Summary: We have previously pointed out that it is important to carefully note the manner and method in which these seven parables are arranged, for their order provides key to their interpretation.
We have previously pointed out that it is important to carefully note the manner and method in which these seven parables are arranged, for their order provides key to their interpretation. The first parable is different than the other six. The phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is missing from the first parable. The first parable is not an analogy of the kingdom of heaven; the last six are. The first parable deals with a preparatory work done prior to the introduction of the kingdom of heaven in its present form; that introductory work is the broadcast sowing of the seed, first by the Lord Himself, afterwards by the apostles.
The six parables which follow are divided into two threes. The first three were spoken by the Lord from the boat in the hearing of the multitude by the seaside. They give us an external view of the kingdom. The last three parables were not spoken by the Lord to the disciples only, and inside the house. The last three parables give us the internal and hidden aspects of the kingdom of heaven that is not manifested before men in this world.
The first of the last three is the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, the second the parable of the pearl. These two parables imply there are two groups of people who find favor in God’s eyes and precious to His Son. The treasure represents Israel, the pearl the Church. The order of these two parables is, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek," the treasure coming before the pearl.
If these seven parables give us a prophetical outline of the course of Christianity one more parable is needed to complete the picture. The last parable is in one sense an amplification of the fifth and sixth. In the fifth and sixth parables there is only one man at work. The man, who finds the field, buys it and then hides it in the field. The merchant seeking fine pearls and finds one of great value and sells all He has and buys the pearl. When we come to this seventh parable, for the first time, the number of the pronoun is changed. In verse 47 we are told a net is cast into the sea, and “gathered fish of every kind and when it was full, they drew it up on the beach,” not "he" but "they." This is the first time we have "they" in the parables.
In this parable the net represents the Gospel and the fishermen casting the net into the sea represents the preaching of the Gospel. The sea represents the world. The fishermen represent those who preach and teach the Gospel. The emphasis in this parable is the fish and not the fishermen. In the 47th verse they are not even mentioned. In verse 48 Jesus refers to the fisherman as “they.” Those who have been highly honored by God, and have a part in the casting of this net into the sea, are hidden from view, nothing is said about them, except they drew the net up on the beach. In 1st Corinthians 3: beginning at verse 4 it is written by the apostle Paul, "For while one says, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos, are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered; but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
Those who have been called to preach the Gospel are merely an empty vessel that, unless the Holy Spirit indwells them they will soon crumble away to dust. But He, the One who deigns to bless, who places His treasure in earthen vessels, He is everything. The prosperity of any church does not depend entirely upon the presence of some particular man in the pulpit. The Lord is not only able to continue and prosper His work, but to do so a hundredfold without the most gifted preacher if He so pleases. The instrument is nothing. How that rebukes the preacher-worship of the day.
The goal of the fishermen in casting the net into the sea was simply to gather fish. That was their one aim and plan. The 48th verse shows that, "when it was full, they drew it up on the beach and they sat down and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away.”
In this parable as in the other parables the progress of Christianity is revealed and the effect and results of the preaching of the Gospel. The fish in the net represent the results, a mixed profession. Just as it was in the beginning of the Church Age there were the wheat and tares, so at the end of the age there are good fish as well as bad. The gathering of the good fish and the bad fish does not refer to the skill of the fisherman. They had no control of whether good fish or bad fish entered the net. But they are responsible to distinguish between the good and the bad fish after they entered the net, and they were responsible to separate the one from the other. That is an essential and important part of the work and duty of God’s servants, to discriminate, to distinguish between the good and the bad fish.