These parables make up the Lord’s own view of phase one of the Kingdom, those who claim to be His followers on Earth. Some are true, some are false, some are Jew and some are Gentile, but all are sinners. Listen in as the Lord “tells it like it is” while describing us.
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The Kingdom Parables are found in Matthew 13. In chapter 12, the Jewish leadership had attacked Jesus, denouncing His teachings, and finally attributing His miracles to the power of Beelzebub (or, Satan). This prompted the Lord’s statement that their sins of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit were unpardonable. He said this because when He agreed to become a man, He voluntarily set aside His godly powers and limited Himself to doing only those things that a man can do. All of His miracles were performed through the power of the Holy Spirit. The reason He could say in John 14:12 that anyone who has faith in Him could do what He had been doing is because He was sending the Holy Spirit to us.
Attributing 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 according to 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 by saying He was using Satan’s power.
Now, Matthew 13 opens with the timestamp 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 Seven Kingdom Parables, there are really eight of them—and only six that begin with the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven is like … ”
The first parable describes the world in general. 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 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 twofold; to enlighten believers while at the same time confusing unbelievers (Matthew 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. 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 equated the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” with the Church, which I believe is an error and we’ll soon discover it.
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.
Okay, Let’s get started.
1) The Parable Of The Sower
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the 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 other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
In this first parable, the farmer’s field symbolizes the world, and the seed is His Word sown throughout the Age of Man. The four kinds of soil represent 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 verses 18-23.
Matthew 13:18-23. He said:
“Listen then 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 their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
The Lord’s 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 to 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. But we’ll avoid that trap!
After the Lord finished giving the first parable, the disciples came to Him in verse 10 of Matthew 13 and asked Him:
“Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
In verse 11 He says:
“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
This comes from Isaiah 6:9 & 10, the Call of Isaiah.
So, here you have the idea that the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom was given to the disciples, but not to them. Later on, Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 would explain a little bit of this, when he said in chapter 2, verse 14:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
This is the clue we get that tells us how the parable can be instructive to the believer, while at the same time being confusing to the unbeliever. Of course, the difference is we have the Holy Spirit to bring us understanding of His words and the unbeliever lacks those things. This is what He was comparing the disciples to Israel and to the officials there. He was saying, “You know, the Holy Spirit is going to reveal all this to you and you’re going to understand it. But these people who rejected Me will not have that privilege, they’ll not have that blessing.” And, of course He’s referring back I think, to the idea that in the previous chapter the Jewish officials had accused Him of using the power of Satan to perform His miracles—the sin He called blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
Then He goes on in verse 16 saying:
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
There He’s referring to the fact that for thousands of years their Scriptures had told them about the coming Messiah and the prophets of old had longed to see these things but were not able to do so. And so, the disciples were uniquely and truly blessed.
Later, Peter would allude to this in his first letter to the Church starting in chapter 1, verse 10 when he said:
1 Peter 1:10-12
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
All right, next we’ll take the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13: 24-30. Let’s read it:
2) The Parable Of The Weeds
Jesus told them another parable: “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 the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until 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 bring it into my barn.’”
The Lord also interpreted this parable for us in verses 37 through 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 (we call sons of the Kingdom), while the bad seed describes the effect Satan has had on others (called 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 Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
That’s Matthew 13:41-43.
Some Christians use this parable to defend a post-tribulation rapture position for the Church, but the descriptions of events doesn’t match other descriptions of the rapture. He doesn’t send out angels to gather His Church in the rapture, He comes Himself according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Also, there are those in His Kingdom who aren’t part of the Church. They 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 to purify Israel according to 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 wasn’t introduced on Earth until after the Lord’s death, for reasons explained in 1 Corinthians 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 to apply it only from the narrow confines of our own perspective. The Bible can’t contradict itself. Things either fit or they don’t.
3) The Parable Of The Mustard Seed
Parable number three is the Parable of the Mustard Seed. It’s only two verses long. It’s in Matthew 13:31 & 32.
Let’s read it:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
Now, 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 according to Matthew 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 refuge there.
Well if this interpretation has merit, we should find evidence in Scripture to support it. Let’s try Isaiah 29:13 for starters:
The Lord says:
“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 based on merely human rules they have been taught.
And then in both Ezekiel and Jeremiah, He laments that their worship has become so perverted as to make Him sick. As an example, we have Jeremiah 6:16-21.
“But that’s the Old Testament,” you say, “Surely the Church is different.” Well, read 2 Corinthians 11:13-15:
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, 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 also masquerade as servants of righteousness.
Just as the Lord is the same yesterday today and forever, so is man.
You understand here that this Parable of the Mustard Seed shows us that the Church has become something that it was never intended to be. It’s a large, man-made bureaucracy that depends more today on hollow and deceptive philosophies taught by men in many cases than it does on the revealed Word of the Lord. And this is exactly the way the Lord predicted would happen. We are seeing it in ever-increasing clarity as we approach the end of the age.
4) The Parable Of The Yeast
Parable number four is only one verse long, but it sure says a lot. It’s the Parable of the Yeast and it’s found in Matthew 13:33. Let’s read it:
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour
(Or literally, three measures of meal)
until it worked all through the dough.”
This parable is also interpreted by some as describing the way the Gospel has spread throughout the world, just like the Mustard Seed parable before it. But it’s really another way of saying the same thing as the Mustard Seed said. 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.
Let’s pick it up about verse 6:
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
You know, 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 two angels on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, by the way.) Unleavened bread was prescribed for both the Friendship Offering and the Grain Offerings.
Now, 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 such as in 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 thing, 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, according to 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 agree that every time yeast is used symbolically it’s used to symbolize sin. Expositional Constancy. Now, you’ll find some commentators who will make an exception for this one passage. In fact, in my study Bible, it makes the note in the bottom of the margin that yeast typically represents sin except in Matthew 13:33.
Well, you see to me that’s a violation of Expositional Constancy. Why would it—just this one time—when used symbolically, mean something different than it means in every other place it’s used symbolically in Scripture? It doesn’t make sense.
And so, using these clues, 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 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 provided. By rejecting this remedy we’ve also allied ourselves with God’s enemy Satan, because as the Parable of the Weeds explained, there are only two 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 until he removes us to our permanent place of residence. At the end of the Parable of the Yeast, Matthew inserts a couple of verses beginning in 34 to show how this message that Jesus was delivering was a fulfillment of prophecy.
You know, Matthew is the Gospel that is most frequently connected into the Old Testament. And one of the most frequent phrases used in the Gospel of Matthew is the phrase, “it was fulfilled” showing how the life of the Messiah was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy in even the smallest detail. Matthew’s objective in writing his Gospel, as you know, was to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel. Many people believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew.
In verse 34, Matthew says these things:
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
And that’s a quote from Psalm 78:2.
So here, once again, one of over forty times where Matthew uses the phrase “it was fulfilled” to demonstrate the connection between the Old Testament prophecies and the life of Jesus, the Messiah.
5) The Parable Of The Hidden Treasure
Now, the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, parable number five, is another one-verse parable found in Matthew 13:44. Let’s read it.
“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 he had and bought that field.
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 everything He had to purchase the whole world just to get the treasure.
Well, when the Lord created Adam, He gave him dominion over the whole world, according to Genesis 1:28. Adam subsequently lost it to Satan; that’s one of the things that happened at the Fall, and that’s why Satan is called ‘the prince of this world’ in John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11. Paul called him the ‘god of this age’ in 2 Corinthians 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 three places in the Old Testament, Israel is described as God’s treasure: Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, and Malachi 3:17. 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.
In the very next verse, we have parable number six, the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45) and again, it is just one verse long.
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.
Some see this as just a continuation of the previous parable; another way of saying the same thing. In a way it’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, according to Leviticus 11:10-12 and so pearls were not prized by them like they were by the 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 in 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 as well. We have nothing that 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. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
In these two 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. This is made very clear in the last chapters of Ezekiel, chapters 40 through 48.
In Christian eschatology, on the other hand, we are promised that one day the Lord will come and take us to be with Him in Heaven. Your reference there is John 14:1-3. As the treasure is left in the field, Israel is left in the world. And 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 always often overlooked but has always astonished me.
“In his joy he went and sold everything he had.”
In His joy?
On the night of His betrayal the Scriptures tell us that after their meal Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and went out into the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives (Matthew 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, Matthew 26:52-54 tell us.
Now, by tradition the hymn sung following the Passover meal comes from Psalm 118:22-24. It reads like this:
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
And so, 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 as prophesied in 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. Paul talks about this in Colossians 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. Along with His disciples, He sang, “This is the day the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
And so, quoting from Hebrews 12:2:
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
7) The Parable Of The Net
Now, parable number seven, the Parable of the Net, which is found in Matthew 13:47-50, goes like this:
“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.
Throughout 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” 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 in several cases the 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, which they say is a representation of the Great Tribulation. But I think the Lord 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 Thessalonians 4:16-17). And then there’s the issue of other believers, not part of the Church, who belong to 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, we read about this in 2 Corinthians 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 the evidence of good works. He’s not fooled by such behavior since He knows the motives of our hearts. And from His point of view, we’re either in or we’re not, and 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.
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 into 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, 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, according to 2 Thessalonians 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 for 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, just like it happens with the Parable of the Net.
So I think we’ve got a pretty good case there, that this parable—even though fish and fishermen are emphasized—has nothing to do with the Church, which is long gone by the time the end of the age arrives, and the Lord comes back to make His final determination on mankind. No, this parable is a parable, one of several, that describe conditions at the Lord’s return and the judgment that takes place just at the beginning of the establishment of His Kingdom.
In conclusion then, we have the Lord’s summary statement in Matthew 13:52 that actually is Parable number eight. And it says:
“Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Here is the clearest indication of all that His Kingdom will contain believers from every segment of the Age of Man, and not just the Church. This concluding statement ties the New Testament to the Old and indicates that those who have been led by the Spirit who teach the Scriptures would hereafter include the whole counsel of God, from Genesis to Revelation.
So, 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 throughout the world in both the Old Testament and The New, proclaiming His Kingdom. That’s the first parable, the Parable of the Sower.
But Satan has worked to prevent and pervert His Word. That’s described in the Parable of the Weeds and in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
He often got able assistance in his efforts from the very leaders sworn on holy oath to protect and preserve it. The Parable of the Yeast.
His Kingdom was always intended for both Jew and Gentile and He gave all that He had, including His life, so that we could escape the bondage of sin and join Him there. Parables of the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price.
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, the Parable of the Net, where the good fish and bad fish are separated.
In Matthew 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.
And so, we have the Parables of the Kingdom, in which the Lord describes phase one of His Kingdom—the phase we are in now, the phase which has us here on Earth, among the unbelievers. And of course, we all look forward to the soon coming day when Phase two begins, when believers are whisked off to the New Jerusalem to spend Eternity there and when the Lord comes back to Earth to establish His kingdom here and bring His people Israel once again into His favored nation status.
The Parables of the Kingdom—Matthew, chapter 13.