Matthew 13:47-50 NASB "Again, the
kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of
every kind; (48) and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and
they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they
threw away. (49) "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will
come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, (50) and will
throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth.
It helps to know a little bit about commercial fishing. The
type of method is described here is now known as a purse seine. A diagram is
provided for you below:
As you can see, this is quite a large net. It's designed to
snare an entire school of fish. It is often used in shallow waters to catch
every fish in the area, as the bottom of the net often rests on the bottom of
the water. Modern fishing boats can manage a net of this size with one boat; in
ancient times it was common to use two boats for such a large net. The
advantage of this net is that it catches everything. So Christ's audience here
would have known about this kind of net quite well. The key fact is this: it
Understanding this parable is relatively straightforward.
The metaphor of the sea, as used in Daniel chapter 7, implies the people of the
world. It's no great stretch to think conclude that the net is the preaching of
the gospel (fishers of men). The net result is the church as we have it today
That carries with it two important results. The most
important one of these for us today is that the church is composed not only of
those who are being saved but many who are not. If you happen to be shopping
for church this is important news. It tells you that any church congregation
you enter is composed of those who were going to heaven and some who were going to
hell. As a result, the congregation will not be made up of those who are
perfectly behaved, consistently charitable Christians. It will be made up of
human beings, with their faults, their forgiveness — or their hypocrisy. More
to the point, it is entirely possible that you cannot tell the difference
between a poor Christian and hypocrite. The distinction will be important; it's
just that you can't make it now. Judge not, that you be not judged.
There aren't three important facts we should apprehend about
this sorting out at the end of the age:
First, it happens at the end of the age — when Christ returns.
There is no reason, therefore, for us to hurry it up and do it ourselves. It's
already on the schedule.
Second, the sorting is binary. We are not going to be graded like
so many eggs, but sorted out to those who go to heaven and those who go to
hell. As a result, we need to focus our efforts on what it takes to get in
through the narrow way. We must pay attention to what is required of us; and
pay no attention to what is fashionable in the church.
Third, we are not the ones doing the sorting. That is assigned to
the angels. Our task is not to judge and separate, but to make disciples.
So, let's see what it takes.
Matthew 25:1-13 NASB "Then the
kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and
went out to meet the bridegroom. (2) "Five of them were foolish, and
five were prudent. (3) "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took
no oil with them, (4) but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their
lamps. (5) "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy
and began to sleep. (6) "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the
bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' (7) "Then all those virgins rose and
trimmed their lamps. (8) "The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some
of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' (9) "But the prudent
answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the
dealers and buy some for yourselves.' (10) "And while they were going
away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went
in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. (11) "Later the
other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.' (12) "But
he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' (13) "Be on the alert
then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
Weddings in those days were somewhat different than they are
today in our culture. The celebration would go on for as long as two weeks.
Remember, some people might have to walk from the next village or even
further to get to your wedding. Besides, which is better: a two-hour reception
or a 10 day wedding party?
One of the key events in such a wedding, which is described
here, is the night in which the groom kidnaps the bride. This is not the same
thing as going on a honeymoon today. In those days the groom and his friends
would surprise the parents of the bride in the middle of the night to carry off
the bride to the groom's parent’s home. This was a rather raucous affair, and
often turned into a procession between the two houses. Remember, we're talking
about a wedding in a small village here.
The flashlight not having been invented yet, members of this
party would carry an oil lamp. This was not, as you might expect, for the
purpose of finding your way around the village. It served a completely different
purpose. You held the lamp up towards your face, so that everyone in the
village would recognize who it is that was running around in the dark. It was
their way of knowing that you were not a burglar. So if you did not have a lamp
you would be thought to be a miscreant of some sort. That's why the groom could
say he didn't know the other five virgins; no oil, no identification.
The Multiple Meanings of Oil
There are several meanings for the oil, spiritually
The most common metaphor is that oil is used to give light. So
Christ admonishes us to let our good works shine before men. Most interpreters
think this is the meaning of the parable here. The foolish virgins did not have
those good works which mark the true Christian.
Another meeting can be seen in this: oil is often the symbol of
the Holy Spirit. We still speak of and anointing by the Spirit. This gives us
much the same meaning, as a "Christian" without the Holy Spirit is
indeed a fraud.
The Jew of this time would also know (from the Psalms) the
concept of the "oil of joy." In this, we would see that sense of joy
that always accompanies a wedding (or should). If you don't know the difference
between happiness and joy, I don't think I can explain it to you. If you do,
then know that "oil" is a symbol for such a joy.
Wedding of the Lamb
Of course, the ultimate symbolism of a wedding is given to
us in Revelation. It is unfortunate that today the church has largely dropped
the idea that Christian marriage is a living picture of the relationship
between Christ and his church. A sermon on the subject of marriage generally
includes a good deal of popular psychology and very little (if any) mention of
this concept. The early church saw it quite differently. Your wedding is
supposed to be the start of a relationship which models that of Christ and the
church. The groom, in this parable, is Christ at his return. The bride – whom
he snatches out of her home at an unknown time — is the church. So from this we
Once again, no one knows the exact time and date at which Christ
Whenever it is, it will be a joyous occasion for those who are
Some of us think we're going to be included – and won't be.
The foolish are those who have refused to have the good
works which should be natural to a Christian. Perhaps it's time to check how
much oil you have on hand.
One of the effects of no longer teaching the idea that human
marriage is in any way related to the wedding of Christ and the church is that
we do not see it as a practical thing. The early church saw it differently; in
particular, counseling a husband concerning the difficulties in his marriage
started with the example of the love Christ had given for his church. That love
is a requirement of all Christian husbands. This gets a bit of lip service, but
is considered of no use in practical Christian counseling. The result is that
the husband is not held to the standard of the church, but is taught to seek a
compromise that is acceptable to both husband and wife.
The results of this decision are predictable. If there is no
high and hard claim upon the husbands love, it soon becomes apparent that
matrimony is a convenience — and not a holy one. The early church saw marriage
as something which was solemn and sacred, watched over by God himself. This is
a view which is seldom encountered today. That does not make it false, just
The reason this is a tragedy is that most of us learn by
example. If you want to learn how to love your wife you need a good example.
That's why we are given Christ and the church as an example – so that the
husband will know how committed he must be in loving his wife.
Fig Tree Leafing
Mark 13:28-30 NASB "Now learn the parable
from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its
leaves, you know that summer is near. (29) "Even so, you too, when you
see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
(30) "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all
these things take place.
Signs of the Times
This is one of those parables that by itself explain
practically nothing. What is telling us here is that there will be certain
signs of the times that say Christ will soon return. Here are a few of those
signs of the times that you need to look for:
Expect wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, political upheaval —
these are things that are normal in the human existence. They look huge at the
time, they may even have some local significance in God's plan, but they are
not signs of his return.
Several passages indicate to us that the last age of the church
will be Laodicean. It will be a lukewarm church at the heart; though such
churches do not think of themselves as being lukewarm. As Revelation reminds
us, they see themselves as being nearly perfect. So it seems to you that your
church is highly enthusiastic about nothing in particular, perhaps this is a
sign. Particularly if it's repeated in every other congregation you know.
False prophets? Of course! There are any number of miraculous
healers showing themselves on television; just send money.
Towards the end, there will be an increase in betrayal of
Christians and hatred of Christians. It is a very curious combination. How is
it that the lukewarm church produces an increase in the hatred of Christians?
Shouldn't it work the other way? Perhaps this is why it is considered a sign of
Of course, you (I call of the rest of us) would like to have
some sure signs that you can point to and say, "now I know he's coming
very soon." There are several such events identified by differing schemes;
here are three that are pretty universally accepted:
The return of the Jews to Palestine and in particular to
Jerusalem. The timing of these events is given variously by the particularly
different theories of Revelation. However, all of them agree that the return of
the Jews to Palestine and Jerusalem is in fact a sign that the coming of Christ
One sign which has yet to be seen is that given in Daniel: the
"abomination of desolation." This requires the reconstruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem. Such a Temple is described, prophetically, in the book of
Ezekiel. Not all theories hold to this particular sign of the times. But if it
does occur, it would be very highly visible.
The preaching of the gospel to all the nations is also such a
sign. There is some dispute about what "all the nations" means. The
original in the Greek seems to indicate all of the Roman Empire. That would be
the common interpretation of what was said at the time. However, in our day we
might look at it as prophecy and say that this means every people group on
the planet. Starting in the 19th century this became a common goal of the
Knowing When — or — Being Prepared
Let's be particularly clear about this: knowing when Christ
returns is trivial compared to being prepared for his return. We
are told that no one knows the time anyway; even if we did know the time we
would still have to prepare. So here's what you should be doing while you are
waiting the return of our Lord:
Study the Scriptures. In them you find the signs of the times; in
them you find the way in which you should walk. There is no substitute for
this. Curiously, the church in the last 20 years has consistently deemphasized
the study of the Scriptures. Reading the Bible is not hip, cool or with it.
It's just necessary.
All the study in the world does you no good if you do not put
what you learn into practice. Faith without works is dead. If your life does
not blossom with good works you are going to miss the narrow way. Having the
right doctrine, knowing the exact minute when Christ will return and all the
words to the hymn the angels will sing won't help you a bit if you do not have
Beware. There are those who will attempt to leave you and others
astray. That's yet another reason to read Scriptures. Do not be fooled. If it
looks too good to be true — for example, the prosperity gospel – it probably
There it is. The day is coming when all will be gathered
together, sorted out and sent to heaven and hell. Those going to heaven have
the right faith and the works to prove it. Do not be deceived, but follow the
one true Christ.