doesn’t match other descriptions of the rapture. He doesn’t send out angels to gather His church, He comes Himself (1 Thes. 4:16). Also there are those in His Kingdom who aren’t part of the Church. There are Old Testament Believers who died in faith of a coming Messiah but didn’t live to see the events of the cross. They’re part of His Kingdom. And then there are the Tribulation Saints who come to faith after the Rapture and are martyred during the Great Tribulation. They’re part of His Kingdom too. Just because these parables are in the Gospels doesn’t mean they only apply to the Church so using them to support a position unique to the Church takes them out of context. The Great Tribulation takes place on Earth. Its purpose is to judge the nations and purify Israel (Jeremiah 30:1-11) before bringing surviving believers into His Kingdom. The order and description of events in this parable fit that purpose. Then there’s the problem that the doctrine of the Rapture (1 Thes 4:16-17 & 1 Cor. 15:51-52) wasn’t introduced on earth until after the Lord’s death for reasons explained in 1 Cor. 2:7-10.
Remembering that our method of interpretation requires a literal, historical, and grammatical view means we can’t take this or any other passage out of context to support a preconceived position or apply it only from the narrow confines of our own perspective. The Bible cannot contradict itself. Things either fit or they don’t. Next time we’ll see how the parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast have been twisted to produce a totally inaccurate picture of God’s Kingdom on Earth during the Age of Man.
THE KINGDOM PARABLES…MATTHEW 13 (PART 2)
This is part 2 of a commentary on the Kingdom Parables of Matthew 13. (If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1 you may want to stop and do so now.) A parable, as you know, is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in a parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding.
I said last time that I believe the Kingdom Parables were given to expand the Lord’s comments on unforgivable sin from chapter 12. Since Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel engaged in an agrarian economy it makes sense that we should try and replicate their perspective in understanding the symbols He used. His listeners were only familiar with their Scriptures so we’ll rely on the Old Testament as our theological guide and since most worked the land we’ll use our knowledge of agriculture to give us the proper social and historical context. Also, the Lord Himself explained the first 2 parables for us providing clues to help interpret the others, so let’s dig in. We’ll begin with parable number 3 since we covered the first 2 last time.
3) The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it’s the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. (Matt 13:31-32)
Here is one of the most apt descriptions of the Lord’s Kingdom on Earth. A small seed is planted that should grow into a large garden plant. But this seed grows into something it was never intended to be, a tree so big that birds come to perch in it. Some commentators equate this with the incredible growth of the church, but that violates both the agricultural context and the principle of expositional constancy I referred to last time. Mustard seeds don’t become trees, so something has gone wrong. And, as the Lord explained in His interpretation of the first parable, the birds represent the Evil One (Matt. 13:19). So this parable really predicts something quite different about church growth. Remember, the seed is His Word and the field is the world. He planted His Word in the world and as it grew it was perverted into something it was never intended to be; man-made bureaucracies so large that Satan could find a place there.
Well if this interpretation has merit we should find evidence in Scripture to support it. Let’s try Isaiah 29:13 for starters: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” In both Ezekiel and Jeremiah He laments that their worship has become so perverted as to make Him sick. (Jere. 6:16-21)
“But that’s the Old Testament,” you say, “Surely the Church is different.” Read 2 Cor. 10:13-15: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” Just as the Lord is the same yesterday today and forever, so is man.
4) The Parable Of The Yeast
The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour (lit. 3 measures of meal) until it worked all through the dough (Matt. 13:33).
This parable is also interpreted by some as describing the way the Gospel has spread through out the world, but it’s really another way of saying the same thing as the previous one. Again our search for clues takes us to the only Scriptures they had, the Old Testament. The first one is in Genesis 18, where Abraham unexpectedly found himself entertaining three visitors. Even before he realized who they were, he had Sarah and the servants quickly prepare some food and drink as a sign of hospitality. As you read the passage note Abraham’s admonitions to hurry. You can’t hurry and bake bread unless you’re making unleavened bread, the kind without yeast. Otherwise it takes several hours. This quickly prepared meal became a tradition in the Middle East, known as the friendship offering, and was incorporated into the Temple Ceremony as the Grain Offering (the visitors turned out to be the Lord and 2 angels on their way to Sodom and Gommorah). Unleavened bread was prescribed for both offerings.
When the Lord mentioned the inclusion of yeast in the friendship offering to His Jewish audience, they realized once again that He was describing something that shouldn’t happen. This time the one in charge, the woman, was deliberately including an undesirable ingredient. But what’s the significance of yeast? Well in the Old Testament yeast can be seen as a symbol for sin (Exodus 34:25). Specifically it came to signify the sin of pride because of their similar properties. Yeast actually begins a corruption process when mixed with flour and water, causing the dough to swell as it ferments. Pride does the same to us, hence the adage, “swelling with pride.” By removing all the yeast from their households before Passover, Jewish families symbolically rid themselves of sin in preparation for celebrating their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 12:15). The Lord Jesus, our Passover Lamb, took away our sin in preparation for our deliverance from Earth. Even most liberal Christian commentators today agree that every time yeast is used symbolically (except here, they say) it’s used to symbolize sin. Expositional constancy.
Using these clues, then, our adherence to both the context of the parable and the principle of expositional constancy requires an interpretation consistent with the parable of the mustard seed. While on Earth the Kingdom of Heaven will be infested with sin, often with the help of the very leaders sworn to protect and preserve it, something that makes it unsuitable for God. We can’t remove the sin from ourselves any more than the dough can remove the yeast from its midst.
The unpardonable sin is rejecting the Lord’s solution to our problem because by doing so we place ourselves beyond His reach. (His shed blood is the only sin remedy He has provided.) By rejecting His remedy we’ve also allied ourselves with God’s enemy Satan, because as the Parable of the Weeds (2) explained, there are only 2 sides to this battle and there are no neutrals. This has been true since the very inception of the Kingdom of Heaven in its Earthly phase, and will remain so till he removes us to our permanent place of residence. And that’s the topic of the next two parables. More next time.
THE KINGDOM PARABLES…MATTHEW 13 (PART 3)
In part 3 of our series on the Kingdom Parables, we’ll look at the 5th and 6th parables and find that the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles in the Lord’s Kingdom was always intended.
Remember, a parable is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in the parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding.
Since Jesus was speaking to Jews in Israel engaged in an agrarian economy it makes sense that we should try and replicate their perspective in understanding the symbols He used. His listeners were only familiar with their Scriptures so we’ll rely on the Old Testament as our theological guide and since most worked the land we’ll use our knowledge of agriculture to give us the proper social and historical context. Since we covered the first four parables in parts 1 & 2, let’s begin with number 5.
5) The Hidden Treasure
The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field (Matt. 13:44).
Following the Principle of Expositional Constancy, where the symbolic use of things in scripture tends to be consistent, we know from the first three parables that the man is the Lord and the field is the world. He found a treasure in the world but didn’t remove it. Instead He gave every thing He had to purchase the whole world, just to get the treasure. When the Lord created Adam He gave him dominion over the whole world (Gen 1:28). Adam subsequently lost it to Satan, and that’s why Satan is called the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, & 16:11) and the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). Later the Lord discovered a hidden treasure in the world, but didn’t remove it. Instead He came to Earth as a man and gave His life (everything He had), redeeming the whole world to gain the treasure.
In Exodus 19:5, Deut 7:6, and Malachi 3:17 Israel is described as God’s treasure. No other people are given this distinction, the history and destiny of Israel has always been tied to the world, and the Lord gave His life to redeem her. In the Millennium Israel is restored to her former glory and once again becomes the pre-eminent nation on earth, God’s treasured possession.
6) The Pearl Of Great Price
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value he went away and sold everything he had and bought it (Matt 13:45).
Some see this as just a continuation of the previous parable; another way of saying the same thing. In a way that’s true, but there is one huge difference. Pearls come from oysters, which are not “kosher.” Oysters, having neither fins nor scales, were forbidden for Israel (Lev. 11:10-12) and so pearls were not prized by them like they were by gentiles. Pearls are distinctly Gentile in nature and in many ways the formation and ultimate destiny of a pearl is remarkably similar to that of the Church.
A pearl is the only gem derived from a living organism, formed in response to an irritant. Somehow a grain of sand gets lodged inside an oyster shell irritating its flesh. Unable to remove the irritant, the oyster secretes a fluid that hardens around the sand forming a smooth round ball relieving the irritation. We call this hardened round ball a pearl. When the oyster is harvested the pearl is removed from its natural habitat to become an object of adornment. The Church is a living organism that has always experienced its most dramatic growth as a response to persecution. One day soon, the Lord will come and remove His Church from the world, her natural habitat, to make her His bride, the object of His affection.
Don’t be fooled by some commentators who use these parables to teach that the Kingdom is both the treasure and the pearl and we should be willing to give everything we have to purchase our place in it. That view violates the context and intent of the parables, and is theologically unfounded. We have nothing God needs. In His sight we are totally without merit or substance, unable to purchase anything from Him. Entry into the Kingdom is free for the asking, because the Lord gave everything He had to make it so. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
In these 2 parables then, we see the destinies of both Israel and the Church symbolized. In Jewish eschatology the Lord promised to return and live among them in His Holy Land, the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: the land of Israel (Ezek. 40-48). In Christian Eschatology, we are promised that one day the Lord will come to take us to be with Him in Heaven (John 14:1-3). As the treasure is left in the field, Israel is left in the world. As the pearl is removed from the oyster, the church is removed from the earth. In both cases the Lord impoverished Himself to purchase that which He desired, giving each the destiny He promised.
But Wait A Minute
There’s a phrase in Matt 13:44 that is often overlooked but has always astonished me. “In his joy he went and sold everything he had.” On the night of His betrayal Scriptures tell us that after their meal Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and went out to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30). There He would be betrayed, arrested and subjected to the most intense humiliation and deprivation, and finally beaten to within an inch of His life before dying the most painful death known to man. All of this would happen within the span of the day just begun, for the Jewish day begins at sunset, and by the following sunset He would be in the grave. Of course He knew this from the beginning (Matt 26:52-54).
By tradition the hymn sung following the Passover meal comes from Psalm 118:22-24. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cap stone. The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
This was the day ordained from before the foundation of the world when by agreement the Son of God would become the Redeemer of Israel, and beyond that a Light for the Gentiles to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:5-6). This was the day when He would pay the required price to purchase His Bride, and when He would make possible the reconciliation between God and His Creation (Col 1:19-20). Even His knowledge of the torment, anguish, and pain He would endure was not enough to diminish the joy He felt at being able to give the greatest gift of love ever given. He sang, “This is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebr. 12:2).
THE KINGDOM PARABLES…MATTHEW 13 (CONCLUSION)
In our 4th and concluding article on the Kingdom parables, we’ll look at the 7th one and discover another mistaken attempt to use these parables to reveal the chronology of end time events. Remember, a parable is a heavenly story put into an earthly context. The meaning of the Greek word for parable is “to place alongside” as in a comparison. This means that everything in the parable symbolizes something else. Correctly interpreting the symbols is the key that unlocks understanding. Let’s begin.
7) The Parable Of The Net
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 and threw the bad fish 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 fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13:47-50)
Through out the Old Testament, when the sea is used symbolically, it refers to the gentile world. For example, when the Lord described the reign of Gentile Kingdoms that began with Babylon and would continue to the end of the age, He pictured them as voracious beasts that came out of the sea (Daniel 7). During the Lord’s time on earth, the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee was called “Galilee of the Nations” or “Galilee of the Gentiles” (same Hebrew word) because of the size of the gentile population in the area. The phrase comes from Isaiah 9:1, a passage that introduces the coming of the Messiah. Some commentators see this parable then, as being particularly Gentile in its focus. They also make a big deal out of the fact that He used fish to symbolize people and fishermen to symbolize angels. They jump to the conclusion that He must be describing the Church since the Church later took the fish as a symbol and the several disciples were fishermen.
As we read the story it’s tempting to agree and see the Church being symbolized in the fish, and pre-trib believers note with glee that the order is correct. The good fish are collected before the bad are thrown into the fiery furnace (Great Tribulation, they say). But I think He was sitting there overlooking the sea surrounded by folks who made their living from it and using common everyday activities well known to them to make His point. But these activities don’t match other descriptions of the Rapture, where the Lord Himself comes to gather up His church (1 Thes 4:16-17). And then there’s the issue of other believers, not part of the church, who belong in the kingdom as well.
But the biggest problem in equating the fish and the church is the fact that in the parable some are good and some are bad, which the Lord described as symbolizing the righteous and the unrighteous. If you’re in the church you’re as righteous as God Himself (2 Cor 5:17-21) His righteousness having been imputed to you when you accepted the pardon His death purchased for you. In God’s eyes there are no unrighteous believers. True, the case has been made that many who go to church have never really been born again, but that’s a point based on our definition of the church, not the Lord’s. Membership in His Church is gained by accepting His death as payment for our sins, not by external actions like attendance or donation records, or even evidence of “good works.” He’s not fooled by such behavior since He knows the motives of our hearts. From His point of view we’re either in or we’re not, there’s no middle ground. So the fish have to represent humanity at large, Jew and Gentile, present on earth at the end of the age, the time to which the Lord refers in the parable.
The Story That Explains The Story
In Matthew 25:31-46 the Lord gave a teaching that describes a judgment He’ll conduct directly after the Great Tribulation and His subsequent return to Earth in glory with all the angels. All of surviving humanity, He said, will be divided in to two groups, one called “sheep” and the other “goats.” The sheep are positioned on His right and the goats on His left. The sheep are rewarded for their faith, as evidenced by their attitude toward “His brothers” during their recent time of trouble, by being ushered into His Kingdom. The goats are then condemned to the eternal fires for ignoring His brothers.
I believe His brothers are Jewish believers who will be hunted like dogs during the Great Tribulation in Satan’s last great effort to annihilate them and prevent the Lord’s return, and the sheep are Gentiles who come to faith after the Rapture and at great personal risk provide for and comfort them. The goats are those who refuse to love the truth and be saved (2 Thes. 2:9-12) and therefore see no reason to help believers of any stripe, especially Jews. Note that sheep are always used symbolically to describe believers, while the goat’s head is a traditional symbol of Satan. Clearly in the Sheep and Goat Judgment humanity will be assigned to one group or the other based upon righteousness. The implication in the passage is that the angels are involved in gathering all of surviving humanity together for this judgment, the sheep are first commended and rewarded, and then the goats are consigned to the eternal fire. Sounds just like the parable of the net.
Therefore every teacher of the Law who has been instructed about the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of the house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old (Matt. 13:52).
Here is the clearest indication of all that His Kingdom will contain believers from every segment of the Age of Man, not just the Church. This concluding statement ties the New Testament with the Old and indicates that those who have been led by the Holy Spirit to teach the Scriptures would hereafter include the whole counsel of God, from Genesis to Revelation.
Here then is a summary of God’s redemptive work during the Age of Man, with man’s response to it as illustrated by the seven parables: The Lord has planted the seed of His Word through out the world in both Old Testament and New, proclaiming His Kingdom (1). Satan has worked to prevent and pervert His Word (2-3), often getting able assistance from the very leaders sworn on holy oath to protect and preserve it (4). His Kingdom was always intended for both Jew and Gentile and He gave all He had, including His life, so we could escape the bondage of sin and join Him there (5-6). But loving us enough to give us the freedom to accept or reject the only remedy available for the sin that bars our admission meant that many would refuse His offer of pardon to their own destruction (7).
In Matt. 25:41 we’re told that the eternal fires were prepared specifically for Satan and his angels. Men must choose to join them there. By refusing the Lord’s offer of pardon and thereby rejecting His kingdom, they choose the only other destiny available, joining Satan in his. This is the one and only unpardonable sin. Selah.